Love has reached the saturation point. In the last few years there has been a desperate, and justifiable, search for a cure-all for the deteriorating plight of mankind. The Vietnam war and the civil-rights movement made the search more urgent, and the answer that has emerged is a great big warm something called “Love.” Love has now become an overworked, overused word and consequently has lost much of its true meaning. Just a few years ago people hesitated to use the word “love” unless the degree of feeling or commitment warranted it. The present loose usage is the result of the release of emotion in the sixties with the new morality and the decay of traditional moral standards. Love-ins were held, in the vague belief that for hundreds of young people to exchange daisies in the park could accomplish some good. But the feeling of warmth soon wore off because love-ins were not based on love.

Much has been written about filial love and agape love; that is, brotherly love of man for man, which is a horizontal love, and agape love, God’s self-giving love for man, which is a vertical love. Although this distinction is repeatedly pointed out in religious books and articles, the word “love” still bounces around in conversations, group discussions, sermons, and writing, meaning many different things to different people.

It is interesting to see how certain words come into popularity. They catch on as an interesting turn of phrase, such as “no way,” and “right on.” They get pressed into service as catch-all adjectives, such as “great” and “fantastic,” now used to describe anything from a new toothpaste to a sermon. When such words and phrases are overused, they eventually lose their impact, but there is no real harm done. However, the overuse of the word “love” can be detrimental, and Christians in particular should be on guard. It is not a word like “great” or “fantastic” that can come into common usage one day and then fade away the next as other words become popular. There are volumes on the subject of love, and Christians should be urged not to confuse the secular use of the word with the spiritual use.

“God is love” is one of the first biblical truths taught to a child in a Christian home or in even the most liberal Sunday school. But as this teaching is amplified, it must be pointed out that God’s love is not the same warm feeling for another person that human love is. True love is not a security blanket, a warm puppy, a blazing fire in the fireplace, or even being with the person closest to us. The love of God is not an emotional thing at all. It is the most intellectual, profound reality that we could ever attempt to comprehend. Love is the motivating force that culminated in the greatest act in all history—the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, his death to make atonement for our sins, and his resurrection.

Even in certain Christian groups there is a misunderstanding of love. The “love of Christ” is said to be felt during healing sessions and charismatic experiences. Despite the fact that these Christians are strongly enough committed to meet together regularly and to pray sincerely, unless they read and study Scripture and make it a part of their lives, they cannot understand the true love of Christ. The revelation of God is never a warm feeling of “love.” The revelation of God is in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. Therefore we can come to a greater knowledge of the love of God only through a greater knowledge of the Scriptures. We read in Philippians 1:9, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” Our outreach in Christian love must be backed by scriptural knowledge and teaching—not a surface or emotional love, but a love deep enough to recognize sin and to introduce Jesus Christ as the only remedy for that sin.

I was disturbed recently to read in a Christian magazine for young people that “the supreme happiness of life is the certainty that we are loved.” The article pointed out Jesus’ interest and involvement in the needs of man: that he loves us and touches our lives and makes us feel worthwhile. All this is true, but it is only part of the story. It is dangerous to teach young people that Jesus loves them just to meet their needs and problems and loneliness. Such superficial teaching leads to disillusionment. They must be taught first their need for a Saviour, and then his unspeakable love for them as expressed in his atoning death for their sin. When they accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour and acknowledge him as Lord of their lives, they will understand and experience true love. Then they can indeed experience the love and peace of God that pass all understanding, and as the Lord Jesus Christ takes over their lives, a love for others begins to emanate from them as a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

In Ephesians 2:4 it is stated clearly that “God … out of the great love with which he loved us … made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 3:17–19 expresses the hope that we, “being rooted and grounded in love [God’s love], may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breath and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”

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To understand even partially the great transaction that took place at Calvary—when our sins were atoned for by the death of God’s only Son—we must use our minds as well as our hearts. We should stand in awesome wonder at the depth of love God showed for us. Is this love a warm, emotional feeling? Indeed not! This love commands our complete commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and a new beginning as a child of his.

We cannot expect the person who has not experienced the new birth to understand these things. But Christians should and must understand that “love” is a word not to be used lightly or idly. Let us be fully aware that the love of God is infinite, unalterable, unchangeable—the antithesis of the type of love we hear proclaimed and see practiced all around us.

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