It is my humble opinion that one of the biggest blunders one can make in attempting to define love from a biblically Christian worldview is to insist that love is not a feeling, but a decision or a commitment. The temptation to define love in that way is a reaction to the popular cultural understanding that love is a happy, feel good, fluffy kind of feeling. The popular understanding of love as a feeling that you can fall into and out of depending on the day of the week and the condition of your stomach is certainly not compatible with a biblical understanding of love, but neither is the thought that love is merely commitment or a decision. Are you telling me that the love between the king and his betrothed (or between Christ and the Church if you take that view) in Song of Songs was all about decisions that did not have anything to do with feelings? You can’t read the Psalms without seeing that David’s love included delight, joy, sorrow, anger, hope, and longing—all of which are feelings!
Yes, Jesus did say that you can’t have greater love than a love that lays its life down for its friends (John 15:13). But remember that Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 13:3 (CJB), I may give away everything that I own, I may even hand over my body to be burned; but if I lack love, I gain nothing. In other words, you can do the act, and not love. You can’t equate love with an action, or a decision, or a commitment, because any of those things can be done without the heart being in them. I think Jonathan Edwards said it best in Religious Affections (WJE 2:99-100),
That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull and lifeless wouldings, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in his Word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion: Romans 12:11, “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Deuteronomy 10:12, “And now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?” And ch. 6:4–5, “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” ‘Tis such a fervent, vigorous engagedness of the heart in religion, that is the fruit of a real circumcision of the heart, or true regeneration, and that has the promises of life; Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”
If we ben’t in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing, is vigor in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place, in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from the external appearances of it, that are the form of it, II Timothy 3:5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it.” The Spirit of God in those that have sound and solid religion, is a spirit of powerful holy affection; and therefore, God is said to have given them the spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7). And such, when they receive the Spirit of God, in his sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be baptized with the Holy Ghost, and with fire; by reason of the power and fervor of those exercises the Spirit of God excites in their hearts, whereby their hearts, when grace is in exercise, may be said to burn within them; as is said of the disciples (Luke 24:32).
The business of religion is, from time to time, compared to those exercises, wherein men are wont to have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged; such as running, wrestling or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives, and warring as those that by violence take a city or kingdom.
And though true grace has various degrees, and there are some that are but babes in Christ, in whom the exercise of the inclination and will towards divine and heavenly things, is comparatively weak; yet everyone that has the power of godliness in his heart, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things, with such strength and vigor, that these holy exercises do prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them: for every true disciple of Christ, loves him above father or mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands; yea, than his own life. From hence it follows, that wherever true religion is, there are vigorous exercises of the inclination and will, towards divine objects: but by what was said before, the vigorous, lively and sensible exercises of the will, are no other than the affections of the soul.
When we take love out of the realm of the affections, we reduce love to action; not understanding that it is our affections that guide us in our choice of decisions, commitments, and actions. When we define love simply as a feeling of bubbly happiness, we drain love of its depth, strength, and resolve to suffer. Love needs to be understood as being both. Love that is all feeling with no commitment and love with all commitment and no feeling are both the Enemy’s counterfeits. The former looks bright but is not substantial; while the later looks substantial but is cold. Divine love is both/and not either/or.
Preach it, brother! I am so tired of hearing about someone “making a decision for Christ,” as if they were choosing a credit card or a auto repair shop.
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Amen Hans. I mean the whole reason we sing in church is to move our emotions, to stir up our love. If love is nothing more than commitment or action or resolve, why do we bother? Heck, I can’t sing. I’d be the first to say stop to hymns and praise songs. But music moves the heart. That’s why we do it…. And why God put that 150 song song book in the Bible.
HA! Exactly! Besides, Christ made a decision for US, not the other way around, so I have never personally liked the phrase.
‘Loved’ this post, emotion intended! 🙂 We all know the times we perform a task or cater to others when our hearts are not in it…feels awful! Yes, love HAS to be in it or it mean nothing.
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