Meaning of Biblical Love
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There are probably fewer words in the modern English language that have been more distorted, misused, abused and overused than the word "love." As a consequence the word love has lost its meaning. This is not only true within the current culture, it is also true within the evangelical church.
Love is Biblically depicted, as the greatest of Christian virtues. Paul, in his introduction to his treatise on the subject in 1 Corinthians 13, refers to love as "the most excellent way." He concludes with the statement: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Jesus says that love is the distinguishing mark of all of His disciples (John 13:35). In addition, we are commanded to love one another as He has loved us. John tells us that the possession of true love is a means of determining if we are actually in the faith. He says, "Anyone who does not love remains in death" (1 John 3:14).
The Apostle Paul affirms the supremacy of love when he makes the declaration that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). If this is the case, then the way of love is inextricably tied to the revelation of God's Law. This seems to have escaped the notice of most Christians today. I am afraid that we have wandered from a Biblical definition of love into a worldly, humanistic, sentimental concept of "love."
This worldly concept of love revolves around man and self. It has replaced the love of God for the love of self. It is therefore not concerned about what is required by God, and is only concerned with what pleases man and his desires. It refuses to address the issue of sin and its consequences. It finds correction, rebuke and admonishment to be "unloving". It has reduced the concept of "loving your neighbor" to showing tolerance and acceptance to whatever ungodly practices your neighbor chooses to engage in. This concept of love is completely self-absorbed and self -seeking, in contrast to true love (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
True love, by Biblical definition, must first be directed toward God. Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37-38). He tells us, "this is first and greatest commandment." The second is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (vs. 39). This order is essential, and confirmed by the order of the Ten Commandments. First we have our obligations to God, then we have our obligations to our fellow man.
If our first obligation is to love God, it is exceedingly important that we know what that means. Is my love for God shown through my "excitement" about the Lord? Is it shown through my theological knowledge? Is it shown by my involvement in church activities? All of these things are good, and they should be a result of our love toward God. But there is only one right answer scripturally. Jesus stated the matter plainly, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). 1 John 5:3 says, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments."
To love God is to love and obey His word - His law - His commandments. In other words, love is lawfulness. Such a thought seems contradictory to our worldly concept of "love," which reveals our unbiblical thinking on this matter.
David understood the relationship between God's law and demonstrating genuine love for God. Note David's words:
"Oh, how I love your law" (Psalm 119:7).
"I reach out my hands for your commandments, which I love…" (Psalm 119:48)
Should this not be true of us under the New Covenant? What does it mean to "love your neighbor" in the way Jesus commanded us? What does genuine love look like? First of all, I cannot show true love to my neighbor without first loving God. For this reason, the unregenerate are unable to truly love their neighbor, because they do not love God. Paul says that it is possible to give all one has to the poor and even sacrifice his life, but have not love.
How do we know that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ? John says, "By this we know we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1 John 5:2). Once again, we find the "C" word. It's inescapable. In order to love my brother, I must obey the commandments of God, as opposed to obeying my own corrupt ideas, as to what determines love.
Love compels me to turn my brothers away from error, when I see them wandering away from the truth (Matthew 18:15; James 5:19). Likewise, I must not reject my brother's love when correction comes my way. Of course most of us have heard that it is "unloving" to correct. The noted Bible scholar, A. W. Pink made this observation: "Brotherly love is a holy thing, and not a fleshly sentiment or a loose indifference as to the path we are treading. The exercise of love is to be in strict conformity to the revealed will of God." To love my brother is to have his highest good at heart; to encourage him in the path of righteousness and bring him into remembrance of God's Word.
In regards to children, parents are not to withhold discipline. Proverbs states, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24). The worldly concept of "love" rebels against this idea of discipline and protests that this is not love, but "child abuse." Yet, God's wisdom has revealed to our deceitful hearts the true path of love. God says, "Punish him with the rod, and save his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:14).
Our modern concept of "love" involves simply accepting people and whatever "lifestyle" i.e. sins; they choose. To say, that certain behavior is wrong, is viewed as "judgmental" and "unloving." We are told "to make people feel good about themselves," lest we damage their "self esteem." Unfortunately, such sentiment is far too common among believers. True love, on the other hand, is not concerned with gratifying his brother, but reminds him, with patience and kindness, of his God's holy requirements. Love does not pamper our selfish, sinful, wicked hearts. Love confronts and encourages us to walk in God's ways.
Paul told the Corinthian church to "follow the way of love" (1 Corinthians 14:1). I pray that God will enable us by His grace to do the same; to follow the way of true, Biblical love.