Here in America, we speak English, or so I thought until spending some time in the U.K. I found out that a “bonnet” or “boot” means something completely different to me than it does the British mechanic working on my car. If I say, “I like your pants”, I am speaking of a pair of trousers, but there, it refers to underwear. Biscuits are not the breakfast food, but what we would call a cookie. A stone isn’t something my kids throw, but a weight measurement of 14 pounds. I always thought “bobbie” was short for Robert, but there it describes a policeman. We use the same language and same words, but with completely different meanings.

Similarly, when I say the word “love”, what comes to mind — feelings for your spouse, a family member, a favorite song, a romantic movie or TV show? The fact is, though we all speak English and use the same words, the differences in meaning show that we might as well have all come from different corners of the former British Empire. In order to communicate properly, we need to go back to the standard — the King’s English, as it were. And by King, I mean King Jesus.

Before we look at that standard, let’s examine how the postmodern world defines love. Jonathan Leeman from 9Marks describes the assumptions that are so prevalent in our culture.

  • “no boundaries can be placed on love…..Love runs free unbound by truth.”
  • “love and the church don’t go together, particularly a church with sharp boundaries and authoritative pronouncements.” [i]

So when our modern ears hear, “God is love”, what does that really mean? For many, it means God loves unconditionally. God overlooks and loves me despite who or what I worship. Don Carson describes the results of this definitional slide, “The love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable.” [ii]  The fact is, if we want to know what Biblical love is, we have to go back to the source, and the source reveals Himself in His Word. So how does our King define this word “love”?

Let’s start with a definition and then we can begin to unpack our baggage so as to arrive at the same destination. “Biblical love is doing what is best for another regardless of the cost.” Now there is no doubt this doesn’t cover everything love is, but let’s use it as a foundation to start from. We can build upon it later.

First a disclaimer: Defining Godlike love is a little bit like trying to describe the ocean by going scuba diving. Most recreational diving takes place at less than 100 feet around the shoreline. Sea life and color abound revealing a world not seen by most of us. But if you go a mile out you will often times encounter what is referred to as “the wall”. In the Cayman Islands, the wall has a 5,000 foot sheer drop into a world unseen. To describe Biblical love is like trying to describe the ocean from a scuba diver’s view. Our minds can only comprehend a 100′ ft depth in a sea that is 14,000 feet deep and covers two-thirds of the world’s surface. Nevertheless, I think our definition holds true in describing what the Bible calls love because it describes how God loves.

Now come down a notch and let’s ask how this love is relevant to us. If we can understand how God loves us, it will give us a clearer picture of how we are called to love others. So tell me if this sounds familiar?

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

-John 13:35

Now think again about the King’s definition, “Biblical love is doing what is best for another regardless of the cost.” Over the next several posts, we will unpack this definition in an attempt to apply it to every area of our lives.

[i] Jonathan Leeman. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, p. 24-25.
[ii] D.A. Carson. Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p. 11.

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