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LOVE IS NOT AN EMOTION
by Philip Owen

          Is the title an expression of ignorance or contrariness? A perverse attempt to attract attention? No, it is an effort to rescue a misunderstanding of the fruit of the Spirit called love from the idea that the love God produces in a believer is, in its essence, a feeling. Granted, agape love may sometimes, perhaps often, have a manifestation in the emotions of a believer as that powerful sense of tenderness, compassion, and empathy that we are familiar with. However, it is a mistake to equate emotions, regardless of how powerful, with agape love. God knows nothing of a love that begins and ends with feelings. True biblical love is active, selfless, often expensive and exhausting. Genuine love puts the needs of others ahead of the desires and needs of self.

            The example of the Father. Perhaps the most familiar verse in the New Testament is the best exhibit of the truth that the genuine expression of love involves sacrificial action—beginning with God Himself. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Paul corroborates this thought: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Or consider this verse: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

            The example of the Son. As the Father, so the Son: His love is not primarily an emotion, but an action, and a costly action, an infinitely costly one. “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Another example from Paul, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Again, Paul testifies that “the Son of God . . . loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Clearly, the love of Christ goes infinitely beyond feelings and emotions.

            The evidence for the believer. The expression of love demonstrated by the First and Second Persons of the trinity provides an accurate definition of biblical love. But if there were any doubt, the Word is replete with specific commands and expressions of love addressed to believers underscoring the truth that love is not merely an emotion. Consider just a fraction of the evidence that might be offered. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:9-11). “’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:9, 10). “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5). “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” (2 Cor. 12:15). “But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:5). “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).

            No objective reading of these passages (and many more that might be cited), can yield any definition of love that begins and ends with emotions, much less one that focuses on making oneself happy or feel good. Biblical love is “other” oriented. Its objective is, first of all, to honor God through faith and obedience, and second, as a practical expression of those virtues, to be expended on behalf of others, particularly, other believers.  Once again, does emotion play a part? Certainly, but not always nor essentially. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

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