Love is broadly used in our culture, but not often specifically defined. The Bible tells us that it’s by our love we will be known as Christians (John 13:35). Applying the broad definition of our culture to such a specific Biblical purpose can lead to confusion about how we are supposed to be living. Defining exactly what we mean by love, in the sense of how it defines us as Christians, can be very helpful.
Love Can be an Emotion
Love as an emotion is arguably the most connected form of love. We feel love towards dear people in our lives. We seek out romantic love in a partner. We find material things that we love-our new favorite thing from lip balm to new houses.
All of these feelings revolve around the emotional sensation of connecting with someone or something. This emotional side of love is a legitimate experience of love, and is important when we need to connect with things and people we value.
Love Can be an Action
Taking action to do something good for another person is also called love. It’s the expression of the emotion that we feel. We feel love toward someone and so we do something good for them, or we help take care of a need they have.
Expressing love as an action is an important part of love because it tests the mettle of our affection and determines how much we mean it. It makes our connection tangible.
The Balance of Love
We walk in love when we keep emotions and actions feeding each other. In some cases, the feeling comes first and the action comes later. Romantic love often, not always, falls into this pattern. Other times, we do what we know we should for others and the action fills us with a feeling of good-will to them. Serving others usually follows this pattern. Both ways are important and living in love means we are experiencing both sides of the love: the action and the emotion.
The Love of Christians
As Christians, there’s more to the love that others should see in us. Most people have love in them, Christian or not. It might be only a small amount of love, it might be highly conditional love, it might be damaged and manipulative love. It’s not that Christians have love and nobody else does; it’s the type of love that Christians have that sets them apart.
The type of love that Christians have is a selfless love. The love we offer others is a love that came to us through God by the sacrifice of Jesus: ultimate selflessness. What sets us apart is that our love doesn’t come from us and fill our needs first. We have a love that starts with the needs of others, not the needs of ourselves.
Being known by our love means we become filled by something so clearly that it becomes what all people see when they encounter us. Our ultimate defining feature should be an overflowing of God’s selfless love for everyone.