Summary: Love is "a many splendid thing" but how do we define it?
I trust you had a wonderful Valentines Day; I’d like to continue the theme of love by telling what the Bible says about it, principally in the context of marriage.
In the marriage counseling I did when I was an Army Chaplain, I saw couples who were in conflict and who argued over all sorts of things. Some were communicating so poorly they actually were in agreement but didn’t realize it! In sports, there is a winner and a loser, but not in marriage, because you’re both on the same team! You should both be winners. To do so requires some give-and-take. It takes love.
In my premarital counseling I ask engaged couples to define love. They claim to be in love, but not everyone can put in words what love is. I’ve heard some pretty awful answers: “Love is a feeling you feel that you’ve never felt before”, “Love is being together”, “Love is a sickness.” Author Phil Yancey said that he went into marriage thinking, as the song says, “Love will keep us together.” He gradually realized that marriage was teaching him what love means.
I’ve known people to say “I can’t give love if I don’t feel it! I can’t fake it.” “It is a mistake that you must feel love to give it” (Tim Keller). We can’t fake emotion, but we can practice love. Infatuation is emotion; love is more than a passion that goes up and down. Love is action…love is constant.
“Love” is also an overused word. We say: “I love my mom, I love my dog, I love ice cream, I love a day off, I love God.” It can’t mean the same thing in each case. In the Bible, there are several words for love: one refers to romantic, sensual love, another to close friendship, but the strongest is the Greek word, agape (agaph), the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for love (hesedh) means an unfailing, loyal steadfastness, a love that will not let go.
So, what is love? Here’s my definition: “Love is a sacrificial, unconditional, initiative, compassionate, responsible, faithful, lifelong commitment.” Let’s consider one-by-one this weighty definition. Love is…
♥Sacrificial—unselfish; the one we love takes priority over us; his/her needs come first, above our own. There’s no room for selfishness in marriage. Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Jesus loved us sacrificially. A little boy put it this way: "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."
♥Unconditional—“for better or worse,” acceptance with “no strings attached.” Usually the better comes after the worse! I’ve known of couples who wouldn’t come right out and say it, but their love was conditional: “I’ll love you as long as you meet my expectations.” Unconditional love is a choice that depends on my personal integrity rather than my partner’s performance. Madeline L’Engle wrote, “Marriage is about learning to love the person we actually married, instead of the image we wanted to have married.”
♥Initiative—We don’t wait the other to do something; we don’t wait for a response. We express love as God did with us. He sought us when we weren’t even looking for
Him. When I was deployed I knew soldiers
who wouldn’t write their spouses because they were waiting for a letter. True love doesn’t wait.
♥Compassionate—means sharing the hurts and burdens of the ones we love and seeking to bring relief to their suffering. Compassion begins with an awareness of what’s wrong and then we’re determined to do all we can to alleviate the hurt. Compassion means our love is full of affection, enthusiasm, involvement, and concern…because love is an active verb!
♥Responsible—characterized by wisdom and maturity. Marriage is for adults. An infantile, immature love is needy and selfish. Martin Luther wrote: “The first love is drunken. When the intoxication wears off, then comes the real married love.” Love is blind, but marriage restores the sight! “Success in marriage is more than finding the right person; it is a matter of being the right person” (Rabbi B.R. Brickner).
♥Faithful—loyal and consistent; when we say “I do”, we’re saying “I don’t” to everyone else. Marriage is a chance to show that we can be true to one person. We’re choosing to love exclusively. Fidelity is the only way to have a real marriage. Monogamy is not a lack of other partners; it’s expertise in one. When we’ve promised to drink only from one spring, the water will be sweet.
♥Lifelong—“Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Songs 8:7). Not “till divorce do we part” but for keeps. Marriage is more than a relationship; it’s a covenant. And love isn’t an “act”; it’s a whole life. Couples break-up because they find they’re not “compatible.” That word literally means “to suffer with”. If we’re not willing to suffer with someone until death do we part, we’re not compatible. What we think is compatibility is like-mindedness, but unless we marry a clone, there’ll be considerable differences in our relationships. Marriage takes adjustment and a considerable amount of tolerance for it to last a lifetime.