Love is a mystery. Is it an emotion? Is it action? Is it an amalgamation of both? People with a scientific mind sometimes explain all the feelings involved by proclaiming that love is simply a chemical reaction in our brains and is therefore nothing truly real—just a random byproduct of human brain chemistry developed through millions of years of human evolution. When we look at Scripture, however, we see that love is not solely an emotion and not solely an action, but that it is the Christian lifestyle.
In this article I will not be discussing God’s love (because that’s an entirely different topic in itself), but rather what it means for Christians to love others. Valentine’s Day is approaching quickly, and as a single man, this holiday means nothing to me. Past and current experiences taunt me that I’ll be a bachelor until the Rapture. So, with no significant other to love, I’ve been doing my best to focus on loving others as a Christian. I asked myself, “What is Christian love?” Unable to come up with a definitive answer, I embarked on an endeavor to see how the Scriptures define Christian love.
Christian Love Is A Lifestyle
Perhaps most notable is Jesus’ command to Christians to love in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If you’ve read my previous articles with Geeks Under Grace, you probably know by now that I love diving into Greek and Hebrew exegesis as part of my pastoral studies. So, I opened up my Greek New Testament Bible. Three times, Jesus says something along the lines of, “that you love one another.” When redundancy occurs in the Greek, it is done so for emphasis. I would estimate that 99% of the time, when this redundancy occurs, it is hidden in the original Greek language, so English readers don’t know when something is said with heavy emphasis. In this verse, however, it is carried over clearly into the English language. Obviously Jesus was stressing something of high importance. When we think of the word “love,” even in the Christian sense, we think of it as being accompanied by that “warm, fuzzy” feeling. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that warm, fuzzy feeling with every single person I meet, whether they’re Christian or not. So does that mean love is absent? Absolutely not. This is because Christian love is not a feeling; although strong feelings can be involved, but rather a lifestyle.
A Pharisee once asked Jesus what the greatest command was, to which He replied, “‘You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-39).
Any time that a speaker in the New Testament says, “the Law and the Prophets,” he is referring to the entire Old Testament, which are the Scriptures that the Jews adhere to. According to Jesus, the entire Law, or Old Testament (also old covenant), is dependent upon this love. Similar to this, Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This is where we get the cliché, “Treat others how you want to be treated,” more-so from Luke 6:31.
Love of Omission
St. Paul says regarding this, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
Some have taken this to mean that if we are perfect in love, then we fulfill the Law and are thereby saved; however, this thinking is wrong. As Christians, we are only able to love and therefore fulfill the Law because we have been declared righteous “by the mercies of God” (Romans 12:1). In other words, because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us (Matthew 5:17), we are able to fulfill the Law in Christian love (the love of Christ) since His righteousness is imputed to us (Romans 1:17; 3:21). Ergo, it is by the righteousness of Christ He has given to us that we are able to fulfill the Law by loving others as He would.
Would you want someone to commit adultery with your wife/husband? Then don’t commit adultery. Would you want someone to murder you or someone you love? Then don’t murder anyone. Would you want someone to steal from you? Then don’t steal. Would you want someone to lust after your significant other? Then don’t have lust in your heart for someone who doesn’t belong to you (just don’t have lust for anyone in general). Acts of omission is one method in exemplifying Christian love. This does not mean, however, that non-Christians are incapable of loving others as we do. God’s moral law, or מִּשְׁפָּטִים (mishpatim), is bound on all people of all time. Since all human beings were created in His image, we all have similar morals (notice I said similar, not the same). This is why, when we observe a culture that knows nothing of Yahweh, they have similar morals against murder, theft, and so on.
As Christians, we do not limit our love to other Christians alone. Jesus said:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).
If we only love other Christians, we are no different than unbelievers, for even they love other unbelievers. I find it interesting that Jesus uses the word “credit.” I don’t know if it was intended, but it makes me think of monetary transactions between businesses and consumers or other businesses. In a business, when you receive payment, it’s called a credit transaction to decrease your expense accounts. You receive money, and that’s good for business. You’ll notice the same on your personal bank statements—the credit transactions recorded on them are the payments we receive from our jobs.
But when we limit our love to only other believers, what credit is that? We gain nothing. Instead, Jesus calls us to love unbelievers as well because our God Himself is kind and merciful to ungrateful and evil people—to unbelievers. Not only that, but going back to what Jesus said in John 13:35, people will know that we are His disciples by how we love one another.
As we obey the Ten Commandments and doing what Jesus has called us to do, we don’t always have warm, fuzzy feelings, especially when we act in love toward people who irritate us, persecute us, and wish to see us suffer or even dead. As Christians, love is what we do. Jesus calls us to live a life of love, not to extend our love only to people we have warm, fuzzy feelings for or those we think deserve it. After all, we don’t deserve God’s love, yet He loves us anyway, so just because we may think people don’t deserve our love doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love them.
Love of Commission
A more concrete definition of how we love people as Christians comes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.