Relationships 3.0: What is Love?

We live in a culture where people are quicker to get into bed with someon than tell them “I love you.” Sad.

But it makes sense. Sex is cheap and feels good. Love (by which I mean true love) is always sacrificial. It always means putting someone else above yourself. I will get back to sex eventually (and that will be a mature post…) but for now I want to deal with the positive side of the coin: what is love? How has our culture messed up this word? And how to we redeem passionate, sacrificial, christ-like love?

Love is not a feeling

That would make marriage very hard. I don’t know about you, but my feelings change all the time. If you look up love in a dictionary or somewhere you’ll get something like this:

love, n.

  1. affection, but more “profound”
  2. a feeling… of affection (???)
  3. sex sex sex
  4. the person you love
  5. love, as in “I loooooovvvvve the Dark Knight Rises”

No wonder our culture is so reluctant to say the four letter l- word – it has no meaning. It’s just a cluster of different things that kinda feel the same. But still… there’s something wrong with America when TV characters are more likely to say that they looooovvve a movie than that they love the person they’re sleeping with.

The Bible says a lot about love

Here are some excerpts that helped me deal with how very wrong American culture got it and how beautiful biblical love is:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…”

1 John 4:8,15,16 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. … This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

I think it’s clear that biblical love is

  • sacrificial,
  • others-centered,
  • life-giving,

and it’s not a feeling!

The better definition of love

A lot of Christians define love using the the three greek words for love. The problem for me is that the love for a friend, the love for family, and the love of a spouse are all fundamentally the same thing – they are shadows of the love God has for us.

So I think there’s a better, unifying definition of love. It look me a long time to come to this, but once I did, it made this word a million times less scary:

Love is a deep commitment to someone else’s good – even above your own. It is putting what someone else needs over what you want.

And by deep commitment I don’t just mean “oh yeah, I love the homeless guy sitting on the street and I think that I should do what’s best for him.” It means that deep down in your heart you truly want what’s best for this person. That’s why love has been confused with a feeling; because it’s not something just in your brain.

As my quick bible study above indicates, love means that you would lay down your life for someone. If there’s even a second’s hesitation about taking the bullet for her, you’re not in love.

Top 5 myths about love… busted

Now that we’ve defined our terms, it’s hopefully obvious that:

  1. Love is not a feeling or emotion. Feelings don’t hold marriages together.
  2. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re going to marry them. If God hasn’t give y’all the same calling, then it is best to let the find someone who can make their dreams come true. Along that same note, if dating interferes with your partner’s relationship with the Lord, the loving thing to do is to break it off. Crazy, right? That’s love.
  3. You choose to love, you don’t “fall” into love.
  4. True love has nothing to do with the person you love, it’s about your commitment. Read Hosea.
  5. The idea of soulmates is a dumb. Maybe more on this later…

Now for feedback. Good definition of love? Bad definition? Did I miss something? And isn’t Brandon Heath just awesome?




4 Responses

  1. I always find your posts interestingly obvious. I appreciate your abandonment of the greek words for love. You said you thought our society has a hard time using the word love because it is meaningless. I agree that as defined in the example by the dictionary it is fairly meaningless, but I think societies problem with it is because people know what the commitment to love is and don’t like the responsibility it implies.

  2. Love is a tricky thing to discuss, because the real thing *can’t* be defined by a few words. While I agree with your descriptions of love, I think your definition is missing something. I think the main trouble I’m having is wondering whether your description is the definition of what love *is*, or a description of how it plays out…is a deep commitment to someone else’s good the result of loving them with a Christ-like love, or is a Christ-like love the same thing as a deep commitment to someone else’s good?

    I’m inclined to think the former, because something would seem off if I were to say, “God is love because He is deeply committed to our good,” vs. it feels more accurate to say “God is deeply committed to our good because He is love.”

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too picky. My experience with love is limited, but the experience I do have would lead me to say that, in the context of relationships (romantic or otherwise), love is something greater than just a commitment to the other person’s good. It’s more than just wanting the best for them. It’s not a feeling…but it’s something akin to it. It’s something that happens in your soul that, while based in a commitment to the other person and what’s best for them, is more than that. It’s something that grows as you invest in the relationship and grow in your knowledge and understanding of the other person. It’s not an either/or–either you love this person or you don’t–it’s something that’s constantly growing.

    Like I said, it’s hard to discuss and near impossible to put into words. The commitment to the other person and their good is essential, of course, and love can’t exist without it. Feelings can never be the basis of true love. But true love is not just commitment either…I know that I’m failing to put it into words, but as you grow in your relationships, romantic or otherwise (but especially romantic), I think you’ll recognize what I’m talking about.

  3. Oh, and this is Shaney, btw. 🙂

  4. Yeah, Shaney:

    I think we’re on the same page. I am more describing the effects of love rather than love itself. I think that the ultimate definition of love is 1 John 4:8: GOD is love. So I think that’s why it’s hard to put into words…

    As I tried to point out, when I talk about “commitment” I don’t mean something cerebral; I mean that you truly, deep in your heart, want what’s best for them.

    The way I think about it in my “guy brain” 🙂 is that if there’s a moment of hesitation in taking a bullet for them, It’s not love. It’s a gut-level commitment to give everything – even your very life – for them.

    That’s why it’s easier to be in love with someone awesome… like Toni. It’s very easy for me to want what’s best for her, because I know her really well and feel very close to her.

    ><> Brian

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