What Is the Bible’s Definition of Love?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage all who desire to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
Dave, we’ve been going through your book An Urgent Call for a Serious Faith, and the reason we’re going through that book is because it really does, what I believe, what we’re encouraging all of our listeners to do, and that is to get into God’s Word. It deals with so many subjects with regard to God’s Word that we think are important, that one can have a serious faith. And it is an urgent call, at least on our part, to encourage people to that end.
Now, we’ve been going over the subject of God’s love, and we started with Matthew 22, which tells us that we’re to love the Lord thy God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind—and Jesus tells us this is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it: we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And just on face value, Dave, we’ve mentioned before that this seems like an impossible thing to do—certainly impossible if you don’t know God, if you don’t know anything about Him. But it is possible, by His grace, to do these things as we get to know Him better and better.
So, it’s a goal. It’s a commandment, but it’s something that we can certainly achieve by His help, by His grace.
Dave: His help—He must enable us. He must do it through us.
Tom: Right. But, Dave, when we think about the love of God, about loving God, it’s got to come back to “What does love mean?” We have to have some understanding about that. And I think we get ourselves into trouble if we go to Webster’s Dictionary for the definition of the word “love.” I mean, we could end up with a zero score in tennis—that’s one of the definitions. But God’s love—we can only understand that, understand the meaning of that, as we see what He says about it in His Word. And there’s no specific definition, is there?
Dave: I don’t think you could come up with a definition of love. It’s beyond our comprehension. I don’t know of any university that offers a PhD in love. In fact, it’s rather astonishing since Jesus said, “Love is the principal thing.” What we really need is to love God—“This is the first and great commandment.” But I don’t know of a seminary that teaches budding pastors—people who hope to go into the ministry—I don’t know that they even have a course in love. Maybe there’s one somewhere. Which seems odd, since this is so important.
Why don’t we hear about it more from pulpits? Well, it’s a difficult topic because we have such false ideas. Hollywood has brainwashed people with an idea of love. It’s a sexual thing. You “fall in love,” and so forth. We’ve talked about that before.
Tom: Right. Dave, on the other hand, the secular universities—in a sense you can get a PhD in love, but it’s “sexology,” or something related to . . . something very carnal. Certainly not God’s love.
Dave: But that’s not love. I don’t think we’ve mentioned on the radio—I’ve very rarely said it—but I can remember when I was in university. I had a logical mind, you know. I was majoring in Mathematics, as Pre-Law, and I loved to crack codes when I was in high school. That was sort of my hobby. And I thought I could solve most any problem. And I had come to the conclusion there was no such thing as love [chuckles] because you couldn’t dissect it, you couldn’t analyze it, you couldn’t put it in a test tube, you couldn’t write out a partial differential equation. This was something that was beyond the capability of a human being to fathom, but that wasn’t the main reason, because here you’ve got two people stand before witnesses and swear their undying love “till death do us part,” and suddenly some cute blonde parts it, or they can’t stand to live in the same apartment with one another. And if that’s not phony baloney, that’s proof enough!
And then I met the young lady that the Lord had picked for my wife at UCLA. And I was in love! And I found myself face to face—I can remember trying to work some math problem, and saying, “Oh, Ruth!” She wasn’t there, of course—that was even before we were engaged. I found myself face to face with something that I couldn’t explain! You could not analyze this. But it was very real.
Now, I don’t want to get too much into the emotional part of it, because love is a . . . must involve a commitment. God has proved His love to us. Love involves faithfulness. It involves purity. You cannot define it, and the Bible does not try to define it. But, as you said, the Bible tells us what God has done to demonstrate His love.
Tom: Right. And He tells us many things that we are to do that are love.
Dave: He manifests His love, for example: “In this the love of God was manifest, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Now, that tells me something about love. It tells me that love does not depend upon the object of the love. See, we get that idea: Oh, a very attractive person can arouse some “love” within us, only it’s emotional, maybe sexual, maybe lust. But God loves sinners! He loved the world. Wow! This world is so evil. There are so many evil people in this world, but the Bible says God loved the world so much that He gave His Son to die for our sins, and “in this was manifest the love of God, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And on the cross, I believe it had to be in love. Christ says, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
He . . . why would He love those that drove the nails into His hands, those that mocked Him? So, obviously, love is not generated as a response to the attractiveness of those who are loved, but it comes from within. Now, it really comes from God because we don't have that kind of love. And when we read 1 Corinthians 13, we are faced with love!
Tom: Now, there are some particulars there. Again, it comes back to [the fact that] love is something that we are to do. It’s an action on our part, and the action is reflected in God himself, in His truth, in something that is righteous.
Dave, let’s pick up in 1 Corinthians 13—again, that’s the “Love Chapter,” in God’s Word. Let’s pick up with verse 4. Now, I know the . . .
Dave: Well, wait a minute, Tom! You’re running the show here, but I always interrupt you.
