I love Italian food. I love to travel. I love my job. I love my wife and kids. I love you! A discussion about love can often be like a discussion about ice cream with many flavors to pick from. Yet when it comes to our relationships, everyone wants to experience “true” love and not some superficial substitute. So how can you tell the difference?
Let me first start out by saying, I believe the definition of true love can be found in the Bible. Since God is our creator, the topic of “love” would be something He is very familiar with. In fact, the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). So here are a couple of biblical truths to help guide our discussion.
1. True Love Takes Sacrifice
John 15:12-13 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus made it very clear that true love is going to take a sacrifice. He not only talked about it, but demonstrated it on the cross. True love is going to take laying down your life in practical and emotional ways. This is why saying, “I love ice cream” is very different than “I love my kids”. There is no sacrifice in eating ice cream, but it does take a tremendous amount of sacrifice to love my children in a way that protects them and provides for them. It requires a sacrifice of time, effort, money, personal happiness and comfort.
You see, true love is an unconditional love that gives without getting back. This means that it will many times feel unfair or unsatisfying. Let’s face it, the idea of “laying down your life” doesn’t sound or feel very good. Yet, this is the very essence of what true love is all about.
2. True Love Doesn’t Give Up
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – 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.
Once again, if true love is a sacrificial love, this would also imply it is a lasting love. When you think about superficial love, it is usually rooted in what you get rather than what you give. I love ice cream because of what it gives me. When it stops satisfying my sweet tooth, I stop loving it. But if you think of love in terms of giving rather than getting, love is less temperamental.
Of course, everyone wants to feel loved and receive love from others, but if this is the only condition for extending love, it won’t last. This is why we see couples making lifetime marital commitments and then getting a divorce a few years later. They have misunderstood the concept of “for better or for worse” to mean as long as I feel loved (see my blog post, The Secret to Avoiding a Divorce). True love goes beyond how you feel and remains faithful to the very end even when it gets hard. True love is humbling but when it is expressed and received, it is the greatest blessing you will ever experience in life.
So the next time you say or hear, “I love you”, put it through God’s true love test. Consider the level of sacrifice you’ve experienced or shown that person. Consider the amount of time and what you have endured together. This will help you in determining if it is true love or simply ice cream.