3 Truths About Love
Lately, I have been reminiscing on the topic of Love and, specifically, what it actually is. I mean the deep essence of love, spiritually, and not just the shallow descriptions that people usually have or those which Hollywood portrays in movies.
I was reminded of the most well-known descriptions of love, which are found in the Scriptures in First Corinthians 13:
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. Love never ends. [ESV]
Indeed these are excellent expressions of love, as well as beautiful benchmarks of what it should look like in practical ways in our lives.
1. Love is like a tree, with many fruits
After reading this passage, it became clear to me that love was like a tree, with many fruits growing out of it — fruits such as patience, kindness, goodness, and others which are mentioned not only in First Corinthians, but the rest of the Scriptures as well.
This also made me think further, “If these expressions are the fruits of love, then what do the roots and the trunk of the tree look like? At its core, what is the essence of love?”
Don’t get me wrong. Those descriptions of love are beautiful out-workings of the substance of what love is. And that is what led to my conundrum: what was the nature of love, at its core and root?
So I put my philosopher’s hat on my mind, and I set out to find what the actual substance of love was. I knew the fruits of love, but not its root. I even asked one of my pastors about this, but I was not completely satisfied with his answers.
Was it just an emotion? Was it a duty? Was it a commitment? What was the core definition of love? And not just the descriptions of love that people give, sometimes glibly I might add. But again, what was the real substance of love?
In some ways, I answered my own questions when I remembered that love comes from God, and God himself is love (1 John 4:16), so he is the truest essence of love in the best possible sense.
I also found that Jesus is the trunk and the roots of the tree (cf. John 15:5), and he personifies the exact expression of God’s love for us (Hebrews 1:3).
Together with this, I also remembered that the Spirit is the crystal clear water that flows from God Himself in order to water the roots of the tree (cf. Revelation 22:1–2). This water of the Spirit is what supplies health and nourishment for the fruits and not only produces the affection of love itself, but also many other spiritual effects as well (Galatians 5:22–23).
My vision of the tree of love was now coming into full view, and it was becoming more clear to me that love comes from the Spirit of God. He is the source. He supplies the water for the fruits. And because we are made in the image of God already, we humans possess the capacity to love as he loves, though in a smaller degree than him.
Non-believers also have the ability to love, but believers even more so because we have the Spirit of God living inside us. This is because the crystal clear water of the Spirit enables us to express the fruits of love in a more powerful and meaningful way (and indeed we can produce much fruit; John 15:5).
2. Love is not necessarily an emotion, but an attitude or virtue
“Putting on” love, as the Scriptures tell us, can certainly include positive emotions and affections, but not necessarily. The tree of love doesn’t have to be emotional all the time because true love is not necessarily an emotion.
This is evidenced by Jesus’ words about loving your enemies, being kind to the ungrateful, as well as doing good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27–36). This is raw and extreme love at its best, and it is a sign of a mature tree flourishing with much fruit. Clearly one does not necessarily have to sense Love for another person in order to care for them and be kind to them. In order to care for others’ needs, one does not necessarily have to feel like it all the time, either, and yet one would still be demonstrating love to them, as God does to the wicked. Thus, it is clear that love is more of an attitude than an emotion, a virtue more than a feeling. It is a higher principle than one’s feelings.
As I continued to pray and ponder about the substance of Love, I think the Lord answered my original question with a few final words about the core definition of love.
And yes, he will answer if you ask. God may not answer right away, but he will answer in some way. After all, this is what a King does. He only answers when he wants and how he wants, as much as we may not like it.
So here is the answer I received, in a nutshell:
3. Love is, in essence, caring
This is the raw form of love. It is the virtue, attitude, and affection of caring for people. Caring for society. Caring for nature. Caring for animals. And especially caring for those in need.
It is caring about, and for, others in its simplest and undiluted sense. And eventually, this love would overflow into simple actions — more fruit — such as praying for others; actively listening to people; serving in some small but significant way; giving your time, talent, and treasure; and the greatest act of love of all: sacrificing one’s life for another (John 15:13). Like in the classic book, “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, so the tree of love has many fruits to give and ultimately results in giving one’s life to others.
Unfortunately, this attitude of caring is getting rarer these days. This is why the Scriptures say, “Put on love” and “Clothe yourselves with love” (Colossians 3:12–14) because we need to be reminded to care for others, to put on this manner of love like clothing on our skin. And really, we have the power to do this every day (2 Timothy 1:7).
Like all the other good virtues mentioned in the Scriptures, such as wisdom, patience, and contentment, love is also something that we can work on personally (2 Peter 1:5–9). We can grow in this attitude more and more, and so our tree will enlarge and flourish.
There are also different levels of caring, or various degrees of affection, which demonstrate depths of caring toward people in the world (bigger and more mature trees, if you will). These begin with the basic level of caring and move to deeper ones such as the 4 types of love which are commonly known and are found in the Scriptures:
- Phileo — friendship love
- Storge — parental love
- Eros — romantic and sexual love
- Agape — unconditional, sacrificial love
The affection of caring can run deep in the heart of a person. For example, God not only cares about us, he has such a strong and deep affection (Agape love) toward us that he sacrificed his life for us and also feels jealous when we don’t follow him (Exodus 34:14). His love is deeper than anyone will ever experience, because he is love himself.
In the end, real love is essentially caring, which can lead to stronger affections as our tree grows and flourishes. It is as basic as that, and it is an attitude that I and all of us can work on every day. Let us just make sure that we are connected to the water source who is the Spirit of God!
Thank you Lord for answering my simple prayer of “What is the essence of Love?”
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:7–13)