Tom: Go for it!
Dave: Let’s take the first verse first. It has a little background: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I have become a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.” Before you get to verse 4, you have, “Though I do this, though I do that, though I have the gift of prophecy, I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains—and have not love . . .” I’m reading the King James. The King James says, “Charity.” You know, there are three kinds of love.
It’s talking about love, and I think it’s really talking about agape love, the highest form of love, the word in the Greek.
Tom: That’s the term.
Dave: “ . . . and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, I give my body to be burned, if I don’t have love . . .” So, first of all, it’s telling me that what you do is not as important as the motive that you have for what you do. And if what I do is not from a genuine love in my heart, then God does not recognize this. I don’t get any credit for it. It’s worthless.
So, you have that background, and then . . . you were going to pick it up with verse 4. Now it’s going to tell us about love.
Tom: Well, love . . . it says, “Love suffereth long and is kind.” Now, here are some attributes that we want to have.
Dave: If you’ve got a short fuse—your wife just does some little thing, or your child, or your parent, or some friend, and you react—that just betrays the fact that you’re lacking in love, because love suffers long. And whatever reaction love would have it’s going to be kind.
Tom: Now, Dave, before we go on to some of these other things—I’m glad you did jump in with verse 1 to begin with, because this sets it up. There are a lot of people who are longsuffering. There are a lot of people who are very kind. But, again, if this isn’t in God, through Christ—first of all, He enables us to do these things in a way that’s the correct way, the right way, the righteous way to do these things.
Dave: With the right motive.
Dave: See, as Jeremiah . . . well, God is speaking through Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart . . . .” So, you can act in a kind way. You can seem to be very polite and compassionate and thoughtful and considerate and loving—but it could be a put-on! You might not even know it. “I’m doing this in order to impress people.” This was why David, in Psalm 139, said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me [test me], and know my thoughts, and see if there’s any wicked way in me. Lead me in the way everlasting.”
So, we have to continually—well, I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly before, but I’d so often say to the Lord, “God, I’m a hopeless case. There just doesn’t seem to be any hope.” Because, as I’ve probably often said, I can remember being on my knees praying for humility and thought I got it, and the next thing I knew, I was proud I’d become so humble. And that’s the way we are!
So, unless the Lord really does a work in our hearts and we are really in His hands, allowing Him to have His way, it just isn’t going to work.
Tom: Dave, somebody out there listening says, “Well, then, if you think it’s hopeless, . . .” because maybe they have some—they’ve read your books, and they think, “Whoa! Dave thinks it’s hopeless, then what chance have I got?” Now, I’m not elevating you here, but I’m just making a point that nevertheless, we’re to be obedient to the Lord. We’re to go for this. We’re to do the things that He commands us to do.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And by commandments, He wasn’t talking particularly about the Ten Commandments. He’s talking about everything that He says in His Word.
Dave: He said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Dave: So only He can do that. But, Tom, as far as looking up to anybody, we are all on the same level. The Book of Proverbs says, “As in water, face answers to face [that’s like in a mirror—your face reflects itself], so the heart of one man reflects the heart of another man.” We’re all the same. We’re all sinners. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and we are so far short, there’s no difference between us, and the wonderful thing is that the life of Christ is available to all of us. He is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t play favorites. Whoever will follow Him, whoever will love Him, whoever will respond to Him—I believe He will take us as far as we’re willing to go. And it’s going to be His love in us.
Tom: Right. So, we cry out like the man who said, “Help me in my faith.” God will help us in all of these things, and He calls us to do it, and He will enable us.
So, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy . . .” Doesn’t envy. How many times have we found ourselves in that situation? The reason I want to go over these in particular, Dave, when talking about love, there’s something that we’re to do. We are shown by way of these examples in Scripture what we’re to do. This is love. This is love in obedience.
Dave: It’s not that—and I know you’re not saying this—it’s not that if I can do this, then I’m demonstrating love, because that might not be love either.
Dave: What it is saying is “Love suffers long and is kind; love envies not.” So in order for me to have this pure response, this pure action of not envying, of being kind, and suffering—it’s going to have to come from love within my heart. Otherwise, it’s just a performance that I’m putting on, and the only way that can happen is I’ve got to spend time with God. Why wouldn’t I . . . I shouldn’t say, “I’ve got to spend time with God.” I have the wonderful privilege and joy of spending time with God in His presence, communing with Him. And as I get to know Him, and I yield to Him, He can live His life through me.
So, Tom, when we read this, I often say, “You read it—I don’t care who you are, an atheist—you read this chapter, you are confronted with a love that you’ve never seen on this earth. Nobody has ever lived this except Christ himself. And yet, you know in your heart—we know in our heart—this is what love ought to be.
Well, that, in itself, proves that I’m a spirit living within a physical body. I have been made in the image of God, and He has created me so that I can be in communion with Him, so that I could know Him, and I could appreciate and love Him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know that this chapter is telling us of true love—what it really ought to be.
