“The” Biblical Definition of “Love”

“The” Biblical Definition of “Love” March 6, 2023

As the great prophet Haddaway once questioned, “What is love?”

Free Balloons Heart photo and picture

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And of course, there can be no easy answer, catchy 90’s techno dance-beats aside.

Love is a feeling, of course.

And love is something we act upon.

It comes in many forms, from romantic to platonic to familial to casual to our feelings about various sports franchises and particular restaurant preferences.

I love Pizza Hut. It is not fine dining, but I love it nonetheless with a guilty pleasure, “once in a while treat” sort of love.

I think we would recognize that love is one of, if not the, most significant driving forces in our lives.

It defies easy explanation, of course, even biblically.

1Corinthians 13.4-8, our most famous wedding passage of all time, gives us many clues: Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, etc.

This applies to romantic love, but also our love for our brothers and sisters, which was what the original context of the passage was about, not romance. All of these elements in the passage certainly help us understand love to a greater measure.

There is, however, a key verse that gives a key picture of the nature of love:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1Jn 3.16)

Simple and clear. There is infinitely more that could be said, but in terms of trying to get an overarching snap-shot picture of what “love” is, that’s a great one.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1Jn 3.16)

In Jesus, we have a clear definition of what love is: He loved us enough to die for our sake.

Love is other-centered, not self-centered. Love is self-sacrificial for the sake of others, not demanding. Love is willing to give it all for another’s good.

This one verse is supported by several others that say essentially the same thing:


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3.16)


Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (Jn 15.13)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5.1-2)


This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1Jn 4.9-11)


Love puts the other first, even to the point of being willing to die for them. Scripture doesn’t just teach this; Jesus lived it out, and He died for it.

Jesus loved us enough to die for us – and we are to love others in the same way.

To be Christ-like is to be other-centered, to be sacrificial, to be willing to lay it all down if needed, out of love for the other.

We have been shown the perfect love by Jesus, and we have been given the perfect example to follow. We who follow in His footsteps seek to follow in His ways, loving and sacrificing for others as He did for us.


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