Love That is Utterly Despised
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.
As I’ve been reading through the Song of Songs, I’ve been musing on the nature of love. But this verse caught my attention the other day and I’ve been thinking about it’s implications. Join me in thinking through what it means:
The first part of the verse is pretty easy. Love is powerful. It’s a fire that can’t be put out with water. Not even many waters can put out the fire of love–it’s that powerful.
But the second part is much more difficult. If a man gave all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly despised. This flies in the face of what we are taught about love, doesn’t it? Often we’re taught that love is a sacrifice, that it’s not just flowery emotions or lustful passions, but laying down our lives for one another in service. This verse seems contradictory to that idea.
Let me try and help. If a man sold all he had and attempted to buy the love of a woman, most of us would react strongly, somewhere between bored disgust and outright rage. We’d look at that man and know that he might have desire in his heart, but no real love. He was attempting to make a transaction.
Real love isn’t transactional. It’s not looking to give something in order to get something in return. It’s birthed out of a much deeper, more real place, where, yes we’re willing to give all we have, but it’s because we love whoever it is we’ve fallen in love with.
The best example is God’s love. God’s love is never transactional. We could never earn it. If we sold everything in our house and gave it to the church or the poor in order to make God love us, it would be utterly despised. We can’t buy God’s love. Nor should we want to. If we buy love, it’s not love, it’s just a transaction.
This is why it’s good news that God loved us first. The apostle John says this, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins,” (1 John 4:10). See, we cannot buy our way into this love. We can’t earn it. There is no level of righteousness that will get God to love us more than He already has. We can only receive the love of God and live lives that are a response to it.
But this is true for more than just God. We are called to love others, but often, especially within the church, we feel the need to try and win others’ love through serving. In many ways, this is giving what we have for love. It’s trying to earn love from others through our efforts or even trying to win love for God through what we do.
Now we still need to love others, but we cannot buy love through service or sacrifice. Have you ever been served by someone who you felt like didn’t love you? It doesn’t feel good. It feels forced. No one wants to feel tolerated. It’s the noisy gong and clanging symbol that Paul warns us about.
What do we do when we find we don’t love someone from the heart? We go back to God and ask Him to fill our hearts with His true love for that person. This may seem hopeless because you can do very little, but when you are convinced that God loves you in all of your weakness and mess it’s so much easier to love others who are weak and broken.
Love is stronger than death. It cannot be put out. But the fake love that doesn’t come from God will not last. Give yourself to getting the kind of love that will stand the test of time and overcome death.
You won’t regret it.
The Transforming Power of the Love of God
Lately I’ve been reading the Song of Solomon*.
This time around, I’ve been reading it as the story of a church that God dearly loves and the journey that she goes on in order to become the mature Bride of Christ we see described in Chapter 8. What’s struck me as I read this time was how much power the love of God has to transform a person.
Let me explain: The book starts with a woman (called the Shulamite) who is insecure about herself. She’s deeply loved by Solomon and loves being loved by him, but when he comes to her and asks her to join him in the harvest, she refuses. She loves safety and security more than she loves Solomon. So in chapters 3-5 there is an elaborate courtship, where Solomon leaves and the Shulamite, realizing her mistake, goes on a journey to find him. She is drawn out of her selfishness and leaves comfort to find Solomon.
Then in Chapter 5 something amazing happens. The Shulamite begins to look for Solomon a second time. He came and reached out to her. She responded. But by the time she responded He was gone. She goes looking for him and asks others where she can find him. When she does, these others ask her, “What’s the big deal about this guy? Why do you love him?” She launches into what amounts to a hymn of praise for Solomon that provokes these others to want to find him as well. And when she finds Solomon, they remark: “Who is this who shines like the dawn—as beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awe-inspiring as an army with banners?” (Song of Songs 6:10). This woman, who identified herself in chapter 1 as “dark, but lovely” is now “awe-inspiring as an army with banners.”
This is our story as well. We start out loved by God but insecure, afraid, and divided in our hearts. But as we expose ourselves to God’s love, we are transformed by it. God’s love poured out in our hearts, convincing us that we are the desire of His heart transforms us. Suddenly in our quest for Him, people start to look at us and say “Why do you love Jesus as much as you do?” We get to tell them. And just as the Shulamite was transformed by her love for Solomon, we are changed by our love for Jesus. We become a different person because of the transforming power of God’s love.
I write all of this because so often we feel like taking time to seek God, to receive His love, to hear His voice is a passive, even selfish thing. Often we feel like there are better, more noble, less self-centered things to do, but the transformation that happens when we know, receive, and grow in is worth our time. It transforms us. It draws others to Jesus. It’s only in receiving this love on an ongoing basis that we get beyond ourselves and join Jesus where He is.
So take time today, tomorrow, and the days after, to know and receive God’s love. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings in it. Often early it will feel pointless. It’s worth the time. If you continue to know and receive the love of God, you will be transformed.
*The Song of Solomon has a long history of the church not knowing what to do with it, but there are essentially two groups of thought on the subject: One group sees the book as the biblical celebration of human love in the context of marriage. (Warning: this view requires you to see more explicit sexual images in the Bible than you ever thought was in there.) Another group all throughout history has seen this book as the journey of the believer into intimacy with God. (I wrote a brief introduction to the Song of Solomon that can help catch you up on this interpretation.) While will argue until Jesus returns about this subject, I’m over hear like “Why can’t it be both?”
In an ongoing effort to provide a jumping-on point for new readers, I’ve written a series of posts entitled “Basic Introductions.” Each post gives my definition of a seldom explored realm of Christianity so that readers who are unfamiliar with some of the terms and concepts discussed here will have a quick reference point available to them. The following is the list of "Basic Introduction” posts here at Pursuing Glory.
Basic Introductions: The Bridal Paradigm
Ever heard people talk about Jesus as a Groom or the Church as His bride? Ever wonder why people are so excited about the love of God? This is the post for you.
Basic Introductions: The Song of Solomon
If you’ve ever heard people talk about Jesus and the Song of Solomon in the same sentence and not understood where they get Jesus in that book, this post is a great place to start.
Basic Introductions: Characters and Plot in the Song of Solomon
Once you understand the Song of Solomon a little better, you may want to dig a little deeper. This is the post you want to check out next.
Basic Introductions: The End Times
If you’ve always thought that we really don’t need to know much about the End Times because we won’t be here during most of the scary stuff, you should probably read this post.