Friday, October 15, 2010

The Meaning of Love

Last Sunday evening I had occasion to compare Old English word meanings with Modern English meanings for the same words.

Take the words "suffer" and "let."

"Suffer" now means to endure pain, but it used to mean to "let or permit" someone to do something.  Maybe the change was related to "putting up with" the other person's actions.

"Let" now means "to allow," but it used to mean "restrain."  These meanings seem so contradictory that I have trouble imagining what brought about such a complete change.

That made me think today about the Bible's use of the word "LOVE."  I think there has been a complete turnaround with the meaning of this word too.  But the switch here has been more subtle.  We would still use the same word, but its meaning in modern culture is completely changed.

Today the word love is used to describe INTENSE LIKES, as in, "I love ice cream!"  Whether it is ice cream or people - love refers to some level of liking.  The phrase "love at first sight," describes an infatuation and, as with other crushes, is just an intense feeling of liking someone.

Where marriage vows used to include a commitment "to love, honor and cherish til death does us part," modern vows are as likely to say, "to honor and cherish til LOVE does us part."  In the past, we would commit to LOVING someone for a LIFETIME.  In the present, people only commit to the relationship as long as they still LIKE each other.

LOVE in the Bible is not infatuation, but commitment.  Love in the Bible is not a feeling, but an action of the will.  Love in the Bible is not something you fall into - it is something you decide to do.

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..."  The modern reader is bound to think that God had an intense LIKE for "the world."  But in fact, God was at war with the world.
(Romans 5:6–8) For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:10) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

"For God so loved the world..." doesn't say God liked us.  It says that God chose to commit Himself to us.  He determined to act on our behalf, in spite of our sin, in spite of our unworthiness,  in spite of our wholesale rebellion against Him.  He decided to commit Himself to the salvation of all who will believe - by giving His own Son as our redeeming sacrifice.

"...that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

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