Tom: Right. “Love vaunteth not itself.” In other words, love doesn’t go around parading itself. It’s not puffed up. It does not behave rudely. . . Now these sound like . . .
Dave: Let’s go back to this pride for a minute, Tom. Wow! Anybody out there that’s listening to us, have you ever been proud? I’ll make another confession. Have you ever prayed—I can remember praying, and thinking, Whoa, I wonder if they realize what a great prayer this is!” Have you ever had that problem, Tom?
Tom: Dave, you’re trying to hold me under conviction here? Over the years—how many times?
Dave: Pride is the number one problem, and yet, we’ve got all this talk about low self-esteem. “I’m just down on myself, and I just . . .” No, pride is our number-one problem. How am I going to get rid of pride? Love is the only way, because when I love, I am not thinking of myself. I am wanting to bless others. I don’t even care what their reaction is. I want to bring God’s love, God’s truth, God’s blessing, to them.
Tom: Verse 5: “Love does not behave rudely.” But let’s go on: “ . . . does not seek its own.” Now, Dave, that’s what you just said. You see, all of these examples of what love is. There’s none that’s self-directed. It’s all other-directed.
Dave: Right. How many husbands and wives have had the problem: “I’m not getting my fair share out of this marriage.” Or, “You’re not treating me right.” That just simply betrays a lack of love. Because if you really love your husband, if you love your wife, you want the best for them. You’re not thinking of yourself. You’re not thinking of what you’re going to get out of this. You’re not trying to make this a 50-50 deal, because if you do, you won’t agree on what 50-50 is.
But love is all, Tom, as you pointed out, it’s all one way. Love is not demanding anything for itself. It is giving to the other. “Seeks not her own; is not easily provoked.” Wow. “Thinketh no evil”—“I know what you’re thinking! I can tell by that look on your face.” Love doesn’t do that. Love thinks the best—always interprets things in the best way. Love is innocent and pure.
Sorry, Tom, I interrupted you. Keep on reading!
Tom: No, you’re right on track here, Dave. Verse 6: “[Love] rejoiceth not in iniquity . . .”
Dave: “Hmmm, somebody that I don’t like, and, boy, am I glad that they’ve got that problem. They’ve been exposed. It serves them right.”
Love never thinks that. Never thinks that. Love is sad for iniquity that is exposed in anyone’s life, for anyone falling into iniquity. It does not rejoice in tragedies and things that befall people.
Tom: “ . . . but rejoices in the truth.” Wow.
Dave: Amen. Rejoices in the truth. I have to be a lover of truth. Second Thessalonians 2: “All those who refuse to receive the love of the truth, they will be given a strong delusion to believe the lie.” That doesn’t seem fair! Oh, no, it is fair. This is the very lie they wanted to believe, so God is going to help them believe the lie they wanted to believe. There’s nothing more fair than that.
Am I a lover of truth? To love God’s truth—“If you continue in My Word, you are my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Am I a lover of truth?
Tom: “. . . beareth all things.” There’s a cry to today’s “me” generation, “self” generation.
Tom: And it comes into the church. Well, we’ve been talking about our own lives . . .
Dave [in affected voice]: “I’m carrying more than my share of this load. Well, they’ve got me doing everything. Why doesn’t somebody else do somethin’?” Well, love never says that. Isn’t that something? “Bears all things.” You don’t want to do it? You want to leave it all to me?
It makes me think of David. Despised, he’s out there taking care of the sheep. Nobody else wanted to do it. Okay, he’ll do it. “Beareth all things.”
Tom: Now, Dave, the next one: “Believeth all things.” That doesn’t mean we’re gullible. It just talked about truth. “Believeth the truth.” This is what this is talking about.
Dave: Well, “is not skeptical; is going to take you at your word.”
Tom: Certainly not cynical. We can get that way very easily.
Dave: No. . . . is innocent, and “if this is what you say, I will accept it. I’m not going to try to find some secret motive behind your words.”
This is really a powerful chapter, Tom. It really speaks to my heart.
Tom: “Hopeth all things; endureth all things.” Again, not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit. That’s the only way we can even get close to fulfilling . . .
Dave: Tom, my wife and I have often given the advice to a young couple that’s having problems: “Just sit down together and read 1 Corinthians 13 once a day.” Now, the Lord is speaking to my heart. I need to go over these words myself once a day, at least! Everyone should memorize these words—should know them—to know the One who is Love.
Tom: Dave, we’re about out of time, but finishing up with the beginning of verse 8: “Love never fails.” This is God’s love. This is what we’re all about. This is how we can love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our strength. It’s . . . God enables, if we’re willing.
Dave: And it speaks to my heart: Love your neighbor as yourself. Wow! Well, it’s wonderful how God loves us, and He can love others through us, if we will allow Him to do it. And it’s all His doing. We can’t do it.