Love is almost certainly the most misunderstood word in the world. We dilute its meaning by overuse: ‘I love my wife, I love my country, I love pizza.’ Giving and receiving love is difficult when we don’t even comprehend what it is. So, we need to clear up a couple of misconceptions. We think love is a feeling—a sentimental knot in your stomach. True love does create feelings, but it is more than a feeling.
A second misconception is that love is uncontrollable. Have you ever said, ‘I fell in love’—as if you had stumbled? We say, ‘I can’t help it if I’m in love,’ or the opposite, ‘I can’t help it; I just don’t love him (or her) anymore.’ The fact that Jesus commands us to love one another means that we do have control over whom we love and whom we do not. Love, at its core, is two things.
First, love is a matter of choice. ‘Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’ (Colossians 3:14 NIV) Notice those two small words, ‘put on’. Like you choose the clothes you wear each day, you choose the attitude you will display. So, love is controllable.
Second, love is a matter of behaviour. ‘Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:18 NIV) It works like this: when you reach out towards someone with genuine love and concern, your feelings towards that person change. And even if they don’t return your love, God is pleased with you. That’s reward enough.