What is Love?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40


Alright, my birthday is in a couple of days, so I always tend to get rather introspective around this time of every year. I contemplate a lot of issues: I think about how I grew in the past 365 days and how I stayed the same; I ponder the ways in which I have succeeded and reflect upon the ways in which I’ve failed; I pray about the areas in which I have grown closer to Christ and mourn over the stubborn strongholds where I still need to die to self. All those thoughts (and more) come to mind during my birthday week.

I recently came across this quote by H. Richard Niehbur, and it began to make me think about the meaning of love. Niehbur writes:

“Love is rejoicing over the existence of the beloved one; it is the desire that he be rather than not be; it is longing for his presence when he is absent; it is happiness in the thought of him; it is profound satisfaction over everything that makes him great and glorious. Love is gratitude: it is thankfulness for the existence of the beloved; it is the happy acceptance of everything that he gives without the jealous feeling that the self ought to be able to do as much; it is gratitude that does not seek equality; it is wonder over the other’s gift of himself in companionship. Love is respect: it keeps its distance even as it draws near; it does not seek to absorb the other in the self or want to be absorbed by it; it rejoices in the otherness of the other; it … does not seek to refashion him into a replica of the self or to make him a means to self-advancement. As respect, love is and seeks knowledge of the other, not by way of curiosity, nor for the sake of gaining power but in rejoicing and in wonder. In such love there is an element of that “holy fear” which is not a form of flight but rather a deep respect for the otherness of the beloved and the profound unwillingness to violate his integrity. Love is loyalty; it is the willingness to let the self be destroyed rather than that the other cease to be; it is the commitment of the self by self-binding will to make the other great.”

Certainly Niehbur’s definition is not comprehensive, but it does provide good food for thought. How would you define “love”? Some people would say that it is a feeling; others may assert that it is a state. We all know the beautiful description of love that Paul records in 1 Cor. 13. Without a doubt, the cross provides the quintessential example of love. With that in mind, then, we must agree that true love is always seen in action – it is always demonstrated. As Niehbur states, love can be seen in rejoicing or in gratitude, in respect and in loyalty. But it is always seen. It is more than just the force of the mind; it is more than an  emotion that is present one minute and is gone the next. And it is certainly more than simply uttering the words: “I love you.” Jesus told his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). True love requires sacrifice; true love requires commitment; true love requires obedience to God. And the love that we are commanded to perform, that is, loving our neighbors as Jesus loved us, is wholly impossible apart from the Spirit of the living God. Imagine that: just as Christ washed our feet, he calls us to wash the feet of others; just as Christ ministered to us, so he calls us to minister to the poor, the orphan, the sick, the widow, and the prisoner; just as Christ sacrificed our lives for us, so are we called to sacrifice for one another.

So I have a few questions:

1)      How would you define love in your own words?

2)      How much are we really willing to sacrifice for our neighbors?

3)      In what ways have you grown in Christ-like love towards others?

4)      In what areas (or maybe, towards which people) do you need to exhibit more Christ-  like love?

5)      To what extent does the world see Christ in you by the way in which you love          others? 



  • Avatar

    Terri Moore

    Here’s my problem: I have a
    Here’s my problem: I have a hard time loving people outside my "monkeysphere." (Long story but its a term some friends and I discovered that describes those people you know and/or personally value). Because of globalization, my "monkeysphere" may cross the ocean, but if your aren’t inside it, I usually don’t really care what happens to you. If you are inside it, I can and do show love to you, even if we fight, disagree, offend one another sometimes. Why do I do this? Apathy? Ambivalence? Laziness? Depravity? I don’t know the answer, but thanks for making me think about it again and challenging me to love fiercly and biblically while casting a wide net…..

  • Avatar

    Heather A. Goodman

    I’m finishing a novel,

    I’m finishing a novel, Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Hughes, that demonstrates the beauty of love. It’s a retelling of Ruth. One character in particular in simple act of service every day, in taking care of those around her as well as those far away exudes love.

    I say this because I think it’s easier to know love when I see it then define it (as you said, always in action).

    I will also say as I read this that in this past year, I’ve seen love as a cure for pride. I can think of one relationship in particular that though I always thought highly of this friend, I was jealous of her. As I prayed about this, I realized I needed to be more intentional about serving her. As my love for her grew as I served her, it left no space for jealousy.

    One area I’d like to grow in: being more tangible in my love, not just for those I know but for those I may never meet. What this means: building relationships with those who may get on my nerves and being more generous with my time and money, especially my time. I don’t mean that in the sense that time is a commodity, but in the sense that I don’t like to be interrupted. I like being alone most of the time. I like doing what I want to do (if you must know the awful truth of it). I need to be willing to say, sure, no problem, I’m on my way. (This is one thing I saw in that character I mentioned above.)