What is Love?

mayur-gala-487Love is such an interesting concept in our culture. For starters, how should one define love? The word itself is ambiguous. Love is often described as an emotion. It is primarily a feeling that one has toward another. Love is also associated with longing or desire. To love something is to want to possess it or control it. And still for others, love is being willing to let go. If you love something or someone, you must allow it to be free and unhindered. Love, in this sense, cannot tell another how to live.

I could go on and on. Music, books, and movies all promote various definitions of love. And we buy into it way too easily. As a result, people tend to push love toward one of two unhealthy extremes. Some people elevate love above all else, pursuing it with everything they do. Think of the kind of extreme, against-all-odds kind of love that many romantic movies promote. It is unrealistic at best, usually based solely on feelings and physical attractiveness. While these aren’t bad criteria in themselves, it can be dangerous and lead to heartache when they become the only foundation for love. Emotions and physical beauty can be here today and gone tomorrow. What happens to love then?

The other dangerous extreme is to devalue love completely. Many people fall into the trap of believing that what we call “love” is of no lasting significance. Instead, people should just do whatever makes them happy. Pursue pleasure and entertainment. If something no longer brings you joy, cut it loose. Love, then, has nothing to do with commitment or lasting relationships. It is self-centered, focused only on one’s own happiness. One cannot, therefore, tell someone else what to do how how to live. This would impede their pursuit of happiness, which would be the opposite of “loving”.

What is love, then? As Christians, how should we define love and express it toward one another? It may be easy to fall in line with one of the many definitions our culture provides. Instead, we should look to the Bible and to the very character of God himself for an answer.

  1. God is love. ( 1 John 4:8, 16) What we know and understand about love begins with God. Everything that God does is loving, because it is in his nature to do so. Creation, redemption, judgement, and everything in between is done out of God’s love. God is love, and he cannot contradict himself. We need look no further than Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. God loved the world so much that he did not leave us in our sin. He died so that we could live. There is nothing more loving than that.
  2. Love is an action. ( 1 Corinthians 13:4-8) God did not just love us in theory. He did not define love only in terms of emotions. The Bible is clear that God’s love is made known through his actions (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). Love, therefore, is not primarily a feeling. It is an action. It is an act of the will. It is a choice. Read how love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It is described in concrete, practical terms. The implication is clear. We can love people even if we do not feel like it. We can choose to love people who are unlovable. Love is not dependent on what another person can do for me. It is dependent on my decision and commitment to love them.
  3. Love is a reflection of God’s love. ( 1 John 4:19-20) It is impossible for us to love apart from God. To truly love as God intends for us to love, we must first experience his love. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out. When we experience the love God has for us through Christ, we will then be able to reflect that love to others just as the moon reflects the light of the sun. If we do not love others in this way, then we must not know God at all. Since God is love, and love is expressed through our actions, we must love others as God loves us. This does not mean we will do so perfectly. Only he is perfect. But we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, should begin to love others as he loves us. 

The various definitions for love that our culture offers all fall short of the love that is described in the Bible. We are transfixed by love, yet we shortchange ourselves. God’s love for us that he demonstrated through Christ is greater than anything this world has to offer.

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