When I was a teenager, my youth pastor gave me a working definition of love that I have used through the years. “Love is sincerely desiring God’s best for another and doing what I can to see that accomplished.” I have found that to be a pretty good summary of biblical love. Here are five things we learn about love from the Bible.
- Love is the Essence of What God Requires. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, he referenced two, and they both relate to love. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we are to love our neighbor (this does not exclude anyone) as we love ourselves (and the assumption is that we do love and take care of ourselves). What is the essence of our calling and purpose in life? To love well the right things – God and others.
- God is Love. 1 John 4:8 tells us that the one who does not love does not know God because God is love. Therefore, when we read the descriptors of love in 1 Corinthians 13 – love is patient, kind, not conceited or selfish, forgives, bears all things, etc. – we get a glimpse of the character of God. Now, it is not accurate to turn this phrase around and say that “love is God,” and then create a god from our notion of what we think love is. In this scenario, you end up with an idol of your own making. But the truth is that the nature of God is love. Jesus shows us the nature and character of God the Father (see John 14:9) and Jesus shows us the nature of love.
- We Love Because God First Loved Us (see 1 John 4:19). We don’t have the capacity to love well in our own strength. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun and does not have light in itself, so we too are reflectors of God’s love. That means we must first be willing to receive the love that God has for us in Christ. Once we receive it, we have the opportunity and command to love others. Love initiates. God demonstrated His love towards us in that while we were still rebels against Him, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We love because He first loved us.
- Love is Sacrificial. How did God demonstrate His love according to Romans 5:8? At great cost! The Bible tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). “For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16). Love is giving and sacrificial. Most of what we see in pop culture that defines love is conditional: “I love you because…”, “I love you if…”, “I love you when…” Love in our world is often an emotion, and often a selfish one. We love when someone benefits us. This is not the essence of God’s love.
- Love is a Quality not an Emotion. One of the most radical things Jesus taught His followers was to love their enemies. It is difficult to find this teaching in any of the great ancient philosophies or religions. Godly love initiates and is not dependent on the worthiness of the receiver. Love is a characteristic and quality in the hearts of those who follow Jesus and allow His love to flow through them. How will you love others well today?