More than a Feeling
Most of us grow up thinking that love is romance and ecstasy. We hear the words “You complete me,” and we melt into a puddle of emotional goo. We understand that love is more than just feelings, but when those feelings of love are gone, we usually assume that love has gone as well, or perhaps was never there, because we are convinced in our heart of hearts that love is a feeling, and a very good one at that. But God’s word says nothing of the sort.
In 1975 the rock band Nazareth produced a hit song, “Love Hurts,” and since then it has been the anthem of broken hearts across the globe. The truth is that love does hurt ourselves because love, if purely lived, strips us of all our self-interest, self-promotion, and self-protection. Love is bound to cause pain to our flesh, because it doesn’t serve self but those it loves. That is why love is so hard and why so many of us fail at it time and again, because of our idea that love is meant to serve the lover instead of the loved one. Add that with the somewhat subconscious idea that love is all feeling, and together we have a hot mess. Love as it was never meant to be made.
God's Love Is Different
But according to God’s word, love is something altogether different. If love were simply a feeling, God could not command it, at least not without equipping us to fulfill it. Feelings are not something that can be easily turned on and off. I cannot command you to feel fear or to feel elation; you can’t generate these on command. It would be a cruel God who would command you to do something you are incapable of doing. But, as you know, God is good, not cruel, and so here is the secret to loving the unlovable: we are able to love those the world finds difficult because of God’s great and all-encompassing love for us. When we love God with our all, his love pours out of us onto others in ways impossible for our flesh. So we are able to obey Jesus’s commands to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to refuse to fight back or seek revenge because our love is an action in response to how he first loved us (Matt. 5:39, 44). So love must first be understood as dependent on his love for us, and our response to love must be action, not reliance on feeling good.
Growing up believing that love is all about emotions had put me into bondage to those emotions. I was taken hostage each time someone assaulted my feelings, broke my heart, or rejected me. I was a slave to how I felt in relationship to other human beings rather than free to love, regardless of return. But when I discovered this one simple truth about love, and that real love is content not to feel good all the time, I was able to give the kind of love that the Father had given to me, a love not found in what man does or doesn’t do, but in who God is. After all, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We are indwelt with this kind of love when the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. And this is the kind of love we are able to give through the power of that Holy Spirit, as we read in Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is through this power only that we are able to love without pretense or deception, without pretending that we are loving when what we are really doing is responding to the good feelings we get from the relationships in our lives, and without lying to ourselves that we can love only when others love us in return. When you love wrongly, Jesus says, “what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt 5:46–48). So love is not about responding to how others make us feel but about the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our souls.
Love must first be understood as dependent on his love for us, and our response to love must be action, not reliance on feeling good.
If you take a close look at the love description in 1 Corinthians 13, you will notice that it is not a feel-good passage. It doesn’t encourage good feelings, but hard ones. It doesn’t command emotion, but swift and difficult action in the face of frustration. It is, after all, only frustrating or difficult people that require patience. And with those who bring out our envy and competitiveness, love demands the opposite. When others want something we don’t want, when we are at odds, love doesn’t insist on its own way. When people push our buttons, love isn’t irritable. When they hurt us, it isn’t resentful. Are you seeing the pattern in this love passage? The love defined in God’s word is all about responding in an unnatural but supernatural way to difficult and challenging people. So, the love defined in God’s word is not focused on self, but on denying self.
This is another thing we have to be reminded of as we study the idea of love, that it requires selflessness. Not surprising, since part of living by the Spirit means putting ourselves to death, as we read in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” It is through putting to death our need to feel love and embracing our Spirit-led desire to give love that we start to experience this first and most important piece of the fruit of the Spirit. The study of love has to move away from feelings, requirements, and self-centered thinking and move toward Spirit and truth.
This article is adapted from The Fruitful Wife: Cultivating a Love Only God Can Produce by Hayley DiMarco.
Why does the Great Commandment instruct us to love God first, others second? Because this is the order in which God himself loves.
With culture and history both shaping our definitions, where are we learning love from?
Because of the way that our culture tends to think of love, being told God loves you can fail to land on us with the beauty and significance that it should.
This universe of self-love is collapsing in on itself. It’s like a black hole that shrinks itself into a smaller and smaller space.