What is Love?

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Defining Love as LIfe-Giving

by Eric Elkin

his is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep God’s commandments.
— 1 John 5:2

Few things in the 21st Century are universally recognized across cultures and languages. However, I am willing to bet the song,“What is Love?” is one of the rare exceptions. The song hit the charts in May 1993. It became the number two most popular song in England and Germany. In the United States, it reached number 11.  But in 13 other countries, it was the number one song.

Wil Farrell and Chris Kattan turned the hit song into one of Saturday Night Life’s most iconic skits. The skit inspired a movie. It remains a favorite dance song for most parties. Matter of fact, I imagine even reading the words, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me,” will get your head bopping up and down.

Sometimes cheesy songs ask profound questions. “What is Love?” is one of those songs. 


When asked about the song’s meaning, its singer, Nester Alexander Haddaway responded, “What is love’ needs to be defined by everyone by his own definition. It’s unique and individual. For me, it has to do with trust, honesty, and dedication.” 

His response appears to be an attempt at an inclusive definition. However, it leads to some significant problems. Is the freedom to define love a good thing?

We are discovering, or at least coming to grips with, “his definition” of love in the workplace is destructive. People who have endured domestic abuse will be the first to tell you, love needs a precise and universal definition. Even in relationships less physically threatening, we can find confusion and frustration over how people express love.

When the author of the first letter of John writes, “We know that we love,” it assumes love is something one can prove. The proof is in action, and the action is keeping the commandments of God. Keeping the commandments of God is no simple task. Even determining which ones to follow are difficult. Are we talking about the 613 Old Testaments laws or the ten commandments? Or, can we simplify it to the new commandment?

I would say love is mutual. But then, I know there are times I am loved more than I return love. One could say fidelity is critical to loving. However, how confident are you that you follow a strict observance of all your promises? I promised to do the dishes last night and didn’t follow through on it.

Ultimately, I think the one thing we can agree upon is that love is life-giving. Life-giving love is not perfect, nor is it manipulative. It is patient and enduring because both parties find life in the relationship. If God’s love is life-giving, then should our love for others be life-giving as well? The author of First John seems to think so, and he invites you to do the same.


Click to read:1 John 5: 1-6

Reflection Questions:

  • How would you define love?
  • Where do you find proof of love?
  • Do you find God’s love life-giving? 
  • Where do you help give life to others?

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