A few weeks ago, I was posed this in an email “I wanted to start a conversation with you about Love.  What is it?
I want to start this conversation about what Love is because your ministry boasts to be about it.  This may sound sarcastic but please don’t take it that way.  I’m actually really serious about trying to grasp what your take is on Love.  Please take some time and help me understand.”

What a fantastic inquiry… I wish more people would be bold about challenging the “thing” that we choose to advocate. Now, I am going to give my definition of love from a biblical view, an experiential view and lastly what I would consider an overall world view. I will not necessarily be defining which of my views I am drawing from at any specific moment because although I believe there is a foundational truth of what love is that can only be seen through the lens of the creator, on some level they all have to coexist in order for love to be fully understood.

There are many different words and expressions for love. Some are justified and some are not. I have a much larger respect for cultures that have numerous words for the different types of loves that can be expressed as to where the English language only has one, Love. We love our food. We love our pets. We love our spouse. We love our children. We love our extended family. We love our friends. We love music. We love our cars. We love our houses. We love our clothes. We love our jewelry. We love television. We love movies. We love beverages. We love sports. We love Jesus. We love equality. We love charity. We love strangers. I think you get the point. There is no separation between the word we use to describe the feeling towards our best friends and our favorite food. So what is love, really? Is it an emotion, that can only be expressed toward another human? Is it an explanation of our like and desire of something? Is it an appreciation that draws us to our favorite hobbies? Is love all of these things? According to us, as humans living in 21st century America, yes.

Unfortunately, the tone in which we use the word is the only defining moment of the declaration.

Let’s try something, break down the word into categories used, and define it in each category.

Food: to love our favorite food must mean that the specific dish or genre tickles our taste buds to the point of complete consumptive satisfaction. Is it possible to have more than one food that you love? Due to the definition, I would say yes. What that means is that there are foods that take your mouth from a container for teeth to a watering hole of delight and those foods can be different.

Spouse: to love our spouse [which I don’t have, so if I’m wrong, correct me] there is a special expression that we use. We add the word “in” before we use the word love. We are [or are supposed to be] IN Love with our spouse. I’m not entirely sure how this plays out, or what makes it different. I thought I had experienced this, and maybe I had, however, my definition for such an emotion is this: To feel and express such feeling for one person without condition and without the fulfillment of their “love” towards you. I would like to believe that such a term as “in love” would mean that there is nothing unworkable as a team, no matter the obstacle, no matter the sin. This is very easy for me to say because I am not in love with anyone. Just above these words I mentioned that “I thought I had experienced this, and maybe I had.” I’ll explain, a couple years ago I was in a relationship like I had never experienced, everything that makes a good relationship seamed to be there, however, there was a disconnecting factor. Is this factor enough to say that I wasn’t “in love” with this woman and rather be explained as the most loving relationship that I had experienced and because of that I felt the need to give that feeling a title. So there is the story, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, at any rate, someday I hope to enter into a relationship with a woman whom I can be in love with in the manner that I have layed out.

Friends: This might sound odd, but friends are like food and maybe anything else except the love of a spouse and the love for parents can fit into the food category of love. There are different experiences and attributes that bind our hearts to people, activities and things. I think because of the diversity we are able to experience we are able to love numerous things, and maybe I say that because “love” is the only word that comes to mind when wanting to express an overwhelming appreciation for, or desire of something/someone.

The general public: In order to truly love the average human I believe without a shadow of doubt that this has to be motivated by the creator of love, and come from the fruit of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The only man to every truly love, purely, without selfish motive or ambition is Jesus which I would argue has to make him our foundation for such a love. What does this look like? A willingness to invest in to the people who are around you. An investment is a risk, it is putting something in without the promise of getting anything in return. Some investments are very fruitful and some end in a complete loss of all that was waged.

When it comes to food, sports, or anything that would fit into the stuff category, love is an enjoyment of and appreciation for that/those thing[s].

