What Love Really Is 

Abigail Clayton 

Contributing Writer 

What really is love? What does it mean to love other people from acquaintances to friends to family members? To find out the truth about love, the love that our hearts cry out for, we must turn to the Bible.  

The love that the Bible commands from us calls to the deepest parts of what our hearts truly desire. In one of the most famous passages about love, 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul is often quoted during matrimonial ceremonies when in reality Paul is writing to the church in Corinth.  

In this passage, we find not only what love truly is, but what love is not. Matthew Segal is a writer and editor for desiringGod.org, the truest definition of love can be found in 1 John 4:7-8.  

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love”.  

It is impossible to truly love someone completely with only our own strength. We in and of ourselves are simply too wicked. Our very definitions of love changes depending on who asks. Our efforts to find a definition are simple attempts to try and explain what it is that we feel towards other things and people.  

Yet even these definitions miss the mark on what it truly means to love someone. This is because love is not someone that we as humans decide to come up with. God himself is love, and we as created beings have a semblance of that in ourselves, but because of the fallen nature of the world it has been corrupted. 

Therefore, it is vital to first understand that God himself is love. What does God say about love? Matthew Segal answers this by explaining that to understand this, Christians need to be able to discern what love is not. Serving is not love. Specifically, serving out of our talents and gifts that God has given us. People who are not Christians can serve, and they do serve, and sometimes they serve very good causes.  

Yet, how often do we see Christians in the church serve because they feel “called” to do so? Do they do so out of love? I have personally worked with people at church events who help because it was needed, or because they thought it was simply the right thing to do. While these are valid reasons to serve, this is not an expression of love.  

As Paul puts it, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. The second thing that love is not, it is not knowledge. I have seen this in churches, in and around campus, and in my own life. Knowledge of theology, or even of the bible, does not produce love in individuals.  

According to Matthew Segal, “If Satan can’t keep us from the truth, he’d be happy to see us fill our minds with knowledge if it means inflaming our sense of pride and emptying our hearts of love.” (Segal).  

1 Corinthians 13:2 says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all Mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  

Giving is not love. This one seems kind of tough. Why would a person be giving, if not for love? There are many reasons why people would want to be generous and loving, but based on what Paul says about these acts, if they are not of God, the selfish motive could be disguised and may be worthless.  

Matthew Segal puts it this way, “Sweat, bleed, and even die as we might, our deeds can never cover a lack of love”. Love is not belief.  

1 Corinthians 13:2 says, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”. This is another one of those terms that seems backwards. It may look as though faith proves your love, but it is obvious that Paul disagrees with that. After reaching this conclusion, what now? If this is what love is not, well then what is love?  

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and teacher at Bethlehem college and Seminary puts it this way, “the magnitude of God’s love of benevolence is measured in the Bible by four criteria that it can see: 1. The degree to which the person loved does not deserve to be loved (Romans 5:6-8). 2. The greatness of the price paid to love a person (John 15:13). 3. The greatness of the good that is done for the person when he is loved (John 3:16). 4. The level of desire that God has for the good of the one loved (Zephaniah 3:17)”.  

Love is ultimately who God is and what He does. As His creation, we are most loved by Him, and as His people, the way that we love is by knowing Him more intimately and being so filled up with his love that it overflows into all our relationships. 

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