Love is the subject of countless songs, films, books, plays and pieces of art. Falling in love affects our body chemistry. It promotes the release of hormones which make us feel good. Love stimulates the part of our brain associated with pleasure. But love is much deeper than good feelings. Christians believe that God is the source of love. He is the embodiment of love. God exists as three elements – Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. There is deep love between all three.
The Bible book, 1 John, says ‘God is love’ and ‘love comes from God’. Love is about a deep and strong commitment which goes beyond feelings. It is immensely powerful. The Bible book, Song of Songs says, ‘…love burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame, many waters cannot quench love’. There is a passage about love in the Bible book 1 Corinthians which is often read at weddings. It summaries the Christian view of love… ‘love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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..’
‘love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.'
God’s love for people
Christians believe that God made people because he loves us. He wants us to love him. We were created to be in a relationship with God and to honour him. He wants us to talk to him regularly by praying so that we deepen that relationship. Christians believe that nothing can separate them from God’s love. It is permanent and eternal. And it does not depend on us. In the Bible book, Ephesians, the writer Paul – a key leader in the early Christian church – tries to show the vastness of God’s love shown through Jesus Christ. He prays that believers will have the power ‘to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ...’ Christians believe a good way to understand Jesus’ love is to read about his life and see how he interacted with people during his three years of teaching. He spent time with the poor, the outcasts and the deprived. His love was practical: he healed sick people, some of whom no-one else would go near. He told stories to illustrate God’s love for people. In what was a very male-dominated society, Jesus talked with women and children not down to them.
At the heart of Christianity is a sacrificial love that goes against our natural instincts. Some people make extraordinary sacrifices for others. In wartime, a soldier might be prepared to die to protect the life of a comrade or a civilian. Police officers and other emergency services might be called to do the same. But Jesus Christ told his followers to love their enemies and to pray for the people who persecuted them. He pointed out that it is easy to love people who love us – but the real challenge is to love those who hate us. Jesus epitomised this counter-cultural attitude when he gave up his life. Christians believe that in being executed on the cross Jesus Christ took the spiritual punishment due to all people for all their wrongdoing. The Bible book, Romans, says ‘Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
God sent his own Son to die to give all people the chance to have a relationship with him. The Bible book, John, says ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life’. In the same book, Jesus tells his followers, ‘greater love has no-one than this, that his lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you…’
'But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
Love and lust
Love is God’s idea. So is sex. It is a physical demonstration of love. Generally Christians believe that the best place for sex is between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to each other for life by getting married. The Bible does not shy away from sex: the book Song of Songs, is full of potent images of intimacy and desire.
Lust is a corruption of true love because it is self-centred. Jesus told his followers it was wrong to even look lustfully at anyone. Christianity teaches that God sets such boundaries, not because he is a killjoy but because he wants the very best for people. He knows the potency of sex and the harm it can do to people and relationships in the wrong situation.