What is Love?

biblePerhaps there is no word in the English language that has been more tortured, twisted, misunderstood and even perverted than the word “love.” Love is more than just a feeling and not something you keep falling into or out of from time to time. Even Christians are not immune to this kind of confusion & distortion of the real meaning of Love.

We don’t understand what it means for God to love us, we really don’t! In John 15:9, Jesus said “As the Father loves me, I love you. Abide in my love.” How am I supposed to comprehend what it really means for God the Father to love God the Son who both co-existed before eternity, before the foundation of the universe? When Jesus said, “I love you,” He is not saying, “I love you only when you’re good or when you love me back or when you’re spiritual or when you’re strong or victorious in life.” NO, not at all. He is saying, “I love you, and I love you all the time and all the way to eternity.”

Love can only be measured by the degree of sacrifice and self denial into which love is expressed. A lover will endure very much for the one he/she loves. God demonstrated His own love through Christ who died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). For our sakes, He (Jesus) who knew no sin became sin so that through Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Such amazing love is beyond my comprehension.

Love is part of the fruit of the Spirit and cannot be manufactured, but only shared because Christ has poured it into our hearts already through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). James Baldwin, a man who fought valiantly against racism and witnessed all sort of division within the American church said he was not a member of any Christian congregation because, he knew they had not heard and did not live by the commandment, “Love one another as I love you.”  

There is no way on God’s earth that I can (with my own strength and power) love someone as myself. I might say I do and even fake it, but deep down, I don’t have the power to do so. And you know what? Neither can you. It is only when I daily come before the throne of grace and empty myself of my own ambitions, desire, wants, greed and then say to my precious heavenly Father, “Here is an empty vessel. Fill it with your presence, power, and strength.” It is only then am I able to bear the fruit of the Spirit and truly love someone even if I know that the person habitually criticises me, despises me, or has insulted me.  It does not make any difference because I no longer love that person, but the Lord Jesus is loving the person through me by making me a channel of his love.

Sometimes, the people that are hardest to love are the ones who need it the most. Going from love to hate, that’s easy. But going from hate to love, that’s hard. We can never be truly loving or exercise godly love without walking closely with the Lord. Godly love is different from people-pleasing. Godly love is the love that is willing to serve, but at the same time is willing to rebuke; godly love is the love that is willing to give of oneself, but at the same time is willing to exhort and warn; goldy love must be willing to sacrifice, but at the same time tell the truth all the time; godly love must live in obedience to God’s word, but fearless of people; godly love as one source, God alone.

The Lord Jesus made it clear to the Pharisees (in Matthew 22:34–40) that the first and greatest commandment above all else is to: “LOVE the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your Soul, and with ALL your mind.” And the second greatest commandment is to: “LOVE your neigbhour as yourself.” Perhaps, this is why the apostle Paul went to the extreme to make clear his point about love:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing”  – 1 Corinthians 13:1–3…

Paul is basically saying the best of everything we can or would ever do, offer, and all our efforts are nothing if they are not motivated by love. Paul goes on in the latter verses to elaborate the answer the question “What is love?”

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1 Corinthians 13:48

Love primarily is self-giving and a choice we have to keep on making. We hear people say, I’d die for you, but there is something harder than dying for someone, and that is living living sacrificially for someone. Sometimes it takes more courage to live than people realise. In fact, it is much harder to live for Jesus than to die. It’s easier for us to be ashamed of the gospel, and of our identity in Christ than to be bold and courageous especially when we need to be.

  • According to 1 Corinthians 14:1, we are to pursue love.
  • According to Colossians 3:14, we are to put on love.
  • According to 1 Thess. 3:12, we are to increase & abound in love.
  • According to 2 Corinthians 8:8, we are to be sincere in love.
  • According to Philippians 2:2, we are to be unified in love.
  • According to 1 Peter 4:8: we are to be fervent in love.
  • According to Hebrews 10:24, we are to encourage one another to love.
  • According to Psalm 151 (a biblically inspired song), we are to testify to love.

At age 20, George Matheson (1842-1906) was engaged to be married but began going blind. When he broke the news to his fiancee, she decided she could not go through life with a blind man, so she left him. He went blind while studying for ministry, and his sister had been the one to care for him through the years.

Twenty years later, his sister was about to get married, and so he was facing the prospect of living the rest of his life without the one person who had come through for him. On top of this, his sister’s marriage brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. It was in the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gave Matheson a song, “O love that wilt not let me go” which he wrote on the night of his sister’s wedding. He said something of incredible sadness passed between himself and the Lord, and that the hymn came to him almost like it was dictated in a matter of about 15 minutes. It was a song that tells about the steadfast love of God:

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

There is a particular line in the hymn that I find of uttermost significance – “I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain.” The book of Genesis tells us that God set His rainbow in the clouds as a sign of His promise to Noah never again to destroy all lives and the earth by flood. It is no coincidence that a rainbow appears in an arc-like (bow) shape. That image of the rain-bow in Noah’s story is really a picture of a battle-bow God has drawn and aimed at himself. The Cross of Christ is the very target of that battle bow. That battle bow has indeed been loosed, but not on us. If Jesus died in your place then you know that the wrath of His Father has been fully poured out on Him. So we have a love that will never let us go because we have a love that let His only Son go in our place.

“Loving Jesus begins with being dissatisfied with your current level of loving Jesus.” 

Dr. Michael Youssef.