Why Sacrificial Love Misses the Point
And Attachment Helps Us See Why
Yeah, I know God loves me. Whatever…
I don’t talk about love much anymore.
At least not God’s love.
I find it unhelpful. For many people the idea of love these days is so watered down, so sentimental, so…vapid.
It’s not just that I’m a left-brained logic chopper cutting through the emotional clutter of life with confident insights and wisdom (well, it might be a little of that…).
But I find telling people that God loves them isn’t helpful for at least two reasons.
FIRST, Hearing that God loves them seems to bounce off people. It don’t sink down. It doesn’t seem to mean anything.
Part of the reason is because our concept of love is lost in emotionalism, sentimentality, and romantic ideals. Many people have given up on love, or feel they already have it.
But people are searching for something more than romance and sentiment. They are looking for friendship, people that are just glad that they are around, and a place to belong.
SECOND, talking about God’s love is difficult because people reclaiming love from our cultural sentimentality often refer to sacrificial love.
Love isn’t about you, we’re told. It is selfless. It is about the other person. Love is to sacrifice yourself to build up and flourish another person.
Sacrificial love is hospitality, it is laying aside your interests for the sake of others, making room for others.
But this move from sentimental to sacrificial love misses the point of love. And it distorts what salvation is really all about. And, most importantly, it distorts or view of God.
But Sacrificial Love is Biblical, Isn’t It?
Yes, it is. Definitely. Let me just rattle off a couple of verses.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
“Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5: 2).
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
And for the big finale:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
All of these speak of self-giving, of self-less, of sacrificial love as the example, as the greatest, as the demonstration of God’s love.
Doesn’t this make sacrificial love the highest, the best, the greatest?
Paul even says, “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross! (Phil. 2: 5-8)
Our relationships, our love for each other, is a long process of becoming obedient to the cross, of carrying our cross daily (Luke 9:23).
This is following Jesus!
This is discipleship!
This is love!
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But is it Enough?
Sacrificial love—by itself—is a dead end.
On the river of love, sacrifice is the course the river follows in a broken world. But it’s not the source.
The river of love flows as sacrifice in a fallen world. But it’s not the fount of that love.
To follow the course of sacrificial love, without tending to its source, leads to burn out, discouragement, and disillusionment.
To follow the flow of sacrificial love, without tending to its fount, leads to martyrdom-complexes and selfish manipulations.
Sacrificial love as a goal or a practice—in isolation—will leave you adrift in a world of unfulfilled needs, codependent relationships, and frustrated reform projects.
On the river of love, sacrifice is the course the river follows in a broken world.
But it’s not the source.
Is God going to sacrifice us?
And worst of all, focusing on sacrifice leaves us with a wrong view of God.
The first step focuses on God loving us so much that he sacrificed his Son to save the world. But then the second step is believing that God is going to sacrifice us! (Sure it is all part of God’s continuing plan to save the world in Christ, but nonetheless, God is going to sacrifice us).
We come to believe that true life and ministry is supposed to be a grind, full of hardships, and things we hate in order to prove that we really are living the mission of God, that we are sacrificing for God, that God is sacrificing us!
I have met too many people who feel disconnected from God, see God as a demanding (sacrificial) task master. And they are burned out trying to carry all these crosses day after day. These people have lost their joy in the Lord amid guilt for not being more (sacrificially) loving. These people think God’s will for them is clearest when they are doing things they hate or fear.
This all happens because we forget the source of love, the fount of love.
It’s Family Love, not Sacrificial Love
The truest measure of God’s love is not sacrificial, but familial—the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit. It is the attachment love that God has for us, and that is being developed in us.
The truest demonstration of God’s love for us is that the Father would love us with the same love he has for the Son in the Spirit. The truest revelation of God’s love is that we would become children of God, sons and daughters of God, that we would be united to God in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
This is the mission of God, the reason Jesus came. “For God so loved the world the he sent his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus reveals the purpose of his mission, of his sending, in his prayer before his crucifixion. This prayer reveals a different kind of love, the real source of love.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:20-24)
Jesus prays that his disciples would be one just as the Father and Son are one. What does it mean for us?
It means—Jesus tells us—that the Father has loved the Son from before creation. For all eternity!
The source, the fount, of love is the eternal love of God between Father and Son through the Spirit.
God Loves You As Much As the Father Loves the Son
God, therefore, loves us AS MUCH as the Father loves the Son in the Spirit. AND THAT’S A LOT.
It is the love of family, the unbreakable bond of affection, joy, and belonging. It is the love of devotion and delight—an eternal love without contract or agreement, without bargaining or balancing. This is a love that is full, full of life and abundance.
Sure Paul says that God demonstrated his love by having Jesus died for us. But Paul also talks about joining the family of God through the Spirit.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8: 14-15).
And it is for this reason—as those now in the family—that Paul proclaims that “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
Nothing can separate from the love of God in Christ because nothing can separate the love of the Father for the love in the Son through the love of the Spirit. Nothing. Period.
Family Love First. Sacrificial Love Second
It is from this family love that the Father sends the Son into the world, knowing that this family love will be expressed as sacrificial love.
But this sacrificial love—based in the love of family—is a JOY for Jesus, who “for the joy set before him he endured the cross.” This joy is the joy of bringing others into the family—the loving family of God (of Father, Son, and Spirit).
All our work, mission, evangelism, politics, everything for God, should not spring from sacrificial love as a duty. It should spring from family love—that we rejoice in being part of God’s family, and long for others to share in the same love and joy.
It is only the intersection of this family love and a fallen world that creates the need for sacrificial love. But when we cling to the source of love in God’s family, then the course this love takes in a fallen world won’t be a burden. It might even become a joy for us.
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