I mean, we use this word to indicate affection, desire, pleasure, satisfaction, friendship, covenant relationship, possession - all sorts of stuff. We say we love our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouse, our children, mankind. We claim to love our jobs, our cars, the local hamburger stand, school, church, food, our pets, hobbies - the list is endless.
And we probably do love these things in some way. But it's just not the same in every case. The love I have for a delicious plate of beef and cheese nachos may be genuine, but it's simply not the same as the love I have for my wife or my daughters. (Unless something is seriously amiss.)
Other languages have more ways to express these ideas. Greek, for example, has 4 different words commonly translated into English as "love". These various words help us understand nuances of meaning.
The Greek word, storge means natural affection. It might be the word you'd use when you have a favorable opinion of someone or something. Eros is physical attraction to someone, often sensual in nature. It's where we get the English word "erotic". Philia is the word used for friendship or brotherly love. For example, the name of the city of Philadelphia is comprised of two Greek words meaning, "city of brotherly love". And finally, the Greek word agape means unconditional love. In the Bible, this word is used when speaking of God's love for the world, as in John 3:16.
When Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) the word used was agape. In the "love chapter" of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) agape is the concept being illustrated.
The love of God, the sort He wants us to have, is unconditional love. "Unconditional" means it's not dependent on how much one deserves to be loved, it's not based on our actions.
Agape love is given to those who don't deserve it, who have done nothing to earn it. That kind of love is given by God just because it's who He is. It is His nature to love, and He desires His children to love like that, too. The Bible says if we don't have this agape love, we don't really know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
Modern American society has a totally different definition of love. Movies, TV, popular music all present the idea that love is a wonderful feeling, an emotional ride, something you fall into and eventually, out of. We're told that marvelous feeling is the evidence of true love. And when the feeling goes away, people think they don't love each other any more and end the relationship. Many of us spend our lives pursuing the ideal love and never quite attaining it. We think there's something wrong with us when the truth is, there's something wrong with the underlying concept.
The wonderful feeling, the emotional high you experience when you're near that special someone? Not love. No, really - it isn't. It's hormones. (Romantic, isn't it?)
When you're in a romantic situation, especially with someone kind of new, your body releases certain hormones which alter your brain chemistry, producing a sensation of pleasure. Over time, your brain builds up tolerance and it takes more and more stimulation to get the same level of pleasure.This is why feelings don't last long-term. They weren't designed to. God made us this way so we'd find one another attractive, "fall in love", get married and have a family. But that isn't a foundation on which to establish a long term relationship. No, that takes true love.
So if love is not a feeling, not an emotion, what is it? Love is a choice, it's an action you take whether you feel like it or not. The Apostle Paul put it like this: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
My definition goes like this: Love is caring more about the other person than yourself. The opposite of love is not hate; it's lust. Lust is defined as wanting to please yourself, without concern for the consequences. Lust is, "I gotta have that thing, and I don't care what it costs me or anyone else". It's total selfishness; true love is selflessness.
Of course, I didn't know this when I first got married. We thought the feelings would last forever. And it was only after the emotional high subsided that we learned how to love. Don't get me wrong, I still have strong feelings for my wife. But I don't depend on my emotional state as a barometer of love. We've been married nearly 35 years, and our love is stronger than ever.
It's different than what we had as newlyweds, or as young parents. We've grown to love and appreciate one another more and more as the years go by.
Every day I choose to demonstrate my love for my wife by my actions. I clean the cat boxes, load and unload the dishwasher, sometimes I cook dinner or rub her feet when they hurt. I don't do this kind of thing because I have to - I want to please my wife because I love her. And she wants to please me, too. Our secret of a solid, joyful marriage is, each of us seeks to make the other one happy. (This can lead to gridlock when going out to eat: "Where do you want to go? Whatever you want. No, you pick - I'll be fine. I don't know, what sounds good to you?" And so on, ad infinitum.)
Don Francisco said it very well many years ago in his song, Love Is Not A Feeling. To close this post out, I'm going to attempt to embed a video of it here. Enjoy!