Understanding “Love”: Introduction

Before I (Justin) get any deeper into this post, I want to let you know something about myself…I don’t have many pet peeves.  I really don’t.  Sure, there are things in life (and others’ lives) that bother me from time to time, but not often in such a way that I have a real disdain for it/them.  However, there is one thing that makes me pretty judgmental: people who use the dictionary to define words while public speaking.  High School graduations, College graduations, other public speaking events, even the occasional blog post…it doesn’t really matter.  When I hear somebody say/write, “Webster’s dictionary defines ____________ as…” I think to myself, “Really?  I mean, C’mon…is that really the best you could come up with?”  Today, I eat my own words, because in just a few moments, I’m going to bust open the good old Webster’s dictionary.  If you have as much disdain for this sort of thing as I do, I encourage you to keep reading, as I have excellent semi-good reasons for doing so.

Anyway…now onto the post.

“Love” is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot in our culture.  In fact, it happens so much so that I’m not completely convinced many people truly understand what it means to “love” another person.  Evidence of this sometimes comes from crumbling marriages.  When the marriage is over and the divorce finalized one spouse may say something to the effect of, “Well, the truth is…over time we just fell out of love.”  Really?  How does that happen?  How does a couple go from falling in love, to falling out of love?  Other evidence comes from casual everyday conversations.  In one day you may hear the same person say, “I love my wife…I love my car…I love this book…” and so on.  To make matters worse, people often declare, “God is love,” but then are unable to clearly describe what that means.

Now, before I go digging into the dictionary, stop reading, grab a piece of paper, and write out a definition of love.  You don’t have to tell anybody else what you write.  Just write, “Love is…” and then finish the sentence. Go on…you know you want to.

Finished?  Great!  Welcome back.

Now, here is a look at how the Webster’s Dictionary defines “love“:

lovenoun \ˈləv\

a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates> b : an assurance of affection <give her my love>

2: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

3 a : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>

OK, the first thing I would like to point out about this definition is that it seems very culturally accurate.  What I mean by this is that Webster’s [purposefully?] puts the NOUN definition of love first.  It’s an affection, attraction, admiration…etc.  Translation…it’s an emotion.  It’s something one feels and given the right set of circumstances that feeling may be very strong, or very weak.

To be fair to Webster’s, they do provide a VERB definition of love as well:

1: to hold dear : cherish

2: to feel a lover’s passion, devotion, or tenderness for b (1) : caress (2) : to fondle amorously (3) : to copulate with

3: to like or desire actively : take pleasure in <loved to play the violin>

This is our modern-day culture’s understanding of love.  Emotion first, act second.  Sadly, as I observe modern-day culture, I think Webster’s has nailed it.  However, once upon a time, our culture was quite different.  In fact, the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines “love” like this:

LOVE, v.t. luv. [L. libeo, lubeo. See Lief. The sense is probably to be prompt, free, willing, from leaning, advancing, or drawing forward.]

1. In a general sense to be pleased with; to regard with affection, on account of some qualities which excite pleasing sensations or desire of gratification. We love a friend, on account of some qualities which give us pleasure in his society. We love a man who has done us a favor; in which case, gratitude enters into the composition of our affection. We love our parents and our children, on account of their connection with us, and on account of many qualities which please us. We love to retire to a cool shade in summer. We love a warm room in winter. We love to hear an eloquent advocate. The christian loves his Bible. In short, we love whatever gives us pleasure and delight, whether animal or intellectual; and if our hearts are right, we love God above all things, as the sum of all excellence and all the attributes which can communicate happiness to intelligent beings. In other words, the christian loves God with the love of complacency in his attributes, the love of benevolence towards the interest of his kingdom, and the love of gratitude for favors received.

2. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

3. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Matt. 22.2.  To have benevolence or good will for. John 3.

Quite a difference isn’t it?  You see, a couple hundred years ago everybody had an understanding that “love” was something to be offered, as well as received.  “Love” was much more than an emotion.  Not only that, but culture as a whole thrived on a Christian worldview.  God was important, very important.  So much so that scripture verses were used to help define certain words.  We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

OK, we’ve looked at 2012, and then the 1828 [western] understanding of love.  Let’s take the clock back a little further and look at the first century:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

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.

Take a moment to look at your definition of “love.”  Which of these three definitions best matches your own?  Did you use love as a noun, or as a verb?  Is it merely emotional, or is there something deeper to it?  If there’s something deeper, what is it?   Where does it come from?  How does it get there?

Regarding your marriage, take the opportunity to evaluate your marriage based only on the 1 Corinthians 13 understanding of love.  Are you loving your spouse by being patient with them?  Are you loving your spouse by showing kindness in all situations?  Are you loving your spouse by honoring him/her?  Are you loving your spouse by…not keeping any record of wrongs?  Knowing that your spouse has done things to hurt you, and may do it again.  Are you continually loving them by not keeping any record of wrongs?  It’s not merely about the emotional aspects of love, it’s about being loving.

This post is a simple introduction on understanding “love”.  We’re going to keep the theme running for a while, and continue to look into other cultures much older than our own to see how they applied “love” in their relationships, and perhaps getter a better understanding of how we can do so in our marriages as well.  Until then, here are some things to think about:

1) Which of these 1 Corinthians definitions of love do you find most difficult?

2) What does it mean to keep no record of wrongs?  What does that look like in a healthy marriage relationship?

3) What one thing can you do today to surprise your spouse in a loving way?  Don’t tell us in the comments below…just go do it!  (But be sure to come back later and write a comment…we’d really like to know!)  🙂


Linking with: Women Living Well, To Love Honor and Vacuum

3 thoughts on “Understanding “Love”: Introduction

  1. I’d have to go with self seeking. If I am honest, then I have to admit that putting others first is most difficult. Choosing to love people, and difficult people in particular, is a significant barrier for me.

    Keeping no record of wrongs, part of actually forgiving someone, looks like starting each day with a clean slate and NEVER bringing up past faults or arguments to bolster current arguments or justifications. In essence and past “debt” earn from prior offense is no longer counted on the record books.

  2. Pingback: The Power of Showing Up: « Do Not Disturb

  3. Pingback: Understanding “Love”: Racham « Do Not Disturb

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