What Is Love?

 “What is love? Oh baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.” –Haddaway

Love. This word is everywhere today–in movies, in songs, in books, and in our speech. Our culture seems to be obsessed with it. But what really is “love?” And is the love our culture worships the same kind of love Jesus told us to have for others? The same kind of love He has for us?
 
If you think about it, we probably use the word love at least once every day (if not more). We say we love things: “I love donuts. I love chocolate cake. I love flowers. I love Lord of the Rings. I love my platypus stuffed animal…” You get the idea. We also say we love people: “I love my mom. I love my dad. I love my date. I love Jesus.” Is the love we have for things the same kind of love we have for people? Often it is.
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When we say we “love” donuts, what does that mean? It means we really like them. We want to eat them. We want to consume them. We have strong positive feelings about them. Why? Because they taste good and give us pleasure. In other words, we like donuts because of what they do for us. Is this the same way we love people?
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When we say we “love” another person, what do we mean by that? Often, it’s the same kind of “love” that we have toward donuts: the desire to consume or take pleasure in.
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It seems today that love is a temporary state of bliss. People “fall in love” and then people “fall out of love.” A boy will tell his girlfriend that he loves her and then “break-up” with her soon later, and vice versa. A couple will get married, then simply fall out of love, and divorce. People are desperately trying to find “true love.” They want to experience love, but no matter where they look, or how many people they date, they can’t seem to find it. What does this all mean?
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What people are looking for is the emotion of love–the feeling of love. However, the funny thing about emotions is, they don’t last forever. No feeling is permanent. Emotions are as fickle as the weather. So if love is just a feeling, then love is not meant to last forever. The best we can do is jump from one emotional “love” high to the next. Commitment is not worth it.
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If we really break down the “love” we see today, we find that it is actually a very selfish phenomenon. We’re looking to feel something. We want the warm fuzzy feelings. We want the experience of “being in love.” It’s all about us. It feels good to feel strongly about another person, and it feels good to have another person feel strongly about us. “Love” today is just about filling our own needs. We completely neglect the other person. All we think about is ourselves.
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We are deceived.
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Often we think we “love” someone, when we are really just preying on the emotional pleasure we gain from being in a relationship, or dating, or marrying that person. Divorce is a common scene today. No doubt those who get divorced thought they loved each other. They got married, didn’t they? But the vast majority of these couples never really loved each other. Maybe they got emotional highs or pleasurable feelings from each other, but after a time, and after running into the struggles of marriage, they up and decided that they “fell out of love.” The truth is, you can’t “fall out of love.” Love is a choice. It’s a decision. “Falling out of love” is like saying you fell out of love with homework.
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You: Oh, I’m sorry homework. This just isn’t going to work between us.
Homework: There’s someone else, isn’t there?!
You: Yes, I’ve fallen in love with someone else: TV. I’m sorry, but you know how this works. You just can’t control love. It’s not you; it’s me.

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You didn’t fall out of love with homework, you just decided you would watch TV instead. And why is that? Watching TV is more pleasurable than doing homework. It’s about you. Now, this is a silly analogy, and isn’t quite accurate since we’re dealing with inanimate objects; however, the message is the same. You don’t “fall out of love” with a person; you choose to stop loving them.
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How can this be? It’s because love, the true kind of love, is not a feeling, but a decision–an action.
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Yes! That’s right. “Love” is a verb! Love isn’t an internal flame that you feel–maybe that comes later as a bonus—but love is first and foremost a decision and an action. Love is willing the good of another person.Love is doing what’s best for them, not for you.
If you don’t understand that love is an action, then a whole lot of the Bible isn’t going to make sense to you. For example, Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

What is going on in this passage? Something revolutionary, that’s what. Jesus is telling us to love the people that hate us! Who would think of such a thing? But what is Jesus really telling us? Is He saying that we should get warm fuzzy feelings for our enemies? Should we get pleasurable feelings when we are around those that hate us?
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Carmelita: *hits Staven*
Staven:   Oh, how this spring of love resembleth, the uncertain glory of an April day, which now shows all beauty of the Sun, And by and by a cloud takes all away.
Carmelita: *Blinks* *hits Staven again*
Staven: I will not be sworn but love may transform me to an oyster.
Carmelita: *hits Staven harder*

Now that’s just creepy. Jesus is definitely not telling us to have passionate feelings for or toward our enemies. That is unnecessary and nearly impossible. He is telling us to do what’s best for them despite what they do to us. Do good for people even if they do harm to you. That’s what love is, and it’s powerful.
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You think this is impossible? Jesus never told us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. He practiced what He preached, and He gave us the ultimate display of love: His death on the cross.
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The cross is a symbol abundant in our culture, yet few of us know what it means. It’s worn as a good luck charm, a fashion statement, or to make other people think something about us. However, the cross is the ultimate symbol of love. Jesus loved us so much, that He would die for us. Who did He die for? Us. And who are we? People who loved Him? No. We were His enemies! “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8.
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He died for the very people who killed him! Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He loved us, did good for us, despite what we did to Him, and will continue to do to Him.
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Not only did He die for us—His enemies—but he took all of our sins on Himself. He took our punishment. He sacrificed himself for us. That is love. Not a feeling. An action. A decision.
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And before you say, “Oh, well Jesus was God,” remember the line from the end of Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus was showing us how to love. We’re supposed to replicate what He did. Not in the same way (dying on a cross), but He gave us the model. We also now have the Holy Spirit to aid us on our quest to love our enemies, and through the help of the Holy Spirit we can do the works that Jesus did, and even greater works! (John 14:12) Love is doing what is good for others, not just for those who are good to you, but also doing good to those who wrong you.
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The key word to remember is “good.” This is because what is good for a person, may not always be what they want, or what they think they need. What is good for a person may not even be a very nice thing. In fact, being nice to someone can sometimes be a very unloving thing. You see this often in parenting. A lot of parents will give their children whatever they want; however, many times what they want isn’t good for them. The loving thing to do with a misbehaving child is to discipline them. It’s not good for the child to do bad things. Disciplining teaches them not to do wrong. It may not be very nice, but it’s love.
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Another example would be giving money to a poor homeless drug addict. You are not loving that person by giving them the means to further harm themselves. You can get them a meal, clothing, shelter, but just giving them money isn’t a good idea. But why are so many willing to give such a person a 20 but not a meal? Because getting them meal takes more work. Giving the homeless addict money is easier, and we’ll also end up feeling better about ourselves. So it’s not really about the homeless addict at all. It’s about us again. How we feel, and not about what would really help the addict. We’re helping ourselves, and hurting the other person. Of course, usually the loving thing to do is to be nice to someone, but not always.
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If Bob was mugging a child, it would be very bad if we were to be nice to Bob. We are to love everyone we come into contact with, including muggers, but “nice” is not the same as love. You can love Bob by beating him up or otherwise physically impairing him with a gun or other weapon. How is this loving Bob? Well, it’s not good for Bob to physically injure and rob a child. So the loving thing to do would be to stop Bob, because that’s good for him. But in order to stop Bob, you may have to make threats, say unkind things, or even physically hurt him if needed. Additionally, it’s not good for the child to get mugged. It wouldn’t be loving to the child to be nice to his attacker.
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So love isn’t even necessarily putting the happiness of someone else above your own. Usually love involves being nice, but not always. Love is an action, and it involves putting the good of others above your own good or happiness.
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But what does it mean to love God? What can we do that’s good for Him?
Well, Jesus explains this in John 14:21-24:
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“‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.’”

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He tells His disciples to love Him, but he’s not telling them to feel strong emotion toward Him, He’s telling them to obey Him, to keep His commandments. We love God by doing what He tells us, and what He tells us is what is good for us. It’s a win-win, and It’s not about feeling.
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Now, if you feel something, all the better! But that is secondary. Emotion should only come as a side-effect of love; it cannot function as a foundation for love. Feelings shouldn’t replace love, because true love is not a feeling, but an action.
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I LOVE! This chocolate cake. I want it to live a long and happy life!
Haddaway actually had it pretty close to right. What is love? Sure, love doesn’t hurt others, but that comes up a little short, depicting the Silver Rule, rather than The Golden. Love isn’t a feeling, and it’s not about merely not causing harm. Love is willing the good of others.
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Therefore, when we say we love chocolate cake and when we say we love a person, are we talking about two different things? I would sure hope so! But the answer in our culture is usually “no”.  No, there is no difference between chocolate cake and, say, a girlfriend or a boyfriend. In each case, we don’t actually love the object or the person. We only desire it, to consume it, to use it for ourselves. This is okay when it comes to chocolate cake. Chocolate cake was made to be consumed. People are not made this way. People are made to be truly loved.
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So before you say you love someone, you should think, “would I put their well-being before my own?” If the answer is “yes”, then great! You really do love them. If “no”, then you actually don’t love them, at least not as much as you love yourself.
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And if it so happens that you realize you do struggle with loving others—especially your enemies—that’s okay! I certainly have a lot of improving to do in this area and am far from perfect.Baby don't hurt me
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However, once you realize the truth, and come to understand what love truly is, then you can set yourself on a course toward improving as you grow in Christ. And as you grow, you will begin to find that it is much easier and freeing to love your enemies, than to hate them. That is being a disciple.
 

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do you practice loving and praying for your enemies?  

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3 Comments

  1. Good post. Really great points in there.

  2. Thank you so much for this post Reagan. It has really taught me so many things that I didn't clearly understand before.

    Blessings in Him,

    Brigid
    the Middle Sister and Singer

  3. You are very welcome! I'm glad it helped make things more clear for you. Was there anything in particular that stood out?

    God bless!

    Reagan

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