For many years I have ridiculed a pleasure-based love… ‘People only love because it makes them happy…” How fickle, I thought. And it’s evidenced by so many marriages going the way of all flesh, isn’t it? Feelings of pleasure fade – and so does the love. There is no commitment. People only love because of what they get out of it. But isn’t that why you love God? Because of what He did for you and for what He offers.
What is love? If love is the concern for the happiness of another, then isn’t it natural to want to love someone that brings you pleasure? Certainly. It’s illogical to think that someone would want to love another who would never reciprocate. Love – even unselfish love – seeks a measure of fulfillment and joy. It’s not wrong – as long as we don’t allow that to become the only time we love. Commitment is the skeleton of love; the emotion of joy is the soft, warm flesh that covers the cold, hard bone of choice.
Love is absolutely an emotion. Remember what it was like to be a young adult and to fall in love. Do you remember what it was like to have fond thoughts of that other person, that first crush? Then your parents went and ruined it all by saying… “You’re not allowed to like anyone. You hear me?!” Did it work? Could you turn it off just like that? No. BUT like all other emotions, which are fed by your thoughts, the less you would think of that person, the less you would like / love them.
Love is a choice. For some, the emotion and romance of love is a far-distant memory in their relationship. Commitment is a huge part of love, so when the joy of love fades, cold commitment is all that is left. Love has become nothing more than a duty, a responsibility. Love has been reduced to a choice – one where we choose the good of another over yourself. One of sacrifice, even when feelings push against it. Love has lost all its joy and has now become the antithesis of emotion. Every relationship in life is vulnerable to this corruption: Men and women lose their romance in marriage. Hobbies lose their luster, favorite teams disappoint. Church members, once dedicated and involved, end up coming to church only when they are necessary, doing what is minimally expected. Christians lose their drive to be near their Savior and stop reading the Bible, stop praying, stop giving, stop witnessing…
In order to have joy, you must love.
In order to love, you must have joy.
Love and joy are inter-dependent. You cannot truly have one without the other. Our eternal example is within the Trinity (3-in-1, with nothing else, in complete fellowship (love) and completely satisfied (joy)). We need a re-program in this area… that we should NEVER separate love and joy. It’s a two-part epoxy. They are closer than PB&J. They don’t just sing the same song, they only sing duets… never solo. Need I remind you of the first two fruit of the Spirit… Love and joy!
Some might argue from 1 Cor. 13:5 that love and pleasure do not go together, but I’d like to respectfully disagree! Love cares deeply about the pleasure of others above my own. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not pleased. Why would I care about someone else’s pleasure? Because it pleases me to care. I enjoy seeing them smile / happy. It gives me joy to give them joy. In reality, love is the overflow of joy.
Someone has compared it to air… imagine that Bill is a high-pressure zone. He is full of joy (we’ll talk about where he got that joy in a sec). But he’s full – needle’s in the red! He’s fulfilled, he’s happy, he’s joyful, he’s pleased. Then he runs into Rhonda who is sad. She’s disappointed, she’s unhappy, she’s empty. She’s a low-pressure zone. Love is the transfer of joy. It makes the connection to transfer pleasure from Bill to Rhonda. Got it?
Love is joy in action, but it is not simply action only.
Paul was clear, I could give, sacrifice, even die for others… but without the emotion of love, it would be empty. Acts of service and kindness are only a part of love – they are not the essence of love. A simple example – so many husbands get home from work, dirty and tired, after stopping at the bank to deposit their check just in time to cover all the family bills… only to be met with the question from an insecure wife: “Honey, do you love me?” He blows up… ‘What!?! Of course. Look at all I do… I provide for you all… etc.” He has assumed that the act of love is the skeleton… without the warm flesh of emotional love, it seems so cold and dead. She has forgotten that underneath the warm fuzzy of emotion is the high cost of sacrificial love in action.
“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving” – Amy Carmichael
This is a tremendous danger is your spiritual lives as well. Religion emphasizes the actions. Your Christianity is a relationship that must be nurtured. Many churches fall into a performance-based love and acceptance of people. If you don’t get involved, then your value is low. We can get the cart before the horse. Let me say, though that the cart and horse are both necessary. Feelings are not enough – love requires action. Your relationship with Christ should move you to active religion (James 1:27 – meeting needs of orphans, widows, etc.). Remember what 2 Cor. 9:7 says…? God’s loves a cheerful giver (a person who loves out of joy).
How to get your joy (of loving) back:
Love God. Engage heart, soul, mind, and strength. God has no needs, He’s a high-pressure zone… so every time you get near Him, He fills you up! Be concerned with what pleases Him with your life. Live by faith, trust Him (Hebrews 11:6a). Joy comes from God and if I’m far from God, I will not be able to have what He offers (Ps 16:11). Happiness comes from happenings, but true fulfillment comes from being full. Achievements might satisfy for a time, we might preoccupy our minds with earthly pleasures for a season, but eventually we realize we need a drink. Remember the woman at the well? She took a drink that became a river of water within. True joy is in God alone. Not what He gives us, but who He is to us. Nurture that relationship by loving Him every way you can and real joy will follow. Guaranteed.
Love Mercy. Micah 6:8 says to love mercy. A major key to getting you joy back is reversing the choice-based, performance-oriented emphasis on love. In order to do that, we’ve got to see how that God loved us when we were unlovely. Re-centering on grace will fix this every time. It will recreate in us a gracious love that not only gives joy to others, but also restores our own joy as well. Loving mercy is learning to appreciate grace. Grace experienced leads to grace expressed. The woman who poured out her precious perfume on Jesus’ feet did so because she understood forgiveness. Truth is, the reason we are not forgiving and gracious is because we haven’t properly applied grace and forgiveness to our souls! Think about the enormity of what God did – He didn’t just overlook your ‘mistakes’ – He totally swallowed your death-pill and then adopted you into His family, to sit at His table, to share His things. That is the manner in which we should love others (Eph. 4:32)! If you ever do the math, it might seems we like you give more than we get. The ration is often as much as 2:1 – and we don’t like to feel like we’re being taken advantage of. And we forget the invisible ratio – the Heavenly account – which is often as much as 100:1. Allow God’s grace to reproduce grace toward others in you.
Love Someone who has nothing to offer you in return. Nothing brings happiness (horizontal joy) back to you faster than taking it to someone else. Meet the need of a stranger. Help the helpless. Visit the lonely. Lift up the fallen. Heal the hurting. Don’t lose sight of Acts 20:35: It’s more blessed to give than to receive (joy comes more from giving than from getting). Rom 15:1-2 commands us to help the hurting and bear our neighbor’s burdens. To please them. But, again, this isn’t that you are not pleased. In fact, Jesus is a great example of this (vs 3). He endured so much to please His Father. Yet Hebrews 12:2 says that He did it for another reason… “for the joy set before Him.” There is always a joy set before you – the question is: Do you see it? The joy of loving God, the joy of loving mercy, the joy of loving others.