What kind of music do you listen to?
I’m an Apple Music guy, so I have access to a lot of tunes. But only 4 or 5 of my playlists get a real workout. Typically I’m listening to Christian music, or sometimes country. My son John is the only Filippino cowboy I know, so he generally asks to listen to country when we’re driving somewhere together. Perhaps my favorite playlist is my Christmas music list, but my wife insists that I can’t listen to that year round. And then occasionally, I get in the mood for secular music, so I have a secular playlist as well. Plus, when I’m working or studying at a McDonald’s or some other public place, they’re typically playing secular music in the background (except at Chick-Fil-A, which plays fantastic instrumental praise music).
A few months ago, I was studying at Culver’s, and The Way I Tend To Be by Frank Turner (weird video; don’t bother) shuffled up on restaurant’s radio. I was unfamiliar with the song, but it was catchy and upbeat, so I snagged it from Apple Music. And listening to it again, this time more carefully, it hit me… For the most part, this song could describe me and Jesus.
And since then, two things have happened… 1) Turner’s song has been a fixture on my secular playlist, and 2) every time some totally random, secular tune like Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now (Starship) or Eternal Flame (Bangles) pops up at McDonald’s (or wherever), I think about whether or not it could apply to Jesus.
I suppose I might be heading around the bend in my middle age, but I’m tempted to make some kind of crazy far-reaching claim like, “For the Christian, every love song is ultimately about Jesus!”
Let’s think about it…
Most “love songs” aren’t really about love
In our culture, we have totally redefined the word “love.” And quite for the worse, I might add. Among non-Christians, and sadly even among many Christians I know, “love” has become one of the most overused, undervalued and misunderstood words in the English language. Our culture’s unarticulated, unthinking, autopilot definition of “to love” typically bears no resemblance to how God would define it.
First, it might be something like…
love (v.) — 1. To make someone feel gooey and squishy and happy by gratifying their immediate desires or impulses.
Examples: “I know my husband loves me, because he makes me happy.” Or even better, “in order to claim that you love me, you must unquestioningly approve of my choices.”
Implication: when I don’t feel gooified (technical term!), then you must not be “loving” me very well. And to tell someone they’re wrong is quickly moving toward “hate speech.”
Or, second, it might be…
love (v.) — 2. To observe the beauty, value or usefulness of someone or something, and consume it for oneself.
Example: “I love my wife, because she is so fun and beautiful.” Or, “this is the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had; I love it!”
Implication: when your benefit to me runs out, then so does my “love” for you.
Bad news, friends… Both of these definitions have very little to do with love. Desire, maybe. Lust, possibly. Self-gratification, for sure. So, every song that’s about how hot the girl is or how great the sex needs to be or how thoroughly some person meets my immediate needs or makes me feel good… Every song about my gorging myself on personal gratification… Not one such song in fact has much if anything to do with love. And that, of course, means that not one of them could ever be about Jesus.
Rarely is Jesus terribly interested in making you feel sappy-gooey-wonderful today by playing to your self-gratification. Rarely is He that invested in your having an amazing fun-filled next Tuesday because you get your fill of earthly things. And Jesus never has been and never will be your genie in a bottle or vending machine, eager to produce trinkets on command. When God blesses us with material things or emotional highs, they are secondary at best. They’re byproducts of His higher, greater purposes for us. Jesus — amazing Lover that He is — knows that the best gift He could give anyone is … wait for it … Himself. That’s what eternal life actually is, after all — simply being with Jesus forever. And this is better by far than any material blessing or temporary emotional high. It’s not about what Jesus does for us, it’s about who He is with us, in us … and what we can be in Him.
God wants your desires to be fully satisfied. He wants you to drink your fill of joy. More than you know, actually. But He also knows that such satisfaction and joy can only come from gorging yourself on Him. Everything else is a highly dissatisfying, joy-destroying saccharin-laced substitute.
So, no, lust songs and self-gratification songs don’t apply to Jesus. But what about actual love songs?
Then what would qualify as a love song?
love (v.) — 1. To consider another’s needs to be more important than one’s own. To put you before me. To choose you, when it costs me to do so. To defer to your preferences over mine.
