What Is Love?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: 1 John 3.16-18

Note to the Reader
Each month we examine one book from the Bible, that book may be from the Old Testament or the New Testament. While we live in the New Covenant, everything is written for our learning (Romans 15.4, 2 Timothy 3.16); since this is true, then we seek God’s instructions and wisdom from everywhere within the Bible. This month, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of First John in conjunction with this article.

What Is Love?

Love, as some have said, is a four-letter word. To such a temperament love is something vulgar. On the other hand, to some love is the most sacred and beautiful thing there is. But what kind of love? Love is such a vast encompassing term that the word love defines and identifies one’s affection for many different things. An individual can have affection for a hobby, or a career, or another person. But when it comes to loving another person – is that love like the love that siblings have for each other, or is it romantic love? Throughout the centuries poets and writers have tried to encapsulate the essence of love, the Apostle John will do the same.

Love Your Life
Finding items to discuss from John’s First Letter is difficult, the reason is that John says so much. While John is known as the Apostle of Love, he speaks about so much more. For example, he speaks about being “called the sons of God,”1 purifying oneself,2 sin being transgression of law,3 and that God’s children do righteous things.4 But today we are going to look at the following passage:

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.5

In verse sixteen John defines love; with verse seventeen John asks a self-reflective question about love; and with verse eighteen John makes an appeal that God’s children should talk about and show love. While these concepts are familiar, it may be the carrying out of these things that is more difficult. These three brief verses not only help identify true love, but also make for an interesting and challenging dialogue.

When an individual has true love they will lay down their very life. Their life almost certainly involves their physical life, as in giving up one’s own life for their brother. But laying down one’s life also includes the willingness to lay down one’s time, energies, and ego. While some may begrudgingly give monetarily, it is somewhat easy to let money go to a person in need; it is something else entirely to sacrifice your identity, your aspirations, and your possessions in order to give a brother a leg up.

Love Your Brother
As this writer has traveled through life and experienced the association of many people, it is interesting how verse sixteen can be interpreted. Interpretation completely depends on how one defines the word brother and one’s definition of brother either maximizes or minimizes one’s love. It is interesting how some have identified brother. Some have said that brother refers to an individual who identifies themselves as a Christian. Others have claimed that the brother must be a Christian and have been baptized. Interestingly enough, others have narrowed brother even further to say that a brother is a Christian who is baptized and is obedient to God and Jesus. While this writer agrees that these definitions identify types of brothers, for a disciple to restrict their love to only one or two or three of these brothers actually violates the whole concept of love.

Jesus did not lay down his life for only those who were believers, washed with the waters of a cleansing ritual, and obedient to the precepts of God, or any combination of those things – no. Jesus laid down his life for the entire world.6 The entire world includes those who do not believe in God or Jesus; those who believe in God and Jesus but are not baptized; and those that believe and are not compliant to the precepts of God. Hence, when Jesus laid down his life he demonstrated the greatest definition of love, having the compassion to lay down his life even for all of humanity, even when humanity was his enemy.

When we consider that our brother includes those who are neither kind nor friendly toward us, we begin to see that love requires a great sacrifice of self. It is somewhat easy to hand out money to help those that are less fortunate, it is another thing entirely to open your arms, give them your time, your vocal interaction, and then help them with their needs – regardless of spiritual affiliation. Jesus died for believers sure, but he died for unbelievers and the disobedient too. Appealing to the translated words of John “let us love with words, with action and with truth.”7 May the LORD bless us as we seek to love others in the manner in which he loves us and the way we want to be loved.

1. “Called the sons of God” First John 3.1-2, NASB.
2. “Purifying oneself.” First John 3.3, NASB.
3. “Sin transgression of law.” First John 3.4-5, NASB.
4. “God’s children do righteous things.” First John 3.9-10, NASB.
5. “Love Defined.” First John 3.16-18, NIV.
6. “Jesus life for the entire world.” John 3.16; First John 2.2, NASB.
7. “Echoing John.” First John 3.18, NASB.