by Emily Conrad
But for love, the list was short. Just a couple of lines about “intense affection,” attraction, and “enthusiasm or fondness
No wonder it sometimes seems like the world is talking a foreign language when it comes to relationships.
As a Christian, I was raised that love may have different meanings—there’s agape love and philia and eros. I was taught that God’s love, true and complete love, is sacrificial, willing to go to any length to reach the beloved. Furthermore, I was trained to believe that I must allow God to make me over into someone who practices His version of love. The kind that isn’t based in emotion, but rather stands steady on a choice of commitment. The kind that involves selfless sacrifice.
That’s perhaps what stands out to me the most about my dictionary definition of love—there’s nothing about sacrifice. There’s nothing about putting the needs of others before our own. There’s nothing about steadfastness.
But as much as I feel the definition of love is lacking, I’m struck again by how long the definition of work is. Inspired by Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, I’ve been looking up words that stand out to me in the book of Titus. So far, I’ve looked up 31 words. Of those, “work” had the longest list of definitions.
One of those definitions seems to be in line with what Paul meant in Titus when he spoke of good works: “An act or deed as of charity.”
But of course, if it weren’t for the encouragement of Women of the Word, I wouldn’t have looked up these words. I would’ve read Titus relying on my own internalized definitions of such simple words.
Work and love.
We all have definitions of these already, don’t we?
Given just those words and some blank space, how would we define them?
More importantly, which do we emphasize in our hearts and by our lives?
Because what I see in Titus (and other places) is a dual importance—what we believe in our hearts, and how that impacts what we do in our lives.
I suspect that many, even those who’ve been raised with the same definitions of love and work that I have been, live out a short definition of love and a long definition of work. Or, rather, we put the emphasis on work and forget it’s actually supposed to be on love.
Those who struggle with perfectionism, as I’ve been known to do, work like we can prove our worth to God and to others. We use works to confirm our ideas of who we want to be—respected, valued, important.
This emphasis on work involves a lot of pride in what we can accomplish on our own. On what we can prove. And when we fail, look out because we’re about to live out long definitions of shame and striving, too.
An emphasis on love, on the other hand, focuses on what God has already accomplished on our behalf. Good works should result out of this, but they’re based in the security of God’s perfect love rather than the shifting ground of pride.
He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. (Titus 2:14, NET)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12, NET)
But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy […]. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-5a, 7
Works are in there, yes, but our confidence is in love and grace.
Love, grace, works.
But as always, the greatest of these is love.
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