When it comes to people, Love is a compromise. An endless battlefield of sacrifice, honesty, trust and looking towards the future as opposed to the past.

What is love? It’s your turn to answer the question… I am not an expert and that’s not hard to figure out.




14 thoughts on “Love?

  1. i love you like jesus loved food! which on your chart is somewhere between green chili pizza and my wife….and i’m really ok with that. 🙂

    I think you did a fantastic job of breaking love down. Maybe you should invent a couple more words to replace some of the “loves”?
    Something that has always bothered me is that there aren’t two different words for good fat (like in avocados) and bad fat (like in bacon). They are both just called FAT!

  2. The unchanging, ingrained love you describe is “Agapa’o” in ancient (and possibly modern) Greek. It is the one commanded of us in the Greatest commandment, and the one Christ asked of Peter during that famous fish breakfast, You can see it in the lexicon here:
    The more action-based “Liking” love you describe is “Phile’o” in the same ancient Greek. It is the one Peter responded to Christ using, and Christ used the last time when asking Peter. You can see it for yourself here:
    I certainly agree with you on your appreciation of other cultures that distinguish this umbrella term in English. Agapao and Phileo have become a life goal for me. Since learning Spanish and living in Mexico I have enjoyed using “Amar”, which is close to “Agapa’o” in meaning, and “Querer” close to “Phileo”. Both are vital to life, with the former clearly emphasized over the latter. Fair warning to all who read this: the former WILL require your everything to be done properly. Seriously. And I too am no expert, despite everyone’s expectations to the contrary.

  3. dennis.
    good words.
    people say all you need is love, but like you said, many times it seems that without that relationship with Christ we would not be willing to sacrifice, invest, and commune with just any human.
    have you read C.S. Lewis’ book the four loves? I think you would eat it up (if you have not already.)
    love is the antithesis to evol
    and in some romantic naive way i think if we figure out to fully love while we are on earth, we will leave it soon after.
    i think this is where all conversations should being, thanks for encouraging me + inviting me in.

  4. Dennis, great stuff man.

    What do you think about this?

    Consider these four relationships, without sin as a factor:

    1) God to people

    2) People to God

    3) People to people

    4) God to God

    In what ways do you feel they are different? alike? Do they all meet the parameters of love?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Chip,
      If I am looking at these four relationships without sin as a factor, please understand that it is, because I am sinful. So, although I am going to do my best to remove myself and look at this with a completely objective outlook, it’s still going to be broken.

      I would venture to say that with or without sin, there is no love that is more intimate than that between the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. To try and comprehend the truth that there was complete love and satisfaction shared within the Trinity before creation is a bit difficult and on some level has to only be understood by faith. There was no satisfying need for God to create us through Jesus Christ.
      This moves me on to the next comparison, the relationship between People and God. Without sin, it is fully interactive. As a broken people we long deeply for the presence of God and to think for a second that one man and one woman were able to experience that for the blink of an eye is a bit crazy. What is even more crazy is to think that while experiencing face to face conversation and interaction with GOD, disobedience would still take place. So, even in a “sinless” world we are still a rebellious creature making our ability to express love towards God broken even in the midst of perfection.
      People to people: Adam stood by and watched as his wife fully disobeyed God which has to mean on some level that Adam was not able to FULLY love her or he would have done everything in his power to protect her [and himself] from the wrath that God warned them of.
      God is just, God is faithful, God is honest, God is graceful, God is merciful. God’s love is flawless. There is a misconception that God is to be our personal superman, even if that means He works contrary to the boundaries that He has set up. Whether sinful or sinless, God loves us perfectly. Our sinlessness would only make this easier to see because there wouldn’t be the intense pain and suffering that we currently endure. My thought is that Gods love wouldn’t be anymore pure if we were without sin, we would just get to experience it in a much better way.

      I hope this answers your question my friend. I would love to know your thoughts if you would like to share them.

      dennis a. gable jr.

      • Dennis, I have written a reply containing my thoughts on each of these relationships. It is very lengthy, so I have not included it here.

