We talk about love all the time. We ask if our comments were ‘loving’; if our actions were ‘loving’; if we sought to love someone more than ourselves. But have you taken the time to pause and ask, “What does it mean to actually love someone?” I would like to flesh out a definition of love that will help measure all our actions so we can truly tell if what we are doing and saying is ‘loving’.
In What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp defines love as willing self-sacrifice for the betterment of another, without any expectation or reciprocity.
Love can’t be compelled. If you are being forced to do something, then it can’t be loving. Imagine Jesus going to the cross because God the Father made him do it. Would we say that Jesus did it out of love? Love can’t be forced and it can’t be done out of a sense of duty. Actions that are not performed willingly are compulsion or duty. Duty can be a beautiful thing, but God does not call us to “do our duty”; he calls us to show love.
If the action you are doing doesn’t come at any expense to you, then it is hard to say that you did it out of love. For example, if someone asks for my help, and I just assign it to someone who is under my authority, I will not be able to say that I was loving the person that asked for my help. I may have helped them, but I was not showing them love. Actions without self-sacrifice are hollow and lack meaning.
The Betterment of Others
Love can’t be self-serving. That is why the whole idea of ‘self-love’ is so ridiculous. You already ‘love’ yourself way too much in the worldly sense; true love is about doing things for others and not yourself. If you do something that is sacrificial and even willing, but you are ultimately doing it for your own good, then all you are is a calculating person who knows how to get ahead in life. Real love does things to better others, not one’s self.
Often we do things for others with the hope of getting something in return. My wife and I joke all the time about this when we give each other back rubs. She asks if I will give her a back rub, and I quickly reply with “yes” if she will give me a back rub. There is nothing loving in my actions; I am simply bartering services. If I am truly loving someone, then I will act without expectation of getting something in return.
Jesus as Example
If our actions lack even one aspect of the definition, then I propose that we are not exercising true love. Jesus shows the best example of what love is by his many actions, the clearest example being his death on the cross. Jesus willingly went to the cross. He sacrificed himself for others. He did it for the betterment of others. And he doesn’t expect us to ‘repay’ him.
I would encourage you today to begin examining your actions through the lens of these characteristics. If you find yourself seeking to love someone, but one or more of the above characteristics are missing, then we have some changing to do. Love like this will change your relationships, it will change your marriage, and it will change you. This is the love that God calls us to show to others, the only type of love that matters, and the kind of love that will one day be rewarded.