Is Love is a Choice?
Culturally love tends to be viewed as something that happens to people against their will. People fall in love and often fall out of love and the assumption is that they are powerless to change this. Some marriages have been ended on the grounds that people no longer love each other and they are therefore the victims of their uncontrollable emotions. Much of this viewpoint has been reinforced by Hollywood’s take on romantic and sexual love.
What is meant by love?
The word love can be used in several different ways. Each of these can mean something very different. Love can be used of lust when a man or woman strongly sexually desires another. It can be used of romance with a host of emotions and scenarios that accompany this. The love a parent has for their children is a different meaning of love. Close warm friendship can also be expressed as love.
The Christian concept of love is ideally expressed in the love God the Father shows toward Jesus the Son and vice versa. The nature of this love is totally selfless and willing to endure great hardship. By extension, this kind of love can also be expressed from God to man, man to God, and man to man (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)14 Love is patient and is kind. Love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, 5 doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 6 doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. 8 Love never fails..
Some love, it could be argued, is more down to hormones and organic chemistry than to choice. The first six months of a new relationship between a man and a woman is heavily influenced by this. This is why so many have advised couples to wait beyond this period of a relationship to judge if they truly are in love.
God commands us to love
The greatest commandments of the law are to love God with everything we have and to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37, 38)237 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’. Moreover, we are told to love fellow Christians (John 13:34, 35)334 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”. We are also told to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)444 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, and this is certainly not accompanied by warm loving feelings! Since love is a commandment from God we can either choose to obey or disobey.
When we choose to disobey we are responsible for our actions. The Ephesian church was rebuked because they had abandoned their first love for God (Revelation 2:4)54 But I have this against you, that you left your first love. and they were commanded to repent which implies they could do something to change this (Revelation 2:5)65 Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I am coming to you swiftly, and will move your lamp stand out of its place, unless you repent..
How can we choose to love?
If love is just a passive feeling we experience the idea of choosing to love will seem ridiculous. Love is an action and it has often been said that love is a verb. As with any action we have control over this. We often may not feel the emotions we associate with love when we act in a loving way. This in no way invalidates the love we choose to express by our actions.
What are the actions of love?
Paul lists the actions of someone who is truly loving and this includes sixteen different things that a loving person does or does not do (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
- Is patient: True love continues to deal well with others even when this is demanding and difficult.
- Is kind: This means dealing with people in a gentle and gracious way. Sometimes we have to deal firmly in order to be kind to others. The word ‘kind’ means to show oneself useful, in other words, to act benevolently to another.
- Does not envy: We are genuinely pleased for the success and well-being of others and even though sometimes this shows up our own lack in the areas they are enjoying advancement.
- Does nor brag: It is not loving to make ourselves look or feel better at the expense of others. What we say is tempered by our care for others.
- Is not proud: Loving people do not look down on others and despise them. This includes those who might be judged to not be ‘cool’ for a variety of reasons, such as intelligence and physical appearance.
- Does not behave inappropriately: True love expresses itself in different ways according to what is needed by people in their various situations. People are complex and loving them can sometimes look very different from the over-simplified teachings about this.
- Does not seek their own way: Loving people often put the needs of others before their own.
- Is not provoked: We need to be slow to anger and careful in our reactions to the provocation of others. Love looks for ways of peace and reconciliation.
- Takes no account of evil: Love deals well with others despite the bad they do.
- Doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness: When we walk in love to others we do not rejoice at their misfortune or at the consequences that can result from their wrongdoing.
- Rejoices with truth: Loving people hate lies but love what is real and genuine. Sometimes we have to confront the people we love with the truth.
- Bears all things: The idea here is to ‘roof over’ which figuratively means to cover with silence. True love does not expose others to shame.
- Believes all things: The idea here is to respect others. We celebrate what is good in people whilst not overlooking faults.
- Hopes all things: When we love others, we want the very best for them.
- Endures all things: Love rejoices when others rejoice but also mourns and comforts when others struggle. Love gets into the mess of people’s grief and this can be demanding both in time and emotion.
- Never fails: Love refuses to walk away and abandon those we have right responsibilities and commitments to.
The challenge for us is to choose to apply these actions to the situations and relationships we face. As we choose to do this there will be times when we have loving feelings but times when we won’t.
We cannot control the feelings but we can choose the actions.
- Have you ever chosen to love someone when you did not feel loving?
- What did this mean in practice?
- How did this make you feel?