What Is Love?


Erin Davis traces the theme of love through several passages of Scripture to arrive a robust, biblical definition of love.

God's Word offers a clear definition of love. Stick with me here as we trace the word "love" through several passages to find a definition with the power to radically impact how we live.

In Matthew 22:39, Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

How are we to love others? The way we love ourselves. This passage isn't talking about narcissistic self-love. We love ourselves by consistently making sure our needs are met. Thus, true love will desire to meet the needs of the one being loved.

Ephesians 5:28–29 offers another clue toward God's definition of love. It says, "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church."

How do we specifically love ourselves? By nourishing and cherishing. If I love myself in a biblical way, then I will nourish myself to maturity physically, spiritually, mentally, and relationally. If I truly love myself, I will cherish and protect myself from anything that will hinder the maturing process.

God's Word provides the simplest definition of love—to protect and provide. True love always, without exception, seeks the best interest of the loved one. It's motivation is always to "protect and provide" (The Bare Facts, 22–23).

Defining love isn't simple. But the Bible helps us see several key markers of true love.

True love makes sure the needs of the loved one are met.

True love nourishes. Another way to say that is that true love helps you grow. In terms of Christian romance, a good indicator of whether or not the relationship you are in is rooted in the kind of love God has in mind is to ask yourself, Does this person help me to grow in my relationship with Christ?

True love cherishes. Other words for cherish are admire, adore, appreciate, and treasure. If you are in a relationship where you are constantly criticized, made fun of, put in harms way, or put down, you are not experiencing the kind of love that God intended between a man and a woman.

True love protects. Protects from what? Harm. A relationship that does damage to your body, your heart, your mental health, your spiritual walk, or your relationship with others (especially your parents) isn't rooted in love.

True love provides. A healthy, loving relationship should provide for, not take away from, your well-being in every area of your life.

Another passage that helps understand God's definition of love is 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Any relationship that puts you into a constant state of being afraid of losing what you have likely isn't rooted in the kind of love that God had in mind.

We get our clearest, and most bold picture of love from God himself.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Christ's example is that true love makes sacrifices (even huge ones) to protect the life and security of the beloved.

I wish I could boil love down into a single, simple definition. If I could, I would most certainly have a hit song on my hands! But love is a complex emotion, and it involves so much more than our feelings. Fortunately when looking for love, God's Word provides all the wisdom we need.

With the passages in this post in mind, who has shown you true love? Are there relationships you know of that demonstrate biblical love in a way that you can relate to?

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