What is Love from a Christian Perspective?

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Today we’re talking all about love! Specifically- what does the Bible say about love? What is it and how should believers think about it? Is it a noun or a verb?

In a society that (rightfully) emphasizes this idea of loving people, loving others, love is love, etc… we thought it would be good to have an episode breaking down and defining what love is!

We don’t think that many people in society could give a good definition of what they mean by love…

What the World Says Love Is

To start, we looked up some Merriam-Webster (throwback to our childhood) dictionary definitions to see how the world defines love:

Noun: a 1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties, 2) attraction based on sexual desire; affection, and tenderness felt by lovers, and 3) affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests 

Verb: 1) to hold dear or to cherish, 2) to feel a lover’s passion, devotion, or tenderness for, and 3) to like or desire actively; take pleasure in

Culture would likely say that love is the affirmation of another person’s beliefs, practices, etc… This is a pretty boiled-down definition, but in culture, we see that the antithesis of love is disagreement, so love is acceptance.  

As Christians, we know that the two biggest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. So, in order to actually obey those we need to define what love is. But first, let’s talk about what love is NOT.

1. Love is Not Based Primarily on Feelings

True love is not PRIMARILY based upon feelings and emotions (what people might typically say about relationships). Love is primarily based upon a choice (you choose to love someone DESPITE their flaws, weaknesses, etc…) Ultimately we see that biblical love is often described as a choice. 

If love is a feeling, what happens when you no longer have those same feelings and emotions? What happens when relationships get strained and the excitement fades? 

People often say that they “fell out of love.” Of course, hopefully, there are a lot of deep feelings and emotions involved in love for a spouse, but it should not be primarily based on your feelings and emotions.

It almost implies that you are passively receiving this emotion. But it’s something that is cultivated.

You choose to love and the feelings often follow (kind of like what we say about disciplines and habits).

2. True love does not mean condemning others

Too often, Christians (understandably) get the rap of being hateful bigots.  

You’ve heard the stories before. A woman going for an ultrasound at Planned Parenthood and getting screamed at by Christian picketers that she’s going to hell. A teenage boy was sent to conversion therapy by his Christian parents who asked if it was “fixed yet” after the first session. (Side note: we know that these types of stories are typically exceptions).

But, love is patient and kind… 

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 tells us that Christians are not to judge those outside the church, but rather those people inside who bear the name of Christian! 

We often get this backward. Christians can spend so much time railing against the culture and excusing the willful sin of those within the church. In reality, we’re called to lovingly confront and call out the sin of those in the church, not necessarily those outside the church. It can be so easy to judge the people we don’t know well because we don’t know their heart/intent.

As Christians, we should not focus on the external circumstances of non-believers. Rather, the gospel changes someone inwardly and then leads to external, behavioral change.

Matthew 7:1-5 tells us that we should focus on and address our own sins first- not the sins of others. The thing I love about the Bible is that it tells you to address your own sin first, not the sins of others. Focus on your own weaknesses, not those of others.

The Bible tells husbands to love their wives like Christ does the church- not to make sure that their wives submit. Then it tells wives to submit, not to make sure their husbands love them like Christ loves the church.

We cannot force others to obey Christ but we can seek to be faithful/obedient ourselves.

3. It does not always equal affirmation

This is what Western culture would say love is. This goes for the big, hot-topic issues and for the small, less thought-of issues.

Think about it in terms of suicide- we don’t just accept someone saying “I want to kill myself.” As a loving, caring person- you wouldn’t just say that person knows what is best for them. The loving thing to do is speak the truth to them. If there is a blind man that says he wants to walk toward the edge of a cliff, loving him does not look like affirming or tolerating his decision.

All scripture is useful for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness. This obviously implies that love does not mean always affirmation. There is an aspect of true love that means being willing to speak the truth, even when it is difficult

This is a silly example, but if someone has food stuck in their teeth, what is most loving? They say your true friends will tell you that you have food stuck in your teeth.

Going back to Matthew 7:1-5- yes, take the log out of your own eye! THEN you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. It is a both/and situation. If you aren’t addressing sin in your own life, why would other people listen to you?

The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to regularly ask those around you to point out your blind spots/sin tendencies/etc… 

So, What is Love?

The Bible literally has an entire passage about what love is! Most of us have heard it, but we likely take it for granted or don’t dig deep into it. But, 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful, deep passage about what it truly is.

