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A Biblical Definition of Love

written by Dan Juster
March 31, 2012

God Is Love

The Bible tells us that “God is love” (I John 4:16). It is the deepest part of his character. Yet it also tells us that God is a judge to be feared. In Exodus we read the definition of God’s character that in the Jewish tradition is called the Thirteen Attributes of God.

Exodus 34:6-7 – “…The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished, he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

This passage clearly states that sin has inter-generational effects and brings punishment. This is because evil behaviors are repeated from generation to generation. God, who is love and acts in love, also punishes sin.

Love and Justice

So what is love? My conclusion after an empirical reading of Scripture is that “Love is the compassionate identification with others that seeks their good. Their good is defined by God’s intended destiny for them.” This definition has objective content, since nothing contrary to God’s standards can be considered as love. God’s destiny for human beings can only be according to His standards of righteousness for all human beings. This means that true love is guided by biblical law. Without biblical law, we are left to mere sentiment. 

A just order is one that enables people to fulfill their God-intended destiny, but an unjust order prevents or hinders the fulfillment of that destiny. Justice is not equality except in terms of those scriptural norms where all humans are created in the image of God, all are to be treated with respect and dignity, and all are equal before the courts with regard to crime and punishment.

Compassionate Identification with Others

This definition of love includes the place of emotion. Compassionate identification enables us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and to feel an emotional compassion that motivates us to act for their good. Not all are called to have equal wealth as in a Marxist definition of justice, but a just order must be one where responsible persons do have sufficient material provision since without that material provision, fulfillment of destiny is prevented. 

To be able to love others we must first know the love of God. Love perceives the worth of the person who is the object of our love. When we see others as created in the image of God, then we see greater worth and value in them. Only through God’s love can we experience compassionate identification with others. When we know that we are created in God’s image, we become aware of His beauty, goodness, love, and justice. We want to be part of fulfilling God’s intention to see all humanity love Him, submit to His rule, and acknowledge His Son Yeshua, our Savior and King. This destiny includes everlasting loving fellowship!

God’s Destiny for Others

Love desires the best for others. The best for others is God’s will being done in their lives. If we love someone, we want God’s destiny fulfilled for him. This definition ensures the enforcing of standards. When standards are allowed to be violated, it inevitably leads to a whole order of injustice and sin which will end up preventing many from fulfilling their destinies and will destroy love. Love only flourishes in a just order. Children of divorce find it more difficult to fulfill God’s destiny for them. A society that does not value marriage will lead to much destruction. 

Love is not a mere subjective feeling, but feeling is part of love. Love demands objective standards according to biblical principles which allow for God’s kind of love and forgiveness to be manifest in the world. Compassionate identification with the other that seeks their good is only possible by the transforming work of Yeshua in our lives, by the power of the Spirit. He enables us to love.

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