The Forgotten Love
It is an exceptional season. A unique experience for each person, some travel great distances to be with friends and family. Others remain content at home, sitting in front of the fire reading the story of Christ’s birth while the snow quietly settles outside. Still others gather on the beach, where they can swim while the barbecue slowly grills their chosen cuisine. It is of course, the season of Christmas. For all of the buildup leading to the celebration of our Lord’s birth, it becomes disenchanting to realize that a mere month later, that spectacular time of celebration is barely a memory for many of us. We have already moved on to the next thing.
The day after Christmas I needed to run an errand for my family. I was quite surprised to enter the store only to find it in disarray. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. Today was December 26th. Christmas had passed and we were being compelled to move on. So this particular store was tearing down its Christmas displays and replacing them with what else but Valentine’s displays. The irony of the situation was not lost. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ and his subsequent life, the most authentic and substantial example of God’s love, I was now being directed by society to move on and now celebrate instead, man’s feeble attempt to reconstruct the definition of love. And here we are. It’s February, the month of love. But by the time we arrive at the season of love, we have already forgotten the foundation of love.
The pursuit of life has become the pursuit of the meaning of love. I once heard one person say, “I have been searching for the meaning of love my entire life. When I find it, I believe I will be complete.” The truth is, the further that a person ventures away from Scripture, the further away he or she ventures away from the definition of love. This is why society is always grappling with a right definition of it. Only in the Word of God can a right understanding be attained. Contained within its confines, love is put on display through relationships between believers and God, relationships between believers and other believers, and relationships between believers and unbelievers.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians allows the opportunity to view a loving relationship between believers. On display is the love that Paul has for the Colossian church, as seen in his labor on their behalf (cf. Colossians 1:24 & 2:1). Out of love, Paul writes to them in order to see them built up in their relationship with Christ and setting aside false teachings and false ways of the world (Colossians 2:6-8). Love is exemplified not only his relationship to those on his ministry team, but in their relationship to the Colossian church (Colossians 4:7-18). But it is the opening of the letter that provides deep insights into our appreciation for the richness of this concept of love. It is here that Paul writes:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” ~ Colossians 1:3-5a
Love is Uniquely Founded
A love that is genuine does not find a foundation built upon the things of the earthly realm. Instead, genuine love is founded upon the things of the heavenly realm. The Colossians have a testimony of well-defined and well-placed love. How do we know this? Because Paul has heard about it. Their testimony was so strong and had such a lasting impact, it was being talked about among the believers, eventually being shared with Paul. But what are the ingredients for having such a potent outpouring of love? Paul tells us in the initial part of verse 5; It is because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. Compelled by the hope that they have in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Colossians love their community of fellowship. Paul notes that he has heard not just of their love, but also of their faith (verse 4). Genuine love is inseparable from genuine faith.
Love is Uniquely Functional
Paul’s response is also not what we would expect. It is clear that Paul is thankful for the Colossians and cherishes them. If it were not so, he would not write so passionately to them, nor would he call them ‘faithful brothers’ (verse 2). But Paul does something different. Expecting him to reap high praise and thanksgiving on the Colossians, he instead goes to God and thanks Him for the Colossians. Paul’s expression of love for the Colossians is to pray for them and to praise God for them.
Love is Uniquely Fulfilled
Finally, genuine love is uniquely fulfilled. Marriage opened my eyes to understand certain points of Scripture that I had never quite understood before (i.e. the church being described as the bride of Christ). Thankful for who she is, I love my wife, Bethany, very much. After being married, she opened my eyes to what true love was as she became a great example of it. Life as missionaries can be difficult, and I have watched her not only sacrifice, but labor very hard, usually with the intent of making things easier for me. However, she has always done so without expectations. She has never taken an opportunity to point out how much she does for me in an effort to compel me to do something for her. She has never used the things we do or don’t do for each other as a way to show who loves one another more. She simply embodies love without expectation. Paul’s own example shows the same thing here in Colossians.
The secular mindset would say that love is shown and fulfilled by what you do for me or what I do for you. Paul loves the Colossians so much, he is willing to work tirelessly on their behalf. Yet, he doesn’t expect anything in return, but instead is encouraged to hear that they are showing their love to others (verse 4). The same attitude is found in Philippians chapter 2. Considered about the unity of the church, Paul writes that he would find complete joy not in how they treat him, but how they treat others in the church (Philippians 2:2). Love has no expectations and is fulfilled as people continue on in the same way by loving others.
The Applied Love
Ours is a calling of love (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27) and the opportunities are there. We are constantly surrounded by people to love. We have parents, and many of us are parents. We have neighbors, attend church with friends, and meet strangers at the grocery store. We don’t have to look for the opportunities to love because they already exist around us. The question is, are we loving? Are we overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit as we interact with one another while not expecting anything in return? Finally, do we use our love as an opportunity to point to Christ and glorify God? We have a true love that has come down from heaven and rooted in God that now needs to make an impact on the world.
Genuine love for God is shown by a genuine love for people. However, a genuine love for people does not begin without a genuine love for God.