Is love a feeling or an action?
I used to argue wholeheartedly that love was purely an action. I based my argument on my rudimentary understanding of what love looked like from Biblical characters. I would point out that Jesus’ love was found in his actions, but this isn’t completely true. Jesus’ love is not purely actions like I had previously thought, assuming the heart behind them was unimportant. I never considered that it could be the case that Jesus’ love is found at a deeper level, and that the actions of love that he performed are actually a result of the feelings and desires of His heart.
Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (ESV)
Does this mean that love = obedience? That love is simply obedience and actions, and nothing more? On the contrary. If you read the verse closely, love comes first, then obedience and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments. What the verse ultimately means is that love is the fuel that drives the obedience. It is the catalyst. A softened heart towards God is what drives loving actions.
This mindset that love comes first allows us to understand with clarity verses like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV).
Was the love of God found only in the actions of Jesus and the Cross? Or was it also found at a deeper level, in the beautifully loving heart of God?
If you take marriage as an example, the love that drives the beginnings of a marriage is very much a feeling, which reminds me of 1st Peter 4:8, “…love covers a multitude of sins.” (ESV). You overlook the bad things about your spouse because of the love that you have for her. Of course, marriages cannot sustain deep feelings all the time. We are emotional creatures by nature, and our emotions ebb and flow with the blow of the wind. This is a dangerous reality because our emotions drive our actions, and if our emotions are against our wife, so will our actions.
Often what we do, as matured and disciplined people, is make ourselves do good things for our spouse, even though we have no inner love behind them. This is dangerous, but not necessarily wrong. If you perform loving actions out of discipline, that can be a good thing in some ways. It allows you to show love despite your bad feelings from a hard day, and it allows you to give something to someone else that may need it.
However, it’s dangerous to do love only out of discipline. We can become so reliant on discipline and social maturity that we forget our emotions, and the loving heart we once had for our spouse can metamorphosize into a stone-cold castle.
But what does the Bible say about performing actions with no love behind them?
1st Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (ESV)
So even if we perform incredible actions for God, such as speaking true prophesies, discerning the mysteries of the Word, possessing tremendous faith, and even dying for the Gospel, if we “have not love,” what have we gained?
If we perform actions without the love of Jesus behind them, we have nothing, we have done nothing, and we gain nothing. Case and point, real Biblical love cannot be merely actions with a cold heart behind them. Real Biblical love must result from a changed heart towards Christ, and the loving actions flow from that loving heart.
If you take Judas the betrayer as an example, he was a part of the twelve disciples. In Luke 9:1-2 it tells us, “…he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (ESV)
Based on this passage, Judas took part in God’s work. He had many actions that could be described as “loving”. But what was the problem with Judas all along?
John 12:1-6 tells us, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
In this scenario specifically, Judas offers an alternative way to use the ointment. The idea to sell the ointment and give the money to the poor was a loving idea, but Judas’ heart behind the idea was stone cold and selfish. He wanted to get the money for himself.
Are we starting to see the problem with actions separated from a loving heart? Judas may have begun his ministry an honest man, without stealing from the treasury of the disciples, but you can only pretend to have a good heart for so long. Eventually, the real heart that is inside of you will come out in your actions. This is why it is so important not to separate our loving actions from our loving heart.
How often do we suggest “good” things, or say “loving” things, but have evil motives behind what we expect to result from them?
Do we say loving things to our wife, not because we mean them, but because we want something in return from her in the future? Are we masters at loving others, or are we master manipulators? Did you work hard today because you wanted to make your heavenly Father proud, or did you work hard because you wanted others around you to see you and congratulate you?
For me personally, am I scheduling a bunch of laboratory activities this week at the high school in order to work as unto the Lord, or am I scheduling a bunch of labs so that my co-workers and principle will see me and congratulate me?
Be careful why you do what you do. There’s nothing wrong with working hard to provide for your family or giving your students laboratory exercises that are interesting. However, there is something wrong with doing things to get personal glory. We are here to glorify Jesus Christ. That should be our motivation.
What does real love look like?
1st Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us, “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.” (ESV)
Based on this text, love is so much more than actions. Obviously, love is patient and kind, which could be considered actions, but even those themselves stem from a mind and heart state that is loving. You cannot really be patient unless your heart is patient. If your heart isn’t patient, then what you’re really doing is acting. How many of us have found ourselves to be world-class actors? I have too many times to count.
