Written by Bradley Gray, USA
Brad is a lay youth minister, writer and speaker who’s committed to proclaiming the timeless message of God’s gospel of grace. Whether through the written or spoken word, his priority remains upholding and sharing the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for lost and broken people. He and his wife, Natalie, do life and ministry together in Florida, USA.
This world makes much of “love.” It’s in movies, books, art, and music—it’s basically everywhere. We’re bombarded constantly with the notion of love—falling in love and being in love—that it seems impossible for us to escape the idea that love is all you need. But is it true?
The Beatles, the massively popular and influential English rock band, seemed to think so, and their song, “All You Need Is Love,” soon became the watchword of the world. It sounded good and honorable. But is it really true that love is the solution to all our problems?
One of the biggest films of 2014, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, was publicized as a space exploration film but was in fact a film that took a deeper look at human emotion and love. One of the pivotal characters even quips, “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.”
Obviously love matters to us. In fact, doesn’t the Bible say: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love?” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Yet, despite all the ideas of “love” we’ve been told, a lot of reality doesn’t really look like love at all. With messy relationships and broken marriages on the rise nowadays, it’s tempting to ask the question, “Is love even something I want to do? Is love really all I need?”
I remember having similar thoughts when I first began dating the girl who’s now my wife. We met on the sidewalk at college—we were walking in the same direction and ended up going to the same class and sitting right next to each other. As we got more serious about our relationship, it became clearer to me that all that the world had led me into believing about love was false.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary associates love with words such as “attraction”, “affection”, “desire”, and “feeling”. These are the words used to describe love, and we’ve come to adopt the same set of definitions, which turn love into something about us. But selfish love isn’t love—that’s lust. The world has confused lust—a strong emotion or intense desire—with love to the point that it’s no longer questioned. You can concern yourself with pursuing that special feeling of experiencing love; you can attend countless couples conferences that teach you how to keep the desire burning after years of marriage; you can read all the books you want about how to live with another person and show your affection for them—but if you’re not been told what true love really is, you might not have really loved at all.
The ancient Greeks used four different words to describe the feelings of love. Storge, or familial love, was used for natural affection—such as the love of parents towards children and children towards parents. Philia, or brotherly love, was used for siblings and friendships. Eros, passionate love, from which we get our word “erotic”, is generally used to describe a “madness of love” and is usually associated with the phrase, “love at first sight”. This love, while having enrapturing feelings, sadly often has disastrous results. Much of what the world says and believes about love is physical and based on appearances. With our sex-crazed culture, it’s easy to see why the overwhelming embodiment of love is erotic in nature.
But the last type of love is the love that lasts. Agape is often regarded as the highest form of love. It encapsulates an unmitigated and unquestioning love that covers all circumstances. It serves the other person and it just gives, freely and unconditionally. Agape is selfless love. And to me, selflessness is the key trait of true love. Sure there are many other marks of genuine love, such as patience, perseverance, hope, etc. But selfless love stands out the most to me, because that’s how Jesus showed His love to me.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Through Jesus’s death on the cross for us, He shows us clearly that the most genuine love is that which is sacrificial and self-denying. The only type of love that never fails is selfless love, which is strong and kind.
Of course, that’s not saying that the other qualities of love are irrelevant and less important. Love will include those other things, but I feel that they’re not the epitome of true love. For me, love for my wife is sometimes manifested in the form of flowers and romantic dinners. But to solely pin all our hopes and dreams on flowers and food is to trust in something that quickly fades.
I’m learning to love my wife more through greater selflessness. This has involved simple things such as doing the dishes at 10 o’clock at night because she had a stressful day at work, getting up early to work on the lawn so we can spend the rest of the day together, making sure the laundry is done each week, and surprising her with breakfast in bed etc. The little things we do can go a long way in expressing not just our love for the other person, but also how much we love them.
It’s not a cliché to say that love is all about giving yourself to another person. Apart from being the uniting of dreams, desires, lives, and hearts, it’s also about dropping our self-seeking plans in consideration of the other person’s needs. Love is all about living selflessly for the good of our significant other.
The love that will stand the test of time is love that doesn’t depend on reciprocal love. Loving someone and expecting them to return the favor isn’t true love. The love that each of us really needs—and the kind that takes a lifetime to learn—is the love that just gives, regardless of words said, circumstances endured, or wrongs felt.
Selfless love is love that lasts forever. It’s the love Christ showed the church and the love that we are called to show one another—that’s all we really need.