Love explained… finally

We all seek to define love. Consciously or not, we each need to answer the question “What is love?” to our satisfaction. Right or wrong.

First, let me tell you what love is NOT. This first definition comes from the dictionary.

Love [luhv], noun

  1.  a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person
  2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend
  3. sexual passion or desire
  4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart
  5. sexual intercourse; copulation.

Nope. Let’s try again.

What does Wikipedia say? The entry begins: Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection (“I love my mother”) to pleasure (“I loved that meal”). It can refer to an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment. It continues, but still misses the truth.

Now let’s go to the source. We find a concise answer in 2 John 1:6. The apostle John is writing to a church in the late A.D. 80s. (Coincidentally, I was also trying to figure out love in the late 80s, the 1980s, but man did I get it wrong…) They were facing issues with false teaching and needed to be reminded about true love. Remember that John is the same man that described himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Decades later, he has had an entire lifetime to study and understand the love that Jesus demonstrated to him.

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. 2 John 1:6

It sounds like circular logic, but let’s study this for a bit and dispel the “love lies” that we are constantly fed in our culture. If we want to love God, then we follow his commands. You might misunderstand if we stopped here. This sounds like cause and effect. I follow rules and I get something. Look at the next sentence, though. The command (singular) is that you walk in love. What the heck does this mean?

Here’s how I interpret it. If I am going to be obedient, it means that I must set aside my own desire and replace it with an external command. Fine, that’s being a good soldier. I can do that if I fear the punishment more than I value my desire. However, the command I am to obey is to love. Now we’re back to the beginning: love is that we walk in obedience. Still seems circular, right?

A graphical representation may help.


Here’s what’s not included in the circle. Me. THIS love describes an absence of self. I place my focus, my worship, my hopes, my dreams, my passion, on my God. Trust God with that love and you will have grace, and mercy, and peace. THAT is love.

Of course, God doesn’t reserve love for Himself. He just comes first. Get that order right and now we can (and should) extend love to everyone else. These love relationships include those things from the dictionary and Wikipedia, but love is not defined by those things.

What is love? It’s a circle that doesn’t make sense without God and doesn’t have me in the center. Now, go love.


About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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