Updated: May 8
“Love is Love.” Have you seen this slogan on a bumper sticker or protest sign? If you have, you can almost always draw several conclusions about the righteousness—or not—of the cause it is being used to justify. More to the point, you know that this seemingly self-evident statement is wrong. But why? It’s because one word, “love,” is used in two very different ways.
The first meaning for “love” in that slogan is “the action I want to justify.” The second definition for love, however, is most important. That second “love” is the definition of love that all actions either do or don’t fit within. We might use our definitions to turn the slogan into something too long for a bumper sticker: what “love is love” actually means is “the thing I want to do is consistent with the true definition of love.”
Perhaps this expanded definition is more helpful, but the million-dollar question is this: How do we define love? How do we know love when we see it? And, how can we know that we are acting in love? We believers are to be known by our ability to love (John 13:35). One evidence of having the Holy Spirit is the ability to love (Galatians 5:22). However, love is often misunderstood. By this point in your life you have probably been in a situation where, even though you acted in what was truly the best interest of your child, or a friend, or a family member, or a fellow church member, they did not appreciate it. Sinners are bad judges of love, and even believers are often motivated selfishly.
The standard for love, of course, is set by God. His Word gives us three parameters for love: three boundary markers so we can know when we are inside, or outside, the boundaries of Biblical love. The first of these is that love does not violate His law. Romans 13:8-10 says it this way: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this: Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
God gave many instructions to the Israelites about the relationships with those around them. Frequently the details of the scenarios are different—because we live several thousand years and several thousand miles away from the Israelites—but the principles are the same. For example, self-defense is allowed, but retaliation is condemned, because God condones self-defense (Exodus 22:2) but prohibits killing in personal retaliation after the time for self-defense has passed (Exodus 22:3). We can say, then, that self-defense is not unloving, but revenge is.
God’s law also helps us to properly define another word that is often used. It appears in Romans 13:10 above: “ill.” These days, it’s called “harm.” Harm, we hear, is the opposite of love; anything harmful is unloving. We might agree, but the question again is, “What is truly harmful?” Does it depend on how the harmed person feels? We are told that words, like the dreaded “hate speech,” can be harmful. Does God agree? Here again God’s law helps us to know the difference between fake harm and real harm. Harm is what God says it is. To say that an abortion procedure is a murder is neither harmful nor unloving; rather, God’s law prohibits killing the innocent (Ex. 23:7). Likewise, we have recently heard how we should pity murderers if they are members of an “oppressed group.” God’s law says differently: to withhold punishment from a murderer out of pity is not loving (Deuteronomy 19:11-13).
While love excludes behaviors, it includes behaviors as well. Love includes honoring your parents and being content (the opposite of covetousness). It includes taking good care of others’ property, even of those you don’t like (Exodus 23:4-5). The next time you hear the word “love” used in popular culture, take time to evaluate if that action qualifies as love by the standard of God’s Word.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant at NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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