"What is love?" Is this a question that needs an answer? Are Christians confronted with this question? Christians not only want to know what constitutes godly love, but they also have a need to recognize the characteristics of Christian love. Much of what we understand of love is based solely on worldly definitions, our own understanding developed through years of personal experience and observation, or half-baked philosophies that we believe to be biblically correct. Yes, in answer to the question, we need to develop a scripturally correct view of love. We need to come to the understanding that the Christian life style is based on love, and if our life be not motivated by love, then the motivation is not godly but rather self-seeking. Without a doubt, the Christian life consists of learning to love God first of all, and our neighbors secondly. But what does that mean? Is it like the country music song that says, "I’ve got the hungries for your love and I’m waiting in your welfare line." Is love based on emotion, feelings, or affections? Or is it based on something more substantial such as truth?

Definition of Love

Here we must examine the definitions of love from a divine perspective versus a worldly agenda. In Matthew 22:34-40 we see Jesus giving to us the divine perspective of the importance of agape love; but is this a definition?

"34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Love without divine definition becomes the most horrible thing on earth. It can destroy men by the millions, and can be reduced to satanic sentimentalism. Divine love as defined by God, is doing for a person, in the light of eternity, what is best for that person, regardless of the cost. Thus, agape (divine) love is both kind and severe; merciful and stern; compassionate and authoritative; forgiving and demanding; and, soft and hard.

In the secular world one defines love as a "feeling" to be experienced rather than a quality pertaining to the new nature. For the natural man, love is something that "just happens" over which sometimes there is little control. It is a matter of "feeling" and may be seen in the Greek word eros and philia. First, "eros" is a love called forth by an inordinate desire for an object of worth or a desire to possess and enjoy the desired object. Eros is not a bad thing, but there is danger when one thinks of eros as equal to love (this is seen when eros is absent, we then think love is absent). In our society today, eros is highly overrated and is the type of love that many marriages are based on and may be the single reason for the ever increasing divorce rate (once the object becomes undesirable, love dies; a very selfish unilateral love). Second, philia is a love that is best defined as an affectionate love, a fondness, or the love of friends. These types of love may fuel a relationship temporarily, but they are "conditional." Even though they may have others as their focus, primarily the motivating interest behind these types of love is self-interest, self-gratification, and self-protection. This "conditional" love involves the element of giving for the purpose of getting something in return. Here the "feeling" of love is motivated by the excitement of getting love, and is not due to the love for another.

Therefore, modern love is a process of selection; it picks and chooses how it will love based solely on an expected and desired response. In other words, the effort extended is equal to the desired comfort. So then, the commitment level is rooted in one’s feelings and expectations of that which will be returned by the object desired. The ideological view is, "When I do not receive what I need, I soon discover that I did not love it."

In contrast to worldly love is the biblical, divine, agape love(this love is divine in the sense that it is love first shown between the Persons of the Godhead from all eternity). It is a self-sacrificing love in that it "lives to give." Such love finds commitment in the "giving" itself; it receives comfort from the good that is accomplished in the one loved. It is doing for a person based on the internal change of the new creature. Agape may be best defined as a steadfast commitment to act on someone else’s behalf. Agape is foundational to complete love and is the cognitive side of love. It is different from philia in that it is unconditional (no "ifs" "ands" or "buts"). Once one becomes a child of God, washed from his sin by the shed blood of the Lamb, agape love abides in him. This love is not manufactured nor can it be faked, it is a part of the new nature given at regeneration and developed through sanctification.

Biblical love operates on the basis of absolute truth through the revealed will of God. Such love has integrity and fiber to be uncompromising when dealing with truth and morality, even if it causes waves. Therefore, this love is a disciplined love and in the face of adversity it is willing to confront issues that are divisive. Yet, it has as its goal repentance and growth, not revenge! Often such love is seen as harsh and is not easily discernable within the Christian’s demeanor. Many Christians become tagged or labeled as "unloving" because their love is defined by the truth of God’s uncompromising word (this is readily seen in those that become dogmatic about doctrinal issues). Biblical love is therefore not soft or over indulgent sentimentality. God’s love is not emotional love that lasts for a while and fades away; rather, it is an unchangeable, immutable, intelligent love that lasts for ever. In Jeremiah 31:3 we read, "3 The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." God’s love is here proclaimed to be "an everlasting love"; likewise, the love given as part of the new nature whereby we love God and one another, is an everlasting love. It is not cheapened through conditional expectations, but is based on the foundation of the love demonstrated within the Godhead.

