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True biblical love is ultimately demonstrated through choices, not feelings


They say love is like entering the lottery, and “you’re probably not gonna win.” Some statistics claim most marriages end in divorce, or that they consist of unhappy people. The pop culture magazines and the edgy social media posts champion this belief that love is whatever you want it to be. “Love is a battlefield,” cry the ladies singing Pat Benatar, and the men have given up on chivalry altogether. Sorry Sinatra.

Unfortunately, beyond romance, we find ourselves struggling with this virtue in all sorts of environments and circumstances. All it takes is a wave of frustration, anxiety, or any other blinding emotion for us to suppress any practice of this crazy little thing called love. But quite frankly, while the world may deal with it flippantly, Christians have little excuse to do the same.

Indeed, our two greatest commandments are centered in the love of the Lord and the love of our neighbor. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the Church is just as prone to viewing love from a faulty perspective as the rest of the world is. Consequently, a faulty understanding will lead us to avoiding it, shoving it aside, or “failing” at it. But the reality is that love, if placed upon the wrong foundation, is simply not love. As such, the Church especially ought to be proactive in placing love upon what is truthful and glorifying to God. How do we do this? Well, you’ll find many a book written to conquer this very question. However, it would suffice to focus on one key distinction: Love is a choice, not a feeling.

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Love cannot be based upon the butterfly feelings you get when you see her dressed up, or the heart throbs you feel when he buys you flowers. Nor can love be determined by how much your friend makes you laugh, or how laid back your parents are. You see, there will be days when your spouse isn’t as communicative. There will be times when your friends aren’t as present. There will also be numerous occasions in which your family will annoy you. The real question is: On those days, where it’s difficult to love or you don’t feel like loving these people, will that be the end of it? Will you experience one minor inconvenience and immediately throw in the towel? I should think not.

After all, Scripture warns us against our hearts and emotions, given how utterly unreliable they are. Our feelings tell us we can’t trust other people, but Scripture also says we can’t trust ourselves. Our feelings say focus on yourself, but Scripture says focus on truth; focus on Christ. Our feelings make mountains out of molehills, but Scripture lays down a smooth and steady surface to plant our feet on. Let us think of these things as we consider the great example of love we have in Christ.

Moments before He was betrayed by Judas and taken away to be beaten, mocked, and crucified, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). Preceding this prayer, Jesus said He was “very sorrowful, even to death.” He “fell on His face” as He prayed. Our beloved Lord, so close to the excruciating agony He was to face, appeared to be overwhelmed with feelings of dread. Now just imagine Jesus, acting upon those feelings, decided not to go to the cross. Imagine if He had said, “My Father, I can’t do this. You need to find another way.” What then? Well, to start, our salvation is gone. Our hope in life and death is no more. The promise of life everlasting is no longer ours. This life, with its many trials and tribulations, would be deprived of the sole purpose we have now that equips us to endure all things. Just imagine how bleak this life would be if He did not make a way by suffering the cross because of His feelings.

But of course, that’s not what happened. Pastor and theologian Charles Spurgeon said it well: “The love of Jesus is the source of salvation.” And indeed, it is His love that made a way. In love, Jesus made the choice to die for sinners. In love, Jesus made the choice to face the agony of losing His perfect communion with the Father. Most importantly, with great love, Jesus made the choice to fully submit to His Father and His Father’s will. And do you know what’s truly amazing? If Jesus’s death on the cross serves as a depiction of love, how much more does that of the Father’s will to send Jesus to the cross in the first place!

Ephesians 1:4-6 reads, “In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Don’t you see? In Love, Jesus chose to submit to this will, and yet, this will was established “before the foundation of the world.” All of Scripture proclaims the glorious Gospel that was determined by God Almighty, in love, before we were even born. And it seems obvious that God, when He set forth this plan of redemption, considered the pain of sending His very own Son to the cross. Even so, He chose to do it. He chose to do it for us. For you. For me. For everyone who believes. From the moment Adam and Eve caused the sin that separated us to enter the world, God enacted this plan, and with His “everlasting love,” He has never stopped pursuing His people.

Paul provides a detailed explanation of love in a passage famously known to be read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Now, this passage is not talking about love in the rose-tinted glasses sort of way. You know, the love that sweeps Hollywood and leads many astray into la la land. No, the love described here is God Himself. And God, who is love, is the standard we should all strive for. God, who is love, serves as the model for what our love should look like within our relationships — familial, platonic, and romantic. That is, patient, kind, selfless, humble, peaceful, joyful in truth, and willing to bear, believe, and endure. Anyone can experience some version of faulty love. But true love, the kind that never fails, comes only from Christ. True love, based upon a biblical foundation, is a choice. When feelings arise, we choose patience, we choose humility, and we choose to endure.

Love, with all its beauty and complexity, can be significantly simplified when placed upon the correct foundation. And we do so by keeping it attached to the Being from Whom it derives. I think, as far as love goes, we need to remind ourselves (and others) that love is not what our emotions think it is, what our neighbor’s emotions think it is, and especially not what the world and all its disordered emotions think it is.

No, love is what God says it is, and He demonstrates His love most clearly in His choices to be gracious, merciful, and faithful. He demonstrates His love through the choices He makes to keep promises and to fulfill covenants. May we, the bride of Christ, demonstrate our love in the same manner.

Originally published at The Washington Stand. 

Sarah Holliday serves as a reporter for The Washington Stand. She earned her undergrad from Boise State University in Creative Writing and Narrative Arts, as well as a Certificate in Arts and Theology from Reformation Bible College.

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