What is True love? part 1: Identifying true love
If there’s one thing in the world most people misunderstand, I’d say it would be LOVE. Today’s mission for joy is to deepen our understanding of true love. We walk in joy more fully when we comprehend the depth and height of God’s love. We can’t comprehend that love if we don’t know the truth. Let’s get to it.
I’m writing this intro after finishing the body of this post and I have to tell you, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Mostly because I feel the weight of it’s importance. But also because LOVE is so hard to define and describe. It is so big and complex and widely confused.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single topic that’s more convoluted, mistaken, wrongly identified and poorly described as love.
Happy Valentines Day.
HAHA. Seriously though, when you think of love, what do you think of?
Lots of people imagine the starry eyed actors and actresses in romance movies. I’m sure many of you probably think of your spouse or children or family. If you’re a believer, you most likely think of Jesus and his sacrifice…
If I asked you to define love, what would you say?
You might say it’s an emotion that has strong feelings of passion and affection.
When I googled, “the definition of love,” this is the first definition that showed up from this dictionary:
1. an intense feeling of deep affection.
"babies fill parents with feelings of love"
Seems kind of broad to me. Is love merely a feeling? Merriam-Webster does a better job defining love by defining it through a list of things. Check it out here. Maybe you think love is not even definable. I know a lot of folks like the freedom to think of love in however it best suits their life and their ideals. It seems many people fall under that category. There’s this thing going around that entitles people to be the rulers of their own lives. It’s a sense of autonomy. We are all our own boss and decide for ourselves what we think. Because we are all individual in nature and come from different family cultures, societal cultures and we each have unique experiences, I understand why it’s hard to think that there is only ONE definition of Love. This can be said for many things. Consider how we all have different opinions and beliefs. It really is radical to think that there is only ONE true definition of love, isn’t it. But- if you’ve met me you know I’m a little out there, so I’m going out on a limb to say publicly that I believe there is only one true definition of love. I’ll keep it as light as possible as I try my best to describe what I think to be true love. And as you continue on, know that I write this humbly and in no way am I suggesting I’ve mastered it all. Far from it.
First things first- If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a serious Jesus freak- so of course, my stance will always be planted in the words and precepts of the Christian Bible. If you find yourself reading this and don’t share in my faith- don’t quit on me just yet. Keep reading for the sake of understanding your neighbor a bit better. My Dad always encourages me to be knowledgeable of other people’s faith and to listen so that we can understand one another better as we do life together.
To kick this off, the first point I will make about love, is that we can love each other even while we don’t agree with one another. Even if that’s all you take from this post, it will have been worth it for me to write. Withholding love from each other because we don’t see eye to eye is one of the biggest reasons we all suffer.
Four Kinds of Love
Many of you may know that there are four different kinds of love written about it the Bible. Meaning, there are four different words in the original language used to describe the one word, LOVE, that we use in English. Understanding the original text in the Bible can be confusing at first, but it is really helpful in grasping the fullness of God’s intention in the Bible. Check out this post about my favorite resources to learn how I study the original text. The four types of love are: Agape [uh-GAH-Pay], Phileo [Fill-EH-oh], Storge [STORE- jay] and Eros [AIR- ohs]. Love is SO broad and hard to fully grasp it deserves more than just one word, right? It’s fitting to learn that there is more than one type of “love” in the Bible. Many of these words overlap and aren’t always strict in their application of relationship, but at the same time they are specific in their nature. Agape love is the love used to describe God’s love and his nature, which we will focus on and talk about more, later. Phileo love is the expression of friendship love, it suggests a deeper than superficial connection between two people. It’s relational between neighbors and friends and even family. Storge love is the word used to describe the parent-child bond, and the love between family members. It is natural and instinctive in nature. Eros love is the word used to describe romantic, even exotic love. See how each one is different? I exclusively love Jacob, my husband with that Eros love, but I also love him in all the other forms. On the flip side, I don’t love my neighbors with that Eros love, but can love them in other ways. Up to now we can conclude that, TRUE LOVE is complex and precious and even a little confusing. When we plaster the word love onto something without fully appreciating the depth and complexities of it, we can miss the truth in which we experience and express love. But even more importantly, we need to acknowledge that God himself is love and that He is the sustainer and creator of it.
GOD IS (AGAPE) LOVE
We see in 1 John 4:16 that God himself is LOVE. In that verse and throughout 1 John, the original translation of the word love is Agape. In understanding God’s nature and the way in which he loves, we can better identify with Him and who he is. Lots of people would say," “yes,” if I asked them whether or not they thought God is loving. Often though, I think there is disconnect in that his very nature is love. Many of us need a clearer definition of what LOVE actually is. If we have a misconception of love, than we have a misconception of God. That is really important to consider. If we have a skewed idea of who God is, than we are missing out. Before we even try to dive into other aspects of God’s character- we have to first get settled and established in that God is LOVE.
