On Love: The World’s Definition vs. God’s
By Ruth Verrinder
I WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE AN article on the subject of love from a Biblical viewpoint some months ago, but waited until now for two reasons: one, because I was not, at the time, ready, and two, because the month of Valentine’s Day seemed appropriate for such a subject. At any rate, much thought and preparation has gone into this, and it is my ardent prayer that it will prove enlightening and beneficial to some, if not all, my readers. I have no doubt that it will, if indeed it is all from the Lord, for we know that His Word “does not return void.”
Love is a wildly misunderstood concept. To the world, it is often synonymous with passion, desire, or sentiment. It is commonly accepted to be merely an emotion springing from the heart—the heart, which is “wicked and deceitful above all things,” according to Scripture. It is sad to think how the world takes a great and admirable thing like love, and entrusts it to the keeping of the most untrustworthy part of the human being! It is because of this mistake that so many misconceptions of love have been made. Perhaps one of the most prominent today is the idea that love is tolerance. So many people are convinced that a loving nature is one that accepts and allows anything and everything—whether evil or good—if it makes someone happy. There are so many problems with this! For one, the world has a very warped concept of happiness, correlating it with the sensual pleasures of sin rather than the righteous joy of Christ. This mistake leads people to tolerate wickedness, even if they know it to be evil, because they think it makes someone happy. They don’t understand that one can never truly be happy with sin and that it would be ever so much better to speak the truth as gently as possible and let it hurt as it may. The pain is bearable and temporary, and it is necessary to ensure a real happiness in the future. Unfortunately, the idea of tolerance being mandatory to love is one that many Christians have bought into. Christians are not perfect. Although in soul and spirit we have been cleansed from our sin, we still dwell in a sinful body which we must overcome. This includes the “bad side” of the heart—which causes most, if not all, of the problems of misunderstanding love.
Man’s heart is a complicated thing; it does many things for us—good and bad. This one thing is definite: it is the weak hearts that are most susceptible to sin. By nature, we have weak hearts, which is why our natural perspective of love through them is so warped. Psalm 73:26 says: “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (NKJV). Our heart and flesh will fail us, leading us down the wrong path under false pretenses of pleasure and, yes, of love. “…But God is the strength of my heart”—it is through Him and Him alone that the good things of the heart are strengthened and the bad things made weak.
All good things come from God. There is no exception to this rule.
So, then, what is love? Although most of my readers probably already know the answer (I certainly hope so, at any rate!), let’s take a look just the same.
The definition of love is given in three simple words: “God is love.”
Because the world is separated from God by sin, it is also separated from love. But it still yearns for the Creator, and it tries to fill that void with earthly things. It still yearns for love, and it tries to fill that void with affection, warmth of feeling, and sentiment. It refuses to accept the truth—that one cannot know love unless one knows God (see 1 John 4:8).
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of love the world has ever seen or ever will see, and when we accept the salvation made available to us through that glorious event, the seed of love is planted within us, and its fruits invade every facet of our being. This love is also known as the Holy Spirit and it is a shame indeed when we allow sin to take its place in our hearts—or in any other part of us, for that matter.
To truly see what God says concerning love, let us look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NKJV).
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.”
For one thing, this sounds a great deal like the fruit of the Spirit, as told in Galatians chapter five. So much so, in fact, that I am compelled to share Galatians 5:22-26 for the purpose of comparison:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
This comparison not only proves the unity of love and the Holy Spirit (i.e. God), but it also reveals many other truths. Recall the verse “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
When Christ was crucified, all the sin of the world was crucified and buried with Him—and left in the grave when He arose. This same transaction takes place in us (although on a much less grand scale) when we become Christ’s. Because the Holy Spirit is implanted within us, “the flesh with its passions and desires” no longer has any appeal for us, and we readily nail it to the Cross of Christ, exchanging it for the real and potent love of God—we exchange the wicked passions and desires of the flesh for the righteous passions and desires of God.
“Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NKJV). The hearts of those who delight themselves in the Lord will desire righteous things—things that the Lord is waiting and ready to bestow upon us, “pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.”
It is our hearts that desire things, and delight in things, and God fills the hearts that belong to Him with desire of Him, and delight in Him.
The unfortunate thing about the world, is that they have hearts just like ours, only without God. This produces every kind of abomination—because the nature of every human being is to desire sinful things and to delight in wickedness. Thus, their replacement for love is lust and shallow sentiment.
They yearn for real love, and, incidentally, there are many times in which their moral conduct is actually raised when they feel affection or desire. But that is perhaps the saddest thing of all—for we, as Christians, know all too well that the morals of mankind fall utterly short of righteousness. Recall 1 Cor. 13:4-8. Does that sound like something a human being could attain on his own? Certainly not! Jesus Christ alone matches that description, therefore how can anyone who does not know Christ possibly hope to know love? “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” –1 John 3:8-9, NKJV. All creation groans because of the curse, and it cries out to God—the embodiment of righteousness—for redemption. The soul of man yearns for something higher, and it tries desperately to reach the Great Rock—but it is blinded by sin and does not see that Jesus Christ is the only way to reach that height; that He bowed Himself down to the lowest of the low that we might reach it.
Sin is the great barrier. Since the fateful moment in the Garden of Eden, it has enslaved mankind, subjecting us to the most wretched punishment of all—separation from God. It feeds us false—but delicate—morsels of worldly pleasure and comfort. We are blinded into actually embracing the Barrier, the Slaver. And we have no idea what it is keeping us from! We have no idea what love is, we have no idea who God is! We embrace our slavery, because it is all we have ever known.
But even so, our soul retains a memory of Eden, and yearns for the Creator—dimly aware of the burden of sin, but too weak to protest or fight against its cruel lies.
It is out of this dark world that Jesus calls us.
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
--1 John 4:9-10 (NKJV)
Christ alone can cleanse us of sin and implant love within us.
Jesus Christ satisfies every longing of the human spirit. Sin satisfies the flesh alone—and that only temporarily. How readily, then, we exchange the burden and false satisfaction of sin for the pure and full satisfaction of Jesus Christ! And oh, the glories, when once we do!
But if the Lord plants love in us, we must cultivate it—not let it diminish and fall to the wayside. We must water it and take care of it, as a precious gift that Jesus Christ has entrusted to us. The pervading theme of 1 John is that we must love one another. Some example verses are 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” And 1 John 4:11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
God loves us so much, that it is a terrible abomination when we do not return this love. And how do we return it? We love one another. We only way we can truly show our love for God on this earth is by loving others. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother who he has seen, how can he love God who he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21, NKJV).
Our love of others must spring from our love of God. There may be affections for others that do not spring from God, but true love can only spring from God, the Eternal Source. He is love, and love never fails.
With this outlook, we see what an awesome privilege it is to love, and how stupid we are to be negligent in cultivating it.
I could go on forever on this subject—at any rate, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” By which I mean that I would keep writing, except that the computer screen is hurting my eyes and I am tired of sitting.
I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 3 and 4—they speak more deeply of love than I ever could. Allow me now to conclude with the appropriate verse:“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”—1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV