“Love is blind, and marriage is an eye-opener.” So goes the old saying. But what is love? To many, the word itself is exciting. Love is pure positive emotion. Love is a force to be experienced. Love is uncontrollable, thrilling, bliss!
Others, particularly those in collegiate settings, would say that such bright ideas are naïve. After all, power is what motivates all of our decisions. Selfishness, then, is a better approximation of what love is. Love is an expression of power. It is an exercise in self-interest.
Still others would say that simply equating love with power is too deliberate, especially since love is such an evocative topic. We don’t simply go about acquiring everything we desire; rather, desires sometimes “come over us.” We might even say that desires acquire us. We begin to feel that we must have or do or be something. And then we say that we “love” that thing. We “need” it. Surely our consumerist culture has turned the Beatles’ song around. They sang, “All we need is love”; but we know that all we love is need. If we love something, then we need it. We must have it. And so, love becomes something far different from exciting. In fact, love can become habit, something that we have become accustomed to and that we regularly require. Ultimately, love becomes an addiction.
The more elevated souls among us, though, say that love is not nearly as self-interested as all this. Love, they insist, is concern for others. Morrie Schwartz, whose struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease is chronicled in Mitch Albom’s best-selling Tuesdays with Morrie, said that “Love is when you are as concerned about someone else’s situation as you are about your own.”
The more cynical souls hear this and respond that such “love” is simply dependence – two individuals provide one another esteem, money, compassion, or companionship.
Some say it is losing yourself in someone you care about – forgetting about yourself for their sake and their good. It is the farthest thing in the world from being selfish.
Whatever else love may be it is certainly treated these days as the supreme value in our culture. We effectively reverse what the Bible says about “God is love” by talking as if “love is God.” Call something “love” and you have justified it beyond all questioning. No defense is needed. No explanation is required. “It’s love, can’t you see!” People speak of wars fought in the name of religion. Surely, no fewer wars have been fought in the name of “love.” So, what, finally, is love?
The Bible tells us “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”
We must begin with the challenge to love: sin. Israel’s sin occasioned Hosea’s prophecy. What exactly was the spiritual state of Israel at the time? It was not good! Hosea was written almost three millennia ago. The Lord says, “they have sunk deep into corruption” (9.9). And not only were they corrupt, but they were stubborn about their corruption: “The Israelites are stubborn” (4.16), and they “refuse to repent” (11.5).
They had “rejected what is good.”. They had “rejected knowledge” and “ignored the law of [their] God.” They had “rebelled against” God’s law. They regarded it “as something alien.” And in rebelling against God’s law, of course, they had “rebelled against . . . God” himself. “They had not obeyed him.” The Lord himself summarizes, “my people are determined to turn from me.”
Wow! What determination! Did you ever think of sin as something so personal, something so directly involving God? That is how God describes it. Rejecting God’s law is turning away from Him! Sin, God goes on to say, is “contempt” (12.14). Contempt for whom? Contempt for Him, of course. Breaking the law was not merely the breaking of some impersonal principle. It was the betrayal of a personal covenant, like a marriage covenant. God says, “like Adam, they have broken the covenant.” And clearly these Israelites were children of Adam. They had followed Adam’s example and sinned: “the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law.”
My friend, if you are a non-Christian, I wonder if you have considered how personally God takes your sins. When you, as someone made in God’s image, do something wrong, such as lie, steal, commit adultery or covet, you are acting against God. Maybe you have thought of yourself as a nice, moral, but religiously neutral person. Examine your own heart. See if you can discern what an illusion religious neutrality is. What was it Jesus said in Matthew? “He who is not with me is against me.”
In light of the people’s sin of offering human sacrifices in the high places outside of Jerusalem, it is all too ironic how God finally dealt with the sin of His people. In Christ, God took on human flesh, lived as one of the people of Israel, and became involved in a human sacrifice on a high place outside of Jerusalem – except He was the sacrifice! God Himself, in Christ, bore the wrath of God against the sins of all those who would ever repent and believe in Him.
What does all of this mean for us? As we read through Hosea this Advent season, and encounter these unfaithful, wrong-loving, prostituting people, we must realize that Hosea’s condemnation does not apply so much to all the non-Christians “out there.” No, what he says applies to God’s people in the Church! Hosea means for God’s people to examine themselves and their own sin.
If you know yourself to have been born again, know that God has given you new life so that you would have a heart for Him. Therefore, continually take an axe to the root of the sin that separates you from God and His love.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org