What is Real Love?

Written by Sherri Bergmann

Valentine’s Day raises a question for many in a relationship, “What is real love?” While there are countless books and online articles on the subject, there is only one book that really answers this question – the Bible.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a are popular verses often read at weddings and elegantly displayed in artwork. But not to be trite, it merits careful reading and is worthy to memorize, especially at the right moment when one may be challenged to do the opposite: "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, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails."

The last three words add the weight and value because if you choose to do the opposite of any of the descriptions, you will fail. As you read each definition, imagine what would happen in a forthcoming scenario you are anticipating you will be in if you did the contrary. It isn’t a pretty picture, is it?

Following each definition is following God, the source of love. 1 John 4:8 says God is love.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

You may have read advice to improve your marriage or a serious relationship you are in by going out to dinner more, lighting candles in a room to make it more romantic, giving each other pet names, but the Bible reveals lasting truths that make love in a relationship endure. When you read the following, you will glean more truths that will open doors for you, and others, to experience real love.  

Love in action:  "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves". Romans 12:9-10

Build each other up: "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." Romans 14:19. In other words, pursue which makes for peace and the building up of one another.

Let peace reign: "Turn from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it." Psalms 34:14. 

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." James 3:17

An example of pursuing peace is holding your tongue when you feel like retorting.

When someone hurts our feelings, it can be easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to make them hurt, too. But if we do that, we ultimately hurt ourselves more. God’s love for us by demonstrating patience and forgiveness is a model to follow on how we treat each other. Instead of using sarcasm or a sharp retort, Proverbs 15:1 notes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

We often say things we regret. The wrong words can break a marriage and destroy a friendship. Lies and slander can ruin lives. People have committed suicide over hurtful words said about them. Sometimes it is just how it is said that makes the difference. Don’t add gasoline to a fire. Respond with kindness and thoughtfulness. Doing so can calm the issue and flip the situation from negative to positive. A thoughtless retort given in a second can result in a lifetime of regret. Hate is strong, but love is stronger. 

Value another above yourself: "Place another above yourself: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility, value others above yourselves." Philippians 2:3

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21

Bear with each other: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians 4:2

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12–14

Love does no harm: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10

That is the beauty of love—it does no harm. Not physically, mentally or spiritually. The Ten Commandments are seen in courthouses across the country. Many of our country’s laws are based on the Bible, a reminder that God’s laws were created to protect us. A violation of any commandment involves hurting someone. As God’s goal was with Moses when He gave him the Ten Commandments is the same for us today, to save us from destroying ourselves and each other.

Perfect love removes fear: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18

In the definition of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, we can see how love removes fear. We all have fear and insecurities at some level within us, because we sin and live in a sinful world. Those who mistreat others verbally, emotionally and physically cause torment. When we fear, we’re afraid of being harmed. But when we grow in God, we become more like Him. His love grows within us and we overcome our fears. When we share that love with others, we dissolve their fears too. Satan torments. God’s love does not.

Power of love in staying united: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Mark 3:35.

"For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” 
Galatians 5:14–15

Success comes from sticking together. When there is a major division that tears a unity apart, that relationship will be destroyed from the inside. 

"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." Proverbs 24:3–4

Love deeply from the heart: "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart." 1 Peter 1:22

The greatest kind of love: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:13

Sacrificial love was how Jesus lived his life on earth for us, and it was His final message when He chose to lay His life down for us. The same message holds true for today. We get through tough times when someone chooses to give up their time to help us.  

Let love be 24/7: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." Romans 13

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart." Proverbs 3:3

"Do everything in love." Corinthians 16:14

Forgive: "If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14–15

Hate and revenge calls for a chain of actions that keeps everyone involved hostage in bitterness and anger that lead to destruction. Love is liberating.  

Be merciful: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:36.

Give another a break. We appreciate it when others give us a break.

Steps to a successful relationship: "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love." 2 Peter 1:5-7

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Corinthians 13:13

Love preserves. 

The above definitions of love are a very brief introduction, a scratch on the surface of what the Bible says love really is. No other book on earth can compare in defining and demonstrating real love in everyday common situations. It’s true what the Beatles’ said that money can’t buy love. Christ already paid the price.

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Sara Clouse - February 14th, 2024 at 2:56pm

These are good words. We included "Through love serve one another" from Galatians 5:13 in our wedding vows.

- March 5th, 2024 at 10:10am

Thanks, Sara! I love that...that is a great verse.