Understanding what love is and what it isn’t
What is the most important God-given empowerment? Miracles? Healing? Prophetic gifts? Supernatural strength? Speaking in tongues? God’s Word explains that it is love. We can be surrounded by songs, movies, and ideas about love and yet not know how to practice the purest form of love. What does God, the Originator of love, teach us about love?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
In every soul is a deep longing to be loved. This is a subconscious cry for God, who is love. Adam and Eve would have known this perfect love before they were cut off from God’s presence. This disconnect is still very much felt in every human soul. It can be the homing signal that leads us back to our Creator or that is hijacked by Satan to lead us to other worldly forms of love that are self-centred, calculating, and manipulative.
1 John 4:8-10 NLT … God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
This world will teach us to share our love sparingly; to only love when it looks safe, or when it is at our convenience. We equate love with feeling good; we believe love must feel euphoric, easy, and trouble-free. We think it is conditional on how people treat us; we love only the loveable. We will get upset when our love is not returned or appreciated. Some people will even use the promise of love as a weapon for emotional blackmail; they will only love others if they are given what they want. Does this type of love sound powerful or truly loving to you? Thankfully for us, God’s love is nothing like this.
The ironic thing is that we can quickly recognise when someone is not being loving towards us, but not when we ourselves are unloving towards others. Most of us can quote popular verses such as 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 about love, yet how many of us actually demonstrate love as the Bible defines it?
Galatians 5:14 ESV For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 ESV Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
The Bible states that if we want to know God, we need to step outside our worldly definitions of love and comfort zones, to love like He does. God’s perfect love looks very different from the world’s love. God calls us to even love our enemies. It doesn’t depend on what we think, how we feel, or how we are treated.
Matthew 5:44-48 ESV But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Bible goes as far as to say that anyone who does not love others is a child of the devil and spiritually dead. Moreover, whoever hates is a murderer and has no eternal life. These are strong but important words worth noting.
Godly love is a conscious choice to love others because God loves us. We are called to extend God’s type of love to every person in our lives, even those we don’t like, find irritating, or who we think have betrayed or rejected us. This type of love is powerful and unshakeable. It makes the power to heal the sick or raise the dead pale in comparison. Love takes a lot more stamina, persistence, and intentionality.
1 John 3:10 ESV By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 3:14-15 ESV We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him
God’s type of love
Only the Source of love can teach us and challenge us on what love is all about. Following Jesus means that we need to abandon everything we have learnt so far about love that is not of God. This can be the picture of love modeled by our families, schools, the media, romantic novels and television shows, and so forth. Our hearts can only be transformed to become more loving when we welcome God’s coaching.
Let’s keep in mind that the goal here is not to become more loving by our own strength, but to seek God more. As His presence fills our minds and hearts, we will become more able to love others. Loving others means acting for others’ good, and doing so with the wisdom that comes from listening to the Holy Spirit.
Perfect love is a key manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. As we cleanse and open our hearts to Him, God’s Spirit will fill us with His love so we can love others like He does. Loving others perfectly is a conscious decision to follow Jesus, not the desires of our hearts or the (limited) rationale of our minds.
Romans 5:5 ESV … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
It first takes humility to step out of our comfort zones to follow Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit will lead us forward on an exciting transformative journey. God’s Spirit will not force us to take the first step, because that would not be very loving. On our part, we need to remember that love requires action, and that first step is something we can offer to God as our own love offering. Obedience and trust are wonderful gifts that we can give to our Heavenly Father who created the universe and everything within it.
1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
We will become better at recognizing what godly love looks like as we choose over and over again to love in ways that please God
- Genuine and sincere | Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
- Fearless | 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.
- Generous and kind to the ungrateful and evil | Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
- Dependable at all times | Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
- Undeserving | Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Increasing | 2 Thessalonians 1:3 …your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
How does this type of love look like in practical terms? God’s Word shows us that we will:
- Seek the good of others | 1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
- Build people up | 1 Corinthians 8:1 … we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
- Serve them | Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
- Affectionately honour others | Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
- Gently and respectfully speak the truth to help someone mature in their walk with God | Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
- Help others in their material needs | 1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
- Foster perfect harmony | Colossians 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Loving others can be messy and uncomfortable. If we love as God loves, we will also:
- Tolerate other people’s imperfections | Ephesians 4:2 With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
- Overlook offences quickly | Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
- Forgive readily | Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
- Not bear grudges | Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- Commit no wrong against others | Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
- Keep others from stumbling | 1 John 2:10 NLT Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.
