What is Love?

Is love an uncontrollable emotion or is love a conscious act or choice?

Jesus is love. It’s a phrase that I am happy to see popping up more and more on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and social media. It’s so simple, yet so accurate and powerful. Therefore, I decided to unpack that phrase a little further and look into the Biblical description of love. However, as I was researching this topic,  it was almost impossible to ask myself “what is love” and not think of the 1993 Haddaway hit:

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more…..

Once I was able to clear my mind of the 90’s classic , I soon realized (as if I didn’t already know) that defining love can be very complicated. Most dictionaries have multiple definitions of love as both a noun and a verb and it can mean very different things to people. I also came across dozens of passionate debates on what love is on various sites on the Internet.

According to Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, the Bible says love is an action.

Specifically, Pastor Warren says if you really love someone, then you show it by how you act toward that person. If love were just an emotion, then God couldn’t command it. But love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action.

The Bible says, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT).

My conclusion: love is an action, not an emotion. Love is a verb. 

This distinction is important because the Bible commands love in some pretty challenging situations. Loving your neighbors is hard enough but loving your enemy is practically impossible if love were simply an emotion or feeling. One cannot force him or herself to feel a certain way. Feelings are never wrong because they are simply a measurement of how we think or feel about something, regardless if it’s our intended feeling. However, we can demonstrate love to people we don’t know or like by our actions and those actions will communicate love to those people.

For example, (I will pick on the men in this case since I can relate) how many times have you seen on TV or in real life when a woman in a relationship feels she is not loved because the man never puts love in action?  The man may be honest, kind and committed as well as a good parent and provider that goes to church every Sunday. He can tell his wife he loves her every day, but if he does not demonstrate the actions of love she may not fully know his love or believe he truly loves her.  Simple acts that don’t show up in romance novels can go a long way in a relationship to demonstrate love for someone you are “in love” with.  Cook his or her favorite dinner, clean up after a meal without being asked or simply turning off the TV or putting down the phone when they are speaking to give them your undivided attention are actions of love that are deeper than hollow words, cards or flowers.

The same holds true for demonstrating love for others you are less familiar with.  Simple acts such as acknowledging someone; patiently listening to someone share their story or opinion; quickly forgiving someone that has hurt you; helping someone without any expectations (including a thank you); putting yourself second to someone else; smiling and telling a stranger “hi” with the intent to brighten their day; doing a random act of kindness; sharing something you value, etc. are all small but important actions that convey love to the recipient.

Love is not easy and takes work, but committing to the effort and actions of love with friends, family, neighbors and even strangers is worth it!