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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are the 5 Love Languages Gospel-Centered?

I really like the 5 love languages. I think it's a wonderful concept and a good book for any type of relationship, be that romantic, friendship, or familial in nature. I vividly remember my godmother telling me my love language was gifts as if it were a cold hard fact. I immediately rejected the idea; I was sure I had to have a holier love language - I mean gifts are so shallow! I knew mine was something pious like acts of service or quality time. That self-righteous thought lasted all of 14 minutes until I read the descriptions of the various languages and was immediately humbled. My primary love language is hands down gifts. I love getting gifts and feel incredibly loved when I receive them. I also love giving them! And, for the record, my second love language is clearly physical touch (once again, a previously dubbed "shallow" love language).

When I first heard about the 5 love languages I thought they were super biblical. I mean after all they were promoting spouses to love and sacrifice for one another and parents to dote upon their children in a loving and receivable way. It wasn't until recently when I thought about the Gospel-centeredness of the 5 love languages. Are the 5 love languages even scripturally sound and Gospel-centered?

The answer: yes! :) and no! :(

The 5 love languages (which are gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, and acts of service) teach individuals to love those they're in relationship with well in a way in which the other person feels loved. This includes sacrifice and humility. Generally people "speak" the language they like to receive. For example, I feel most loved by receiving gifts, no matter the size. While I enjoy words of affirmation every once in a while, they often make me feel uncomfortable. Miles on the other hand really values and loves words of affirmation, so I've had to be conscious of that in freely speaking that to him, as well as uncomfortably receiving that language too. The Gospel in and of itself screams sacrifice and discomfort. Jesus Christ, Son of the Creator, supreme Lord who holds the world together by his word, came into the world he created, as a baby to die an incredibly excruciating death. Talk about sacrifice. In comparison, me feeling a little uncomfortable with words of affirmation seems stupidly silly and insignificant. The 5 love languages are Gospel-centered in that they promote sacrificial love, a dim shadow of the love with which Christ loves the church, his bride. 

The problem comes when people take the 5 love languages as a self-help book, void of the Gospel, which I admittedly did for years after reading the book. These principles are ridiculously easy to twist to become self-serving and self-centered, not Gospel-centered. Quickly the languages are turned inward, rather than the intended outward service, to serve selfish and sinful desires that neatly fall under one of 5 categories. At multiple points throughout my life, I vividly remember feeling unloved because of others lack of service to my own love languages. Is that Gospel-centered? Absolutely not. I used the love languages as a cop-out for my own disbelief in the Gospel. I didn't truly believe that in Christ there was nothing more than I needed and that God was abundantly sufficient for my joy. I threw a pretty spectacular pity party for myself because my love languages weren't being spoken to me (a.k.a. my idolatrous heart yearned for something more than God - something in the form of a gift or touch - because I didn't believe his gracious gift of righteousness was enough).

So, go ahead, read the 5 Love Languages. It's a good book that will undoubtedly help you love your significant other, your siblings, your parents, your roommates, and your friends better. But more importantly, deepen your understanding of the Gospel, your understanding of what you've been given in Christ, and by the Spirit's grace, live that out. Even a measly fraction of Christ's sacrificial and tender love for the church trumps a weak reflection of an easily mangled, categorized love any day of the week.

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