We are designed by God as ‘love receptors’ who readily tune into love, acceptance, commitment and affection. We sense those who really care about us and we are drawn to them and value them.
God made us to relate to Him and God is pure love in its fullest form. So in our make-up we are designed to connect with that kind of love.
At the same time we are commanded to love as the highest of all human actions. The first and second greatest commandments from God are to love, loving God first and loving others as the second greatest command.
“Jesus declared, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
Love, therefore, has to be one of the most significant elements in human experience, both as something we receive and something we have to live by.
Yet, for all that, love is generally misunderstood and the term is used widely for a range of different things. So, what I aim to do here is to give you a simple focal point for your understanding of love, so you can engage with it more effectively, both receiving and giving love.
Some people think of love as a warm feeling of affection that leads us to be attracted to and committed to someone else. That notion of love links to our emotions.
At times people think of love as connected with sexual attraction and desire. That notion of love links to our sexual instincts.
People can see love as the familial sense of commitment a parent feels toward a child, or family members feel toward each other. We may not even really like each other or be deeply hurt by our family members, yet feel something we call ‘love’ toward them, that keeps us caring about them.
Emotion, attraction and relationship are all aspects of love, but at its deepest level love is anchored in our will, not our feelings, our physiology or our sense of responsibility.
What can confuse us about love is that emotional and physical responses to a person and the sense of responsibility toward them can be things that happen to us, somewhat out of our control. Yet love is actually something we are very responsible for.
Since love is the greatest commandment and love is also the second greatest commandment then love must be something we have power to control. If it were a response over which we have no control then God could hardly command us to do it.
God will hold us accountable if we do not love Him and others, so the action of loving God and loving others must be something over which we have control.
It’s not possible to force warm feelings for someone into our heart. It’s hardly possible to make ourselves attracted to unattractive people. It’s hardly possible for us to feel responsible for people we don’t know and don’t care about.
What is possible is for us to Choose to care about them.
Primarily, then, love is an Act of the Will! Love is a choice, not an emotion or internal response. We direct our love. As we do then emotions and feelings of commitment can follow.
Consider the question, asked by a wife of her husband, “Do you love me?”
He might say, “I don’t feel anything toward you any more!” In that case he is thinking of love as emotional warm fuzzy feelings.
He might say, “I don’t find you attractive any more!” In that case he is thinking of love as physical attraction.
He might say, “I don’t give a damn about you!” (to take Clark Gable’s line from Gone With The Wind – ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’) In that case he is thinking of love as a feeling of care for someone he is in relationship with.
The true question, if understood in the context of what love really is, would go, “Do you still choose to love me?”
The answer to the question is not about feelings, but about the will.
In the movie War Horse a wife who has been deeply hurt by her husband makes the statement, “I can hate you more, but I’ll never love you less.” This touches the disparity between feelings and will.
The husband’s answer to the wife’s question, “Do you love me?” will tell what his will has decided to do.
He might say, “I have decided to stop loving you.”
Or he might say, “No matter what we go through, no matter how much my feelings struggle with you and our relationship, no matter how terribly you attack me, I am committed to loving you as an act of responsibility before God. I will to love you and nothing will change my will.”
You might know that Jesus asked that same question, “Do you love me?”, of the Apostle Simon Peter.
“Jesus asked a second time, Simon son of John, do you love Me?” John 21:16
Jesus was asking what Simon’s will was. And Simon confirmed his love for Jesus three times. Most scholars assume Jesus asked those affirmations to negate the three denials Peter had made.
What kind of love do you engage in? What is your capacity to love others apart from any feelings you have about them, or any connection you have with them?
What is you love toward God? He commands you to love Him. Can you do it?
It’s about you making the decision to love God and love others, in obedience to God’s commands.
And in practical terms, if you want a yardstick for measuring love, love is ‘wanting the best for others despite the personal cost’. That’s a matter of decision of your will.
Think it through and make the right choice, and then be ready to answer God’s question if He ever asks you, Do You Love Me?