Love Pursues

Words matter. I don’t like the word, ‘codependent,’ as it has lost its meaning. The term used to be ‘co-alcoholic,’ and if we were to use that term now, we might understand better that we’re describing a person who loves an alcoholic yet can’t quite seem to help them into sobriety.

There are other such words that, through various means, have lost their meaning. No harm, no foul – just keep up. As words are put to use, they change. Dictionaries are not so much prescriptive, but more descriptive. (Do we even use dictionaries anymore? Maybe that’s why we have to slow down in our conversations and define our terms. But I digress.) That’s why we need various translations of the Bible – not because the original language has changed, but rather because whatever language is in use is also in constant flux.

I don’t speak in King James’ English, although that was once the vulgar tongue. Do you remember the earlier definition of the word ‘vulgar’? The very fact that English was common was part of the argument against translating the Bible out from the Vulgate in the first place. (I thinketh there may be a connection between ‘Vulgate’ and ‘vulgar’, which is a bit ironic.)  Shalt thou now speaketh with the English of olde? Nay, I say unto thee; holy it is not.

All translations are a bit tricky, as anybody who knows more than one language can attest. We all know how words and phrases in one language do not fully convey the nuances of another. Not even from French to Italian. The English word for ‘love’, in the Greek can mean three (four?) different things. More specifically, we all know that agape is not eros, yet both are ‘love’. Words being words, show how love is not love.

In fact, that phrase, “love is love” is putting on display the logical fallacy of equivocation, where the definition changes immediately. But then, the phrase asserts that the very change of definition supports the fact that the definition doesn’t change. “Don’t believe your eyes,” is what Orwell might say.

After God delivered His people from literal and figurative slavery, He spelled out what it means to love Him. At the top of the list, is Exodus 20:2-3 (NLT) – “I am the Lord your God, who rescued from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” Most people recognize this as the First Commandment – and Jesus describes it as the “greatest commandment” (Matthew 25:38). Do with that what you will, but I take that to mean two things. 1: Not all religions are the same. And 2: God is inherently love.

God explains: Exodus 20:4 (NLT) – “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.” Commandment Number Two isn’t just dropped there with a quick pivot to Number Three. Rather, God dives into an example of what His love looks like, and therefore what our love should look like in response.

Exodus 20:5-6 (NLT) – “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”

Sometimes it helps to look at the opposite of something, in order to understand the positive of it. Looking at the word, “reject”, helped me understand God’s definition of love even better. The Study Notes from this passage state:

Reject (literally hate): The Hebrew words commonly translated ‘love’ (Exodus 20:6) and ‘hate’ are difficult to translate into English because they include an act of the will as well as the emotional element we are familiar with. In biblical thinking, to ‘love’ is to choose something and to act consistently in accord with that choice. To ‘hate’ is to reject something and to act in ways consistent with that choice. The choice is connected to emotion: Feeling expresses itself in choices, and our choices show how we really feel.”

God’s love, by definition, pursues us. Even as we are moving away from Him; as we show Him hatred. Jesus had a parable to describe God’s pursuit of us, even as we were actively rejecting Him.

In Luke 15, Jesus offered us this very picture of the heart of God – as a father who looks constantly outward, hoping that his child will come home. When he does return, the father throws off his dignity as he throws on the barbecue; enjoying the restored relationship. He then pursues the faithful brother, sharing the insight that all that he has, the older son also has – including that very bit of insight.

As God comes toward us, whether we are the one who left or the one who stayed, we can recognize it for what it is, and we can be changed.

Early in our faith, we are the wayward son. Later in our walk with Christ, we become the faithful son – each one had more growth to do. The faithful son had to be taught to enjoy the party for those who come home; and that there is no lack of love for either of them. Both children were sought out by their father, and taught different things – and shown great love, according to their need.

Words matter. Love is a word that describes pursuit, commitment, and relationship. Feelings are not irrelevant, but not the point. We can show our love to God and to His people. We can also do that with those who are not in the faith – and it is good to recognize that there is a difference. John has a lot to say about love and hate, and how those words have actions that correspond:

1 John 3:11-16 (NLT) – "This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

"If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

"We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters."

Loving those within the family of faith is different than loving those outside the faith. And we are to love them both. Loving our family first does not exclude those outside the family, either – it realistically prioritizes our love. Loving TRUTH inherently means that we do not love falsehood.

Keep in mind that we can love those who support falsehood; indeed we are commanded to – that is what loving our enemies looks like. Love does not reject those who reject us, or God – but it does require wisdom. And wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. But that moves me on to another train of thought, and I’m going to punch that ticket later.