Love and the Truth

Now that love has been given some cursory definitions, we need now to turn our attention to the importance of love in the sanctification of the believer. Of the various philosophies that we are confronted with today, one of the basic ideas is that of ecumenical evangelism. This philosophy states that love is more important than doctrine and cries out that "love unifies and doctrine divides." Does the New Testament teach that love is more important than doctrine? Note what 1 Corinthians 13:13 says; "13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity (love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love)". Here is proof that love is more important than doctrine. Or is it? Let us look in the same chapter in verse 6; "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;" In other words, faith, hope, and love are "virtues" but "truth" has a completely different status. Truth is the frame of reference, the foundation, the atmosphere without which "virtues" such as love cannot exist at all.

First Corinthians 13:6 says that love rejoices in truth because truth defines love; it interprets; it protects; it channels it, without which it becomes a total disaster. We can not place "truth" on the same level as a virtue. All virtues would cease to exist if it were not for truth. We are to rejoice in the truth of the Gospel not in the virtue of love. Jesus Himself loved those that He was sent to redeem, yet, in John 14:15, 21, 23, and 24, He stresses that obedience to the truth is the best form of love.

"15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me."

This then becomes the acid test for biblical love for the believer. Does man keep Christ’s commandments. It makes little difference how much we demonstrate love towards a fellow brother if we abide not in the truth. It is about obedience to the truth and not an eros or philia experience. However, obedience without love is theoretically possible, but love without obedience is, in practice, impossible.

Love then becomes the teacher of truth. Examine John 21:15-17;

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

Peter was to express his love toward Jesus by feeding His sheep. By thus feeding Jesus’ sheep, Peter was teaching and training God’s people in the whole counsel of God; Peter was teaching what was commanded of him by Christ and in doing so was expressing love towards Christ. Therefore Peter’s love can be seen in his commitment to the people of God in such a way that love was a product of obedience.

In Acts 20:26-27 we read, "26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." In this example we can see that the apostle is not saying "I love you, I love you, I love you," but in so many words he is saying it through the obedience of sound evangelism and sound doctrinal instruction. Therefore we can learn from this situation; supreme love may be demonstrated in strong doctrinal teaching.

As further proof look at Ephesians 4:11-15; "11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:" These gifts were given to people with the responsibility of using them in the teaching, preaching, and discipling in light of God’s revealed truth. These men were to be totally involved in the truth and that truth was to be distributed to the saints "in love." Therefore, there is teaching whatsoever in the New Testament suggesting that love is more important than truth.

Again notice Galatians 4:15 & 16; "15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me 16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?." Because someone speaks the truth, is he then an enemy? No! Love is the manner and method of speaking the truth; in fact, love is the servant of truth. If the truth is not given in love (agape) and received in love (agape) then it is a conditional truth and, is therefore, not absolute. Love must never be allowed to displace the truth of God or set it aside. God’s truth can not change, but God’s truth in the hands of an unloving, self-seeking, selfish man becomes a poison.

So, what is the Christian to do concerning love? He must at all cost protect the truth. Any system that is attacked with poison will soon die; therefore, Christians must protect themselves from any poison that will affect the body to ensure survival. Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 7:15, "15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." The believer needs such a grasp of "truth" as to protect himself from the wolves that seek to divide and compromise.


In the beginning this article asked the question, "What is love?" In an attempt to answer this most poignant question, definitions were given about the different types of love that are found in the Scriptures. Then it was shown that truth is that which defines love and not visa versa. Christian love is based on truth; the truth of God’s eternal word. Christian love is not emotional, it not defined by worldly standards, and it is not conditional.

Furthermore, Christian love can be seen in commitment. The commitment of an individual to be obedient to the truth and the commandments of God manifests itself in Christian love. When such commitment takes place, love will be a natural by-product. Yes, we love because we were first loved, but, truth is the absolute by which we are to conduct ourselves. If we love (agape) someone it is because the truth lives in us and not because be expect something in return. For someone to say, "Well he’s not a very loving person," may in itself be very misleading. We must first asked, "What is his commitment to the truth?" Love is not always something that can be felt; it is sometimes a matter of discernment. Why would a person dedicate his life to the teaching, preaching, protecting, and feeding of the flock if he did not love the flock? We can not allow ourselves to judge another on an emotion. Christian love is a virtue that results in a commitment to the truth.

Think about what God has command of us: first we are to love him as the triune God of the universe with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and second we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But this is impossible if we are looking for something in return! If so much rides on being effective in our love both towards God and our neighbors, we better know what it looks like. But I warn you, a myopic view of love is going to cause trouble. You better be ready to stretch in ways never expected if you intend to pursue a life based on Christian love. You better be prepared to drop your simple definitions, because biblical love won’t fit into them. If any advice might be given, I would say, "let go of your sentimental platitudes and your simple formulas of how people express love, because biblical love will cut right through them." Biblical love requires extraordinary discernment and wisdom because it is ruthlessly hard on self-examinations. May God Bless us with such discernment and wisdom.

Providence Baptist Ministries copyright_date
PBM Desktop Publications copyright_date
All rights reserved
Revised: May 24, 2010

PBM Desktop Publications, Granbury, Texas