If you’re in the church, you’ve heard it before: “We just went out onto the street and we were just loving on people”. Loving ON? It’s been around for a few years now, but somewhere along the way, the verb to love gained the preposition: on. And while this seemingly small grammatical change appears innocent, it is subtly watering down our definition of love to simply mean “acts of kindness”. Here are 3 reasons NOT to love ON people:
1) It is grammatically incorrect.
Hear me out for just a moment, I’ll try not to bore you with grammar. Verbs take either direct or indirect objects, (and I think sometimes both). Take for example the verb to call:
I call you.
This takes a direct object. That is, the object (you) is connected directly to the verb. But take the verb to talk:
I talk to you.
Did you catch that? The object (you) is not connected directly to the verb, you need to add the “to”, making it indirect. You can talk to, about, etc, but one cannot simply “talk you”.
The verb to love takes a direct object, not an indirect object. To love on someone is just as incorrect as to talk someone. Got it? Ok, let’s look at reason number 2.
2) Loving on people keeps love superficial.
Just like making the verb to love take the indirect object, the indirectness makes the love superficial. Loving on someone almost gives the image of cloaking someone with love, going out with a big thick woolly winter coat of love and giving them out to people. Often the phrase “loving on people” is used to refer to street evangelism and helping the poor. It seems to refer to acts of kindness, showering someone with gifts of prayer, food, fulfilling of a person’s needs. These acts are great, excellent even. But is it love? These acts are done in love, as an outpouring of love, but the acts in and of themselves are not love. Love is deeper. Love goes beyond simply resting on someone’s shoulders like a coat, it penetrates the soul. To love on someone means to keep love on the outside, external, superficial.
Here’s another (slightly silly) example: If I drive on the car, by definition I’m not in the car. But driving the car implies that I am in the car. The “on” changes everything. I go from being outside the car to inside the car, simply by taking away the “on”. The same goes for love. If we’re not careful, by adding the “on” to our love, we are stepping outside of the proverbial car of love, to remain on the outside. Is that the kind of love that we strive to share?
3) The trump card reason: God loved people, he didn’t love on people.
“For God so loved on the world that he gave his one and only Son…” John 3:16.
It doesn’t sound right, does it? Did God love on me? No. He loves me. Period. There is no preposition (on, in, of, about) separating me from His love for me or you. He loves me. He loves you.
To love on someone also implies, ever so discretely, that the person loving on, is superior to the person being loved on. On implies over. If you put a coffee mug on the table, it cannot be on the same level as the table, right?
That’s the beauty of Christ-like love. It’s not about God loving on us from on high. It’s about Jesus coming down to earth, in perfect humility and loving us directly.