        I did not expect it to go on quite as long as it did, but I also did not feel like I should stop writing. Let me know if you would prefer to have it here or I could just send it to you. It may be of use to your discussion, but I leave that up to you.

  5. I will say many of the same things you have said; I will state new things also, elements and results.

    I will discuss them in descending order, from the heavenly to the human. I can defend each statement Biblically, but will not list verse references unless you’d like to have them. I apologize in advance because this will not be brief.

    The four relationships:

    1) God to God

    God’s identity dictates the love He expresses and enjoys for/in Himself.

    I have read, and agree as far as I can without certainty, that the “Father” is the singular identity of God, and that the “Son” is the perfect image of that identity. This is not to say that the Son did not always exist. The Son has always existed, because the identity of the Father, which the Son represents, has always existed. The Father loves the Son; the Son does only what He sees the Father doing. The love shared by the Father and Son, because it is perfect, results in the “Spirit” of God; that is, the pleasure of the Father in the Son (and vice versa) creates an entirely new expression of God, in the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit did not always exist, either, or that this newness means that the identity of God can be changed. It is a quality unique to God that He can be at once new, and the Ancient of Days.

    (There is a human version of the phenomenon of a resulting “spirit”, which I will address in the fourth relationship.)

    In the same way that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, the Holy Spirit may be considered begotten. Because God is eternal, the Son and the Spirit are also eternal, though the Father begat them both. There was no point in time when they appeared, because they have always been appearing.

    The following analogy works, but it is not complete, because it represents something that takes place over time, while the nature of God in community has always existed. But it’s the best I can come up with at the moment:

    Consider the Trinity as a Mind, from which a Word comes, from which we deduce the Intention/Meaning of the Mind. The Father is the Mind, the Son the Word, and the Spirit the created and creative meaning (or the “effect” of the Word). We see this Biblically played out, in that Christ is the “Word made flesh”, and that everything was created through Christ – “without Him nothing was made that has been made”; and in that the Spirit of God is present in acts of creation/destruction, such as the first act of creation in Genesis, when “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters”.

    The triune nature of God is at once a great mystery and a great comfort, because it is unknowable, unsearchable, and glorious. And it is this glory which saves us all.

    I contend that God’s love for Himself begins, directs, and closes every decision He makes. The very selfishness of God sustains everything. His dedication to His glory never ceases, because that dedication is His righteousness. God is God because His identity is perfect. God remains God because He loves that identity perfectly and does not split His affection. If He were to ever split His affection, He would commit idolatry, and so cease to be Himself.

    The love of God is purely God-centered. And because He is holy and good, that love is eternally well-placed.

    This does not mean that God does not love His creation. But His motives for loving humanity are not affected or effected by humanity. His love for humanity springs out of the fact that doing so glorifies Him ever further; His greatest love is His own glory.

    And this leads to the next relationship, God’s love for His creation.

    2) God to People

    As I have said, the greatest concern of God is the magnification of His own glory. You and I are not the center of His existence; we are not necessary, as you said, in the scheme of God’s identity. We are a result of His identity, not the originators or sustainers of it. Therefore, given that God’s love is for Himself only, how can we say that God loves humanity, who are rebellious and sinful?

    It was asked (rhetorically) to Israel, “Why does God love you, and why did He set you apart?” And it was answered, simply, “Because He loves you, and set you apart.”

    Also, God has said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

    I refer to this in order to illustrate that God loves whomever He chooses, for the simple fact that He chooses it. He is the only being that can do something like this, because He is perfect. Every other living thing must devote itself to something, or have motives for its love. God needs no motive beyond His own desire, because His every desire is righteous. God, by His very nature, cannot commit wrongdoing. He is not limited to righteousness; He is free to define it. His perfection is not a container – it is a flowing, living, endless torrent.

