What is love?

The need to feel loved is a primary human emotional need. To get it, we’ll climb mountains, ford streams, sail across seas, traverse deserts, and endure incredible hardships. Without it, we tire out in the foothills, hate to get our feet wet, get seasick, make it only as far as the first oasis, and bail when things get dicey.

But, what is it? What do we love?

  • I love hot dogs . . . cream-filled moon pies.
  • I love my mother . . . Vin Diesel . . . Mario Lanza.
  • I love playing volleyball . . . kayaking . . . hiking . . . knitting.
  • I love my car . . . my new house . . . my baseball card collection . . . diamonds . . . books.
  • I love Schnauzers . . . Siamese kittens . . . nanny goats . . . crocodiles.
  • I love flowers . . . spring rains . . . mountain tops.
  • I love country music . . . punk rock . . . classical.

How confusing. We can’t find a true definition by looking at what we love. Let’s take a look at actions done out of love. Maybe that will clear things up.

  • I did it because I love her.
    • The man having an affair calls it love.
    • The preacher calls it sin.
  • I did it because I love him.
    • The wife of an alcoholic picks up the pieces after an episode, again.
    • The psychologist calls it codependency.
  • I love my child so much.
    • The parents indulge all his wishes.
    • The truant officer calls it irresponsible parenting.

Definitions of love are also fluid historically. Some of us can remember this as a new song, birthed during the same era as “Make love, not war.” “They’ll know we are Christian by our love,” written in the 1960s, was the Christians’ answer to the hippy free love era. It agrees with the good things from the “love package” of that period, but says there’s more to it—you will learn the true meaning of love through Christ and his followers.

The Word of God tells us what love is and what it is not. We often don’t realize that our personal definitions and the ones from scripture don’t line up. We can quote the love chapter (1 Corinthian 13), but don’t realize all the clauses we have added to our personal-needs recipe. Here are some humanly-wrapped love packages:

  • If you loved me, you would do it my way.
  • Love means remembering my birthday with dinner and flowers.
  • Love means a meal on the table when I get home after a long day at work.
  • Love means cookies and milk.
  • Watch me! Watch me! Look at me!
  • Love is having a theme song
  • Love is doing something without me having to ask you to do it.
  • Love is some quality time where your attention is fully on me.

When we look for love as we have learned to define it through our experiences and preferences—the wrapped box with the lovely bow—we are missing the gift that is inside. We are giving and accepting the wrappings and the box and focusing on the pretty cellophane around the gift instead of what love really is. We make love infinitely smaller.

What is proper love? God designed our spirits to need love, and it comes to us in many forms: touch, hugs, comfort, purpose, power, well-being, acceptance, . . . being valued, heard, understood, etc. These are basic human needs. God created us needy so that He could fill our needs.

God loves us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17, NIV

Wow! God loves us! And he invites us to enter into a loving relationship with Him. And when we do, with our hearts full of gratitude for his love, we will be able to echo His love and respond with softened hearts to one another.

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