Last night, at our home group, we opened the Word and discussed this last Sunday’s sermon text on 1 John 4:7-21 which offers a compelling picture of where love comes from, what love looks like, and how we can enjoy and express it. It was dope.
One of the questions we discussed was, “What are the definitions of love we often see in the world?” Of the many good answers, it was an answer from one of my brothers that struck me with peculiar force: “Love is unconditional affirmation.”
I think he was right. There is widespread belief that loving someone means always accepting and embracing whatever they choose to think, feel, or do and that it is always unloving to challenge, confront, or correct. This view of love thinks it should be all sugar and no scalpel.
However, in truth, this is a love that is lazy, selfish, and so unlike the love Christ shows at the cross. Kevin DeYoung describes this well:
Love is so much more difficult than the bumper stickers make it out to be. It requires so much more than a general sentiment of good will. It is so much deeper and better than unconditional affirmation.
What does unconditional affirmation require of you by way of sacrifice? Nothing. All it requires is a wave of the hand–“Whatever you do, I’m fine. However you live, that’s fine.” The problem with unconditional affirmation is not that it is too lavishly loving, but that it is not nearly loving enough. When God tells us to love our brothers he means more than saying, “I’m okay. You’re okay. Whatever you do is fine and I don’t judge.” To really love your brother is to lay down your life for him. It requires you to die to yourself, which may mean a sacrifice of your time, a sacrifice of your reputation, and a sacrifice of your comfort. Unconditional affirmation only asks that you sacrifice your principles.
Love is harder than we think. Of course we love our kids and grandkids and those who treat us well. We love nice people. But Jesus says even the pagans do this. That’s not hard. People love people who love them. But will we keep on loving when it means bearing burdens we would rather not be bothered with? Will we love when the people we love do not love us in return? Will we lay down our lives for those who are unlovely, undeserving, ungrateful?
Isn’t that what Christ did for us? When we were unlovely and undeserving and ungrateful, Christ died for us. He loved us not because we were holy, but so that we might be holy. His love was self-sacrificing, sin-atoning, and life-transforming.
He loves us with a love that the world does not understand. And it is so much better than unconditional affirmation.
Christians are products of a love that isn’t unconditional affirmation, but selfless confrontation. The love of Jesus is one that compelled Him to be our sacrifice, but also to convict us of our sin in the deepest place of our heart. His is a love that would not affirm us, but interfered with us. For that reason, His people will sing His eternal praise.