Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and it feels to me like every store I walk into has set out large displays filled with chocolate candies and gifts that are usually shrouded in pinks and reds. There are sentimental cards and beautiful arrangements of flowers everywhere. But setting the consumerism of the holiday aside, love is a powerful word that demands our attention. This four letter word brings with it so much meaning and emotion.
I was wondering the other day when the Bible first mentions the word love. My mind went, of course, to the Garden of Eden where God brought the first couple in history together. But when I searched in Genesis 2, I noticed that the word love was noticeably absent; the author of Genesis doesn’t include it as a part of the story. It appears that he is being intentional about not letting us believe that the word love is based upon romantic attraction or marriage.
So where does it show up first in the Bible?
For that answer you have to flip over to Genesis 22 and discover an unexpected setting for the word to appear. God, after appearing to Abraham and making a covenant with him that he would be the father of nations, after informing him that his barren wife Sarah would give birth to a son, and after fulfilling that promise with the birth of Isaac, calls out to Abraham and gives him the following instructions:
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. | Genesis 22:2
The first time that word love appears in the Bible is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son.
This is fascinating to me.
It goes against everything that we have been led to believe about love. We turn on the radio and hear about romantic love, the kind of love that makes us feel good and happy and giddy. We watch movies and see that when two people “love each other” that they are passionate and affectionate towards one another. Most of us have grown up thinking and believing that love is an emotion that we are to receive because of what another person will give us. And there God is, revealing to us in the first book of the Bible that love is actually something much different than our feelings or passions.
It’s about sacrifice.
Paul reminds the church in Ephesus that the perfect example of love is Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).
He calls us to be imitators of this love and to walk in it. And then he comes to the famous marriage section of Ephesians 5, in which he declares the marriage relationship between a man and woman is a “great mystery.” There is a secret to this relationship, an amazing and profound truth to what makes a marriage work. What is it? Sacrifice.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” We take the example of our Lord and Savior, who did not count “equality with God a thing to be grasped” but instead forsook his royal rights as the Son of God and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6,8).
Jesus Christ reminds us that true love is about giving, not receiving. Love is our willingness to give up our lives for the sake of another.
It is not a matter of our feelings,
but a matter of our will.
We must acknowledge that love is more action than it is emotion, more promise than it is passion, more duty than it is feeling.
In this season of romantic chocolates and flowers, let’s not lose sight of the biblical version of love. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and model to the world—a picture of love that is willing to lay down our lives for another, no matter the cost to ourselves.
What is love?