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God’s Definition of Love

How many times have you heard someone say, “God loves you!” It’s a very prevalent concept in America for sure. But what does that even mean? Our culture and society today have developed, and progressed, many ideas about what “love” means, but what does God have to say about love? And almost more importantly, what does He NOT say about it?

I remember sitting down with a small group of people to talk with them about Jesus, and one of the girls had a sticker on her face that looked similar to this:

So, I asked her, “What does it mean to love someone?” She was slightly taken aback by my question, and after a few moments, responded, “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about that before. I guess it’s being someone’s friend, supporting them, and helping them to achieve their goals? What do you think?”

I smirked and nodded. “I think that’s a pretty common view of ‘love’. Let me ask you a question. My sister is a drug addict, so for a long time, her highest goal in life was to get, and use, heroin. Would it be loving for me to give my sister heroin?”

“No, of course not!” she quickly retorted.

“Why not?” I asked her. “You just said loving someone meant helping them achieve their goals. Why isn’t it loving to help my sister get drugs if that’s her goal?”

“Because they’re illegal,” she replied. “And drugs are bad for you!”

This changed the dynamics of our conversation pretty dramatically. Loving someone is not helping them to get whatever they want, because a lot of times the things we want are not good for us. There are many given definitions of the word “love”, but this one from Merriam-Webster is the most accurate, in my opinion: “unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another,” where benevolent is defined as, “organized for the purpose of doing good.”

To love is to pursue the highest good of another person, even if that is not what they want or are pursuing. It requires total selflessness – you aren’t doing something for another person because you’re getting something out of it; it’s about their good, not yours. The bible gives us a similar definition:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

So, if this is what love means, what does it not mean?

1. Love is not a feeling.

The butterflies that you get when you see that “special someone?” That isn’t love. That’s desire, and sometimes that desire burns with a very strong intensity. But love is focused on the other person’s highest good, not yours! Your desire for them does not equate love – it’s a lot closer to lust most of the time. Lust is selfish! It is the desire for you to be gratified by your own desires, and in the bible, is never shed in a positive light.

See this study page for more information on lust:


2. Love is not tolerance.

The movement for tolerance has been growing rapidly in our country. There are times in which tolerance is a blessing – we should seek to have peace with all people as best to our ability (Romans 12:18). But it is not loving to tolerate something that is destructive. What if people pushed for tolerance during World War II? “Well, Hitler just sees things differently. We should be more tolerant of his worldview, even though it is different from ours.” The loving thing to do is to stand for what is right, even if someone has a different opinion. If the Bible is true, and that all sin leads to death (Romans 6:23), then that means it is most loving to stand opposed to sin, all while loving the sinner, even if it means coming across as intolerant.

Check out this article for more information on tolerance:


3. Love is not from the world.

1 John 4:7-11 says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love…Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

and John 13:34-35 says:

I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

God is very clear with us – He is the source of love. Only Him! If we want to know what love really is, we have to look to Him, and what He defines as love. We are not in charge of love, we don’t get to define it, and we don’t get to decide what does or does not constitute as love.

The primary way we see God’s love for us throughout the Bible is in His actions – He proves His love to us by the way He responds to us, interacts with us, and what He does for us. The greatest way He proved His love to us is that He saw us in our affliction – dead in our sins, bound for Hell. We are God’s enemies in our sin, yet He chose to kill His own blameless, innocent Son in order to make us – His enemies – sons and daughters!

Another way that God showed us His love for us is by giving us His commands. That seems kind of a strange concept, but God knows everything – He has already looked ahead to the end of the story to see what will happen if we do one thing or another. Because of how much He loves us, He gave us commands of what we should do, that leads to good outcomes, and what we should not do, which lead to negative outcomes.

I’ve often thought about it from the perspective of raising a child. As an example, if a child was trying to stick a knife in an electrical socket, their parent or guardian will stop them! The child may not understand – it seems like a fun idea, I want to see if this will fit in there, and what’s electrocution anyway? Why are you getting in the way of my fun? But the parent is not getting in the way of the child’s fun, they are preventing them from suffering harm, and possibly death. It’s easy to view God’s commands as restrictive, but I think they are restrictive like a parachute – they allow you to enjoy life, while preventing you from splatting on the ground in the process.

For more information about what love is, check out these articles: