There are songs and books about it. There are countless poems, movies and television shows about it. Some say it makes the world go round. But what is ‘love’ really?
It seems like there are as many different definitions of love as there are artists, singers or writers. But Christians know that there’s only one definition of love that is truly accurate: God’s definition.
Popular Cultural Beliefs about Love
We are surrounded by all kinds of messages about love that equate it with sex, mushy feelings, butterflies in your stomach, danger and drama, and the list could go on. Soap operas and romance novels give one message about love while Sesame Street and various commercials give another. These conflicting messages can cause confusion.
We seem to ‘love’ everything. We love ice cream. We love a particular actor, singer or sports star. We love a song. We love camping. We love our job, our house or our car. We love our friend’s new earrings. We love our spouse, children and family. We love God. But do we love all these things in the same way with the same love?
Types of Love in the Bible
The Bible talks about 2 main types of love: agape love and phileo love. The latter is where the city Philadelphia gets its name: the city of brotherly love. Phileo love is a feeling of affection toward someone like the affection we have toward a brother or sister. This is the type of love that close friends enjoy.
Romans instructs believers to, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another”. According to this verse, God wants us to be kind and affectionate toward our Christian brothers and sisters and to honor them before ourselves. We take the feelings that we have toward them and turn our feelings into actions; this makes sense, and isn’t difficult to do most of the time.
Alternately, agape love is not based on feelings but on actions. This is God-love; loving by choice, not according to emotions. This self-sacrificing love is when you put the needs of others before the needs of yourself no matter what you feel. In stark contrast to forms of ‘love’ in popular culture, agape love is selfless. This is the love that God has for us, a love that humans don’t naturally operate in.
These two verses beautifully describe how God shows His agape love through giving:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
God’s Command to Love
Because agape love is based on choice and not feelings, we can choose to love, give, and bless even when we don’t feel like it. Jesus commanded, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
The Apostle Paul took it even further:
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’”
Paul asserts that not only should we not seek revenge but that we should also pray for and be kind to our enemies. Only agape love can do that.
Naturally, people are selfish and look out for their own needs, so we need God’s supernatural help to operate in agape love.
God Is Love
1 John 4:8 says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Love is the very essence of who God is, and it’s connected with what He does. God’s love manifested when He gave sacrificially of Himself for the good of others – us – His creation.
Some people may say, “I love God, but people drive me crazy!” Unfortunately, this mindset doesn’t hold water with God. In fact, First John addresses it directly:
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
Hate is a strong word, but it’s really a comparison to get the reader’s attention. We may think, “I don’t hate anyone,” but if we hold things against someone, or belittle or think lowly of a person, then we are not loving him or her. John argues, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We must love each other with a sacrificial, selfless love as God loves us.
God’s command is clear: if we say we love Him, then we must show it by not only loving Him but by loving others. And this isn’t a touchy-feely, emotional love; it’s a love that gives and honors by choice, not out of obligation or emotion.
“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). To not love others but to claim to know/love God is impossible. If we love God, then it must be accompanied by selfless, giving, honoring actions.
Signs of Agape Love
1 Corinthians 13 is affectionately known as “the love chapter” in the Bible.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13 4:8
This is a tall order, if you ask me. For many of us, these qualities are not natural for us; naturally, we are proud, rude, jealous, and seeking our own way. To love like this, we need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to help us.
The first verses of 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 explain that we can have knowledge, be powerful and successful, and even feed the poor, but if we don’t do it with the right motives and attitudes (selfless love), then none of it matters.
The bottom line is this: Love, according to God, is all about doing what is best for the other person and has nothing to do with our own feelings. It’s great when we can feel affection toward someone, but since love is action, we don’t need emotions to love.
Choosing to honor, bless and give to others is one of the best ways to love God.
~ by Jennell Houts