With so many opinions, definitions and understandings in the world today of what love truly is and how it is best expressed, we need an objective source of truth. People call a million and one different things love, but many of them don’t fit within the model God provided for us in the person of Jesus.
Compassion, while often loving, isn’t always. It’s compassionate and loving to pick up someone’s rent payment to help them through a tough time. But continue that same action, month after month, and it can cease being loving and become enabling (while still being compassionate). The same with tolerance and acceptance, commitment and loyalty, and dozens of other admirable traits. They have their place as manners in which love can be expressed, but aren’t always loving and can’t be considered synonymous with Biblical love.
A full study of love is well beyond the scope of this short devotional, so let’s pursue its essence. If we were to increase in the most Christlike expression of love, what might that look like? What was at the core of Jesus’ life and ministry—the single perfectly true model of love we have?
To answer, I believe Biblical love can be summarized in two words: service and sacrifice. Love is given to others and it costs something.
During His final evening with the disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus defines what love looks like when displayed in its fullness: “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13, NLT). Clearly, this is at least a partial reference to what He was about to do upon the cross for humanity. But it is also a timeless truth and one of God’s clearest definitions of true love.
Jesus: Our model for love
Paul taught along these lines in his letter to the Philippians. Encouraging the brethren to be united and of one accord, Paul appealed to the example Jesus set of what love ought to look like:
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privilege;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Phil. 2:2-8, NLT)
Biblical love pursues the greatest good of others; that is what drives its essence of service and sacrifice.
Embracing Service & Sacrifice
Take John 3:16, for example, and inject these two attributes: “For God so loved the world that He gave [in service to humanity] His only begotten son…” or “For God so loved the world that He gave [at great sacrifice as a Father] His only begotten son…” It wasn’t in God’s best interest that He send Jesus to die for our sins. He was doing quite well as-is, even with us in our fallen state. It was we who desperately needed Jesus and His saving grace. It was with our best interest and our greatest good in mind. And so out of their deep love for us, the Godhead enacted a plan entirely void of selfish motive and rescued us.
When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, it was with that man’s greatest good in mind (Matt. 12). When Jesus fed the 5,000, it was with their greatest good in mind (Matt. 14). When Jesus warned the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees, it was with His disciples’ greatest good in mind (Matt. 16). When Jesus rebuked those same Pharisees for their hypocrisy, it was with their greatest good in mind (that they might repent) (Matt. 23). When Jesus said He would leave for heaven, that the Spirit might come, it was with our greatest good in mind (John 16).
And when Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8), He had humanity’s greatest good in mind.
If we are to increase in love; if we are to truly live out this more excellent way; if we are to carry out the greatest commandment and second like it, we must embrace service and sacrifice and live for the greatest good of others. Like He did.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Matt. 20:28, NLT).