Valentine’s Day arrives this week! This may be the time of year that we talk most loudly about love, but Bible Gateway’s usage statistics show us that we long to understand and experience love throughout the year: the word “love” routinely tops our annual list of most popular search terms on Bible Gateway. Love is something people associate closely with God and the Bible. So what does the Bible say about love?
The Bible speaks strongly and often about what true love is. Sometimes the Bible speaks of romantic love—the kind of love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. But more often, when the Bible speaks of love, it’s referring to something different and deeper—something that should form the basis for our relationships with everyone around us, regardless of our emotional connection to them. Here are five places in the Bible that talk about what love means and looks like in practice.
1. Love is patient, love is kind: 1 Corinthians 13
Perhaps the most famous Bible passage about love, this quote is often recited at weddings to describe the ideal marriage relationship. As appropriate as that is, this passage isn’t talking specifically about just romantic love. Love is not an emotional feeling, but rather it’s rather an attitude of consistent grace and humility:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. — 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
2. Perfect love casts out fear: 1 John 4:18
This passage from 1 John explains that we can understand what love is by looking at who God is:
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. — 1 John 4:16-18 (ESV)
3. Be joyful in hope: Romans 12:10
Biblical love isn’t a passive attitude the characterizes us. It’s an active characteristic—a conscious choice made to avoid hypocrisy and evil and to live a life of service:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Hate what is evil. Cleave to what is good. Be devoted to one another with brotherly love; prefer one another in honor, do not be lazy in diligence, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. — Romans 12:9-13 (MEV)
4. Love your enemies: Matthew 5:43-48
In case we were starting to feel too comfortable with this understanding of love, Jesus famously challenged his followers to extend that same love to include even those who hate and harass us:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. — Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)
5. Love the Lord your God with all your heart: Mark 12:30-31
Jesus himself, asked to identify the most important of God’s laws, instead highlighted the underlying principle that defined them all:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two. — Mark 12:30-31 (GNT)
The Bible’s words about love are often encouraging but sometimes challenging. How do they fit with the popular understanding of love? When you tell your spouse or significant other that you love them, is that love just romantic? Or is it also defined by the type of ongoing grace and service described in the Bible passages above? And is that love evident in your everyday relationships with friends, coworkers, and even enemies?