By Pastor Glenn Pease
Missionaries often get into complicated cross-cultural issues. Such was the case of the missionary to Africa who had the chief of a tribe all ready for church membership. Only one barrier blocked the way. The chief had 50 wives, and the church would not admit him to membership until he dismissed his harem, and kept only one wife. It was a day of rejoicing when he finally decided to surrender to this demand. But there was one technicality, which wife should he keep? The missionary ruled that it should be wife number 1, but the chief thought it should be wife number 16. They departed to think it over for the night, and the next morning the chief returned. "How many wives you got?" he asked the missionary. "Why, only one, of course," he replied. "Well then," said the chief, "That settles it. You got one wife, I got 50. Therefore, I know 50 times more about wives than you do. I keep number 16."
We do not know all the reasons why number 16 was his choice, but this story illustrates a basic truth about love, and that is that love is a choice. This is the essence of this whole great love chapter of Paul. He stresses that we are nothing, and we gain nothing, if we do not have love. Even if we have all kinds of other gifts, we are nothing without love. Everything minus love equals nothing. That is the formula for failure. Leave out love, and you leave out the heart, and life is empty. But the whole point is, nobody has to leave out love. Love is a choice. That is why his first words in chapter 14 are, "Make love your aim." In other words, love is no mere accident that happens to you. Love is something you do. It is an act of the will. It is a choice.
God did not look down upon the fallen world and suddenly get goose pimples, and feel love for lost man. God has feelings of compassion for man, but God's love is not a matter of feeling, it is a matter of His will. He could have justly chosen to destroy man, but He chose to show mercy, and provide a way of escape, that man might be redeemed. God's love for us was a matter of choice, and not emotion, for it was while we were yet sinners that He chose to die for us. His emotions were just the opposite of His choice of love. Sin makes God angry, and you too can be angry with someone, but still chose to do the loving thing, just as God did, because love is a choice.
This does not mean love is cold and unfeeling, but that love can and does function with or without the energy of feeling, for it is primarily an act of the will. Ordinarily the two will coincide, and the choice of love will produce the positive feelings that go with a loving choice. But if for some reason the feelings are short-circuited, true love goes on choosing without their support. This is how you distinguish between love and infatuation. Infatuation is an emotion which controls you. It is a powerful feeling that motivates you, but circumstances can alter it, and, therefore, it is dependent upon that which is outside you. Love, on the other hand, is an act of the will, and you can continue to choose it regardless of changing circumstances and feelings. Someone defined love as the feeling you feel when you feel like your going to feel a feeling like you never felt before. This is infatuation and not love.
In our culture we often we fall in love and marry on the basis of infatuation. Then we learn to love, that is, develop a pattern of choices whereby we relate to our mate in love as acts of the will, and not emotion. In many cultures the young people start off on this level. They do not date or experience the emotion of infatuation, but they are brought together by their parents, and they choose to love the one so selected. This is not appealing to us, but it has been a very effective method for marriage, for it is based on love as a choice, and not as an emotion. We are so hung up about feelings in our culture, it is hard for us to grasp this truth that love is a choice.
The more we can make love a choice, the more we will understand love in all relationships, and the better we will be able to sustain and improve all relationships. Jamie Buckingham, an outstanding Christian author, was explaining his parental love to his 14 year old daughter. He said to her, "When your older sisters and brothers were born I loved them. But I did not love you because I did not know you. When you arrived, several years later, I willed myself to love you as much as I loved them. I did not love you simply because I had to. The nurse could have handed me any baby in the nursery and I could have willed myself to love that baby. Fortunately she handed me the one your mother had given birth to-and I chose to love you because I wanted to." Then he said, "I went ahead to explain how my parents, after having had four sons, adopted a tiny baby girl. They willed themselves to love her as much as they loved their own children. In turn, I willed myself to love her as much as I love my brothers."
The point here is, my love relationships in life are not built on emotion, but on acts of the will. It seems so easy and natural to grasp. You do not love your children or other family members because you feel all gooey about them necessarily. They often aggravate and anger you, and your emotions are frequently negative. Nevertheless, you love them, because your love operates on the level of the will. Love is a choice. The more we apply this truth about love to life, the more we will build relationships. Many a marriage would be greatly strengthened if mates would see their love for one another as a matter of choice. Emotion is too unstable, and too subject to change, and so love based on emotion is more unpredictable than the weather. Nobody always feels positive about someone they love. But love based on choice can remain solid and sure through all the turmoil of change, for negative feelings do not alter one's choice.
