The question or what is love? brings to mind another question, “what is truth?” Reflecting on these two questions should cause us to ponder, “what is true love?” Let’s answer each of these, beginning with…
What is Truth?
This is perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves. Without truth, we have nothing but confusion and deception. A foundational absolute truth is the only way to make sense of our lives and the world in which we live.
In the book of John, it’s recorded that Pilate asked this most important question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Sadly, Pilate failed to understand that Truth is a Person and that Truth was standing right in front of him.
The only absolute Truth is the Triune God and His Word. All truth that comes from man is simply an interpretation of truth or an opinion of what one thinks to be true. Man’s truth is fallible and, while in some cases it might be proven accurate, in many cases it is simply one’s version of what is true. Of course, if someone is quoting Scripture, they are speaking the absolute truth because it comes from the One who is Truth.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Ephesians 4:15 includes the phrase “…speaking the truth in love…” This is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. All too often it is quoted to proclaim that what someone is saying is true, but in context, Paul is speaking about sharing absolute truth–God’s Word. This becomes clear when reading the larger passage.
Ephesians 4:11-15 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ.
Speaking Absolute Truth
When we share God’s Word, we are speaking absolute truth. The closer we stick to Christ’s words and biblical principles and practices, the more we speak the truth.
Furthermore, in this passage, Paul made the point that truth is to be spoken “in love.” This brings to mind Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 3:15 to be ready to defend our faith and share our hope… with “meekness and fear” (kindness and gentleness).
Whenever this phrase “speaking the truth in love” is used, outside of speaking God’s word, we must remember that the person is really speaking their own version of the truth about a situation, a belief, a feeling, etc. In many cases, it may be accurate, but in many cases it is not. Man’s truth is always subjective and conditional. Only God’s truth, found in His Word, is fully objective and absolute.
“What is love?”
Just as only our Triune God is Truth, and His Word is Truth, the only One who embodies true, pure, unconditional, never failing, always satisfying love is God. God not only has love . . . God IS love (1 John 4:8).
Love is one of the many attributes of God. It is an inherent characteristic of who He is, His nature and His being. Just as His truth is the only absolute truth, so also His love is the only truly unconditional love that exists. His love is given to us, not dependent upon anything we do, and certainly not because we are deserving. His love is different than human love. His love is majestic beyond our human understanding, and it is fully unconditional, while man’s love, at best, is sacrificial. Man is certainly capable of doing things with great love, almost to the point of seeming unconditional. But because of sin, man’s nature can never be absolutely true, perfectly pure, and unconditionally loving.
Defining that God is love and that He loves in a way greater than man is capable of loving, does not answer our question, “What is love?” Our best attempts to define and understand love, using our thoughts and words, often falls far short. The best place to turn is to the Truth—the Word of God—for the answers.
First Corinthians 13 is appropriately called the “love chapter.” In this chapter, the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, tells that love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. Love is not proud, rude or self-seeking. Love is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs, nor does it delight in evil. Love rejoices with the truth and always protects. It trusts, hopes, and perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
This passage reminds us of the true, perfect, pure and unconditional love that God has given us and encourages us to strive to reflect and share His love with others.
The King James translation of the Bible uses a significant word for “love” in this passage. While the word “love” is used in 310 times in the KJV, the translators chose to use the word “charity” in 1 Corinthians to translate the Greek word “agape.”
At the time the KJV was published, the word “charity” was well understood to mean sacrificial love. “Charity” implied the kind of love expressed when one truly cares for one’s neighbor. It’s no surprise that in our time this word has come to describe the social services that care for and help the needy and those in distress.
Agape love (charity) is a committed and devoted love. It is one-way love. It is love that is freely and generously given without expectation of getting something in return. Just as God’s love for us is not dependent upon us, our love for others should not be based upon how they meet our needs, what they do for us, what they might give to us, or even how well we “get along.” We are to love others, even those we consider unlovable, with agape, sacrificial love, because we are loved by God. To the best of our ability, we are not to place conditions on our love. “If you do this, then I will love you,” is not how God loves us. Jesus sacrificed Himself that we might live — and He did this while we were undeserving of such love. Agape love is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).
God’s Love Freely Given
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The next time someone disappoints you, or doesn’t meet your needs, or is just plain unlovable…remember, that was you (and me) and yet God loved us, forgave us and saved us. His love is freely and unconditionally given to us, and it is His love that fuels us, fills us, satisfies us and enables us to love others with charity (agape love).
When we truly believe, embrace and understand that kind of love, we are free to live our lives in sacrificial love, in service to others. Because Christ has given us everything we need, we can live giving everything we have and sharing His love with others.
A Better Way to Illustrate Love
We often see images of red hearts used to depict love, but I propose that is not the greatest symbol of love.
Pastor John Stott once said, “love without truth is too soft and truth without love is too hard.” Truth and love must go together and there is no better example than in the cross of Christ.
Love is not generated by an organ in our bodies, it is given to us by a Person. The only Person who loved us so much that He gave His life for us; the only Person who is absolute Truth.
Don’t use a heart to symbolize love.
Use a cross to symbolize True Love.
Hearts will stop beating but Jesus will never stop loving.
This Valentine’s Day, think about the love you have in Christ. Consider the pure and gracious love He has given you in salvation and the love He continues to give each and every day. Let the love of Jesus warm your heart and stir your soul. Then go forth, in the power of His Spirit, and share His love, the “charity” kind of love that you have received, with your neighbors. Share it with someone today.
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
Happy Valentine’s Day
If you don’t know Christ’s love, email us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do know Christ’s love, live your life rejoicing in what He has done for you, remembering who you are in Him. And always share His love with others.
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