Who Defines Love

Love is definitely the operative word in our culture these days. We hear that “love is love,” or in Christian circles, “God is love. Period.” From liberal to conservative, everyone can agree that they want to do the loving thing. We just can’t agree on what the loving thing actually is.

I propose that in order to determine what the loving thing actually is, we need to first figure out who gets to define what love is. When two different people are defining what love is, you’re going to get two different answers. For example, a toddler wants to eat nothing but cookies for dinner, but her mother insists on feeding her a protein and fruits and veggies. Now, the toddler is going to define the loving thing as someone giving her a cookie for dinner. She will perceive this as loving, not only because cookies satisfy her hunger, but because they will taste awesome while they are doing it. Clearly, to her, the loving thing is to give her cookies. The mother, on the other hand, will define love as giving her child a healthy meal. This is clearly the loving thing because the healthy meal will not only satisfy her hunger, but will give her body and brain what they need in order to grow and develop in a healthy way. These two are at odds on what the loving thing to do is, and this disagreement (if it’s anything like my house) may go on for years.

Who is right? Well, we know, based on experience and scientific research, that the mother is right on what the loving thing is in this scenario. It is loving to give a toddler a healthy meal regardless of the fact that the toddler does not perceive that to be loving. The toddler has limited understanding and has elevated her feelings and desires over what is good and loving. The mother has greater wisdom and discernment in this matter. The mother should define love despite the protestations of the toddler.

If the mother had greater wisdom and knowledge in this scenario, then in real life, no one has greater wisdom and knowledge than God. Therefore, God is the one who defines what the loving thing to do is in our world. He is the source of wisdom and knowledge. He created us. He can define what the loving thing to do is. He tell us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thought are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In our limited wisdom and knowledge, we can not always discern what the loving thing to do is, so we must turn to the source of knowledge to discern. This is especially true when we are dealing with what is sin. Our thoughts and feelings and desires cannot define what is sin. Only God can.

Referring to the fact that God has delivered us from the corruption of the world to partakers of His divine nature, 2 Peter 1:5-7 states “For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” I can’t help but think there is purpose in love being last in this list. To accurately be able to discern what is the loving thing, we need to have the other parts of the list in order.

We need faith; that is, we need to believe that God is, and that the Bible is His word to us. To that we add virtue; we need to want to be like God in moral excellence, goodness, and righteousness. To that we add knowledge; we need Biblical knowledge to know what God is like and what He desires. To that we add self-control; we need to act on what we have learned and discipline ourselves. To that we add steadfastness; we need to stay fixed on what we have learned and to steadily aim to become more Christ-like. To that we add godliness; as we walk in this matter we become imitators of God. To that we add brotherly affection; now we look outward to others, to the church, the bride of Christ, and our desire is to serve the church and see her become more like Christ. Finally, we add love; now we can define love as God defines it and desire to see God’s redemptive love change people and save souls. This is a proper love whose foundation comes from God.

There will always be sins we struggle with, part of love that we don’t always understand. Like the toddler, we may grow to see God’s wisdom, why He defined something as sin or why He said no to something. Some things, we may wrestle with all our days on earth and only understand once we reach heaven. In either case, we rest on this: God defines love, God is love, and nothing can separate those who have found Christ Jesus from His love.

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