Christianity 100: Defining Love

By | February 1, 2011

It seems like love is misunderstood. I don’t think this is a news flash really. I believe that love is a central, foundational part of the Christian faith. However, I run into many people who seem to almost regret that love is included at all. One author nearly said that love wasn’t biblical. I’ve heard several friends say something along the lines of “We need more (fill in the blank), as opposed to love.” The only thing I can figure from this is that many people have a real misunderstanding of what love is.

To be fair, we use the word love in many different ways. For example, in Greek there are four or so words for the different types of things for which we use the one English word “love”. This doesn’t help in understanding love. My guess is when most people think of love, they think of a positive, sentimental feeling of affection or attraction. While this is a way “love” is used in some cases, it is not primarily what love is about. Love as a feeling is a secondary, lower part of love.

I define love this way: love is seeking another’s best interest. It is active and tangible. It is seeking what is best for the person, not necessarily giving them what they want nor seeking to make them happy. It isn’t a feeling, it is a decision. I’ve heard love described as “doing what you don’t want to do, because you want to”. It’s not love if you’re only doing it because of what you are getting or hope to get out of it. Because of this, love isn’t necessarily very easy.

So, for example, it’s not love to decide that you won’t talk to someone about a wrong they’ve committed, simply because you don’t want a confrontation. That’s selfish. It’s also not love if you don’t talk to them because you’re afraid it will upset them, even if it would be best for them to hear. At the same time, it’s also not love to confront the other person if you are doing so out of anger, or because you feel the need to point out everyone’s mistakes. It’s only love if you are doing it in order to help the person and/or to help those who have been wronged.

It’s true that motives are almost always mixed. Nevertheless, we should examine our motives to see if love is primary or if a selfish motive is driving us.

Love is truly the antithesis of selfishness. It is, by definition, looking for someone else’s good, even at one’s own expense. We are very naturally self-seeking. But God’s world is backward. He tells us to put others before ourselves. That isn’t natural and it isn’t easy.

The people I’ve heard who seem down on love all suggest we need something stronger. They say we need to challenge people, confront people, discipline people, have rules and expectations, etc. They want something with meat, something with teeth. They complain about love, but I think they misunderstand. They are actually complaining about a sentimental form of Christianity which only seeks inspiration and positivity and to make everyone a little nicer, if it’s not too much trouble. This is a serious misunderstanding of Christianity and isn’t what love is about. Love is a serious, challenging pursuit, and doesn’t always feel good or positive, at least in the short run.

I plan to write soon about the fundamentals of Christianity in which love plays an integral part. Since that is the case, it is important to understand what love is. Otherwise, if one has a really distorted view of what love is (or at the least, a significantly different definition than the one I’m using), the rest of what I say will make little sense.

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