Let’s dig into verses 4-8 right in the middle of this passage.

1. The 1 Corinthians 13 Definition

Love is patient and kind.

So often we want instant transformation in ourselves and others, but most of the time, this isn’t how growth works! We have young kids- what if at six months, we were expecting them to talk like grown-ups, shoot baskets in a 10-foot hoop, and eat medium rare steak (btw- the only way to eat steak)? We’d be fools!

Just as the growth of children into adults takes time, so does the process of sanctification, growth from a Christian or non-believer to a believer. We need to demonstrate patience and kindness over and over and over again. How many times do I forgive? 7x 70 times.

When people show a genuine desire to grow/a genuine belief, our patience should be infinite.

It does not envy or boast.

True love is not about magnifying ourselves, it is about magnifying Jesus. Because we are not about ourselves, we can be content (Philippians 4), not envy what others have, and not boast about what we do have.

It is not arrogant or rude.

Because we as Christians were children of wrath, because we are by nature sinful, and because we did nothing to contribute to our salvation, there is nothing for us to be arrogant about! Being rude is the opposite of being kind.

It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Even though the world may laud and highlight the other attributes, this is an area where Christians can be markedly different.  We stand up for what is right even when it is inconvenient. We do not view what is right through the lens of culture, politics, or anything else that changes over time, but through Scripture. It goes back to what we were saying earlier that a Christian affirming or celebrating sin is wrong.  

Christians are promised persecution and promised that the world will hate them. Friendship with the world makes one an enemy of God 

Let this be because of what you believe and for standing on the gospel, not for how you go about doing it. Like Spurgeon has talked about, let the gospel be the only barrier between you and someone else.

2. Jesus’ Life, Death, and Resurrection

Even better than a definition, it was perfectly exemplified by Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection.

We see this all throughout Scripture:

  • John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
  • Romans 5:6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person, one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus demonstrated perfect and undefiled love that we are called to imitate as Christians. God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, looking more like Christ each and every day. This is the kind of life we are called to live.

3. Love is a Choice

We briefly talked about this earlier- if our love is dependent on how we feel, it will wax and wane. It will not be constant. 

Christians are called to love others EVEN when it is difficult. Especially when it is difficult.

Think about marriage- if you only love your spouse when you feel like it, or when you have deep romantic feelings, your marriage is doomed. 

But Jesus chose to empty himself and take on the form of a servant. Jesus chose to go to the cross, which we know from the accounts of Gethsemane, was not his first choice. It was difficult but he chose to do so anyway. 

The Good Samaritan chose to help the beat-up traveler, while the priest and the Levite chose to ignore him. 

As Christians, we know that yes, hopefully, there are deep feelings accompanied with love. However, at the root of love is a choice to love others, even when it is difficult.

4. Reminders for Believers

Now to get into some important reminders for believers about love…

The Harsh Rebukes of Jesus

Most of the harsh rebuke by Jesus was saved for religious leaders, hypocrites, and his disciples. Read what He has to say for the religious hypocrites in Matthew 23! Think of when Jesus tells Peter to “get behind me, Satan!” Could you imagine Jesus saying this to your face? Jesus’ strong rebuke was saved for people who knew Scripture and claimed to be followers of God but weren’t living it out.

The Gentle Rebukes of Jesus

 Most of Jesus’ gentle rebuke is toward the “sinners,” tax collectors, and prostitutes. Take a look at these four examples:

  1. John 4– Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well
  2. Mark 10:17-22– Jesus and the rich, young ruler
  3. Luke 7:36-50– Sinful woman crying at Jesus’ feet
  4. Luke 18:35-43– Jesus and a blind beggar

Notice a few things about all of these passages:

  • In none of the passages does Jesus ever minimize or excuse sin. He makes clear that sin is an offense against God and that people should not sin. He speaks the truth.
  • In none of these passages does Jesus condemn people, saying that he is so much better than them and that they are evil sinners deserving of hell. He speaks the truth with love. 
  • In these passages, Jesus makes clear that it is ultimately faith that saves a person. At the same time, these passages show that faith will make a tangible difference in your life. Faith will change who you are. When you have faith in Jesus, your life should look different than how it did before.

True faith drastically changes who you are. So, love God and love others.

One Degree Shift

Think of someone you can love better. Maybe that means speaking the truth. Maybe that means speaking the truth IN LOVE. What are you weaker at? Aim to demonstrate genuine love to someone this week.

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