What's Love Got to Do With It?

by James Rudy Gray

Tina Turner's line in her song captures part of the dilemma with relationships today, "What's love got to do with it?" The song goes on to say that love is just a second-hand emotion. Therein resides the problem. Is love an emotion? Or do feelings come from real love?

My definition of the Greek word agpe (translated "love" in our English Bibles) is that it is an attitude that seeks to do what is right and best and does it in a way that is sacrificial and unconditional. Love is committed to do what is right for another person. Emotions will follow that kind of practice. "Liking" is the more emotional word. We can love our enemies as the Bible commands but we may not like them. In a good and godly relationship, we should have both.

Several years ago I spoke with a professing Christian man who had committed adultery, and his wife was both angry and hurt over the discovery. I asked him how this happened. He replied, "I love her." My reply was rather strong. I said simply, "You do not love her."

After some moments of going back and forth between my statement that he did not love her and his insistence that he did, I finally said to him that love does the right thing. Since this was decidedly the wrong thing, it could not be love. It could be infatuation. It could be lust. It could be a bundle of all kinds of feelings. However, it could not really be love.

The idea of "falling in love" has captured our imaginations in this culture. Personally, I have never fallen into anything that was good. The whole notion of falling carries with it the idea of disaster. Still, I think I understand what people mean when they say they are "in love." In most cases it means they are infatuated with another person. They have strong romantic or emotional feelings toward another person. All relationships between a man and a woman begin with infatuation. If the relationship does not develop more maturity and move into a condition of real love, the relationship is headed for trouble eventually.

Among some people today the whole idea of love is that we are swept away emotionally and romantically by some sort of overpowering force which we cannot resist. The conclusion to that kind of thinking leads people to surmise that adultery cannot be that bad because, after all, they are "in love." The kind of thinking that sees love as an irresistible romantic or emotional feeling invariably leads to a justification for behavior and relationships that are not just unhealthy but sinful. Further, if we had no real control over this romantic or emotional force, we could not be blamed for what we cannot help. That kind of thinking is dangerous.

Another interesting phenomenon that evolves from this type of thinking is people "falling out of love." Most counselors have many times heard the statement: "I just don't love him (or her) anymore." Love is more about commitment than anything else. Feelings are great. God gave us the capacity to have feelings. But we cannot trust our feelings. Feelings can fluctuate and change.

We must learn to trust our thoughts and we must be sure our thoughts are grounded in truth-God's truth. It seems that by making the confession that we do not love someone anymore or we now love someone else, we are yielding ourselves to the protection of a force that leaves us victims but not accountable. But love is responsible. Christians are accountable. Human behavior has consequences, for good for evil.

Love is a powerful force, but it does not arise from our hormonal storehouse or from our emotional state. It comes from God. We cannot really love another person or God Himself until we first know Christ. He is love. The fruit of His Spirit is love. We love because He first loved us.

Today, too many relationships break apart because an emotional or romantic substitute we call love has replaced real love. Couples need to hear and understand that love is the key to healthy relationships. But, love is not so much a feeling as a commitment.

Things often go wrong in a world that is still under the curse of sin. Sin still affects everybody and everything. But sinful acts cannot be called love. Real love will certainly fuel a healthy and godly relationship. Married couples can go the distance with that kind of love.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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