Love, as a word is uttered or confessed so easily and so loosely. Many will say “I love it”, I love him/her” in reference to their emotional feelings. But what really is love? Is it an emotion that changes with circumstances? How does one attain or experience love and how is it manifested?
The Bible teaches that “God is love” 1 John 4:8. Notice it says God is love not love is God. The world has turned the word around and in the process contaminated our understanding of love. When we turn the words around we define God based on our shallow understanding of love.
People assume that love is what makes a person feel good regardless of what that means. For this reason it is okay to sacrifice moral principles and others rights in order to obtain such “love”. But real love is the exact opposite and is not selfish. Real love is like God who is holy, just and perfect.
If we truly love God we will try to emulate Him in love. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Christ answered, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And for the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” Mathew 22: 37-39.
One will notice that the second greatest commandment hinges on the first. To really understand love, we must first experience the love of God. Before we can know how to love ourselves and others we must first experience God’s love which is giving, freeing and affirming.
Before being crucified, Jesus Christ told His disciples that “ As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” John 15: 11. Christ was in effect passing on to his disciples what He had received from God the Father, which is love, and was asking his disciples to pass this love to others.
Christ also showed that the condition to enjoying this love required obedience to His commandments. After teaching about what was required to abide in the love of God, Christ then goes ahead and gives His commandment which is “that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. —- These things I command you, that you love one another” John 15: 12-13, 17.
In reality Christ was showing that love bears sacrifice and is not selfish. While we may not have to die for someone else to show love, love may demand of us a sacrifice. This could be listening to someone who has no one else to talk to, helping another in need, encouraging someone and giving to others. Today the world has a lot of people who could benefit from such love but unfortunately many have defined love to mean something very different from the Creator’s model.
Apostle John emphasizes Christ teachings on love saying, “let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” 1 John 4:7. Love is a choice and an action that one consciously makes. It is not a feeling that changes with the circumstances. Christ chose to die for us in obedience to the Father and because of the love He had for us. It is because of His love for us, His creations, that God sent His only begotten son to die for us (John 3:16).
Apostle Paul gives the attributes of love revealing it’s sacrificial active nature for “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.
Love is not to be confused with lust which is what the world calls love. Love God’s way is directed outwards towards others and is utterly unselfish. To practice this kind of love entails setting aside our own desires and instincts so that we can give love without expecting anything in return. This is only possible in Christ who enables us to overcome our selfishness.
God manifested His love towards us by sending “his only begotten son into the world , that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be propitiation for our sins” 1 John 4: 9-10. Love in effect explains God, hence, “God is Love”. He created us that He may love us. Because of His love he created a solution for sinful people through the death of His son.
For this reason, Christ commanded His disciples that they love one another for that is the evidence that they are in Christ. Just like He is one with God the Father so are we one in Christ. John writes that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” 1 John 4; 18-19.
God’s love is the source of all human love, and it spreads like fire. In loving His children, God kindles a flame in their hearts which is in turn expressed to others who as a result experience God’s love. The real test of our love is how we treat those God puts in our life. This could be family members, employees, employers, other fellow believers or people we consider different from us.
John reflects on this and says “If someone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doe not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him; that he who loves God must love his brother also” 1 John 4: 20-21.
So where do you stand in love?