My four-year old grandson is experimenting with the concept of like and love. Out of the blue he’ll tell me where I fall in his hierarchy of affection. One day he’ll “like like” me. Another day he’ll love me, “but not as much as Mommy.” It’s almost as if he’s rolling the thoughts around in his head, trying to get a handle on meaning.
Love is the primary characteristic that distinguishes the Christian from the world. As Jesus tried to summarize all the disciples needed to know on the night he was betrayed, that one word was predominant.
The Greek words for this form of love are the noun agape and the verb agapao. These words express the very nature of God (see 1 John 4:16) and His people (see John 13:35). They represent a self-sacrificing love that has no expectation of return. We can contrast agape, or Godly love, with the Greek word phileo, which means tender affection or brotherly love.
The commandment to love was not a new one to these first Jewish believers. Indeed, when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:38-39), paraphrasing two familiar Hebrew scriptures (see Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).
But then, Jesus upped the ante when he later told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). They had no idea what he meant then, but later—after the crucifixion—they got it.
But what is love?
Is it a feeling? A belief? A commitment?
I think the answer is “yes.” It’s all of those.
Neuroscience now shows that our thoughts (our beliefs, our mindsets), drive both feelings and behaviors. If we want to change our feelings or behaviors, we must first change what we think or believe about a person or situation. Here’s an example to illustrate this point.
In September 2019, Shannon Gridley of Louisville, Ky., was heading to a nearby Taco Bell for dinner. On her way to the restaurant, Gridley saw three homeless people on the street and asked them to join her for dinner. She continued to invite people she saw along her way until she had a group of nearly 20 homeless people, ranging in age from mid-teens to 60 years old. When they reached the restaurant, they were greeted by the security guard and owner, who began to badger the group. They locked the restrooms, insisted that Gridley pay in advance, and bagged the food to go to avoid having the group eat in the dining room. As they sat down to eat, an employee tried to remove them by saying that the dining room was closed. It was only 7:45. The restaurant’s posted closing time was 9:00.
Each of the parties had a belief that inspired their feelings and actions. Love motivated Gridley; she was willing to spend an unlimited amount of money to feed these homeless people. By contrast, fear and perhaps disgust motivated the restaurant owner and staff; they wanted to get the homeless people out of their store as quickly as possible. Just changing your mindset will change how you feel and act. Just changing your mindset will enable you to fulfill this new commandment when everything in you screams “No!”
God’s Love; Christian Love
God demonstrated His love (mindset, belief) for us by sending (action, behavior) His only Son to give His life to pay for our sin (see 1 John 4:9-10). This was obviously not the love of complacency or human affection. It didn’t feel good. God didn’t give His love because we were worthy, lovable, or deserved His notice (see Romans 5:8). Rather, it was an exercise of His divine will by making a deliberate choice. And He commands us to follow in His footsteps, deliberately loving one another as He loved us.
Therefore, Christian love, whether exercised toward one another in the church or toward people in general, is not an impulse from the feelings. It doesn’t always follow our natural inclinations, nor is it directed only toward those for whom there is some personal affinity. Love seeks the welfare of all (see Romans 15:2) and bears no ill to anyone (see Romans 13:8-10). Love seeks opportunities to do good to “all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith” (see Galatians 6:10). Christian love is not easy, but as we obey this commandment, the world will indeed know that we are different, and we will do our part to advance the Kingdom.
Bottom line, love is an act of the will. It doesn’t matter whether I feel like loving. I don’t get the option of doing like my grandson and who I like, who I “sort of like,” and who I love. For the Christian, love is not an option. It’s a commandment.I simply need to change my mindset and do it.
 Alexandra Deabler, “Taco Bell Customer Who Was Treating Homeless Group to Meals Says She Was Kicked out of Restaurant,” Fox News https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/taco-bell-customer-kicked-out-homeless (accessed 2019_09_16).