What is Love?

Originally published Friday, 10 February 2017.

Last year, I found my kids these fun Star Wars Valentines. They had cute sayings like, "Join the heart side" and "You're my only hope." 

This is the month of love, the time of year when we enjoy heart shaped candies with phrases printed on them like, "Be mine" "True love" "One and only." It's interesting how a concept like "love" can be reduced to red hearts, cheesy phrases, and chocolate. (Though I do love me some chocolate!). It's fun and sweet to give one another cards and gifts on February 14. But on the whole, it's a yearly reminder that our culture doesn't have a firm grasp on the definition of love.

In studying for my forthcoming book, I spent some time in the book of 1 John. Written by the author of the gospel of John and Revelation, 1 John is written to believers to help them test the genuineness of their faith. One of three tests mentioned in the book is that of love. And unlike conversation hearts and Valentine cards, it takes John more than a few words to describe the love we have for God and one another.  

This is Love: 4 Truths about Love from 1 John

Love is rooted in the gospel: "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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (4:11-12). Love begins with God's love for us. As Ephesians 1 says, "in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ" (vs. 4-5). We didn't love God first, he loved us when we were still sinners, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We love because God first loved us (4:19). Our love for God and others is rooted in God's love expressed for us through Jesus Christ.

God is love: "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (4:8). To understand what love is, we have to look to God because he is love. John goes on to describe God's love, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (4:9). God showed us love, he demonstrated his love by giving us his Son. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (3:16). 

If we love God, we will love one another: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (4:7). The love we have for others is a natural overflow of our love for God. It's a litmus test of our faith. "If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (4:12). "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers" (3:14). In fact, it is this love for others that shows the world we are Christ's followers. As Jesus said in John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." 

Love reveals itself in action, not words: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (3:16-18). Love is more than saying, "I love you." It is revealed in the way we treat one another. When we lay down our lives for one another, sacrificing time, effort, money, and our very selves, it demonstrates our love.  

The book of 1 John would make a lengthy card this Valentine's Day but it sums up love well. As we give our spouses and loved ones candy, cards, and other treats, let's remember that true love is more than a catch phrase stamped on a piece of candy. It is a life poured out for another, as Christ poured out his life for us.