There is a way in which we all have had our perceptions of love redefined by what the culture says is “true love.” The insipid counterfeit that often masquerades as love in novellas and on silver screens is nothing like the Original. It is lust in a bridal gown. It is self-interested gratification impersonating selfless devotion. True love, though, is no summer fling. It knows no passing phase in which its visage changes with the changing seasons. And that is because the truest form of love is conceived in the heart of the One who is Love himself. “God loves!” writes John Henry Jowett. “The beginning is not to be found in us, in our inclinations and gropings and resolvings and prayers. These are essential but secondary. The primary element is the inclination of God.”1
Ours is a God who bears the initiating impulse to love. (1 Jn 4:7, 19) We wouldn’t know what it means to love apart from he who is Love Incarnate. (1 Jn 4:8–11) And it is in that way, then, that we are to apprehend what love is — namely, it is the entire self-surrender of one for the sake of another’s good. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus declares, “to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13) — words which were heard by a motley crew of Jewish rabble who were unfamiliar with this unbounded tenor of affection. But such is the “tremendous energy of love,” to parrot the words of Jowett, who goes on to say:
Love is not an idle sentiment, a sweet langour, a gaily-tinted bubble, sailing in the quiet summer air. Love is energy, throbbing with benevolent purpose, seeking for ever increasing ministries through which to express itself in beneficent service. Love is no effeminate reverie; it is a hungry spirit of sacrifice. ‘God so loved that He gave!’ That is it; love is an impartation, a giving, sacrifice unconscious of itself. The word ‘sacrifice’ is not to be found in love’s vocabulary. Love gives and gives, and takes it as a gracious favour if you will receive the gift. Love never sits down to contemplate its sacrifices. It only sits down to think out new fields of service. Love is tremendous energy, hungrily keen for the detection of need, that it might fill the gaping gap out of its own resources.2
Love hones in on the desperate, concentrating its “tremendous energy” on those who feel (and, indeed, are) the most undeserving of its unconscious sacrifice. Love seeks out those who are dead and imparts its resurrecting power through unhesitating self-surrender. This life-giving love that’s found in the death of itself issues in constant flow. A stream of compassionate consideration gushes down Golgotha’s tree. “The affection is continuous,” Jowett says; “not spasmodic, but unbroken; there is no abatement of its volume.”3 Notwithstanding the days which go by, which are brimming with such inconstancy and volatility, the violent love God in Christ is a fixated reality unfamiliar with second thoughts. “His love is so violent,” Thomas Goodwin affirms, “it is so set, that he takes occasion to bless so much the more.”4 There is no end to this “tremendous energy” of self-donating love.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Jn 13:1)
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism: And Other Sermons (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1901), 237.
Thomas Goodwin, An Exposition of the Second Chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1861), 176.