As we approach Valentine’s Day, everyone is talking about love. But if you listen, you’ll find that a lot of the conversation is centered around vague definitions or abstract concepts.
Let’s get concrete and specific: Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.
What inspired my definition? Love is best defined by an event: Christ’s sacrifice of love is the ultimate definition of what love is and what love does.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11, ESV; read verses 7-21 for full context)
Let’s unpack that definition. Here it is again: Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.
Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). The decisions, words, and actions of love always grow in the soil of a willing heart. You simply cannot force a person to love; otherwise, it fails to be genuine, other-focused, Christ-centered love.
There is no such thing as love without sacrifice. If you want to love like Jesus, you must be willing to give up your time, energy, money, and preferences for the good of another. Love serves, waits, gives, suffers, forgives ... then does all these things on repeat.
For The Good Of Another
Love is motivated by the interests and needs of others, excited at the prospect of alleviating burdens and meeting needs. If you are only interested in loving people because you get something good in the end, you are not motivated by love for them but by love for yourself.
That Does Not Require Reciprocation
The Bible says that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. If he had waited until we were able to reciprocate, there would be no hope for us! Love isn’t a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” contract. Love isn’t about placing people in our debt and waiting for them to pay off their debts. Love isn’t a negotiation for mutual good. Real love isn’t motivated by the personal return on the investment.
Or That The Person Being Loved Is Deserving
Love does its best work when the other person is undeserving. Christ was willing to go to the cross and carry our sin precisely because there was nothing that we could ever do to earn, achieve, or deserve the love of God.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “There’s no way I can love like this. Where do I start?” (Good! Hopelessness in yourself is the doorway to hope in Christ)
I have one word for you to meditate on: gratitude.
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Genuine, other-focused, Christ-centered love is not born through begrudgingly succumbing to duty. No, love is born out of remembering and celebrating. When I remember the lavish, faithful, patient, forgiving, and empowering love that has been poured on me, I will want to give that love away to someone else.
So today, be filled with gratitude for the love of Christ that has been poured down on you, and that has changed your life trajectory forever.
Then you will be motivated to look for opportunities to love like Jesus.
Dissect the definition of cruciform love again and apply each aspect to a relationship. If you’re married, consider applying this twice - first with your spouse, but then also to someone else in your life that God has called you to love!
Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving.
Willing: When was the last time you did something for that appeared loving but was done with a hard heart or out of obligation? How can you grow in unprompted willingness?
Self-Sacrifice: What is Christ calling you to sacrifice in your relationship today? Why is it such a struggle to give it up? What does this struggle reveal about your priorities and idols?
For The Good Of Another: Are you aware of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of this other person? Create a list of their needs. What steps do you need to take each day to serve them and alleviate their burdens?
That Does Not Require Reciprocation: When was the last time you served someone but only in the hope that you would get something in return? How can this manipulation hurt your relationship?
Or That The Person Being Loved Is Deserving: When was the last time this person loved you even when you didn’t deserve love? How did this strengthen your relationship?