Love is more than a Feeling, but It is not Less
Don’t you get tired of the swinging pendulum? It seems that everywhere you turn you find some out-in-left-field teaching, and before you know it there is a reactionary swing to the other side that creates its own rat’s nest of problems.
This very thing has happened with the concept of love. We shouldn’t be surprised. Love is an essential biblical teaching, a key attribute of God, a mark of true saving faith, and therefore it most certainly will be the object of redefinition, misunderstanding, and false application.
Hollywood has been in the driver’s seat for shaping the cultures idea of love for a long time. Therefore it is common place to hear things like this: Love is something you fall into and out of, love is a feeling, love is uncontrollable emotion, love is not rational, you must follow your heart, love and romance are essentially the same, love is unconditional and therefore has no expectations.
Many people have recognized a problem with much of that and so the pendulum swoops across to the other side. The reaction is this: Love is not a feeling but a commitment, a choice, a verb. Love is action.
The concept of “love is a choice and a commitment” has been advanced for quite a while in many churches. They have wanted to counter the dominant “love is a feeling” idea, so they have gone to the other side. And there is much to commend on the other side. There is more to love than a feeling. But is that the sum total? Is God’s love for us purely rational and commitment based? I don’t believe so. Love is more than a feeling, but it is not less.
The biggest issue people have with giving legitimacy to the notion of feelings within love is the understanding that this moves love outside of our control, at least partially. We can control choices and actions, but we cannot control emotions. Emotions just happen. Feelings spring up from our very nature and expose what is really true within us.
None of us like to be exposed. This is the one reason I think the idea “love is a choice” has been so widely adopted by churches. If you can remove the “feeling” part, you can make love manageable. You can do the right actions and everyone feels good about it. But if love is to have “fervency” in it, if it is to weep and rejoice, if it is to ache with longings, then we all become guilty. We all know that we don’t have these kinds of emotions to a full degree. If they are truly a part of love then our love is deficient.
Is there really an emotional aspect to biblical love? See the below verses.
Matthew 22:37–39 And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
This central command says love will be done with the whole person, which is what “heart…soul…mind” convey. Since emotions are a fundamental part of being made in the image of God, the command to love fully is a command to love with our emotions as well.
Luke 7:47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
This statement was Jesus’ summary description of a sinful woman’s actions, which were dominated by weeping and tears, as she wiped Jesus feet in the presence of the Pharisees. Her emotional response was a key component and Jesus includes this when he says she “loved much.”
John 11:35–36 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”
Jesus’ love of Lazarus was recognized by many, and it was directly tied to Jesus’ weeping.
John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
In light of john 11:36, this commandment means we love other in such a way that we would weep over people.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Love is something that should be “brotherly.” This adverb draws on the emotions that exist in family love.
2 Corinthians 2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
How is Paul’s love known? By his emotional “anguish of heart”.
1 Peter 1:8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
How is our love manifested during this time when we don’t see him? By rejoicing and joy inexpressible.
1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
“Fervent love” can be nothing other than emotion-filled love.
1 Peter 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.
Love is that which comes with a kiss, and kissing without emotion is just hypocrisy.
So love in its fullness will have emotions in it. If the emotions are absent then there is a deficiency. What kind of deficiency are we talking about? We are talking about a deficiency of true heart change. There is still hardness and selfishness in place that only the Spirit can conquer. If true biblical love is something that both acts and feels, both chooses and emotes, then we are talking about something that flows from the heart of a person changed by the Spirit. This is a grace-created reality. Galatians 5:22 tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love…” So, yes, true love in its fullness is outside of our control. It is something that arises out of a heart filled with the Spirit. And remember the command of Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Spirit is a command that is passively fulfilled (be being filled…). We pursue it, but the Spirit accomplishes it. And when the Spirit does his work, we overflow with love. We weep and rejoice according to whatever is happening to those people we are loving. 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us “love rejoices with the truth.” When we see some manifestation of the Spirit’s work in them we rejoice. When we see them accept and apply a biblical truth we rejoice. Even if it is just God’s common grace shown to them in a good job or a healthy family or in some pleasure God graciously gave to them we rejoice.
What about weeping? Here I think we can apply all the above to the issue of the enemy. Jesus calls us to love our enemy. Many have made this the proof text demonstrating that love is not a feeling. Who feels anything positive for an enemy? But notice we do feel something. Usually it is hate or anger, but sometimes it is numbness, a void. Love, in its desire for their best, would feel sorrow, pity, compassion, longing, and zeal. It would weep as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Those are emotions that accord with love for someone who is shackled to their sin and headed for loss and pain. Philippians 3:18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,
Therefore, you cannot feel content that you have loved an enemy until you have wept for them and compassionately ached for their repentance unto life. You cannot feel content that you have loved your spouse until you have rejoiced over doing them good as to your own body. You cannot feel content that you have loved your fellow church member until you have fervently embraced them like you would a beloved brother.