New Testament Love
By Vidar Ligard
In the world and even in the church today, there are different thoughts on what real love is. The world usually thinks of love as a strong feeling of affection. Many dictionaries will also agree that love is a warm or strong feeling of affection.
University of Oslo defines love as:
A warm affectionate feeling towards
Feeling or emotional state of affection or pleasure
Biblical love is quite different.
Jesus often defined and described this real love.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
Jesus did not tell the disciples to go and live according to the old Mosaic commandment, but rather he gave them a new commandment. In other words, we will not find the model for this love in the Old Testament.
Many Christians misunderstand love. We sometimes think that avoiding any ill-intended words or actions prove that we are walking in love. We often think that as long as we don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and otherwise follow the Old Covenant, then we are fulfilling what God wants us to do.
But Jesus had a higher calling in mind.
Bible scholars define real love this way: “Love, whether used of God or man, is an earnest and anxious desire for and an active and beneficent interest in the well-being of the one loved.” (From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
Real love is active
Because this love is different, Jesus not only gave us this new commandment, but had to practically show us what this love is like. He said, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
God “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
New Testament love is active. When we were sinners, God did something for us. Sitting idly by and claiming to feel love for someone isn’t Godly love. Godly love will always take action. When God loved us, he did something for us.
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring one another.” (Romans 12:9-10 NLT)
Loving the unlovable
Christian love is shown regardless of the other person’s behavior.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).
So often I hear of Christians who have had a conflict, and one party will explain how they have forgiven, but they will have nothing to do with the other person. This isn’t love. Love will take an active part in the well-being of the other person.
Often, in my own life, when ill feelings towards others start to show, I have made it a practice of praying for those people, asking God to bless and to prosper them. And I have found that when I consistently pray for people, even feelings will change to where I want them to do well in life.
Jesus even goes further
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, Do not resist the evil man [who injures you]; but if anyone strikes you on the right jaw or cheek, turn to him the other one too.” (Matthew 5:38-39, AMPC)
Jesus gave an example of his new commandment in Matthew chapter 5. In the same chapter, He also said,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23-24).
Here, it is not just about us having forgiven the other party. But if the other party has something against us, it is our responsibility to initiate action, go to them and do something in order that the relationship be fully reconciled. In a difficult relationship, the one who initiates reconciliation will almost always be the more mature person. As mature sons and daughters of God, we must do what our Father would do.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
There are many cases where I could sense another had something against me, or there might be a relationship that used to be closer, but over time has drifted apart. Often, I will initiate contact with these people, maybe do something for them, or at the least speak words that assure them I am still their friend. This habit has saved many relationships and often brought restoration. Living life as a peacemaker is a wonderful life.
Real love isn’t about how we feel. It is about having a genuine interest in doing what is best for the well-being of the other person.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV)
Christian love is not merely refraining from retaliation when someone does us wrong. Christian love will respond to any wrongs suffered by forgiving, praying for, and doing good to the person who has done wrong. Additionally, Christian love is shown by going out of one’s way in order to be a blessing to the other person.
When we learn to live according to this pattern, we become Christ-like, our lives are full of peace, and we will reap what we sow in this area: Christlike love.