Monday, April 3, 2017

True Love – or Fish Love?

What do you love? Probably a lot of things. We hear people say it all the time: “I love summer.” “I love reading a good book.” “I love Denzel Washington.” “I love my dog (or cat).” “I love pizza (or prime rib).” “I love New York City (or Chicago).” “I love classical music (or rap).” “I love the Buckeyes (or Crimson Tide, or Fighting Irish).” “I love my car.” “I love my wife (or husband).” “I love ‘Fixer Upper’ (or NCIS, or ‘The Bachelor’).”

We seem to be a people who love to love, and love being in love. Recently, however, I saw a video in which a rabbi explained how we’ve cheapened the term “love.” In fact, he asked a question we all should consider at one time or another: Is it true love – or is it “fish love.”

There's nothing wrong with "fish love,"
but the only one it costs is the fish.
The rabbi elaborated that someone might declare, “I love fish.” But after that individual catches a fish, he kills it, filets it, fries it – and eats it. What if we treated our spouses like that? Much of the time, he observed, we regard the things we love in terms of personal gratification – tastes good, looks good, or makes us feel good.

Too often we speak of love in terms of what we expect to receive. The young man smiles as his prospective bride walks up the aisle, imagining how she’ll complete his life and fulfill his every desire. She’s thinking of him in similar terms. As I’ve noted in other posts, we see this mindset exhibited on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and shows like that, in which the reality stars proclaim their “love” for several people at the same time, because they all gratify them in different ways. Kind of like saying, “I love fish…and chicken…and pasta…and cheeseburgers...and chocolate cake.”

If we were to survey couples who’ve been married for a long time, many of them in one way or another would credit the longevity of their relationship (at least in part) to the discovery that love is as much about giving as it is about receiving.

To truly love means learning to use phrases like “my way” and “I want” in decreasing measure, and instead asking questions like, “What do you want to do?” or “What can I do for you?”

We often hear people say, “God is love,” like it’s some casual mantra. But we fail to grasp what God’s love means – and what it cost Him. We see that cost stated in John 3:16 and the verse following, a passage so familiar we risk not appreciating its gravity: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Yes, God desires our love and worship and praise – and deserves it fully and unreservedly. But the greatest expression of His love was not what He would receive, but what He would give, in order that we might receive life everlasting. The word for love most commonly used in the New Testament is “agape,” a love that is selfless, unconditional and costly.

Engaging in “fish love” doesn’t cost anything. The only one making a sacrifice is the fish. We indulge and enjoy, then discard the bones, scales and scraps. We’ve gotten out of it what we wanted, and that’s the end of it. By contrast, genuine love often requires sacrifice, sometimes a lot of it. Picture the wife who sticks with her maimed soldier husband after he returns from a tour in the Middle East. Or the husband who devotes his life to serving his wife in her latter stages of dementia.

We see this poignantly portrayed in the final chapter of the gospel of John. After Jesus guides His disciples to a miraculous catch of fish, He confronts Peter, who earlier had denied Him three times. Twice Jesus asks Peter, “do you truly love Me?” using the term agape – sacrificial love. Peter replies each time, “You know that I love you,” using the term phileo – a form of love that refers to fondness or friendship. Kind of like “fish love.”

Finally, Jesus changes His own word, using the term “phileo” when He again asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:13-19). As I understand this encounter, Jesus essentially was telling his impetuous disciple, “Okay, I’ll accept you where you are. The time will come when your love for me will become agape, and it will cost you everything. But it will be well worth it.”

Maybe we should ask ourselves: Do I truly love Jesus, or is “fish love” all I have to offer?

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