    Also, it is written that Christ suffered persecution and death, even death on a cross, “for the joy set before Him.” Again, days before His death, Jesus said, “Father, glorify Your name!” and a voice came from heaven saying, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Ultimately, deep down at the heart of God’s reasons for His plan of redemption, man’s salvation from sin does not take the central spot. Rather, the joy of God in the working out of His plan, which glorifies Him in its perfection, does.

    From the beginning, when God made for himself a world, and mankind – to the selection of Israel, a people set apart for Himself – to the passionate sacrifice of the Christ, upon whom God was pleased to lay His wrath – to the triumphant return of Christ, through whom God is pleased to make all things new, and bring to Himself the people He chose before the foundations of that world were even laid out…all through the history of humanity, God has done nothing except what He wanted to do. Why should He do any different? He answers to no one, and everything He ever wants to do is good. The Lord our God is One. Who can ask Him, “What are you doing?”

    So then…

    Why does God love humanity, that Christ would be the atonement for our sins?
    Because it pleases Him to do so.

    Why does it please Him to do so?
    Because it glorifies His name.

    Why does it glorify His name?
    Because it pleases Him, and since it pleases Him, it is righteousness – and His righteousness glorifies His name.

    This all sounds circular, because my language is human, and when it comes to eternity, human understanding tends to result in a circle. However, I believe that there is endless depth and complexity to these matters. I can only scratch the surface of what all of these things imply.

    But let me be clear.

    God does NOT love humanity in spite of our brokenness, or because we have potential, or because we try really hard, or because He feels sorry for us, or because we are fun to be around. God loves humanity because He chooses to love humanity. And the fact that He can choose to love us speaks volumes about His power and glory and holiness.

    This ought to comfort us, because it is as sure a guarantee of salvation as the presence of the Holy Spirit, our “deposit”. God will never lose His dedication to His glory – so take heart, because His choice to love and redeem us brings Him glory upon glory!

    3) People to God

    Unlike God, humanity cannot be concerned mainly with its own glory.

    Why not? Because God exists.

    It is righteous to magnify the Lord. It is good to glorify His name. It is just to praise Him, because He is deserving of praise. The fear of the Lord is wisdom. All the earth testifies to the creativity, artistry, mastery, competence, intelligence, genius of God. Even the rocks would cry out praises to God if we were silent.

    The best concern humanity can have is to magnify God. But because humanity is not God, we must go about that differently than God does. God knows that we are not Him. He said so.

    ‘”My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.’

    As I have said, it is the way of God, or the behavior of God, which demonstrates or magnifies His character, as well as His desires. He always and only does what glorifies Himself, because that’s what He’s thinking about. Therefore, saying that His thoughts are not ours, nor His ways ours – this proves a fundamental disconnect between humanity and God, and it has to do with identity.

    So God tells us how to love Him: with all our hearts, and minds, and souls, and strength. This is the only appropriate answer to the question, “How should we love God?” Since God is the ultimate of everything, we should obviously love Him to the very ends of our ability, with everything that we are.

    This would all work fine, but for sin. The existence of sin throws this into the realm of impossibility. The wages of sin is death, and since the Fall happened, we’re all dead in sin.

    Now, when you’re dead, you can’t do anything. The dead cannot love to the utmost; they cannot love at all. It is written, “There is none who does good; no, not even one.” Again, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    From these things, we know that humanity cannot love God fully as long as it is incapacitated by sin and death. We also know very well by now that God loves to glorify His name. So, what does God do to fix this issue, which He knew about in the first place? First, He reveals sin through the Law. Next, He defeats sin on the cross through Christ. Then He sends the Holy Spirit to refine His people. Finally, He recreates everything and restores His people to Himself.

    Where does our love for God fit in to all this? Mostly in the third step regarding the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the sole reason that we are able to love God. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not have any inclination to do so whatsoever, because we are sinful by nature otherwise.

