What is love?

If you’re like me, you will have started singing this song by now. But I’m not talking about Haddaway. That’s the title of a chain email I’ve received twice this week. It’s your typical wishy-washy “Isn’t this sweet” type of email. Basically, a stack of kids are asked what they think love is and they reply very cutely. At the end is a prayer that you’re supposed to pray for the person who sent you. All in all, seems like a really harmless, cute email, right? One that’s good to send on?

Well, no.

I’m going to include the email behind the cut.

What is Love?

Slow down for three minutes to read this. It is so worth it.

Touching words from the mouth of babes.

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds,

‘What does love mean?’

The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

See what you think:

‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore.. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’
Rebecca- age 8

‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’

Billy – age 4

‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.’
Karl – age 5

‘Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.’
Chrissy – age 6

‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’
Terri – age 4

‘Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’
Danny – age 7

‘Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss’
Emily – age 8

‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents
And listen.’

Bobby – age 7 (Wow!)

‘If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.’
Nikka – age 6 (we need a few million more Nikka’s on this planet!)

‘Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.’
Noelle – age 7

‘Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’
Tommy – age 6

‘During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.’
Cindy – age 8

‘My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.’
Clare – age 6

‘Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.’
Elaine-age 5

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.’
Chris – age 7

‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.’
Mary Ann – age 4

‘I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.’
Lauren – age 4

‘When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.’
Karen – age 7 (what an image!)

‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross.’
Mark – age 6

‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.’
Jessica – age 8

And the final one:

The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.

When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said,

‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’

When there is nothing left but God, that is when you find out that God is all you need. Take 60 seconds and give this a shot! All you do is simply say the following small prayer for the person who sent you this.

Heavenly Father, please bless all my friends in whatever it is that You know they may be needing this day! And may their life be full of Your peace, prosperity and power as he/she seeks to have a closer relationship with You. Amen.

Then send it on to five other people. Within hours you caused a multitude of people to pray for other people. Then sit back and watch the power of God work in your life.

P. S. Five is good, but more is better.

God Bless You!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think, on the whole, that the kids’ responses are cute. Some of them are completely on the mark. What concerned me the most, though, is the sentiment at the end. Read it again (or perhaps for the first time, if you’re like me) and see what you can find that might concern me.

Give up?

It’s the prayer that I noticed first. It’s exclusively asking for things, without thanking God for all he’s done. It’s using him as a wish machine. Which is in itself a bad thing. That could be used to ask for good things, though. It is possible to say an exclusively asking prayer and still be Biblical, but it’s inadvisable. But this prayer is not like that. Sure it’s for someone else, but I wouldn’t want anyone asking God for these things for me. You see, it’s asking for prosperity for the person prayed for, not for added maturity, not for guidance, most certainly not that they live for Jesus and glorify God in all things.

That’s not all. Look at the last sentence before the postscript. “Sit back and watch the power of God work in your life”? The problem with this sentence is it is essentially twisting God’s arm behind his back. It’s saying that God has to do all the work, and that we can sit on our behinds and do nothing. It’s a take-take view of our relationship with him. God doesn’t work like that. He uses his people – whether they like it or not – to do his work in the world. That’s not saying that he can’t miraculously do everything without our help – he could, he’s God, but he’s chosen to use us, sinful, evil human beings, to act out his will (Philippians 2:12-13, Hebrews 6:9-12, Titus 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4…).

In fact, the whole closing reeks of prosperity gospel. And that’s bad. But not entirely surprising, considering the beliefs of most nominal Christians.

The main thing, though, is that the email is about love, but there is there no mention of Jesus. If you’re a Christian and you’re trying to tell people what love it, you need to mention what God did through Jesus. After all, God is love (1 John 4) and he demonstrates his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8-9). I mean, Jesus was the only human ever to rightly deserve to live in full, right relationship with God, and yet he took all the punishment that we, who reject, spit on and hate God, deserve. So if you’re writing something on love, it’s crucial to include that. It would also be good to include the 1 John passage. It’s crucial to include Romans 5. Not to mention Ephesians 2, Philippians, Matthew, Mark Luke, John… You get the picture.

So why doesn’t this email do this? I think there are a couple of reasons.

1: It’s a cute little chain email, one that was probably written by non-Christians to “awwwwwww” at. It seems to me that the God stuff has just been tacked on, possibly instead of the fear-mongering “send this to so many people or get bad luck” stuff.

2: It’s (covertly) attempting to water Christianity down from absolute truth to “well, if you don’t hurt anyone and if you try to be good and if you say you’re a Christian then God will make you rich and happy and popular” in order to remove the uncomfortable obligation we have to commit everything to Christ.

So how would you do this email well? Do include the cute kids. They draw people in. But make Nikki (‘If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.’) the feature of the email, not the boy who sat on the old guy’s lap. She knows what love is. And include a gospel message, much like the one that’s here. Include Romans 5:1-11:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

and 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And this prayer:

Father in heaven, you are the Creator of us all. You know when we rise and when we sit; you know each thought we have before we have it. You knew us before time and planned out our lives to match what you willed to happen. Thank you for all that you give us, especially for the gift of Jesus and his atoning death. Thank you for your grace, thank you for your mercy, but most of all, thank you for your love. Help us, as sinful human beings, to submit to you as your children and to do your work with joy and thanksgiving, as did the Apostles. I pray that you would help those who receive this email to understand the gospel and to accept it with their full hearts, ready to be used by you. Most of all, though, help all Christians to grow in maturity of you, and to know and love your word. Help us to always glorify you and proclaim your name to the nations.

In Jesus’s name we pray, for the glory of the Trinity,

Amen.

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