The best kind of love is that which is covenantal – that which can only be broken by death. And because God was the only one who walked between the path of dead animals (Gen 15:17), He is the only one bound by the covenant, and since He is eternal, the covenant will never end.
The best kind of love is that which depends not on my stunning looks, not on my sterling personality, not on the high value I add to society, not on my witty speech, not on the revenue I generate, not on the things I own, not on my Mensa-worthy intelligence.
Look at Saul – tall, dark and handsome, literally – and look at David, the youngest son, the shepherd-musician. Who was Jesus descended from? Look at Noah, chosen to live while the rest of the world drowns, and see how he became drunk right after his salvation. Look at the woman who dropped two coins – only 2 tiny coins! – into the offering bag, and how she was praised. Look at Abraham, promised everything, yet chose to force God’s hand by sleeping with his wife’s servant. And all Sunday School children today still sing, ‘Father Abraham had many sons…’. Look at Jacob, whose name means deceiver. Who more than lived up to his name and was really a snotty mommy’s boy. And see what God says – ‘Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated’. For that matter, look at Leah, she who is unloved by her husband, cheated into marriage by her father, ‘weak-eyed’ (the Bible says this!), always beaten down by her prettier younger sister. She’s in the genealogy of Jesus. So is Rahab. Look at the people closest to Jesus: Peter, he who denied Jesus. He who became Cephas, the rock upon which the church of Christ was built. Saul, he who killed believers. He who became the writer of much of the New Testament. Look at the thief on the cross beside Jesus’ cross. Don’t think he ever did much for society, and by the time he turned ‘good’, he was five minutes away from dying. Walking down the streets of heaven now. Look at Joseph, the stuck-up, naive, spoilt little boy – nobody with an ounce of sense would tell his parents that he dreamed of them bowing down to him. Look at him, raised to be the prime minister of Egypt, the saviour (small s) of many. Look at Moses, murderer. He got to part a sea.
Look at the Old Testament nation of Israel – cowardly, suffering from amnesia, deaf to the call of some truly naggy prophets – and this is the people chosen to be a ‘light to the nations’. Look at Christians today, weak, foolish, and yet, ‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.’ (1 Cor 1:27-29)
The best kind of love is that which is based on something immutable, something constant, something unchangeable. ‘I the Lord do not change.’ (Mal 3:16). ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.’ (Heb 13:8). ‘The Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.’ (Jas 1:17).
The best kind of love is that which I did nothing to earn, that I do nothing to maintain, and that I can do nothing to lose. ‘If there is something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we cannot do anything, that we can’t earn anything.’ (Tullian Tchividjian) What an offensive, glorious love.
The best kind of love is that which sees me as I am, completely, with all-seeing eyes. And still loves me, completely, with all-encompassing grace. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. Was it because their bodies and personalities and morals were perfect? Possibly (though Genesis 3 proves they weren’t). But I think it’s because the Person who looked at them was perfect and they, at the time, had the right relationship with Him, and each other. Because He did not look upon them with eyes that criticise and mock and ridicule, because He said, I made you in My image, I breathed life into you, and I love you.
The best kind of love is that which sees me as I will be. Those same eyes look at me now, and they see… Jesus. ‘For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Cor 5:21). Imputed. Someone Else’s righteousness is now mine. My punishment and death is now Someone Else’s. Fair trade? I don’t think so. Worthy trade? God thinks so. Praise Him. That’s the only time we can use the word ‘sacrifice’ – giving up something better for something lousy. Everything else we do, like forgoing possible money, opportunities, fleeting pleasures… giving that up for Someone better is logical, good business, with an opportunity cost of nothing. No way a sacrifice. (Paul would concur – ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’)
The best kind of love makes me as I will be. It’s not ‘tolerant’ – it refuses to let me stay as I am, because that would be the greatest judgment: see Gen 6:1-7, or Rom 1:28-32. No halfway-decent parent would say, ‘I love my kid so much, I ‘tolerate’ his childishness and rudeness and selfishness. I’m not going to teach him to be better, nor hope he changes, because true love is tolerance.’ The best love is so much more, because it is redemptive. It says, well, the starting canvas isn’t so great, but ‘He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Phil 1:6). ‘For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.’ (Rom 8:29). Oh, refining’s going to hurt, I’m going to rebel and complain. But it will be done.
The best kind of love frees. It means that, as I get older and ‘let go’, as I have kids and the corresponding stretch marks and varicose veins, as on my face, lines pile up, and everywhere else, everything sags where it shouldn’t, I am still loved. It means that, when I get Alzheimer’s and am a bother to everyone in the world, repeating myself, forgetting even my husband and children and parents, swearing at the social workers in the nursing home, I am still loved. It means that, when I get into an accident and suffer a brain injury, lose even my personality, maybe turn violent and crass and depressed, I am still loved. It means that, when I make a mistake and go to jail, I am still loved. It means that, when I get a disease or cancer and treatment costs everything, when I become a liability rather than an asset, I am still loved.
My value is not determined by me. It is found in the One who said to Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.’ I don’t think I looked good, was charming, served the poor and needy, wrote inspirational books, had lots of money, before I was formed in the womb. Yet I was known. And loved. It is found in the One who I first ran away from, then when He called to me, I made the slight inclination to turn, and He ran the rest of the distance to embrace me. It is found in the One whose hands created the worlds, keep and control the worlds from spinning into oblivion, whose hands were nailed motionless to a cross for me (Elisabeth Elliot). It is found in the One who caused me to be born again – not something I’m responsible for. Not even the best doctors can give themselves heart, mind, soul transplants.
The best kind of love makes me want to deserve it, though knowing I never will, though knowing that whatever I accomplish is by His strength and grace. It makes me not click on that porn link or that raunchy book download because I know that man and woman were created for far more than that. I am created for more than that. It motivates me to keep running, keep planting, keep fighting (2 Tim 2). It makes me want to follow His Word, even when the people around me, or the bell-curve, or the payroll, or the stock market, or politics, or advertisements, or vocal liberal campaigns, tell me that to do so is stupid (and narrow-minded, and bigoted) and shortchanging myself. It makes me joyful to submit to my future husband, even though bra-burning happened a long time ago. It makes me willing (slightly, anyway, still not exactly joyfully, slightly disgruntled-ly, a work-in-progress) to offer my other cheek when slapped, to ‘suffer wrong’, to be ‘defrauded’ (1 Cor 6:7), to ‘accept the plundering of my property’ (Heb 10:34). It causes me to decide that time spent preparing Bible Study, cutting out craft materials for my GB girls, practising guitar for service, standing under the sun doing street E, praying for brothers and sisters, at the price of sleep and studying-some-more and taking-part-in-case-competitions and building-my-portfolio-and-networking, is more than worth it.
The best kind of love comes with hope. Jonathan Edwards grasped this when he wrote a sermon at 18 years old (I have negative 4 years to catch up to his wisdom :( ), paraphrased by Tim Keller. Christians can hope and be joyful, because: (1) All bad things on this earth work out for good (Rom 8:28). Not comfort, not easy happiness, but good. (2) All the good things that we have – adoption, justification, union – cannot be taken away. (Rom 8:1). (3) All the best things – heaven, new earth, resurrection, looking like Jesus – are yet to come (Rev 22:1). God’s love comes with those promises; what more can I desire? The past week I’ve been incredibly moved by 2 Cor 4:17 – my affliction (whatever affliction I will face) is light and momentary; but the glory God has prepared for me is weighty and eternal.
Oh, that we would grasp this best kind of love tightly with all that we are and all that we have, and never let go.
‘For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ – Rom 8:38-39
‘O make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be;
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.’