Previously we dealt with the concept that true biblical love stands out as the indicator of genuine faith and must be a key motivator in the life of every believer. As Christians embrace the importance of love, we must then ask the next hard question, “What is love?” Defining love can be a difficult task, so let’s first consider what love is not.
Much of what people call love today does not reflect God. Culture can define love so broadly that it includes attitudes and actions which do not seek the good of others.
Love is not a feeling.
Love includes feeling, but we shouldn’t love others only when we feel like it. Our feelings will change over time. Therefore, feelings like affection or romance cannot be the foundation of love. Some kinds of love are good only if they are absolute and unconditional, such as the love of a parent or a spouse. Whatever the case, our love must reflect the love that God shares with us—unlike our fickle feelings, God’s love never changes.
Love is not a god.
Some people deify love to the point of worshiping it—saying that love is all a person ever needs, or that love is the answer to everything.
Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8), but He is also holy, just, and true. Since true love reflects God’s goodness, we must study God to know what our love should look like—and what it should not look like. Some things are simply bad for us, so true love will pull away from those things. Ignorance and sin can, over time, corrupt our so-called “love” into something hurtful.
Love is not lust.
Lust is the desire to possess something regardless of the hurt it may cause others— including oneself. Whereas true love finds good and adds good, lust merely finds good and grabs at it—even when doing so is sin. Lust treats people like objects to be consumed, and it rots away at our ability to cherish other people as people, as image-bearers of God. Instead of loving people as beautiful, worthy creations of God, lust treats them like tools—like ways to fill our appetite.
Unfortunately, some people will call a relationship “loving” when it is selfish, hurtful, and demeaning. Beware of people who call their lust “love”—they do not understand what makes relationships healthy.
Love is not abuse.
Finally, we do not show love by abusing others—or by allowing others to abuse us. Abuse is using something for a hurtful purpose that its maker did not intend.
Abuse is simple to explain in the realm of objects:
- You can abuse an aircraft by pushing it to speeds and stresses above the intended limits.
- You can abuse a desk by scratching your name onto it.
But we can’t really “hurt” objects—at least, not in a moral sense. And many times tinkering is a good thing, if we want to make our world better. So, what makes people so different?
We must remember that people are not objects—within each of us is the image of God. Every individual is someone God loves, someone with a will and an image we should respect. We should not use any person for our own sinful desires—that is, for purposes that God, their Creator, did not intend.
Do you remember the first and second great commandments taught by Jesus (Matt. 22:36–40)?
- Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
If we do not appreciate the goodness of God, we will not see the goodness He has placed in us. And if we do not see the goodness He has placed in us, we will not see the goodness He has placed in others. It is never loving to abuse people—or to accommodate those who do.
Most would agree that abuse is wrong, but how should someone in an abusive environment respond? In such cases, we must remember that God is not only loving—He is also just. So, the most godly thing to do in an abusive relationship is to leave, seek help, and pursue justice so that no one else need fear hurt from that person again.
Does that mean we try to avoid all suffering? Can we avoid all abuse in this world? No.
But when Christ told His disciples that they would suffer for His sake—that they should “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39)—He did not mean that Christians should willingly stay close to people that demean, assault, or violate them. Just as Christ did not allow Himself to be killed before His crucifixion (cf. John 10:39), we have no reason to submit to violence unless we must do so to serve God.
(For more resorces on discussing abuse, see this post.)
To remind yourself or your students of what the Bible says about love, review the following passages and ask yourself if your acts of love look like these biblical descriptions.
This post taken from Love & Truth: Navigating Relationships with God's Grace