This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more!” That’s the popular 1993, Haddaway question. The song goes on but never answers the question, “what is love?” Maybe we should be thankful they don’t as some of their contemporaries attempt to do. Beyonce is “Crazy in love,” and Calvin Harris asks, “How deep is your love? Is it like the ocean?…How deep is your love? Is it like nirvana?” The Bee Gees back in 1977 pondered the same but concluded, “I believe in you, // You know the door to my very soul, // You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour, // You’re my savior when I fall… // how deep is your love?” They weren’t talking about Jesus however.
It’s true that the love each of these musical artists are seeking to define isn’t an epistemological (the study of knowing) query. While they identify popular ways of feeling about love they unsuccessfully grasp love’s actual meaning. However, and to use them as an example again, Calvin Harris’ collaboration with the band Disciples, How Deep Is Your Love, offers a shallow answer to even romantic love, “Open up my eyes and // Tell me who I am // Let me in on all your secrets // No inhibition, no sin…”
The world certainly has a twisted way of defining love, lyrical license doesn’t do justice to the truth of God’s love. To this end, The Commandments are a summary of what love is, succinctly, a love of God and neighbor (cf. Mt. 22:37-40). They describe how in the Law we may be faithful to God and neighbor, but ultimately in our lives this call to love is insufficient. We fail to be faithful in respect to both. What is love that we cannot keep, what do we call that? Sin. And sinfully we describe love both in regards to God and to the neighbors we call our loved ones. Scripture teaches us that love, true love, doesn’t have its origin in us but in God himself. How do we love God and neighbor? Jesus. Jesus is the good news of the Gospel, that declares us sinners righteous, justified, by grace through faith (cf. Eph. 2:8). Our salvation has everything to do with how we love both God and neighbor. It is Christ who first loved us by dying for us, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and believing this in repentance and faith we can only then begin to know how to love others.
So when looking to answer what is love, forget the musicians who just don’t have the chops to tell the truth, and open your Lutheran Service Book to hymn 706:
1. Love in Christ is strong and living // Binding faithful hearts as one; // Love in Christ is true and giving. // May His will in us be done. 3. Love in Christ abides forever, // Fainting not when ills attend; // Love, forgiving and forgiven, // Shall endure until life’s end.