I like the way this author put it, "I have bound myself for life; I have made my choice. From now on my aim will not be to choose a woman who will please me, but to please the woman I have chosen." He is heeding Paul's advice by making love his aim. Here is a man who has caught the Biblical meaning of love. It is not feeling, it is a choice. We show our love for God, not by our emotions, but by our choices. This does not mean we never feel awe and deep feelings of love for God. But it means that these feelings are not the key element. They are the frosting on the cake, and make love more enjoyable. Feelings that are positive are always a welcome addition to the choices of love. But love that is more than superficial sentimentalism will go on making the right choices pleasing to God whether their are feelings or not.
Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." So we demonstrate our love by choosing to obey regardless of how we feel. I may have feelings that pull against the choice of love. I may feel like stealing something, but I chose love, and keep the commandments. Usually I feel like obeying, but even when I don't feel like it, I chose to obey, for love is in my choice and not my feeling. Feelings may be opposite of my love, but they do not hinder my love when I make the right choices. If I only obey God's will when I feel like it, and have emotional support, I do not love God at all. I only love my feelings, for they are the dominant motivation of my life, and not the will of God.
What is true in my relationship to God is true in my relationship to my mate and others. If you are trying to build a marriage on feelings, you are like the foolish man building his house on the sand, and you are heading for collapse. The wise man built on the rock, and the rock on which any loving relationship must stand is the rock of choice. Your love must be based on your choices and not on your feelings. There is too much of life's responsibility that cannot get done based on feeling. How often do you feel like scrubbing the floor, or taking out the garbage in below zero weather. You get many tasks of life done, not because you feel like it, but because it is a loving choice to do it.
Love is what makes you do so much that you don't like to do. You do it because you love God, you love yourself, you love your mate and family, and you love your neighbor. You feel obligated to shave and comb your hair, and to keep your kids clean and well-clothed, and to keep your yard in respectable appearance. What are all of these social pressures? They are opportunities to chose, and when you chose to do what you do not feel like doing, because it is the best choice for others well being, that is love. Love is the constant making of choices that are for the benefit of one's family and community. It is also love for self, for the person who does not care about how he subtracts from the over all beauty and harmony of life, has a poor self-image, and lacks a love vital to his relationship to God and others.
Franklin Jones was certainly accurate when he said, "Love does not make the world go round, but it makes the ride more enjoyable." We do not want to minimize the value of feelings, for they are precious and God-given. We just want to recognize they are not the engine of love, and that love can function well without them. Plush seats do not make the car go, nor do they make it go better. They just add to the pleasantness of the going. That is a positive value, but it is a negative factor if people refuse to make the trip, because the plush seats are absent. When the journey of a couple through life revolves more around their emotions then there choices, they are like a couple who refuse to go on vacation because their velour seat cushions are matted down, and are no longer attractive. When love is seen as emotion rather than choice, there will be confusion, and a loss of God's perspective and value system.
Nobody really needs you to feel any particular emotion. What they need is for you to chose to do those things that say I love you. This is what makes courtship so romantic and enjoyable. People do things that are fun and loving in courtship. Their feelings are also excited and positive, and we see the two go hand in hand. The emotions motivate us to do things that are loving. But mature love is when we go on choosing the loving things, even when the flames of emotion are no longer pushing us. This is Christian maturity. The enthusiasm of the new Christian is long past, but the mature Christian goes on doing what God delights in by choices of the will, and not emotion. Mature love is choosing to do what meets the needs of others, regardless of emotions. You cannot decide how to feel, but you can decide to do what is loving. Make love your aim, for love is a choice. Here are some Biblical examples.
1. The rich man Dives chose not to help Lazarus in his poverty, and so non-love is also a choice.
2. The priest and the Levite chose to ignore the need of the man robbed and beaten. It was their choice not to be loving. The Good Samaritan made the other choice. Both choices face us daily in many situations. We chose to love, or we chose to ignore a chance to love. All of life is choosing, and we are doing it constantly, and so everyday we are choosing love, or choosing non-love.
3. Jesus chose to go to the cross. He said, "No man takes my life, but I lay it down freely." The cross was His choice, and that is why the cross is the greatest symbol in the world of God's love. He could have chosen to let man be lost forever, but He chose the cross, because God is love.
Every choice in life can be evaluated by asking, is this a loving choice? If it is not, it is a bad choice. All sin is a bad choice, for it is a violation of love for God or others. Everything that is right is so, because it is loving. Everything that is wrong is so, because it is not loving. Why is lying, cheating, and stealing wrong? Because they are not loving choices. Why is being honest, generous and kind, good? Because they are loving choices. All of life revolves around choices. You are what you chose. Man was lost by unloving choices, and man was saved by loving choices. Every time we make an unloving choice, we are part of the problem. Every time we make a loving choice, we are part of the answer. The goal of life is to simply make love your aim, and this means making choices that please both God and man, for love is always, and primarily, a choice.