What is Love?
Thoughts from I Corinthians 13
There is a great deal of talk in today’s society about love. We are immersed in talk of love, read books about it, watch shows about it, and long for it, but we rarely stop to think what love actually is. It seems that everyone wants to love and be loved, but very few have given any thought to how “love” is to be defined. Surely all the other questions about the form of love, who has the right to love whom, etc.will all be helped if we first have a clear view of what love actually is. We all cringe when we hear a stalker or murderer claim that his actions were the result of love. When a person says “I killed them because I loved them too much to allow them to be with another person, we all intuitively know that “love” is not the actual issue. Perhaps the term “obsession” would be a better word.
This merely illustrates the point that “love” needs a definition in order to determine if a particular action is, in fact, loving. In I Corinthians 13, we are given such a definition. While it should be acknowledged that there are four primary words for “love” in the language in which the New Testament is written, the type of “love” being described in this chapter is the highest form. (For a consideration of all four types of love, I would recommend The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.)
The highest form of love, agape in Greek, is patient and kind, not boasting and not proud or rude (I Cor 13:4). This “love” does not insist on its own way and it is not resentful (v. 5). It rejoices in the truth, and endures all things and believes the best about a person (vs. 6-7). In short, it is a self-sacrificing love that is always looking to help the other person and is not selfish. If we were to use this sort of definition when speaking about love in the public spheres, how would that change the conversation? It seems that much of what we describe as “love” today is merely selfishness and a “me-first” mentality. But if we use this definition of love, then such actions and attitudes would have to be described as something other than love. A clearer definition of love would allow for clearer conversations and solutions when faced with questions about how to properly practice love, would it not?