What is Biblical Love?

The holiday of love, Valentine’s Day, is almost here again. It’s a day when people show feelings of love, affection and friendship for each other. Red and pink hearts, roses, and statues of Cupid are what seem to symbolize the feeling of romance and love on Valentine’s Day. But sadly the world has cheapened the meaning of love. The world promotes many false ideas about love: love is a feeling, love is sex, love happens when you are fulfilled, you can only love others if you love yourself first, if it’s love it will knock you off your feet…The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as “an intense affection for another person based on familial or personal ties.”

But are any of these “biblical love”? And what is biblical love?

Real love, as expressed in Scripture, is so much more than a feeling. God deliberately chose to express his love to us. What is the greatest expression of love? The greatest expression of love is the love that Jesus Christ showed for his bride, the church. Christ willingly left heaven and came to earth, lived a perfect sinless life to suffer and die for us, taking the punishment that we deserve. Jesus Christ demonstrated his love by dying for us. Biblical love is active and self-sacrificing.

Love does not depend on a feeling

Love is giving, love is sacrificial:

  • God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son… (John 3:16)

  • He loved me and gave himself up for me…(Galatians 2:20)

  • Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)

  • God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

Christ’s love is demonstrated on the cross. He loved when he could have justly condemned. Christ gave and provided richly for us. He pursues and actively does us good.

God gave us two commands:

  1. Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength

  2. And love your neighbor as the way you already love yourself

What does biblical love look like practically?

We show our love for Christ by submitting and serving him out of love and by loving others sacrificially—a sacrifice of our rights and interests for the other person’s good. A sacrifice to not follow our natural inclinations to return evil for evil, to consider others better than self and seek to live in peace with everyone. A love that wants to make wrongs right, that strives to be patient and kind, not insisting on its own way or rehashing a wrong done. A love that suffers long and is kind, that does not envy or parade itself, is not puffed up or behaves rudely. A love that  is not provoked, that thinks no evil and bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

This kind of love is countercultural. It is not the world’s love. Loving like this is a high calling and we cannot do it. It is not natural. We need the Holy Spirit’s power to love the way Christ loved.

Thankfully, God’s love does not depend upon what we do; it depends solely on…

What Jesus Christ did!

Christ loved us when we were not worthy to be loved (Ephesians 2:1–3; Romans 5:8,10; 1 John 4:10). He loved us when we were still sinners. Christ-like love (agape) is not merely a feeling or a passion—it is a commitment. We are to imitate that love by being the initiator in love; we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love for others should not depend on what they do or whether they deserve love or not. We did nothing to deserve Christ’s loving sacrifice; we deserved hell and Christ gave us life.

Meditating on some of the ways in which Christ has loved his church should spur us on to love like the One who loved us first:

  • He has given me abundant life (John 10:10)

  • He has demonstrated His love for me through His actions towards me and for me (Romans 5:8)

  • He has freed me from the bonds of sin and released me from the destiny of hell (Romans 6)

  • He gave himself for me (Ephesians 5:25; Romans 5:8)

  • He continues to intercede before God on my behalf (Romans 8:34)

  • He has accepted me in Christ (1 Peter 2:5)

  • He was made a Savior that he might be with me (Matthew 1:23)

  • He gave himself up for my transgressions (Romans 4:25; Galatians 1:4)

  • He paid the ransom for my debt of sin (1 Timothy 2:6)

  • He offers gentle patience to bring me to repentance (Romans 2; Psalm 25:18)

  • He has reconciled me to him (2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Colossians 1:20–23)

  • He has forgiven me (Ephesians 1:7; 4:31–32)

  • He has provided me the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) to teach me and comfort me

  • He has chosen me to be counted holy and blameless by him (Ephesians 1:3–6)

  • He has made me a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)

  • He has justified me—given me His imputed righteousness (Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:2)

  • He has given me abundant life (John 10:10)

  • He’s cancelled out all my debt: (Colossians 2:13–14)

Go and do the same

Let us not love like the world loves, but let us love like Christ did. Giving freely what we have freely received from God:

  • Sacrificially–sacrificing rights and interests for someone’s good whether they deserve it or not

  • As we love ourself–caring for and meeting others needs

  • In action–demonstrating not just with words but actions—giving of self, time, attention

May the Holy Spirit empower you to love with a love that is not your own this Valentine’s Day. May this love be a heart attitude given to others for the glory of God. That’s biblical love.

About the author

Karen McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab…and sushi too.

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