    The Spirit of God testifies to the greatness of God, and the Spirit of God loves God perfectly, administering truth and understanding in lavish portions to those whom God has chosen. The Spirit of God convicts sin and rejoices in righteousness; it develops compassion and softens the heart, while it sharpens discernment and toughens the skin for ever-increasing persecutions; it compels us to pray, to weep, to laugh, to create, to worship. The Spirit of God reveals to us the intentions of God, the reasons for His actions, and so reveals His identity to us, even as Christ does through example.

    It is this Spirit, present in you and in me, that seeks God. In the end, it is not human to love God. It is godly to love God. In the end, it is not humanity who loves God, but God who loves God, through humanity. The beauty of this is that through our interaction with the Holy Spirit, we are sanctified, until our character becomes more and more godly.

    At first, the prodding of the Spirit seems difficult and even unwanted. It seems commanding, or uncaring because of the sacrifices It calls us to make, the giving up of dreams or desires for the sake of righteousness and the Name of God. But over time, over years, as our rebellion becomes less frequent, we begin to love obedience. This is the sign, that we love obeying God. This is the proof of the work of the Holy Spirit, that we WANT to follow God; we WANT to glorify His name. Not just that we follow and not just that we glorify.

    Remember, God does what He WANTS to do. Until we WANT what He wants, we have not known Him. This also is a comfort, because it guarantees that as we become like God, we will be getting exactly what we want, because we will want God’s name lifted higher and higher. The trek into sanctification is one of greater and deeper and richer fulfillment, not of denials and no-no’s. Though it may begin with a lot of cutting off, it ends with the lavish provision of God, and the joy of the Lord – which completes our own joy.

    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.”

    There is much more to all of this than I could ever say, and I will not say much more. Only we must seek to follow the commands of God; consider them and weigh them; meditate on them frequently; talk about them; write about them; this obedience glorifies God as it becomes voluntary. God, give us the grace to choose to obey You, because we have tasted and seen that You are good!

    4) People to people

    First, let me briefly (ahem) explain the presence of the resulting spirit, which I touched on in terms of the Trinity in the first relationship.

    Just as the community of the Father and Son generates a Holy Spirit, so the community of humans generates a spirit, though it is not holy. For this reason, we sense a kind of “attitude” within groups of people, something that is demonstrated by culture, but is not exactly culture. Different churches have different “spirits”, different age groups, different subcultures. This is what exists in the Trinity, only infinitely more so, so that the begotten Spirit is actually a living entity.

    Moving on…

    As in the long quote from Jesus above, the love we share with each other is of vital importance, because it keeps us firmly rooted in Christ’s love, just as He remains in the love of the Father.

    As God loves us, so we must love others. What does this look like? Well, how does God love us, immediately?

    Christ was wholly God before His incarnation. He sacrificed His glory for flesh, in order to redeem a creation that could give nothing back to Him. No treatment of Him by us, had it even been the best we could offer, could mean anything. Our greatest treasure, our greatest gift, is nothing but filthy rags to God. He stood to gain nothing from us by His ministry, His death, and His resurrection. His action sprang from His own will, and not because He needed anything.

    However, there was certainly something in it for Him, as we have seen.

    “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

    So, we cannot say that Christ’s example is completely selfless. Nor should we honor utter selflessness, as it has no place in God’s identity. Even God’s selflessness is motivated by selfishness; that is, the desire to increase His glory.

    What shall we say then? If Christ commanded that we love one another as He loved us, do we love one another for selfish reasons? As Paul would say, by no means! But rather, we love one another out of the same desire from which He loved us; that God would be glorified in us.

    But, motives aside, what are at least some of the practical implications of Christ’s example for us?

    1) We leave our privileges/rights behind
    2) We enter into the world of those we serve
    3) We offer ourselves up as servants
    4) We look to the interests of others, as well as to our own interests
    5) We consider all that we have in light of how it can serve

    We can do this with complete freedom, because the Holy Spirit assures us that we are children of God. We do not have any needs anymore that will not be met; Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have restored our relationship with God; now is the day of God’s favor. With this in mind, we can wholeheartedly devote our lives to service, because we have nothing to prove. We do not have to struggle for significance anymore; Christ has restored our value in God, and made us into God’s workmanship, created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to accomplish. And also, we know from Christ’s example that a life of service and sacrifice results in heavenly exaltation, which glorifies the Father.