Let’s check out the Bible’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 by reading here.
Isn’t that one of the most beautifully written scriptures? It truly encompasses the nature of God in how he is love.
If you were to take out the word love and put in “God,” you could quickly begin to see this scripture take shape.
Let’s try it: God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. God is not rude, or self-seeking. God is not easily angered and he keeps no account of wrongs. God takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I mean, how amazing is God when we consider him like this? Do you believe God loves this way? Do you believe He extends this kind of love toward you? Sit with this for a moment.
I could write a post about each one of these aspects of God and His love- maybe one day I will. But for now I want to emphasize two characteristics of love that seem to be skewed and gravely misunderstood. Two of the easiest ways I’m able to identify God’s love from the counterfeit is by asking these two questions: 1. Is this love self-seeking, and 2. Does this love offer hope?
Love is NOT self-seeking
As a follower of Christ I believe that I exist for the glory of the Lord. Before I became a follower of Christ, I lived essentially for myself. My mind was fixated on what I wanted, and what I thought I needed. I lived with the purpose of my own goals and success. I believed that I should chase after trivial dreams. I believed I had the right to be entitled and that I should put myself above everyone else for the sake of my own happiness. Y’all this is what society projects on us. Without saying it directly, we are constantly told to shoot for the stars, to gain success in our careers, to think about how we can do better and get more. It becomes an obsession we don’t even realize we’ve fallen prey to. It’s an empty and dissatisfying cycle, until God wakes us up. In blindness I walked through life thinking I was pursuing the right things. I was on a mission. A personal, self- focused mission. I was seeking to satisfy self. Without hesitation, I can tell you that living like this felt hollow and lonely. It did not produce love within me, instead it perpetuated selfishness and deepened my awareness of my inability to satisfy my own needs.
So what does this have to do with love? Everything. When we live for ourselves, when we are so focused on ourselves and seeking our own gain, we are putting everyone else underneath us. We are saying through our lives and by our decisions that we matter more than everyone else. Love does not exist to serve itself.
Love exists to serve others. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus himself said that he didn’t come to earth to be served. Rather he came to serve and to give his life. Those of us who follow Christ need to have this very stance. When we come out of the unhealthy mindset of living for ourselves and wake up to the life that awaits us, we see that our purpose is to live for others and to LOVE others. We will never be able to love if we don’t first understand why we exist. Only in breaking the cycle of living for ourselves can we actually grow in the Agape love that the Father lavishes on us. This is the most fundamental part of being born again. I strongly believe it is one of the most overlooked and underplayed aspects of our faith. When we “die to ourselves” as scripture calls us to do, essentially God is solving our love problem. Living for ourselves is largely to blame for most of the problems on this planet, physically, emotionally and globally.
This is why we need to die to that old life. In our sin nature we are self-seeking. When we are born again we are restored back to the original intention of our lives. To live for God and for love.
Being born into Adam, our sin nature clouds our ability to see why we are alive. Think about it. Before the fall, Adam and Eve lived to love. They walked IN a love RELATIONSHIP with God and with one another. In love they were created to love, and to multiply God’s love across the Earth. Early on God tells Adam and Eve to multiply and spread His glory. What exactly is His glory? It’s HIM. He is glory. His glory is not separate from himself and He is LOVE. God desired to be with Adam and Eve as they loved in perfect unity with him. Their love coming together would create more love. REPRODUCTION is about reproducing God’s love. We can clearly see, man was made in the image of God with the sole purpose of being loved and spreading love.
We also see early on, sin enter in. When sin came, so did death. What died exactly? The purpose of our existence died under the brokenness of self-seeking. We lost our innocence and ability to love purely. We see the image and relationship between God and human crumble. But hope wasn’t lost. Praise be to God, that He didn’t give up on us. In love with a heart full of hope he pursued us with the precious plan of the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus came down and lived perfectly to win back our hearts. It’s always been about love. Consider that Jesus’ ultimate new command in the New Testament is to LOVE God and one another. Why? It’s the very purpose of our existence, and He came to restore us back to it. Whoever is courageous enough to admit they need a Savior, Jesus will make new. Anyone willing to surrender their own selfish desires for the sake of gaining freedom to love others, Jesus will restore. Dying to yourself isn’t scary or sad. Quit believing that the Christian life is one of dread as we die to the things we “want”. On the contrary, delight it the fact that God is rescuing us from ourselves. He’s getting us out of our own way. In being born again, we become who we were meant to be. We only gain life and love as we die to the lie that living for ourselves could ever satisfy. We go under the water looking at ourselves and come up looking at Christ. And as we gaze, for however long we have left here on the earth, our eye being the lamp to our body, brings life and love into every crevice of our being. Jesus is what we should be looking at, not ourselves.
