I was asked not too long ago to give an explanation on what I believed love to be. As a follow up question I was asked, if I had to condense that explanation down to a single word, what would that one word be. Immediately several different thoughts, concepts, and ideas flooded my mind as I began to think of how to appropriately answer such a weighty question. After all, how could one be expected to consolidate something as expressive and intricate as love down to a single word? As I began to think and meditate upon the subject more closely, however, I began to realize that maybe the answer to the question wasn't as complicated as I had initially thought. Eventually, one word began to reverberate in my mind more than all the rest. But before I get to what I believe that word to be, allow me to first express how a few of the traits and characteristics of love lead me to my conclusion.
1. Love is selfless.
Selflessness is a concept quite foreign amongst this generation. Selfishness is so deeply ingrained into our culture that one needs to scroll no more than a few moments across their social media feed to see an oftentimes awkwardly photographed self-portrait with the hashtag #selfie noted in the caption But love puts the well-being of another above yourself. It does not look out for personal gain, but consistently seeks to discover ways in which to build someone up. In order to find an example of a perfectly selfless love, one needs to look no further than the life of Jesus. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Jesus exemplified the most selfless love of all by giving his own life as a ransom so that we could inherit salvation.
2. Love is active.
You cannot claim to have love and not show love. Just like you cannot claim to have faith without also having works. True love will be proceeded by some type of action. We see this in Romans 5:8 which states, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." You cannot separate love apart from demonstration. If you love someone, your actions will show it, and not just once in awhile, but in a consistent manner throughout the course of time.
3. Love is defensive.
I don't mean defensive in the sense of being overly-sensitive and paranoid. I mean it in the way that a love for someone will cause you to protect that person or relationship at any cost. A defensive love will cause an anger to stir up within you whenever something (or someone) tries to come in between you and the object of your affection. In fact, scripture can in many ways be seen as less of a historical document of an ancient people during some distant time, and more of a progressive story of the redemptive plan of God. A defensive God, who saw sin standing in the way of him and his creation, and decided to make a way for us and his people to have access to himself through the redemptive plan of his son, Jesus Christ (a beautiful depiction of this can be found in Matthew 27:51).
There are many more attributes that can be ascribed to our concept of what love is, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of all it’s attributes. These are a few areas that I’ve chosen to highlight because they pose specific interest to myself. But despite any other characteristics that can be given to love, one thing became especially clear to myself throughout this brief study. And it is that love is far more than just a feeling. In fact, I don't think that love is something that can necessarily be felt, at least not in it's entirety. Feelings are based upon emotion, and emotions fluctuate and remain relatively inconsistent. But the perfect love I find in scripture is nothing of the sort. God didn't just love us when he felt like it or when it was most convenient to His plan. He loved us knowing each and every thing we would ever do wrong. Each time we would turn our back on him. Each time we would chose to forsake him and pursue our own will as opposed to His. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:39, 'Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' As I read that scripture, all of a sudden this discussion about love started to come full circle, and I realized this kind of love isn't predicated upon feeling or emotion, it's based upon a choice. A choice God made to love us even though we've done nothing to deserve such an unconditional, extraordinary commitment. As I began to reflect upon everything that I had discovered, my initial response was astonishment. Astonishment at how a God so perfect, so holy, would love someone like me irrespective of my faults, failures, and inconsistencies. As all this began to sink in, I started to eventually wonder: where do I go from here? I know that God loves me (and roughly seven billion other people on the planet) this way, but what effect (if any) should that have upon my every day life. God was revealing something to me about his character that was supposed to influence every area of my life. This type of love that I had been studying is counter-cultural. Our society has so devalued the concept of love and reduced it down to a mere word surrounded by fluttering emotions and stripped it of any sort of lasting commitment. We’ve made love something that we show through an emoticon, and not something we demonstrate through a lifestyle. We’ve made love something we fall in and out of and not a decision based upon a choice.
As a young man who desires to one day enter in the realm of marriage, I began to wonder how I could keep my perspective of love and intimacy untainted in a culture that has so devalued the concept of what it means to love another person. It seemed like everywhere I looked the idea of love and romance had been attached to licentiousness and promiscuity. It appeared as if all around me marriages were falling apart, families were being ruined, and people were becoming physically involved with one another way too soon. Again, I turned my attention to the word of God. Ephesians 5:25 says, 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.' (Again we see the word ‘gave.') Christ' love for us isn't based upon circumstances or a set of conditions. It's based upon His word that says that no matter what we've done, are doing, or will do in the future; his love will never leave us. This does not mean that God will never feel any remorse toward us or that he will always be pleased with every decision that we make. Quite the contrary, that was the great risk. Because sometimes the people you love are the one’s who really hurt you. Sometimes the people you love are the ones who can cause you the most pain, but God in his foreknowledge analyzed the risks. He knew that there would be many who rejected him, but he chose to reach for us anyways. Although we oftentimes do things that greatly displease him, he still maintains his commitment to extend his love toward us, in a demonstration that if we never give up on him, he will indeed never give up on us. That is the type of love that Paul is referencing when he is describing the love that should exist between a husband and wife. A love that is completely selfless, constant, and unchanging. This is the paradigm of love that believers are to model their relationships after. Not a model based upon lust or infatuation, but upon true, lasting commitment. In a world that has become so contaminated by the effects of sin, this is an untainted love. It is the love that God has for his church, it is a love that he desires us to have toward our current or future spouse, and it is the love he desires for us to have toward one another.