If love is a feeling, how in the world can you promise to love someone forever?
Of all the things in our lives our feelings are the part of us we have the least control over. You can’t promise to feel a certain feeling every day for the rest of your life. If love is a feeling- love for a friend, love for a husband or wife- if love is a feeling, it’s no wonder the odds are better than even that it won’t last.
When you turn to the New Testament, love isn’t just something you promise to another. It’s something you’re commanded to give another. When the lawyer asks Jesus for the key to it all, Jesus says: ‘Love the Lord completely and love your neighbor as yourself.’ The night Jesus washes his friends’ feet, Jesus tells them: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you.’ And when the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians he commands husbands to love their wives and wives to love their husbands.
Those are all imperatives.
Jesus doesn’t say like your neighbor. Jesus doesn’t say you should love one another. Paul doesn’t tell husbands and wives to try and love one another.
They’re imperatives. They’re commands.
Here’s the thing.
You can’t command a feeling. You can’t command an emotion. You can only command an action.
‘Love one another’ Jesus commands.
Jesus takes a word we use as a noun, and he makes it a verb. In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second.
Which is the exact opposite of how the culture teaches us to think about love. We think of love as a noun, as a feeling, as something that happens to us like measles, something we fall into like a pool and out of like chair.
The culture teaches us to think of love as a noun, which means then we think that its our feelings of love that lead to acts of love. So if the feeling we felt for someone is no longer there, all too often we assume we must be with the wrong person. So all too often we give up and get out, looking to find that feeling with someone else. Or, even more often, you stay together but you don’t stay in love.
In 10 years of ministry I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve met who treat love as a noun, who’ve let the culture convince them that they must feel love first in order to give it. And that’s a recipe for a broken relationship, and, oddly enough, one we would never practice on our children- we do loving things for our children every day whether on a given day we feel like it or not.
Because when you think you must feel love first in order to give it, then when you don’t feel love towards the other you stop offering them loving acts. And of course the rub is the fewer loving actions you show someone else, the fewer loving feelings there will be between you.
In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second. And I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Un-Romantic.I know that its a feeling that sparks a relationship, but the basis for an enduring relationship, the basis for a relationship that can last a lifetime is making love…a verb.
Love is something you do- even when you don’t feel like it.
That’s how Jesus can command us to love our enemies. Jesus can’t force us to feel a certain way about our enemies, but Jesus can command us to do concrete loving actions for our enemies knowing that those loving acts might eventually transform how we feel.
The key to having love as a noun in your life is making love a verb.
Jesus says: Where your treasure is that’s where you heart will be also. In other words, where you invest loving actions, loving feelings will follow. You do it and then you feel it.
So, in your relationship you may not feel tender but you act tender.
You may not feel sympathetic on a given day but, just as you would your son or daughter, you listen and show them your sympathy.
You may not feel patient and kind tomorrow evening but tomorrow evening what you do is muster up some patience and kindness.
You may not feel very forgiving the next time the two of you fight but forgiveness is exactly what you offer.
You can’t promise the feeling of love. That’s not the covenant. The covenant is that you promise the action of love every day. Love is something you do and you trust the doing to transform your feelings.