Love is a very misunderstood word. We love our parents, pizza, and puppies. Have you ever looked up the meaning of love in a dictionary? According to Merriam-Webster, love is defined as:
(1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) attraction based on sexual desire
(3) affection based on admiration, benevolence or common interests
(4) the sexual embrace, copulation
These are just a few of the definitions listed. Is this all there is to love? Is love something more than affection, desire, admiration, or the sexual act?
Scripture is a trustworthy guide in helping us grasp the true meaning of love. From the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis, we learn that we have a loving God who created everything that is and His crowning act was the creation of human beings.
Genesis chapters 1 -11 are inspired poetry. They reveal the truth poetically. At the time Genesis was written, all the cultures surrounding Israel had creation myths. All of these “Ancient Near Eastern” myths have:
- Many gods who were subject to the Fates. Gods were a projection of us: jealous, lustful, angry, and capricious.
- Men were made to be slaves of the gods.
- Women had no dignity. They were inferior to men mentally, physically, emotionally, and in every way. Created to have children and for pleasure.
- There was no point to life. Prevailing mood was despair.
- Much like our culture today.
The Bible is totally different from these creation myths:
- One God who is very good.
- God made everything out of love. The human person is the highlight of everything He made.
- The human person is created for friendship with God and others; created to be divinized.
- Woman is equal to man; different but equal. Not to be in competition but for friendship, love, communion and happiness.
- Life, marriage, sexuality, work, suffering, everything has a point.
Scripture tells us “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Scripture also tells us how we can mirror this love of God in our marriages, families, and in our neighborhoods.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16
Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross to save us from our sins. We are to do likewise by laying down our lives for others. And what should be our response to God’s unmerited love poured out for us?
And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love. 2 John 1:6
Our response to God’s love is obedience to Him, not out of fear, but because we are returning to Him the love He so graciously has shown us.
Practically speaking, what does love look like in daily life? St. Paul in his letter to the Church of Corinth, shows us how we are to love:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Read this verse again slowly. Focus on all the characteristics of love. How are you doing in each of these? If you are anything like us, this list is convicting. We all far short of loving in this way. But do not despair. God has not left us alone. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, we receive the grace to live out these aspects of love in our lives. If you fall short, ask God to give you the grace to be better. He never fails to give us what we need if we only ask.
How do we know if the love we give, or the love we receive, is genuine? The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the answer:
To love is to will the good of another. CCC 1766 (quoting St. Thomas Aquinas)
Simply put, love gives while lust takes. Jesus dying for us on the cross is the epitome of love:
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
The more we come know Christ through prayer and daily Scripture reading, the more we are able to mirror His selfless to others.