A Christian guide to love

There are a few verses in the Bible that both Christians and non-Christians lean on when conversation takes a turn … Continued

There are a few verses in the Bible that both Christians and non-Christians lean on when conversation takes a turn for the religious. “Do not judge” and “love your neighbor” are two of the most popular, but right up near the top is 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”

The notion that “God is love” is confusing, however, in a culture where “love” can apply to anything from Jesus’ death on the cross, to sex, to deep-dish pizza.

If God is love, what kind of love are we talking about?

It is common to hear married people speak of “falling out of love” with their spouses, and “falling in love” with someone else in adultery. In using the language of “falling,” they are cleverly avoiding any responsibility, as if they were simply required to follow their hearts.

But the Bible tells us not to follow our hearts, but rather “guard” them because they are prone to selfishness and sin (Prov. 4:23; Jer. 17:9).

Because “God is love,” that means love does not come from our hearts, but rather through our hearts. In relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s love to share with others (1 John 4:7–21). Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love . . .” And Romans 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are able to continue loving others—including our spouse. Even when we don’t feel “in love” with our spouse, we can give love to them and receive love from them if we live Spirit-filled lives.

The Bible does describe love as a feeling. But rather than beginning as a feeling that inspires an action, love is often first an action based on obedience to God that results in a feeling. This explains why the Bible commands husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25) and wives to love their husbands (Titus 2:4) rather than commanding them to feel loving. This further explains why the Bible even commands us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–47).

Additionally, the Bible describes love as a verb—it is what we do. Like Jesus’ love, it is a covenant commitment that compels us to act for the good of the one we love. The most popular wedding Scripture of all time depicts love as active: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).

Christian marriage is reciprocal acts of covenant love. That may sound like a heady theological concept, but it includes the little things. Here are a few practical examples that I collected from some married couples to illustrate:

•“He lovingly makes me coffee every single morning, and it means a lot to me!”

•“He runs me a hot bubble bath when he knows I’ve had a tough day caring for our three daughters (all under five)!”

• “He calls home at lunchtime no matter what . . . just to reconnect and see if we are all doing OK at home.”

•“When my gas tank is low, he drives to the gas station and fills it. My husband has pumped my gas for almost 20 years. I appreciate that he notices and takes care of it for me!”

•“She leaves encouraging notes with my keys or on my car steering wheel in the mornings.”

•“We walk to the library hand in hand, choose books, read them, and then swap. Later that week, over wine on the porch, we discuss those books. My favorite thing ever.”

•“He opens the car door. I never had that before, and it means a lot to me.”

•“She’s excited to see me every time I come home.”

•“My husband will not leave the house without kissing me goodbye.”

•“I love it when she goes with me to a sports bar to watch a game even though she’s not that into it, just because she knows I love it, and I love it when she’s there.”

•“We both take turns writing in a journal that we started when we were married in 2001.”

“God is love” does not mean that “love is God.” This liberating truth allows us to worship God by serving each other, rather than worshiping love and demanding it from each other. When both spouses each make a deep, heartfelt covenant with God to continually seek to become a better friend, increasing love and laughter mark the marriage.

Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and the author of numerous books, including the New York Times best-seller, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. His latest title is “Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ.”

Read More On Faith and Valentine’s Day:


Kathryn Skaggs: A Mormon guide to love

Arsalan Iftikhar: A Muslim guide to love

Deepak Chopra: A seeker’s guide to love

Libby Anne: An atheist guide to love

Aseem Shukla: A Hindu guide to love

Mark Driscoll: A Christian guide to love

Danielle Bean: A Catholic guide to love

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  • nkri401

    Also, puppy is love and much easier to understand…

  • DrRP1

    You’d make a lousy atheist.

  • bytebear

    cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh, Gen. 2:24 (Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:5).
    whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever, Eccl. 3:14
    whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, Matt. 16:19 (Matt. 18:18).
    What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder, Mark 10:9
    neither is the man without the woman … in the Lord, 1 Cor. 11:11
    a man … shall be joined unto his wife … be one flesh, Eph. 5:31
    heirs together of the grace of life, 1 Pet. 3:7

  • Slovensko

    Congratulations, you know how to take verses out of context. Marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ and the church in this life.

  • allinthistogether

    Love is available to everyone to choose to practice and give, whether or not they believe in God. The fundamentals of the Buddhist teachings are loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and joy. Love is thoroughly contained in, and powerfully expressed through development of these behaviors. Yes, Jesus did teach love, but so have many other humans. Based on all the measurable evidence, neither god, nor belief in god is essential to loving. Have a great day.

  • ThomasBaum

    Mark Driscoll

    You wrote, ““God is love” does not mean that “love is God.””

    You are 100% wrong, I may not be able to explain it one bit but the simple fact is that God is a Being of Love, Love is not an attribute of God but is God’s Very Being.

    Everything else that flows from God, so to speak, flows from this simple fact and this fact is that LOVE Is a Being and this Being is the Creator of absolutely everything except for God.

    I can not “conceive” of Love being a Being but meeting God brought the realization that the statement “God Is Love” is quite literal and I fervently believe that no one can “conceive” of this fact, only God can reveal this to someone.

  • Andy Kiser

    My friend, the verses were not taken out of context, granted the church has been referred to as the bride of Christ, but these verses explicitly refer to marriage between a man and a wife. Very straight-forward. Please go back and re-read them carefully. Thank you.

  • loveyourneighbor

    It’s funny when someone proclaims doctrine without bothering to refer to the scriptures, and then criticizes someone who does refer to the scriptures. When so-called Christians say that a verse has been taken out of context, they often mean that the verse doesn’t fit well with what they’ve been taught, so they prefer to ignore it.


    ” Those humans who had these positive qualities tended to work together more effectively, and as a result had more babies. Humans who did not and stayed more of a loner had less success in reproducing. Over time this caused empathetic genes to spread through the population. Working together makes evolutionary sense, because it increases the probability that your genes will be passed on to the next generation.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Our ancestors of 30,000 or 40,000 were very much like us and the emotional bonds within the tribe would be incredibly valuable for survival in good times and bad. That means love and friendship.

    And if two adult males or females established a sexual, romantic liason, what of it? Non-breeding adults are a real asset – they’re not in the breeding contests (which become dominance rituals), they don’t have to drop everything to take care of the children, they can babysit and they are part of the tribe’s hunting and gathering troupes. Someone once called it “the Auntie gene”.


    That’s “30,000 or 40,000 years ago”. Pardon me.

  • PhillyJimi1

    Slovensko – I’ll just say it “you’re wrong”. Since I have become an atheist I have learned not to love without conditions I have also unlearned how to hate.

    As a Christian I was taught to hate and not trust everyone who wasn’t like me and who didn’t believe like me. Of course in public I was taught to say “I love everyone” but of course behind closed doors it the venom about the “Evil Muslims” and the “Dirty Jews” spewed forth freely from the “good loving Christians”.

    I don’t hate complete groups of people for religious reasons anymore. I look at everyone as just my brothers and sisters in our common humanity. I am now for the first time free to love and judge them as just a human being just like myself.

    What is obvious is the religious hatred that infests so many but how blind they are to seeing it while being immersed in their own religion’s poison.

    Also Slovensko you have no clue what evolution is. You think you do but it is a twisted definition to suit your own purposes.