My whole life I thought I knew what it meant to love others. I grew up hearing about love all the time, and I read about love in the Bible a lot. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us, and He commanded us to love in the same way. But then I got married, and my understanding of love grew more than I could have expected. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Love is sacrifice.
I used to say love is self-sacrifice, because that’s what I’ve heard my whole life, and because it seems good. What could be better than sacrificing oneself to love someone else? But now I just say love is sacrifice. It takes the focus off of self and puts it more on the sacrifice—it puts the focus on others. When I tell myself to love in a self-sacrificing way, I have the tendency to think a little more highly of myself than I ought to. I think, “Wow, I’m sacrificing myself to love someone else. I’m such a good person. They ought to appreciate my love because I’m sacrificing myself.” That pretty much misses the point of love entirely. Love is a sacrifice of time, energy, comfort, money, preferences, desires, mental space, emotional wants, etc. Love is giving up something I want or think I need because I care so much for the other person.
One definition of sacrifice is as follows, “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” Love (sacrifice) is to give up something valued (any of the things listed above) for the sake of something else (others) regarded as more important. Or as Philippians 2:3 puts it, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
Love is so much more than a feeling.
There’s a song that says, “Cause love’s just a feeling.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. No doubt, love has a strong feeling component to it, but it is primarily an action. It’s a decision. It’s saying, “I care about you and want to serve you, so I’m making a decision to take action.” That action is sacrifice. Whatever that means in the moment. What kind of sacrifice you make for one person, might be different than another. But it’s a mindset and a heart decision to continually have the attitude of sacrifice and to take action.
Love is a willful choice.
I’m learning more and more each day that love doesn’t happen by accident. It takes energy, effort, and discipline. Newton’s first law of motion can be applied to love. It says, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” If love is “at rest” it will stay at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force—our will. According to Newton’s law, once we willfully choose to love, our love will stay in motion unless it’s acted upon by an unbalanced force.
Unfortunately for us, there is a constant unbalanced force in this world that is working against us. His name is Satan. He’s a deceiver and he’s the father of lies. His willful choice, his action, is sin. In comparison, God’s willful choice, His action, is love. Our will is influenced and directed either by Satan’s will or God’s will. If we choose to let our will be directed by Satan, our love will stay at rest and our selfishness will take over; however, if we choose to let our will be directed by God’s will, our love will stay in motion and joy will take over, as long as we continue in God’s will.
Love is a command, but also a desire.
Jesus commanded us to love. John 13:34 makes this clear, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” I want to be obedient to Jesus by loving others. It’s okay to think of love as simply a commandment that we are to obey, but the more I love, the more I realize I desire to love. I want to love others. It brings me joy to love others and serve them. That is the power of Jesus at work in a redeemed heart that wants to live in obedience.
Love is full of adjectives.
One of the greatest paragraphs written about love comes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” These verses talk about what love is, but also what love isn’t.
I’ve definitely had to learn new ways to love—new actions to take and words to say. But I’ve also had to unlearn some habits and tendencies because of what love isn’t. This section of scripture starts out by talking about what love is—it is patient and kind. But then it quickly turns to address what love isn’t—it isn’t jealous, boastful, proud, rude, demanding, or irritable, and it does not keep a record of being wronged or rejoice about injustice. Instead, it rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up or loses faith. And it is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.
The love of Christ is too great to understand fully.
To wrap this up, I echo the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:18-19, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”