(Continuing my series of ponderings on “Love Is…” from 1 Cor. 13:4-5…)
For now, I’m skipping over some of the more obvious ones like “Love is not arrogant.” Don’t be arrogant, okay? 🙂
The phrase, “Love does not seek its own” is definitely worth turning over in our minds and hearts, because the nature of love is to give, not to take. Love looks outward toward others, while sin looks inward to the satisfying of self, often at the expense of others.
It is this phrase, “Love does not seek its own”, that makes me surmise that the opposite of love is not necessarily hate. Many of us kind of see it that way, sort of as a spectrum, with love on one end and hate on the other, and we tend to use that spectrum to measure our feelings for someone else. But thinking about it that way reduces love to a mere emotion. And while emotions accompany love, there is much more about love that is a choice, not a feeling. Hatred isn’t good, but the truth is, we do not have to hate someone in order not to love them.
So what if we do away with the “love spectrum” in terms of positive and negative feelings, and think about this as either the presence or absence of love? If love is present in the way we live, we seek the good of others, not merely of ourselves; if love is absent, we seek only our own pleasure.
Because of the outward-looking, giving nature of love…I believe the opposite of love is not hate. I believe the opposite of love is selfishness.
There is another nuance of meaning here we shouldn’t miss. In the phrase, “Love does not seek its own”, the Greek word for seek carries the meaning of plotting or conspiring. It carries even a connotation of sneakiness. In this sense, “seeking one’s own” can take the form of subtly conspiring or manipulating people and things to get something one wants.
I think this is important to know, because often we can cloak hidden agendas under a disguise of seeking the good of someone else. Put another way…we might do good to someone else, but only if there is something in it for us. It might be something we’ve worked into the deal that benefits us directly…or it could even be something as subtle as doing good for someone because it makes us feel good to be appreciated or thanked or whatever. (Of course, the cover is blown if the person doesn’t show the expected appreciation.) Either way, it’s kind of a mercenary approach to love, isn’t it? It’s love with strings attached; it’s love that seeks its own. (Read: it isn’t love at all.) It looks like love, but the motivation is still the satisfying of self. We didn’t really have that person’s best interests at heart, but our own interests.
Does that mean that all love is about self-denial? Not at all; there is actually a great sense of fulfillment in seeking the good of others above ourselves. It’s just that sometimes–quite often, in fact–seeking someone else’s best interest does mean doing so at our own expense. It means that when we truly love someone, our own fulfillment becomes secondary; we’ll do what’s best for that person, even if it hurts us personally. The self-serving counterfeit of love won’t go that far, and it gets exposed when love starts to cost us something.
In pondering this, I get the picture of Jesus agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He went to the cross. His prayer–“Father, if You are willing, let this cup pass from Me”–tells us that in the pressure of that moment, Jesus had the opportunity to choose to “seek His own”. He was counting the cost of love in that moment–the cost of laying down His life. But in the next statement, you see the choice: “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours.” In that moment, He put the will of His Father, and the good of us all, above His own.
This is what love does.
I mentioned earlier that there is great fulfillment in seeking the good of others above ourselves. In Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, Keller paints what I think is a beautiful word-picture of the Trinity. Rather than a static hierarchy, he pictures the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a continual life-giving interaction of love, esteem, and preference for one another, almost like a dance. You can see it in Scripture that all three Persons of the Godhead point toward the others in deference and praise and esteem–the Father loves the Son, the Son reveals the Father, the Spirit testifies of the Son, and so on. This makes much sense to me, because if God is love, He cannot be static; love must be a constant outward flow, and that is met in the mutual love the Persons of the Trinity have for one another. From this standpoint, God did not create man in His image because He “needed” someone to love. That would have been static and self-serving. Rather, He created us to invite us into the joyful dance of love that was already in existence. This, I believe, is why there is fulfillment when we seek the good of others. When we do, we are participating in the outflow of love; we are joining the Divine dance, as it were, by focusing outward rather than inward.
When man sinned, he turned inward toward self, became static, and lost the dance. But a loving God would not leave us lost; rather, the Son came, sent by the Father, to redeem us, and by His act of love invited us back into the dance. And when the Son returned to the Father, the Son sent the Spirit to come alongside, to teach us and remind us of the steps.
There is a saying, “Love isn’t love until you give it away.” When I remember that “love does not seek its own”, I know why this is. Just like a dance–love must be in motion. It cannot just flow to us; it must flow through us. We can’t really understand love, or really receive it, when all we see is ourselves–because receiving love comes as we give love away.
Love does not seek its own. Because love is in motion.
Anyone care to dance?