Love hopes all things
Why, from that whole list did I choose this one? What does this even mean? Love hopes all things? Do we really even grasp what hope in itself actually means? God highlighted it to me to emphasize because hope is a conduit for life and is an avenue in which we can channel change. The church is well known for a lot of things. It’s known for doing good, providing needs, being a light. Here in America, it’s also known for some not so great things. Consider the recent news about the Baptist church and all of the deception revealed after years of hidden abuse. Consider the many famous pastors and leaders we’ve seen fall under the pressure of temptation and responsibility and fame. Those things are outright and obvious in that they are not the heart of God. But what about the less obvious things? For example, Christians that are more religious than relational, a body of believers that focuses too much on grace and prosperity, or to the opposite end, they focus too much on sin and works. There are so many weird things in the church that it’s too overwhelming to tackle them all. Instead, we can honor God in how we move forward when we are confronted with these things. One thing I’ve been confronted with in the church is the lack of hope. Love hopes all things is a funny statement. But when we take the word love out and replace it with “God,” we get: God hopes all things. That’s a little easier to think about. But what does it mean that God hopes all things?
God IS a God of hope. People write entire books about all of the things we are talking about today, so it’s impossible to fully cover. But one thing I will say about hope is that I believe God looks at us even while we are still sinners with hope. He sees into us and the potential that lies within. He knows what we were created for.
2 Corinthians 5:16 says,
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” What does this mean? When we look at, interact with, and love on other people, we should do so with the Kingdom in mind. We don’t judge them in their current state, we love them with hope in mind. We have the power to call out their potential and to tell them about their created value. We are called TO LOVE them in the way that Christ loves us. Christ came with so much hope, and He laid his life down for us, so that we can live on to offer that hope to others. When we walk in love by offering hope, we offer something this world can never offer. God’s people shouldn’t walk with criticism or superiority. How often do you hear Christians talk about loving the sinner HATING the sin… That mind set is the problem. Quit looking at their sin as if it’s the only thing they are good for. What if God looked at Saul that way. “Ugh that guy Saul just keeps messing up. He thinks he’s helping me? I cannot believe he is doing these things in my name. How dare he!?” What if God wrote us off for our sin? What if instead of showing Saul grace and the hope of Jesus- he left him to continue down the wrong road? If God treated people the way people treated people we would be so screwed. Praise the Lord God looked at Saul and saw past his sin and into his created potential. Praise God he pursued Saul, and eventually gave him a new name, a new identity in Him. Let’s be the same kind of people. Let’s be people that see past sin, let’s walk in hope and help people see they have a new name waiting for them.
Hope says there’s possibility, hope says change is on the horizon. Hope is an integral part of the definition of love. When we instill hope in others we sow seeds that can produce new life. Hope is powerful and in my opinion, sets God’s definition of Love apart from the world’s definition. This hopeless world says: love people like yourself, love people who are successful, who make you comfortable, who benefit you. God’s hopeful love says: you are special even though you don’t feel like it, you can be made brand new, God can cleanse you and purify you. A hopeful love is a powerful one.
He loved us first
To understand the love of Christ, we need to acknowledge that we not only need him as our Savior, but that He loved us first. The world’s definition of love suggests we can earn love. Society says we are more lovely or worthy of love when we do good things, when we look a certain way, when we make a particular amount of money. But God’s love says that even while we were unworthy and unlovely, He still loved us.
This piece of the definition may be the most precious: We’ve been loved before we even knew what true love was.
1 John 4:19 is the precious reminder we all need planted in our hearts. The verse says, “We love because He first loved us.” Unlike the world’s definition, God’s love doesn’t depend on our performance. He didn’t pick and choose a few of us that deserved or earned his love and set us aside as his special ones. No. He sent Jesus for the entire world, in love. We were God’s enemy when he loved us. Some of us will never accept the Love of the Father. But for those of us that do, we have the immense privilege of identifying as God’s children as we grow into becoming love. Christian, do you trust that God loves you? 1 John 3:1 says, “What love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called his children.” Not only did Christ die to save us, but through His blood we are brought back into a loving relationship with our Father.
He loves us! And in the greatest act of love of all of time, He proved it once and for all through the cross.
Which leads me to my next post: What is True Love? Love in Action.
Keep an eye out for this post on Valentine’s Day. It’ll take us deeper into the other forms of love, the act of the cross and how that one act changes the way we can act in love toward God and others!
Until next time, Stay joyful!
Merriam-Webster, s.v. “love” accessed February 12, 2019,