Love: Affection and Action

When people think of the word love, most of the time they think of an emotion, feeling, or desire.  If this is all they think of love, it is a very incomplete view of love.  In fact, it might be argued that an emotion alone is not love at all, but something else.  I appreciate how Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan discuss this in their book on biblical ethics.  They have quite a few helpful and biblical things to say about love in this chapter; I can’t summarize it all here.  Instead, I’ll quote just part of a larger section:

“From the Bible’s viewpoint, the choise to act lovingly, not the intensity of the feeling, is the test and ultimate proof of love.  The concept of volitional love overriding affectional love is of paramount importance for we may not be able to control our emotional response.  But by the grace of God we can choose to act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

“So those who claim that this emphasis on will over emotions is dishonest and not being ‘true’ to oneself are mistaken.  To assume it is deceptive if one does not act in conformity with one’s feelings is to reduce personhood to emotion.  Yes, each of us is a person with feelings, but also with the capacity to choose, to honor commitments, to use one’s reason, to consider one’s primary obligations to God.  To be honest to myself means I must be honest to my whole self before God – to act in conformity with his will and my committment to him.”

“To truly know ourselves as humans, John Calvin rightly affirmed, we must first truly know God’s character and his priorities for us.  This is indeed a liberating truth – I can choose to act for the welfare of another no matter how I feel about him or about the action God desires of me.”

“To say that acting lovingly takes precedence over the emotion of love does not mean that bibilical love is exhausted by acting lovingly.  Without the emotion, love can be authentic, but it is not complete.  If we act in love, ordinarily the affection will follow.  Thus one can love in a biblical, active sense, without liking.  In fact, it is required that we act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

Of course there is a lot more to the meaning of love (specifically God’s love shown in giving his Son to save sinners, which the authors do note well). The above section was helpful to me in thinking that we as Christians should not just have an affectional love, but active love that is seen in self-giving, self-sacrificing deeds.

Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (DownersGrove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 34-35.

Shane Lems

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