    The bottom line to all of this is: As we are being sanctified, we ought to love one another, because the rewards far outweigh the costs. We ought to love one another because of what’s in it for us. We ought to serve one another, love sacrificially, live humbly, think of others above ourselves, because of what we will get out of it.

    And what do we get out of it? The sure magnification of the glory of God.

    The signs of maturity in God are not only longsuffering, patience, diligence, and sacrifice. They are also the knowledge of justice, sanctification, and the utter unspeakable joy of being like God. As we mature in Him, we lose the containment of sin, and begin the life that is defined by righteousness, the life that is consumed by the all-encompassing glory of the Almighty.

    We are freed up to love!

  6. I have been trying to figure out how to respond to this…and I am still not really sure. I haven’t read the responses. Just going on what you originally said; What stuck out to me was that I feel like saying that love for a person and love for a thing are the same just isn’t right. In any person-to-person relationship, be it to a significant other, family member or friend, is different from a relationship with a thing because there is an exchange. There also has to be some kind of commitment. For instance, I am listening to an amazing Sigur Ros song right now, and I can definitely say that I LOVE it, but in a few weeks I might like a Britney Spears song better (okay, bad example, that wouldn’t really happen). Suffice to say, you can’t just un-love a person, or decide one day to love something else more, on a whim, in the same way that you can a song or a food or a color. If you can then I don’t see how that could be love for a person at all. I suppose you could say that you love a friend, and mean that you enjoy spending time with them and have common interests, but that is sort of a strong liking rather than actual love as I interpret it. Kind of like the last statement you said about friends.

    Also, my interpretation of “in love” and “love” are different. Yes, you should be in love with your spouse- some kind of lustful desire and positive regard for that person- but to LOVE them is the commitment part. The part that never gives up, whether you feel in love or not. It is more of a choice than a feeling. I think maybe that was the point you were getting at, I am just saying it in words I use to describe it.

    Anyway, I am not very good at forming a cohesive argument. Just some thoughts.

    • Or maybe it’s that you don’t truly love the song… Hmm, things to ponder.
      This email was sent from my BlackBerry

    • I’m not sure that we are able to love a thing, we are able to appreciate, enjoy and find pleasure in certain things, however, I’m ultimately not sure that this is love. In my original post I chose to this appreciation love, because we already call it love. If I am being honest, we only love who/what we sacrifice for. This can ultimately be extremely dangerous depending on your pursuit. If our money and the responsibility that money carries is sacrificed to accumulate “stuff” then it is possible that we love that stuff, as we have chosen to idolize it. My original point within the loss of meaning due to a lack of diversity in the expression of “love” still stands tall, as tall and foundational as first century Roman pillars. We [humanity] have done a despicable job of identifying with such a selfless act, to the point that we down play and discard God’s love. I am sure a thought that is had by many [other than just me] is this: “if this is ‘love’ i don’t need it.” Love at its core is sacrificial. SACRIFICIAL. The evidence that we have that human to human love is possible is found only in Jesus’ love for his children, his creation. God was willing to sacrifice the presence of Jesus in heaven, and Jesus willing to leave the right hand of God, it is by this that we know love. In my original post, I through out some things that “love” is, here is a brief, incomplete list of what love is not.
      Love is not sex [or anything related]. Love is not the receiving of gifts. Love is not merely a feeling. Love is not easy. Love is not painless. Love is not a good marketing tool. Love is not self glorifying. Love is not accidental. I’ll stop there.

      I hope this clears up some things, please feel free to keep the questions and comments flowing through.


      dennis alan gable jr.

  7. It definitely stands true that the English language does not have enough words for the different types of love/like that exist. Maybe that adds to our confusion about what love is?

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