On January 5, 1970 a single pane cartoon strip entitled, Love Is . . ., appeared for the first time in the Los Angeles Times. The strip was inspired by the artist’s feelings for her future husband, and featured a male figure and a female figure in various situations that depicted her vision of love. It was an immediate success and very soon was syndicated worldwide through Tribune Media Services. Most young couples of the 1970s were enthralled by the Love Is . . . comic because it perfectly captured the very feelings they shared. The original artist passed away in 1997, but the strip continues in syndication under the direction of her son.
In many ways the Love Is . . . comic speaks to the practicalities of human love. It correctly identifies the little things that one might do to keep the spark of love alive. It also often addresses the kinds of things that can squash human affection. In this respect it has no doubt helped multiple generations give deeper thought to this most important of human relationships. As heartwarming and inspiring as this comic strip is, however, it doesn’t tell the whole story of what love is. For that we must turn to the pages of scripture, because only there can we discover the most perfect and most complete explanation of what love actually is.
John is often called the apostle of love because he spoke of it so often, especially in the three short letters he wrote near the end of the first century A.D. His most well-known statement of love, though, is Jn. 3:16, where he wrote, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” When taken with a statement made by Paul, we begin to see what love truly is. In Rom. 5:8 Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Love, as the scriptures define it, is choosing to do what is best and right for everyone in every situation. This is what God the Father did when He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:11). We had not done anything to warrant this sacrifice. God did it, because He chose to do so. He did it, because it was what was best for us. He did it without regard to our response to it. This is what love is and this is why John said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8).
Love is an act of the will. It is a decision to do what is best and right for the object of one’s love. It is something more, though, and John also reveals this to us. In 1 Jn. 5:2-3 John wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” In very simple terms, then, love is obeying God’s will.
Some balk at the idea that love and obedience are one and the same, but the Lord Himself affirmed this truth. In Jn. 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This was not the only time He made this point. In Lk. 6:46 He exclaimed, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” It cannot be more plainly stated. As defined by the Lord and by His apostles, love is obeying God’s will. If we obey God, we will not fail to do what is best and right for each other every day. This, after all, is what love is.