And at its deepest, truest, the-way-God-models-it level, loving someone means…
love (v.) — 2. To create (produce) beauty, value or usefulness in someone or something by pouring yourself into them, so that who you are / what you have is sacrificed for their benefit.
The world’s warped definitions of love focus on consuming others — taking from them for the my sake. Real love, on the other hand, prefers others and gives to them — produces in others for their sakes.
Worldly love endlessly consumes, because the longing in our hearts we’re attempting to fill is shaped like God (infinite), but we’re trying to fill it with earthly things (finite). Real love endlessly produces, because its source is God Himself (infinite). We were made to be filled by Him, not by anything He created, and then overflow to others. This is possible, because God is an infinite supply and fills abundantly — to overflowing.
So, if a song is about being filled, it is truly a love song only if the source of filling is Jesus. In other words, such a song can only legitimately be about Jesus. To come at another person or thing fixated on how I can benefit from consuming their value is a fool’s errand. Come at God. Partake of His infinite beauty and value, and He will create in you a spring of living water, which overflow to everyone around you (John 7:38). Then come at others with a heart that desires to fill them — not be filled by them. And then, counterintuitively, you will receive joy and satisfaction you cannot otherwise know. That’s love. And nobody does loves — real love — like Jesus.
Jesus as a Lover?
For some, this might be getting a little weird. For those who care about Jesus at all, it’s probably pretty easy to understand the concepts of a God who is Creator, Savior, Lord (King!) or Father. But Scripture is clear that God is preparing us as a bride for Himself (the Father for His Son; Matthew 22:1-14). As the old hymn-writer says, Jesus is the lover of your soul.
It was love that motivated God the Son to become a man, live among us as we live, and suffer the shame and torture of a criminal’s death. It was love that motivated the very creation of the universe, and is the reason that God sustains it. Don’t think for a moment that God gets something He needs out any of this. There wasn’t a think wrong with God’s character or happiness or sense of fulfillment when it was just the Triune God alone together in themselves. But out of His great love for us, which cannot help but overflow into giving Himself away, that God created the universe and is redeeming it. And not just content to have secured a “not guilty” verdict for us, God is about the work of perfecting us. He will resurrect our bodies, will renew the cosmos that we inhabit, and has promised to set us up as kings and queens, sharing in His glory and reigning over a flawless resurrected universe.
But wait, you might say… God is acting out of the love of a King or a Father or an Artist when He does these things. Yes, He is. But He is also acting as a passionate Bridegroom. Everything we know or experience on earth that has anything to do with love exists because it is a reflection of God’s perfect way of loving – first, within the Trinity, and second, the way He loves us. Marriage, sex, family, brotherly affection, friendship … everything loving is a reflection of God’s loving. Not just fatherhood or the love of an artist for his masterpiece, though those are also in play.
Jesus didn’t say, “I go to prepare a club house for you” (as a father would for his beloved child) or “I go to prepare a museum for you” (as a sculptor would for his life’s great work). He said, “I go to prepare a place for you [in my Father’s house]. I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). This is speaking directly into the Jewish custom of the day. It is the language of a groom betrothed to his bride, who goes away for a year to add a room on to his father’s home, promising to return to sweep his bride off her feet, carry her away to their new home, consummate their marriage, and finally be with her forever in unparalleled intimacy. This isn’t the time to talk about the sexual aspects of marriage, though I really want to write about that someday, but still, we have little choice but to take Jesus at His word. He really does see us as His bride (e.g. John 3:29; Matt 9:15), and acts accordingly (e.g. Eph 5:25-27; Rev 19:7; Rev 21:2).
So in response, we need to treat Him as our Husband. He is the Prophet, the Priest, the King of the house. He is the Lover and Protector. He is the One who introduces us to His Father and proudly makes it clear… “This one’s with me … forever.”
This is the one for whom love songs are most definitely appropriate.
So, the next time you hear Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye) or Can’t Fight This Feeling (REO Speedwagon), or even as odd a song as Orange Sky (Alexi Murdoch), think about Jesus … whose whole life (and death) demonstrates the highest, truest form of love. If it’s real love you’re after, no one in this world compares to Him.
And that is worth singing about.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [One who turns away God’s wrath concerning] our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)