The word love gets tossed around for a lot of things. We love our favorite sports team, we love this or that band, we love a television show or film — a rather indiscriminate use of the word, if we are honest with ourselves.
Jesus used the word with precision, and in that precision, it had a very profound meaning. Let’s take a look at the question “What is the love of Jesus?”
How to Love
Scripture contains many references to love. We are admonished to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength. We are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are told that God loved the world so much that He gave His Only Begotten Son.
Lots of verses on love. So, what does Scripture mean by the word? The key passage for understanding love from a biblical perspective is Matthew 22:34-40. Author and Theologian Dr. Phil Brown writes the following:
“The primary principle of Christian life is loving God totally. Although we have heard this truth often, do we really know what it means to love God? How do you do it? What does it feel like? Are feelings involved at all?”
I start by drawing your attention to loving God as the beginning point, as you cannot love others with the love of Jesus if you don’t first know how to love God properly, as Jesus did. That was His first concern — loving His Father and bringing Him honor and praise.
All too often, our priorities in relationships are self-focused. We want to feel loved, we want to feel happy, we want emotional satisfaction, and we tend to love all too conditionally while reserving parts of ourselves. Part of the reason is fear of rejection and pain.
And what usually happens when we do these things is that we create conditions in which we almost guarantee rejection and pain.
Jesus didn’t reserve any part of Himself from the Father. Dr. Phil Brown provides the following important insights in his book Loving God: The Primary Principle of the Christian Life.
“When God says we are to love Him with our whole heart, soul, and strength, He is not talking about three different parts of the human person. In Hebrew, the heart represented the inner person. Contrary to modern English usage, soul often referred to the entire person.”
1. Dr. Brown references Genesis 12:5 and Genesis 46:26 as examples of the word soul referring to the entire person. He then points out: “It is clear from these examples that the Hebrew word soul can refer to the entire person, and not just to the spiritual part of man that is immortal.”
2. He sums up his explanation of these verses thus: “To sum up, God is commanding us to love Him with our inner person, with our total person, to the utmost of our capacity. In other words, love God totally!”
3. As noted, this is how Jesus loved His Father — totally and completely, with all His capacity. How many of us can say we are loving God as Jesus did?
Having said all that, we still have not addressed the underlying question of what love is. Knowing how you’re supposed to love doesn’t help much if you don’t know what love itself actually is. In the modern world, the word love is used cheaply.
We love baseball, we love our favorite band, we love the church choir, we love milkshakes, burgers, and fries. Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy some of those things as much as the next guy.
But you can see that the word love is used a lot when it would be best, and probably more accurate, to simply say we like something very much or enjoy it. Even in relationships, the word love is cheapened.
Sally loves Tom this week, but next week she’s angry at him, breaks off their relationship, and says she hates him. A few days later she’s dating Richard and professes her love for him. While my hypothetical story may be a bit simplified, it isn’t really all that far from the reality of modern relationships.
Part of the reason for this is that most truly don’t know what love is. Returning to Dr. Brown’s insights, he provides an excellent definition of love. He writes of it in relation to God first:
“To love God is to self sacrificially commit oneself to delight in Him, to rejoice in serving Him, to desire continually to please Him, to seek one’s happiness in Him, and to thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of Him.”
The keywords here are “self-sacrificially.” It is easy to love when there’s no cost. But when difficulties come along, as they always do, they test our resolve, and indeed our love. Jesus experienced these temptations as well.
Yet He gave Himself totally to the love for His Father and overcame those temptations. For most of us, whether we’re discussing our relationship with God or with each other, can we honestly say we love self-sacrificially?
When our patience wears thin, when the bills are overdue, and the children are misbehaving, and our spouse is being difficult, do we love self-sacrificially, or do we fall short of the love of Jesus? Loving others as Jesus did, as you can now see, is very much connected to our love for God.
Christ, as our example, loved us so much that He sacrificed everything, including His own life, for our benefit.
He was so committed to seeing our relationship with the Father repaired, with seeing us have the opportunity to delight, rejoice, desire, be happy in, and enjoy the Father, that He self sacrificially loved us, as well as His Father.
Think about that for a moment. Let the depth of that reality sink in. The infinite God, incarnate as Jesus, loved you infinitely!
His love is immeasurable and showered upon you through His life, His death for your sins, and His resurrection, overcoming death so that you might also overcome death. That, my friend, is the love of Jesus.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.