Everyone appreciates being loved. The media uses love as one of their main selling points: Chick Flicks, Love Songs, and Soap Operas. Even the Beatles, who revolutionized our culture, had a song titled “All You Need Is Love.” The world would have us believe that love is the core of society and the cure for its problems. But is love the answer?
In retrospect to this weeks examination of faith and hope, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of love.
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13 esv
Love is such a powerful emotion. It can cause a boy and a girl to lose all reason. It can hold a family together amid the darkest tragedies. But is it what makes the world go round?
A Common Understanding of Love
Without a biblical definition of love based on faith and hope, the worlds impression of love is rather shallow. People say that they love their clothes, their car, and their food. They love their spouses, their family, and their jobs. They love a lot of things with different sincerity, but they cannot love anything as deeply as God loves the World.
They quickly get tired of their old clothes, curse their car when it goes into the shop, and get nasious of their favorite foods when they’re sick. They cheat on their spouses, split up their families, and complain about the long hours at work. Basically, the world’s general view of love lacks loyalty.
Why is Love Essential?
Without love, we would not be here. We are a product of God’s love toward us. Even while we were still sinners, God loved us (Romans 5:8). Without love, there would be no reason to know God and trust in Him. It is only by His love that we are saved.
When God created us after His own image, he gave us intelligence, will, and emotion. Because God is an intimate God, He wants to be close to His creation. God wants to be known (faith), He wants to be trusted (hope), and he wants to be loved.
What is Love?
Love is primarily an emotion, but it is not simply an emotion. Some well meaning Christians will teach that real love is a choice, not an emotion, but what they’re really saying is that you can choose to manipulate your emotions. The problem with this is that love is as much an emotion and a choice as anxiety is an emotion and choice. There are times when you are overwhelmed with love, and other times that you must choose to do the better thing and show love.
The aspect of dividing love like this doesn’t do anyone any good. You can make love solely a choice, but by taking control of your emotions does not necessarily mean you are being led by wisdom. This causes love to be mechanical and dry. But a person who is only led by their emotions is going to be hot or cold based on their experience. This perspective on love is not any different than the World’s and, therefore, not very healthy for the believer.
How Does the Bible Define Love?
Fortunately, many preachers and Bible teachers have done an excellent job at pointing out the different uses of love in the Bible. Part of the reason we have a singular idea about love in our culture is because we only have one word for the emotion. The Greek New Testament has several.
Eros love is the Greek word that represents a passionate love. This is not taboo. Actually, the Bible has a lot to say about the love of a man and woman; a husband and wife. It’s important that this love be coupled with the love that we have from God, which we’ll see later.
Phileo love is the Greek word for brotherly love. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. This is the sort of love that David had with Jonathan, and Jesus had with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It’s another form of common love that is expressed be the redeemed and unredeemed alike.
Agape love is a unique love. The best way we can describe this love from the Greek word is an unconditional love. This is something that is foreign to our human nature, but yet beautifully preserved in language by the LORD to express the love that He has for us. It is this form of love that must be fused with our romantic love and brotherly love to rise above the common emotion.
How Do We Get Love?
“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… We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:10, 19 esv
Everyone is born with the nature to love something. However, to rise above a common love requires divine intervention. Like the gifts of faith and hope, love is a gift of God that we received by the example of the cross.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 esv
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross for all mankind teaches us to love beyond our basic inclination. If we love God, we will love others.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” I John 3:16
What Do We Do With Love?
Interestingly, the Bible is filled with passages about love: what love is, commands to love, and how we are to love. Arguably, the Bible has more to say about love than faith and hope combined. The book of I John gives us the best study on the application and principles of love.
Here John reveals the new commandment, which really isn’t new because it was already there but wasn’t spelled out, that a person cannot be ‘in the light’ without loving one another (I John 2:7-11). If we are professing to be followers of Christ, we must follow his example to love as He loved – Selflessly.
John warns us, however, that though we are to love the world as Christ loved the world, we are not to love the world in the common understanding of the word (I John 2:15-17). The love of the world is based on lust and pride. This is not the source in which the believer should be motivated to express love.
Love is further explained as John breaks up the application by distinguishing love from hate (I John 3:11-15). Anyone who hates their brother has murdered them in their heart. This is how the word functions; they love their neighbors and hate their enemies. Christ has told us to love our enemies and hate those who curse us (Matthew 5:43-44). This is so radical from the worlds perspective of love that it because the chief evidence that we are the children of God.
Jesus was the perfect example on how we ought to love (I John 3:16-18). Jesus died for the very people who wanted Him dead because He loved them. We are told to emulate Christ and love has He loved. This is the most important principle of how to love. As imitators of Christ, we are not supposed to wait for someone to act appropriately, respond affectionately, or ask for forgiveness in order for us to show them love. Christ responded to a hostile society by expressing His love toward us while we were still sinners (R0mans 5:8). In this, Christ demonstrates for us how we ought to love: don’t wait for permission to love, don’t wait for others to initiate forgiveness, and don’t let anything get in the way of showing true love.
While faith and hope are gifts from God, love is an expression of what God is doing. As the first of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), it is the product of a healthy tree.
If our roots are well grounded (faith), and our trunk is steadfast and secure (hope), then there is no reason why our fruit should not be healthy (love).
In the analogy of the tree I see the branches, the leaves, and the fruit as the expression of love. Love is how we respond to God in worship with outstretched arms. It is how we clothe ourselves with humility and the prompter to give the shirt off our back to those in need. It is the gift that we have to offer to those who are hungry and weak.
The fruit, in essence, is why the tree exists. Love, in essence, is why we have faith and hope.
What about you? Do you have a persistent love? Have you been demonstrating the love of Christ in your actions toward family, friends, co-workers, and the world? Is your love evidenced by those who know and watch you, that they are convinced you are a follower of Christ?