by Mike Dennis–
Quite by accident I’ve stumbled upon a new hero. He’s a Jewish Rabbi, Dr. Abraham Twerski (Twur-ski). I was blown away by a YouTube video in which he is speaking on the subject of “love”. (You can listen to it here Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski On Love )
In this video, Rabbi Twerski tells the story of another Rabbi having a conversation with a young man who is enthusiastically eating a fish he had caught. He asks the young man, “Why are you eating that fish?”, to which he answers, “I love it!“. The Rabbi pauses then says, “So, you dragged that fish out of the water, killed it, and boiled it, and are eating it’s flesh because you love it? Don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself and the pleasure that the taste of the fish brings to you“. Then he makes this profound declaration; “Most of what people call love is actually ‘fish-love’“.
I haven’t been able to get this “fish-love” thing out of my head. I mean, to think that I don’t really love hamburgers after all! No, I only love me and consume them because of how perfectly grilled ground beef tastes when served on a fresh bun, with just the right amount of catsup, pickles, cheese, mayo… (Is it lunch time yet?). It’s all about my personal enjoyment, not about the steer who gave his all for my benefit. “Comfort food“, we call it.
We could really compile quite a “fish-loving” list here. “He loves baseball”. “She just loves to watch crime dramas on TV.” “He loves hunting”. “I love to read”. The list might even include, “I love to read the Bible”, or “I love to go to church.”
And what of our love for people? You know, the rest of the human race. Do we love them, or are we “fish-loving” them? I mean, are we loving them for who they are, or are we more motivated by what they can do for us and how being with them (or texting and snap-chatting with them) makes me feel? I think Rabbi Kwerski is suggesting that in our humanity we tend to primarily seek relationships that will benefit us. If that’s true, then many of us are only fish-loving even our own spouses and children, “loving” them for the good vibes we get in return. Fish love uses people as a vehicle to receive self-gratification.
The problem is, “I love you because of how you make me feel when I’m with you” (notice how often the personal pronouns “I” and “me” appear in our great declarations of love), can later become “I can’t stand the sight of you“. I’ve seen it happen too often to deny the possibility.
I found it very disturbing to consider the remote possibility that when I tell my wife, “I love you with all of my heart, babe“, it could be that I’m really only loving myself. Is my love for her fish-less?
Thinking more about it, I’ve done my share of fish-loving. It’s easy to love only the people who love us back. If it costs too much, or hurts too much, or takes too much time and effort, we recoil, react, or “feel God calling us to move on“. We qualify our behavior with, “I just don’t need her negativity in my life“. (Again with the “I’s and “my’s”.) It’s enough to make you wonder if real love even exists in our world at all.
Enter Jesus. He knew nothing of “fish-love“. While he seemed to have closer relationships with some of His disciples than He did with others, (Peter, James, John) it could be assumed that this was more about their desire to be near him than His own desire to love Himself through them. I believe that anyone can be as close to Jesus as they want to be. It’s just that many often tap out when the relationship with Him becomes, well, uncomfortable. They start looking for fresh fish to boil.
So, during this Lenten season, I’m personally contrasting and comparing “Fish-love” to “cross-love”.
- Fish-love fills our flesh, cross love fills our soul.
- Fish-love is about gaining, cross love is about losing.
- Fish-love makes me comfortable, cross love will hurt and pierce me.
- Fish-love is safe, cross love can be extremely dangerous.
- Fish-love is about me, cross love has little to do with me.
- Fish-loves values self, cross love values others above self.
- Fish-love uses, cross love serves.
- Fish-love preserves life, cross love dies.
The Greek word used for the love of God is agape or agapeo. It means a love for another that is pure, seeking no other goal but to show and give love to them. This is the word the Apostle Paul used when he wrote in Ephesians 5:2;- “-walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
There’s nothing fishy about this. (please pardon the pun) Paul insisted that the Ephesian believers live lives completely characterized by selfless love, exactly as Jesus had modeled. He set His own interests aside (Philippians 2:7) as He willingly positioned Himself between guilty us and the terrible wrath of a Holy God, absorbing every gut-crushing blow, every blood-splattering lash, every cruel insult, along with the entire monstrous mountain of filthiness composed of all the sin that had ever been or ever would be. He did that not because we make him feel good, but rather because He loved the father perfectly and loved us with profound agape.
He willingly positioned Himself between guilty us and the terrible wrath of a Holy God, absorbing every gut-crushing blow, every blood-splattering lash, every cruel insult, along with the entire monstrous mountain of filthiness composed of all the sin that had ever been or ever would be.
The Rabbi goes on to say, “Real love isn’t about getting at all. Real love is all about giving”. Impossible? No. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, each of us can start fish-loving less and, cross-loving more.