In common English terminology the word “love” is used in many different ways for many things. It is used to relate emotion for everything from food, to people, to ideas and everything in between. Love is a generic term in today’s society meaning anything from “an intense like,” to “a lustful desire,” to “an affection for” something or someone.
Nevertheless, in all of the discussions of love there is a form of love that is greater than all of its other uses; yet it is also the form of love that is least common in its enactment in our society. It is the form of love that so many desire to see in action, but very few are willing to perform its requirements. This is because the greatest form of love is not self-centered, sexual, or solicited by others. It is the love that is given and shown based upon the desire for the best interests and well-being of others.
This love is selfless. It does not call into the equation what is the best option or most profitable outcome for the one utilizing it. Instead, this love is fully focused on the needs, aspirations, and welfare of others. Jesus said, on the night of his betrayal, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It has often been described as the “self-sacrificing love.” Yet the willingness to sacrifice self can be done in many ways beyond the giving of one’s life for another. This love is so focused on the other person that it does not care if recognition is ever given for the service rendered.
Many people do good deeds, but often it is with the motivation of the praise or accolades they expect to receive from those actions. You don’t think so? How many times have you seen or heard someone complain because an individual they helped did not say thank-you, send them a card afterward, or otherwise acknowledge their part in the “love” that was shown? Such actions are not selfless, but are motivated by the desire for acclaim, even though the person feeling slighted would not say so and may not even have thought about it in those terms. The one who utilizes the greatest love cares nothing for what the giver gets out of extending that love, only for what the recipient receives and that it is sufficient for their needs.
This love is not, in any way, sexual. For whatever reason, it is nearly impossible in today’s society to talk about love without a sexual component being inserted. Our society’s fascination with overt sexuality has attempted to turn every form of love and affection into a sexual desire or display. Yet sexuality is built upon desire, personal physical attraction, and lust for satisfaction. These emotions are not the core, or even the crust, of the greatest love. These emotions are built on lust, selfish desire, and personal physical “need.” Many have thrown away their marriages because their “love” was all (or mainly) sexual and not the greatest love. It was based on lust, not the desire to serve the best interests of the mate. This is not to say that in the marriage relationship the greatest love cannot be shown in the sexual context, but it is not sexual in nature. It has no sexual component associated with it. It is an affection that far exceeds temporary desire and satisfaction, because it is focused on the continued safety, well-being, growth, and goodness of the one receiving it.
The greatest love has no boundaries. It can be exhibited by, and toward, men or women, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick. It is the love that has enormous benefits for both the giver and the receiver, yet it is also the love that many in our world have never experienced; because this love is not geared toward carnal desires and personal satisfaction. It is the love that does not have roots with man and his emotions, but has its source in God and his love for mankind (John 3:16).
If every person lived their life exhibiting this love, there would never be an individual that would go hungry; there would never be a child abused; there would never be an individual who has to go through life alone because nobody notices or cares about him/her; because this love puts others first.
This love also has a spiritual component. We do not cease to exist when we pass from this life; therefore, the greatest love requires that I be concerned about the spiritual situation of others as well. I cannot say that I have the greatest love of all when I show no concern for the souls of those around me and leave them to fend for themselves without any care or concern for their eternal well-being.
We all know the words of Paul in First Corinthians 13:4-7, when he wrote: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV). However, very few have ever truly seen these words played out in their lives. That is because, to most people, they are only that: words. Most people have never stopped thinking about themselves, their desires, and whether an action is beneficial for them long enough to even comprehend the import of these statements by Paul, much less exhibit them.
Have you ever utilized the greatest love toward others? Have you ever seen it exhibited in your life? John wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-11 ESV). God has given the greatest exhibition of the greatest love the world has ever seen. When this love is truly exhibited it is impossible to overlook. Yet it will never arrogantly boast itself. It will look out for both the physical and spiritual wellbeing of an individual without trying to bring attention to self. Do you love others as God has loved you?