Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13 (NIV)
I am composing this post on February 14th otherwise known as Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to romantic love. It is unfortunate that the English language, unlike the Greek language has only one word for love. Having a more developed vocabulary around love I think would help to alleviate our confusion and to clarify our thinking on the topic. The song, “The Greatest Love of All” first recorded and popularized by George Benson and then rerecorded and made even more popular by Whitney Houston, would tell us that “Learning to love yourself It is the greatest love of all.” This declaration might sound nice, especially set to a beautiful musical arrangement and song so masterfully by Whitney Houston, but is it accurate?
Self-love, in the Greek, narzissismus, from which we get the English word, narcissism, certainly has a negative connotation because it used to describe an inordinate fascination with oneself. But there is a healthy form of self-love that the scriptures endorse. The Bible first commands in the Levitical law to, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18- NIV). This command is repeated numerous times in the NT (Mat. 19;19, 22:39, Mk. 12:31, 12;33, Lk. 10:27, Rom. 13:9, Gal. 5:14, James 2:8). Self-love is implied in this command because we are to emulate self-love in loving our neighbor. In describing the love that a husband it to have for his wife, the Apostle Paul declares self-love as a given, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:28-29 -NIV).
While appropriate self-love is important, it is not the “greatest love of all.” Jesus himself provides the answer in this discourse with his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus of course did lay down life, but while he may have been our friends, his friendship was not initially reciprocated. Romans 5:6-8 tells of Christ unfathomable expression of love, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Modern western society tends to speak of love in the expression of feelings or emotion. While feelings are encapsulated in love, they are not the basis for love. True love is a volitional act of the will. The Bible describes love, but through my studies of the scripture, I have yet to find a definition of love. I like the definition of love first shared with me years ago by the now late Rev. Jerry Henry. He defined love as follows:
Love is doing what needs to be done in a spirit of self-sacrifice even when we don’t feel like it and the object of our love doesn’t deserve it.
Sounds a lot like God’s love for us.