- Make costly sacrifices for the sake of other people | 1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
- Persevere with people, not forsake them | 1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What godly love is not
Over and above knowing what Christ-like love looks like, it is also helpful to have an understanding of what godly love is not.
1. Love is not conditional
Christ-like love is given freely as a gift, not reluctantly or in response to pressure. It is never transactional or conditional.
God extends His love to us even when we are undeserving, unfaithful, ungrateful, and incapable of loving Him back perfectly. As we follow Jesus, we ought to do the same for others so that we can testify that Jesus is indeed alive, because His love continues to flow through us. And we do so even when our hearts are not quite there yet, because God’s Spirit will change our hearts are we step out in faith.
2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
2. Love does not require us to like someone
God’s Word calls us to love our enemies. Evidently, there are things that our enemies do that we do not like. This, however, does not excuse us from being compassionate, kind, and patient towards everybody, regardless of what they have done and may do.
Father God reminds us that if we love only those who are lovable, we are no different from the secular world. This does not mean that we condone violence, murder, or evil. Rather, it means that we do not have to repay evil for evil and can extend forgiveness and grace, just as Jesus has extended the same to us.
Luke 6:32-36 ESV “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
3. Love does not pick and choose
Every human being is made in God’s image. When we love God, we will love His creation. We may hate the spiritual corruption in a person as a result of sin or the occult, but we are called to love the persons that God created. When we pick and choose who we love, we make ourselves a judge over other people, something that God tells us not to do because only He has the right to judge His own creation.
James 4:12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
4. Love is not controlling
There are times we will be tempted to influence and manipulate those we care about and persuade them to follow our personal views and ways. Perhaps we feel we have greater wisdom or experience. We do not realise that by doing so, however, we may be sinning against God because we could be leading them away from His will for them. His ways are far higher than our ways. Father God calls us to encourage one another out of love, not enforce our personal will on them. There is no one on this earth who is sinless. We should encourage one another to follow Jesus, not another sinner like us.
If we look deeper into the reasons why we seek to control other people, we will notice impatience, pride, fear, jealousy, and selfish ambition in our hearts. We may believe we are doing what is in someone else’s best interests, when in reality, we are doing it because it makes us feel better. We are motivated by love for ourselves, rather than by true love for others.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV Love is patient… It does not insist on its own way;
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
5, Love does not rely on how we feel
We know for a fact that Jesus did not enjoy going to the cross, He agonised over what He would have to go through and still went ahead to obey God’s will. We can thank God for His love! The sacrifice Jesus made brought about a seismic shift in our spiritual lives forever.
His willing and loving sacrifice on earth also earned Him the highest place in heaven. Imagine the glorious reception He received in heaven – and what similar celebrations await those of us who love as Jesus loves. This is, however, not what we learn repeatedly from this earthly realm, which teaches us to “follow your feelings,” rather than “follow Jesus.”
It is highly unlikely that any of us have ever struggled to sacrifice for others to the point of shedding both blood and tears as Jesus has. Yet God shows us this beautiful picture of how much He suffered for us so as to set the highest example for us to follow. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can love and suffer for another’s good if we entrust our feelings and well-being to Jesus. Father God does not call us to do something He hasn’t shown by example.
Hebrews 12:4 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
6. Love does not tolerate sin within the Body of Christ
Love for God and God’s people means that we also lovingly confront those who call themselves “Christian” yet continue to sin against God.
Most times, it is simply because people have unknowingly fallen for Satan’s lies and temptations. Or perhaps there is some hidden anxiety, stress, and pain in their hearts. By gently and patiently walking together with our brothers and sisters in Christ towards holiness and wholeness in Christ, we could actually be saving them from eternal destruction (Revelation 21:8.)
It would be very unloving to see a fellow believer blatantly sinning against God and not do anything about it simply because we care more about our “face” and reputations than their relationship with Father God. When we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will humbly step up alongside them and ask, “Shall we consider another way that leads us back to Jesus?”
Other times, there are wolves in sheep clothing who creep into Christian communities who have no real intention to love God with all their hearts, souls, strength, and minds. Inside, they elevate themselves, create division, and lead people astray. In such situations, our love for God’s people means that we will need to confront and where necessary, evict such people from our midst before more harm is done to God’s sheep and to Jesus’ name.
Revelation 21:8 ESV But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Matthew 7:15-20 ESV “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Galatians 6:1 ESV Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…
Matthew 18:15-17 ESV “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NLT When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
Also, see Why we struggle to love perfectly.
To receive notifications of new posts from Teaching Humble Hearts, please subscribe here .