A couple of days before writing this piece, I conducted a wedding for a young couple. It is, of course, something pastors do routinely.
And, as usual, there were a couple of readings from the Bible chosen for this particular wedding—each of them about love.
One was from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8—perhaps the most famous and most-used reading at wedding services—which begins “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude,” and goes on to say that love “bears all things, believes and things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The other reading was from 1 John 4:16-19, which includes the famous line “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,” and also “we love because he first loved us.”
Other passages frequently used are similar. Colossians 3:14 reminds us to “Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In Romans 12:10, Paul reminds us to “love one another with mutual affection.” And in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself tells his followers: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
One thing that strikes me about all of these is that they suggest something active. They suggest a choice. A decision. An act of the will.
What none of them describes is an emotion or a feeling. Not one.
And yet, in today’s culture, “feeling” is how most people would likely describe love. As in, “When I’m around my true love, I feel complete.” Or “I feel excited.” Or “I feel butterflies in my stomach.”
I’m not trying to be unromantic. Feelings are a part of romantic love—no question. But feelings aren’t durable. They don’t last. And as a result, they can’t be the basis for a long-term relationship built on love. I don’t think that’s unromantic—I think it’s realistic and honest. And, as it happens, Biblical.
The best definition of love I’ve ever heard comes from Thomas Aquinas, a well-known theologian and brilliant thinker from the 13th century. “To love,” he wrote, “is to will the good of the other.”
That’s it. Not a feeling. Not an emotion. But an act of the will—a desire for what is best for the person you love.
And that, by the way, is what God wants for you: only what is best for you.
The tricky thing is that we have our own ideas about what is best for ourselves—which may or may not always line up with what God knows is best. You could say that the life of faith is, in fact, getting our own understanding of what is best for ourselves aligned with God’s deepest desires for us.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” God tells his people in Jeremiah. There is no question that God loves you with that same everlasting love today. I pray that in receiving that love, you may better understand what is good and right for you. And I pray that—in willing the good of the others you know and love—you might also help them to become more fully the people God wants them to be.