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Love is …

May 2003 | by Derek Swann

‘A feeling, a very funny feeling, a feeling that you’ve never felt before. A feeling that you feel that you feel you ought to feel, and it leaves you with a feeling evermore.’

An amusing jingle that has probably graced the pages of many an autograph book, and brought a knowing nod from a love-sick teenager. All harmless fun.

But when the jingle is taken seriously and the simple ‘philosophy’ behind it adopted by thousands, the outcome is nothing less than tragic.

No basis

It can result in marital chaos, domestic violence, divorce, and the emotional scarring of children. The ‘philosophy’ is simple: Love = Feeling.

Where there is feeling then there is love, but conversely, where feeling evaporates then love evaporates too. So when feeling dies, love dies, and relationships disintegrate and divorce or parting is the next step.

After that comes the search for another partner to ‘love’. In the case of people in the media spotlight, the result may be many divorces and many marriages.

The tabloids report the break-down of a ‘star’s’ marriage, and give the reason: ‘I just don’t love him/her anymore’, which usually means ‘she/he doesn’t turn me on any more, or create warm emotional feelings’.

It must be crystal clear that such ‘love’ can never be the basis for a secure lasting relationship. Feeling is certainly a constituent of love, but when it becomes the be-all and end-all of love, disaster is inevitable.

Doing, not just feeling

Christians are not immune from this problem because the meaning of Christian love is not always understood. Someone once said that love is a feeling to be learned.

So what is distinctive about Christian love? In a nutshell, Christian love is located primarily in the will and not the emotions. It can therefore be practised even when feelings fluctuate.

One of the most popular readings at secular as well as Christian weddings is 1 Corinthians 13, where the apostle Paul describes Christian love in its outworking. If he had been writing this article he would have begun like this.

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

What is significant is that Paul uses verbs to describe this love, and you may recall from schooldays that a verb is a ‘doing word’. So Christian love lies in doing rather than feeling.

Cup of tea

Love is patient — and to be patient I don’t have to feel patient. Love is kind, and to be kind I don’t have to feel kind (feeling does help, of course, but it is not essential).

In other words, Christian love is not dominated by feelings. As Christians we are commanded to love our enemies. If our enemy is hungry we are to feed him.

Opening a tin of beans, cutting a slice of bread and pouring a cup of tea are acts of the will not necessarily involving the emotions — in fact, unwanted feelings of resentment may accompany such acts.

A. W. Tozer saw this clearly when he wrote: ‘I determined to love him even if it killed me’. When feelings run out of a marriage the answer is not to give up and start a fresh search for true love, but to persevere along the lines of 1 Corinthians 13.

Plug the hole with an ample helping of patience, kindness, gentleness and tenderness — and feelings will soon begin to reappear, like buds in spring.

Motivation

In all things and all our relationships, we should be motivated by God’s love for us. He gave us his only begotten Son who — out of love for us — came to earth, lived our life, and died in our stead.

His love was practical and self-sacrificing. It is that love that is to govern our love for one another. ‘Husbands love your wives’. How? ‘Just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her’, says Ephesians 5:25.

‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other’. The motivation? ‘Just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32).