How to Love- Part 3
Giving What Matters Most
by Ernest O'Neill
"How to Love." That's what we're discussing together these mornings at this time, Monday to Friday each week -- "How to Love". I thought that that was important to discuss because of the emphasis that we all put in our world on love. We all say that love is the secret to happiness and love is the secret to national and international and personal and social harmony. If we had more love, all our problems would be solved.
We have all kinds of books that describe how we should love and what love is. Most of our songs are about love. So I thought it would be important to discuss a topic like this since there is so little love in our world in spite of all this: in spite of all this talk, in spite of all this writing, in spite of all this emphasis, in spite of the fact that almost every one of us would agree that what the world needs now is love. Yet there is very little love in our world. So this is an incredible paradox that we human beings face: the fact that we all say, "What the world needs is love", and yet there is little love in our world. So that's one of the reasons why we're discussing this whole subject, "How to Love", for these weeks together at this time.
Often-used Definition of Love
What we shared, you remember, up to now has been based on the definition that is so often quoted on Memorial Day of what love is: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." We said that, at least, love is laying down your life. It's giving part of yourself or giving your whole self to others. Indeed we finished our discussion yesterday by saying that probably a human being determines whether or not you love them by the amount of readiness they feel there is on your part to lay down your life for them if you need to. So, that even though an expression of love might be a present, or it might be some time that you give to someone, or that it might be some words that you speak to someone, yet they probably determine if that's love or not by the heart attitude that they feel you have toward laying down your life for them if they really needed you to do that.
That's an interesting thought, isn't it? A person can accept a present as love or they can accept it just as generosity and kindness. What determines if it comes home to them as love or not is your heart attitude: do they really feel that if it came to the bet, if the chips were down, you would in fact lay down your life for them? So love, in whatever degree it shows itself, in an action or in words or in thoughts, it has some of this element of giving yourself to other people, giving your own self, giving your life to them or giving part of your life to them.
There is another factor you can see in this definition, because in that phrase, "Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends", there is the sense of doing something for other people. In fact, you can see in this definition that it's not a matter of doing something for other people that costs you nothing. It is in fact doing something for other people that costs you everything. It's laying down your life for your friends. Normally that means, to those of us who understand the English language, laying down your life in place of their life.
That's what it means when we talk about the people who have given themselves in wars for the sake of those of us who live here in this nation of freedom. We mean they have laid down their lives so that our lives would not be taken from us. They gave their lives for us. When we see a man in a plane crash giving up his opportunity to be saved as he tries to thrash around in the water to keep himself afloat and the life-saving device is thrown to him, and he, in fact, gives it to another passenger instead of using it himself, we say "greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends". We mean he is giving that life-saving device to the other person, even though he knows it will probably mean him losing his own life. That's what we mean by laying down your life for your friends, you give your life in place of theirs. You, in fact, allow your life to be taken away from you that their life can be saved.
So there is, in real love, what we call a vicarious element. Vicarious comes from a Latin word "vicarious", which means "in turn", giving something in turn or in place or instead of another. There is that vicarious element in real love. It means giving yourself in place of another. Now that helps us considerably when we come to another definition of love, you remember, which runs, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself".
What does Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself Mean?
It's very popular today to say, "Oh, loving your neighbor as yourself. It obviously means you can only love your neighbor as yourself if you do in fact love yourself. So first of all, you must love yourself, and then after you've done that and you've learned what that means, then you love your neighbor as yourself" -- that is, alongside yourself. You give yourself real love, and then you give your neighbor real love.
Of course, that definition falls apart in practical outworking, because we're all so busy loving ourselves that we never have time to love our neighbors, or we are so concerned with loving ourselves that when the opportunity comes to love them, we can't love them, because it so often cuts across loving ourselves. Or, so often the love we need to give to another person competes with the love we need to give to ourselves. In that situation ourselves always win out.
So in practical outworking that heretical interpretation of that clause is actually invalid. Also, you can see it is invalid in the light of the superior definition of love that we are discussing, because obviously loving your neighbor or yourself in the light of the clause, "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends", means you love your neighbor instead of yourself, in place of yourself. You love your neighbor in the way you used to love yourself. That's the normal interpretation down through the centuries of that famous statement, "Love your neighbor as yourself".
It's simply that in our present society, almost in the past three decades, we have turned this around and we have changed the normal meaning of the English words here so that we try to make loving your neighbor as yourself as loving yourself first and then loving your neighbor in the same way. In fact, it means loving your neighbor instead of yourself, in place of yourself. It's the vicarious element that you find in the other definition of love that we're discussing. "Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends".
Laying down your life for your friends means putting your friends in place of yourself, giving to them what you would normally give to yourself. That's what loving your neighbor as yourself is about. That's what laying down your life for your friends is about. It means you give the most precious thing you have so that they can have the most precious thing that they have. It's giving up the one thing that matters most to you so that they can retain the one thing that matters most to them. In other words, you can't lay down your life for your friends and protect your life at the same time. It's impossible. It cannot be done.