What is love?

With Valentine’s day less than a week away, love is on many minds. Love is a topic of great concern in our culture. Hundreds of songs have been written about love. Love is the subject of hundreds of books, the discussion of philosophers, the study of scientists, the concern of philanthropists and the desire of everyone. The universal fascination with love has produced a myriad of definitions and descriptions of love. From the unclear, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” to the comedic, “Love: a temporary insanity curable by marriage” to the serious, “There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” love has been defined thousands of ways.

The Bible commands Christians to love God and love offers, but it does not give a definition of love. What the Bible gives is numerous examples of love. The most important example being God’s love for fallen humanity. The most important passage describing human love for others is 1 Corinthians 13.

First Corinthians 13 does not define love, but describes fifteen key characteristics of love. A person who is practicing Biblical love endures the wrongs of others against them, is benevolent towards others, does not covet the good others have received, does not boast, is not puffed up with pride, acts appropriately towards others, is not self-seeking, does not have a quick temper, does not keep a record of wrongs done against them, does not delight in sin but delights in truth. The person who practices Biblical love is patient and trusting, he does not lose hope and he does not quit when things are difficult.

Love, like faith, can only be known through actions. A declaration of love that is not joined by loving deeds is not Biblical love. The book of First John insists that love works. Love does not just wish someone well it does well for them. First John also insists that love is sacrificial. Love gives- even at great personal cost. Biblical love imitates the God who loved mankind and gave His life for their salvation. Biblical love is willing to give of itself, even to the point of death. Biblical love gives with no thought of what it will get in return. Biblical love gives even if those being loved do not respond with love or appreciation. “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Corinthians 12:15)

The Biblical description of love and the example of God’s love for humanity leads us to a definition for love. Love is a commitment to do what is best for another person no matter the cost or how they respond. A key component in the Biblical depiction of love is commitment. Biblical love is not an on again/off again feeling. It is a willful mindset that perseveres through negative feelings and difficult times. Biblical love is not devoid of feeling, but it is not defined by feeling. Further, Biblical love is sacrificial in nature. It gives of itself freely for the benefit of others. Love is an unwavering commitment to the good of another.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)