Define love

Once upon a time I was in love (or at least I thought I was) with a college girl. She asked me to define love.

Of course, I didn’t really know what to say. So, I launched into a country boy’s rendition of Shakespeare: “How do I love thee? Let me count them ways.”

That wasn’t good enough.

“Why do you love me?” she asked. Still searching for the right words, I realized I didn’t know.

Someone once said, “Love is better described than defined.” Perhaps, but when I define love now I look at Christ hanging on the cross. There, love is described and defined. The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8 NET).

Paul discussed Christian love, or the love we are supposed to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ. He wrote love must exist without pretense (Romans 12:9). In early Greece, actors wore masks during a play to portray a character. Even now some people wear masks. They mask their disagreement, their disdain, their grumbling. They would like for others not to know the true character, but the false one they portray.

Christian love means abhorring evil and clinging to good. The word, “abhor” in Romans 12:9b is from a word in the original New Testament that means “hating and turning away from.”  We should hate evil so much we immediately and completely turn away from it. Instead, we should glue ourselves to good.

Paul also discussed how we are to love one another in Christ. We should be “kindly affectionate,” the New King James Version says. This translates one word, “φιλόστοργος” (philostorgos) which means to love like family.

To love each other as a family member indicates a love almost all of us can understand. Many of the problems people have with others in the church can be traced to this distinct shortcoming: we don’t love one another as we love family. Yet, God’s people are our family, our eternal family.

These descriptions of love, if followed in spirit and letter, will solve many problems. Love without pretense is the cure for hypocrisy in the church. Genuine love doesn’t need to be defined in words as it most certainly needs to be defined by action.

Have I given a profound definition of love here? Not really. I’ve only pointed to what the inspired apostle described, which is pretty good. I can stand on that.