Freed to live through the death of another.

Love, Part 2

In my most recent post on love, I offered this working definition of love:

that affection or passion which motivates me to pursue another’s ultimate good, regardless of the cost to myself. 

After that post a friend commented on the use of the words ‘affection or passion’ and just wondered if maybe love might be more about doing than feeling.

Many of us, I think, have been in Christian culture circles long enough to remember the DC Talk song Love is a Verb (if you don’t know it, you can get the lyrics here). As a younger person that song had me reevaluate my definition of biblical love, so that I’d see that love isn’t what culture says it is… too often, when I read of love in the Bible I used the world’s definition (something roughly equivalent to warm-fuzzies; something that you can ‘fall’ into or out of on a whim, without your control).

But as I matured (at least I hope that’s what I’ve done) even more, I came to understand that there is much more to love than mere ‘verbing’. In other words, love is more than ‘doing’, although doing is definitely involved.

I think there’s a balance somewhere here: Love the (outer) action is motivated by love the (inner) affection.

So that when Jesus teaches about love at the end of Matthew 5, for example, he shows that God’s love is a love that involves action (he sends rain & sun). Now, are we to assume that such loving actions come from a heart that is not in a favourable disposition to the people being loved? Absolutely not. And we are called to be like the Father. Jesus teaches here that to love someone (like your enemy) means to pray for them. How can you pray for someone without any affection for them? However small, it must be there in some measure if you are going to intercede for them before the throne of grace. You are asking God to bless them with life, forgiveness, the alleviation of their troubles. Why would you ask this if there was no root for it in your affections? Surely Christ is looking for more than rote obedience devoid of heart-affections when he says ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Again, if we examine a passage like 1 Corinthians 13, we find the same thing. Love is that which bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. It is hard indeed to picture how these things could genuinely come about in a heart devoid of affection for the person being loved. In fact, the only way I find I can genuinely love someone in these ways is to ask God to produce affection for them in my heart, so that my actions of love will be true–not faked or forced.

This is why I’ve thought it best to say that love is that affection or passion which produces… . In other words, love is not merely a feeling, but a God-wrought ability to have some of the same affection in my heart for one of God’s creatures that God himself has. And just like God’s love moves him to action, so this God-wrought affection in me will always motivate me to action.

Of course, this is always done absolutely imperfectly in my life. Sometimes life calls for us to just do what is right even before there is genuine affection in me. That’s just because of my hardness of heart and slowness to be affected by God’s truth and God’s heart. Where I need to grow is in my continual experience of God’s affections (his love for people, his hatred for sin, etc.) so that when situations come, the first affections to arise in my heart are God’s own, so that my impulse will ultimately be genuine love.


  1. Tim Challies

    First off, I think it bears mentioning that the title to the D.C. Talk song is actually “Luv Is a Verb.” You’ve got to spell “luv” the cool way.

    I agree with you that love is more than merely a verb. What I was driving at in my comment on the last post was that “affection or passion” seems maybe a bit too narrow. It’s not that we necessarily need to incorporate verbs; rather, it seems to me that love may stem from something other than just affection and/or passion. But perhaps I’m wrong on that account.

    Can we pray without affection? I think we can, though maybe that depends on how we define affection. We are to pray for our enemies and I think that may sometimes mean we pray out of obedience but without any true affection. So is it possible that sometimes the outer is motivated by another inner, in this case obedience and faith rather than affection? Can we be obedient out of our affection to God even when we have no affection for the other person?

    I don’t mean to be contradictory. It’s your fault, really, for getting me thinking…

  2. Julian Freeman

    Hi again, Tim.

    ‘Love may stem from something other than affection or passion.’

    I think you’re right in saying that perhaps our definition of ‘affection’ here is different. I would argue that nothing can be done without affection and that whatever is done is done precisely because of some existing affection.

    Something has to motivate us to action, and that something is always more than a cerebral acknowledgement of what truth is. To act in a certain way is to demonstrate what you believe, and what you believe is what results in affections.

    What I’m saying in a confusing way is what Jesus said in a straightforward way in various places like Matt 12.34-35 (and others): You believe something to be true, which produces affections (the state of the heart), which produces words (which, in this case, stand in for all actions). Your actions are always only ever the fruit of something in your heart (Matt 7.12-27).

    What you believe is what creates affections. Faith produces love for God, which means I’ll obey Christ’s commands (John 14.15; 15.14). Out of love for God flows love for others.

    Again, though, I would want to put an asterisk on all of this like I did in the post and say that sometimes this progression is harder to see in our hearts right now because everything’s muddied by sin. Sometimes the order appears to even be backwards… but that’s a result of sin. What God calls us to is to have his heart: genuine love for others that results in genuine self-sacrifice for the good of others.

    I don’t know if this is making things any clearer, or if I’m just rambling? Probably the latter.

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