What is Love?

I get most of my ideas to write from life experiences, and this one was no different. My son asked me the other day what love was. “What is love?” We rarely sit and think about the answer because it is difficult to put into words sometimes. We hear, “all you need is love,” “love is love,” and “love wins” ALL the time these days, but what does that mean? We can all talk about experiences or physical manifestations of love, but what is love? ” How would you describe it to your kids?

Without God I am not sure how people answer the question. The first thing that came to mind when my son asked was the Biblical definition of love, because the simple “definition” doesn’t really do it justice. The Merriam-Webster definition describes the types of love, “maternal love for a child,” “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties,” and “warm attachment,” but these things, unless experienced, don’t really explain the “what” or the “how” of love. It’s almost assumed that a person will understand the definition based on a personal experience. But what if you’ve never experienced the maternal love for a child? What if your mom never loved you? What if you’ve never experienced a strong affection for another? The definition seems incomplete without the experience, and since many experience “love,” or show love in different ways, it is difficult to define universally–without the Bible that is. The Biblical definition in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 describes the “how” and the “what” in love. It not only describes what love is, but it tells how to put it into action.

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;[a] 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.”

It is almost a full and perfect answer just within this one passage. The Bible speaks a lot of love but I wanted to use this popular verse for the time being. I can not help but notice in the verse a lot of actions.

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Protection
  • Trust
  • Hope
  • Rejoicing in truth
  • Not seeking for yourself
  • Not being easily angered
  • Not keeping a record of wrong doings
  • Not being proud

It seems to me that love is something that you do, and show. Again, the Webster definition seems to just scratch the surface of this. When a mother loves a child it is deep “feeling,” that can not be denied, but a feeling means nothing without action. It is because of that deep feeling she feeds the child, protects the child, would die for the child, etc.. Sometimes though, in relationships, we don’t have those deep feelings. In yet Biblically, we (Christians) are still called to love; in a marriage after all of the “feelings” have faded, in a friendship, or even in a parental relationship in which the child is disobedient, defiant, and rude we still need to practice love. This means having patience, being kind, being understanding, hoping for the best in a person, rejoicing when the person does well, not seeking attention for yourself or for personal gain, and forgiving one another. These actions are so universal that practicing them can lead to the actual feeling of love and endearment. It would be almost impossible to practice these actions and not have the feeling of love towards a person. This is why we are called to love our neighbor and our enemy. These two things obviously do not come as naturally/easily as loving a child. Biblically we (Christians) are called to these actions even when the feeling isn’t natural or easy. Even when the feeling is absent.

The world (society) seems to have a more superficial grasp on love. “Love is love” implies that anyone can find love, and experience love, but this just isn’t true. Love isn’t a simple feeling, a sexual attraction, or desire to be together. That is what we call lust and attraction. For people who cling to science as their god I can’t imagine why this is so hard to grasp. Science says that hormones, and a lot of them, are involved in falling in love (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love/). All who have experienced “falling in love” know that these hormones chill over time and that those butterflies soon disappear. This is where the action of love is supposed to step in, but many relationships seem to fizzle out at this point. Maybe it becomes too much work? Without a deeper understanding of what love is it is easy to see why people give up so easily.

We also, as a culture, define love as “acceptance.” By accepting someone just as they are you are showing “love” to them. But this is very subjective isn’t it? If I don’t accept what you deem acceptable you are telling me I don’t love? I don’t accept pedophilia, polygamy, and adulterous affairs even though they “love” one another. Someone who leaves his wife for another woman “loves” the other woman. Why else would be leave his wife? So if I don’t accept that you are telling me I’m not showing “love” by accepting them where for who they are? You see, it’s subjective because everyone has a line in the sand of what is acceptable. Your moral standard might be different than mine, but we all have a line. Maybe that line is pedophilia. Maybe that line is five people in a polygamist relationship and maybe that line is six. So quipping, “love is love,” is really thoughtless and shallow. It’s a means to push an agenda and to shame anyone who disagrees. With any questioning it falls flat. It’s just a few words to shut the door on further conversation. That is far from love.

Even Christians are falling short on this acceptance of whatever supposedly equals love. As 1 Corinthians 13 continues it speaks of what love is NOT. ” love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way (which could fall easily into lust); it is not irritable or resentful;[a] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” So, what is wrongdoing? Of course that is somewhat subjective as well. For you polygamy might not be wrong, but for a Bible believing Christian Jesus says it is (Matthew 19). This means that for a Bible Believing Christian to rejoice in polygamy, accept it, and so on, they are not showing love. By the very definition they hold as truth they are not showing love. Love isn’t acceptance because it does NOT rejoice in wrongdoing. Wrongdoing being anything the Bible deems unacceptable or unholy. Anything that goes against the conscience. So love can’t be acceptance of just anything, and it isn’t universal.

The Biblical definition, however, is universal. If I asked anyone if love is patience the answer would be yes. Is love hoping the best for a person? Yes. Is love being kind? Yes. The list goes on. But love isn’t acceptance. Love isn’t lust. Love isn’t a simple physical attraction to someone. Love basically isn’t anything the world cheapens it to be. Instead love is shown through sacrifice. 1 John 4:10, ”  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.”

God showed and shows us love. The Greek word for love is “agape.” A giving love. This is a love in which one makes sacrifices for the benefit of another. A love which one gives without asking anything in return. Jesus gave Himself and showed a perfect picture of sacrificial love.

In explaining to my son what love is I was able to point him to the greatest love there ever was. Without Christ I feel the answer would have fallen very short. It would be left to experience, and unfortunately for some that gives them nothing to hope for. In Christ there is hope in love because He showed us perfect love. Love is sacrifice. Love never fails because God’s love prevails! God’s love wins.



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