Real love is genuinely patient, kind, humble, forgiving, rejoicing in truth, bearing burdens, believing, hoping, and enduring.
How can you believe with actions? Belief is a state of the heart that no one can make themselves have. God gives you belief. God gives you love.
What are examples of Biblical love in the Bible?
Philippians 2:14-18, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul tells us that even if he is sacrificed for faith in Jesus, that he will not only be glad, but will rejoice! How can someone who is being killed be happy? He goes on to say that not only will he rejoice, but so should the Philippians! What a powerful statement. Contrast this with what we read in 1st Corinthians 13:1-3, and you will see the difference in loving in truth and loving with a false heart.
In Genesis 50:19-20, Joseph’s brothers come to see him. If anyone had a right to bitter at their family members, it was Joseph. His brothers threw him into a pit and sold him to slave traders. But this is how he responded to them, “…Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)
Wow! Talk about a deep joy and contentment in God. By all humanly standards he should have ripped into his brothers and dog-cussed them. But no, he was completely content in God’s plan, and had completely forgiven them. If you look at Joseph’s life overall, it is threaded together by a genuine love for God and for others. His heart is so darn soft through all the hardship. And at the end of it all, he is forgiving and loving despite anything that happened to him.
These are two Biblical characters who show what it means to let their hearts of love drive their actions.
Are we commanded to be joyful?
“Rejoice in hope. . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:12, 15). (ESV)
“Finally, brothers, rejoice” (2 Corinthians 13:11). (ESV)
“Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). (ESV)
“Be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:18). (ESV)
“Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1). (ESV)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). (ESV)
It’s obvious that we are commanded to be joyful. For that matter, you don’t have to look far into scripture to find that there are numerous things we are commanded to do that we cannot accomplish on our own power.
Good luck rejoicing in hope when you just lost your job. Good luck rejoicing when you’re diagnosed with cancer. Good luck rejoicing when you just broke your leg, and your lifelong dream of playing college basketball is shattered.
There are so many hardships this world has to offer us, and if we are depending on ourselves to obey the commandment to be joyful, we will fail.
Are we commanded to be loving?
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." (1 John 3:11) (ESV)
“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) (ESV)
"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) (ESV)
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) (ESV)
Again, we are commanded to be loving and joyful.
According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, joy is defined as “[an] experience of great pleasure or delight.” Love and joy are so much more than actions, we are actually commanded to have a loving and joyful heart.
How can we be commanded to have a loving and joyful heart? Especially since we have no control over our emotions and the feelings of the heart.
Here’s where it all comes together, Philippians 4:10-13, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (ESV; my emphasis)
How do we rejoice despite our circumstances? Through the strength that only Jesus Christ provides.
I think it’s interesting all the places you’ll find this verse plastered. I remember Tim Tebow painting it under his eyes during Florida football games, and countless other Christian athletes having done the same. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I wonder if everyone who sees that verse appreciates it in context.
If you look at the context of Philippians 4:13, Paul is talking about hardship. He is saying that in whatever situation he is in, good or bad, that he has learned to be content. Why is he content in his heart despite his circumstances? Because of the strength that only Jesus Christ provides!
God cares a whole lot more about the condition of our hearts than he does about who wins a football game. Not that this verse couldn’t apply to physical situations, such as lifting a burning car in a pile up on the interstate to save another person’s life, but in context it is referring to the state of our heart and mind.
We must learn to lean on Jesus for the love and joy that we are commanded to possess, experience, and share.
And if we lean on Christ as our source of strength for obeying His commandments about love and joy, who gets the credit when we do so?
Jesus. Only Jesus.
And we shall cast our crowns that result from doing so right back down at His feet. Revelations 4:10-11 tells us, “…the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Any and all glory that results from a Christian doing good things ultimately deserves to be pointed right back at God. He is the reason we do anything good. He is the only reason anyone will has ever been, or will ever be, saved. We are desperate and dependent on Him.
Before I knew I was commanded to have these certain emotions, I was content with a life that was largely absent of joy or love in my heart, so long as I was disciplined enough to show love or joy on the outside. Praying for joy and love has changed my life because now I try not to rely on myself to summon the emotions or the actions of love and joy, I try to lean on Jesus Christ.
Please comment your thoughts on this vitally important topic.
Cite: Faucett, D. (2019). The Love and Joy of a Christian. Faucett Journal. Retrieved from http://www.faucettjournal.com/articles/the-love-and-joy-of-a-christian