Love is a concept that is hard to define concretely. Often our definitions are really descriptions of loving behavior. Sometimes we just know it when we see it. So what is love? Can it be defined or at least described in some way that is objective? What do we know about love?
While many say love is an emotion, we are still left with a fairly nebulous idea. So is anger an emotion. One aspect of that idea that might be valuable is that emotion is a fickle thing. Emotions rise and fall and can be deceiving. Whatever love is, it must be kept free of deception in any way. For example, Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy”.
Paul’s statement might make more sense in light of one thing we do know for certain about love, that it is something that means nothing without a corresponding action. As John tells us, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth”, 1 John 3:18. This assertion, to me, is one of the most important of all in examining what love is. Love is not just an emotion inside of us. The idea that we feel love in and of itself for no real reason is not consistent with scripture. Neither is the idea that love inside of us means anything unless it is expressed in an action.
For love inside of us to be known, it must be expressed in action. In other words, when someone says, “I love you”; what do they mean? We can’t know unless he acts on that statement. If it is a husband speaking to his wife and he is giving her flowers, she could know that he loves her. If he, instead, were to give her a box of frogs, she might not feel loved (unless she likes frogs). It is true, therefore, that it is easy for someone to say, “I love you” and not really mean it. In fact, the statement means nothing unless one’s actions match the statement.
We then arrive at 1John 3:16. The word “know” can mean “to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive”. So because God sent Jesus and Jesus was willing to be offered up for us we can understand the nature of love. It may be an origin point or it may be a defining example; but either way, the standard is set by God. Other scriptures bear these things out: John 3:16 (where God put His love into action); Romans 5:8 (where God demonstrates His love); Ephesians 5:2 and Ephesians 5:25 (where Jesus put His love into action); and 1 John 4:9 (where God’s love was manifested toward us).
God is the origin of love, 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:16. We are created in His image, and therefore, have love in us. The admonition to us to express this love in actions is all over the New Testament. Think on what John says in 1 John 4:7 and 1 John 4:20. In addition, possibly the simplest definition of love is also by John in 1John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments”. So, would we be able to say that we loved God if we were not willing to follow His word? The scriptures make it clear that we cannot. Lots of people say they love God but refuse to submit to the most simple command of Mark 16:16 and rather, with great effort, try to explain it away.
In many ways the religious world’s understanding of love is almost that of a child. My grandson may not have any working understanding of love, but he knows he is loved when we are together. On the other hand, he loves unconditionally. He may not always obey, but he loves in action with hugs and other gestures that express love. When people say, “I love Jesus”; they may love Him. Again, the true test is whether they are willing to submit to His will. We often hear people say, “Jesus loves you”. While this statement is true, the use of it may be disingenuous. It may be used to justify behavior that is contrary to His will. The person saying that Jesus loves you may be saying that because Jesus loves you He will overlook your wrongs, behavior contrary to His will.
A man on a website writes that he knows that when the end comes Jesus will only ask us one question, “Did you know that I loved you?”. In all fairness, I read no further, but the surface attitude of that question misses the mark. Jesus will know that we loved Him by our actions. Did we obey His will and did we express our love in action without hypocrisy? Did we do the good works which God created for us to do, Ephesians 2:10. Not the works we think are good or want to do but the works that God created us to do.
In addition, the idea that Jesus is merely love leaves out an important part of love. If you love your child, would you let him wander into the street? Would you smack his hand when he tries to touch the stove? Do such actions negate love or demonstrate love? Why is so hard to understand that God does the same for us, Hebrews 12:6? God’s will for us is for our good. He gives us His will not so that we will be deprived of fun but so that we will live good, healthy lives. If we ignore that will, we cannot say we love God. Further, if we do not love God; what is our end? For those who turn from God, we know that God will send them from His presence in eternity. Does that mean God is not love? Would we have God ignore sin? And if we would have God ignore sin, then why did Jesus die?
Love demands reprimand, justice, and punishment. God is not only love; but He is also just, Revelation 15:13. In fact, just as our love might cause us to punish our child for bad behavior (and God tells us this is right and necessary, Proverbs 29:15), our love for another might cause us to tell him an inconvenient truth. The next time someone tells a homosexual or adulterer or fornicator that he has to come to Jesus as he is, that Jesus loves him anyway; realize that he has no love for that sinner. How do I know? Because his actions are not in keeping with what is in the best interest of the sinner. Think on Galatians 6:1 and 2 Timothy 2:25.
God is love, and He has made us, having love, in His image. We are to love others not only in word but also in actions. If we do not love (in actions), we cannot be said to love God. Love is also just and demands punishment. It may mean that sometimes we must “be cruel to be kind” in the words of the song. At least, it may seem that way. But love demands it.