Back to Blog Home

What Is Love?

Category: Counseling, Marriage, Relationships

What is love? One of the reasons many of us do not experience love to the fullest, it because we do not truly know what is real love.

In this month that holds Valentine’s Day, red roses fly off the florist shelf, date nights abound, candies and notes fall into the decorated boxes of elementary school children, and loved ones sign cards full of adoring thoughts and promises. Why? Because we celebrate love!


Love. Definitely something we all want to receive, and many of us believe we have much to give. But when it comes to people and relationships, love is often the one thing we find so lacking. Whether counseling the couple whose marriage is in flames, the woman struggling in her friendships, the man wrestling with a poor relationship with his father, the family facing the “battle of the in-laws,” or the parent and child cold war . . . as counselors, we often observe that love is the most sought after yet key missing ingredient in our relationships.

One of the reasons many of us do not experience love to the fullest, it because we do not truly know what is real love. What is love? So often, love is mistaken for the warm feelings that are experienced in response to another person. We define love as the intense attraction or deep affection for someone else. And while these descriptions may describe love, they do not fully define love. Love often involves these wonderful feelings, yes. But love is so much more.

10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:8-10, NLT)

God Himself is the author, originator and source of love. God is love. (1 John 4:8) Real love starts with receiving the real love of God. Love underserving. Love unprovoked by our acts of adoration or affection. Love that did not wait for us to love Him first. Love.

In counseling others and in our own personal lives, we must always point to the love relationship with God made possible through Jesus Christ. When asked about the most important commandment in the Bible, Jesus responded with these words . . .

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT)

Most every couple that finds themselves in my counseling office will here me say these words, “If you’re number one goal is your relationship, then you will most likely not experience success in your goal. If you’re number one goal is your relationship with Jesus, then your relationship with one another is already on its way to more than you could ask or imagine.” This is not churchy language or attempts at super spirituality. This is simply true. First things must stay first.

While God is serious and committed to our love relationship with Him, He holds equally important our love relationships with one another.

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39, NLT)

“Your neighbor” means anyone close to you. If God is the source of love, then it only makes sense that we must be connected to God to experience true love in our relationships with others. Out of our love relationship with God, love flows into every other relationship in life. As we seek to love and be loved by others, we must own the love we give to those around us. As counselors we must help those we counsel to embrace their God-given responsibility to love your neighbor. Perhaps the best love grid to apply to most every encounter and interaction is found in this definition . . .

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT) 

When I spoke, were my words kind? Am I holding a grudge? When I gossiped about her shortcomings, was that love or something else? When I spoke harshly to my spouse, was that patience or impatience? When she disappointed me, did I simply cut off the friendship? Did I push my agenda, or did I think of his preference? We must ask ourselves these questions. We must lead those we counsel to ask themselves these questions.

These questions and more ultimately fall under the two most important questions we can ask ourselves on a daily basis: 1) Am I loving God in this moment? 2) Am I loving the person I am with in this moment?

When, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can confidently answer “Yes!” to these two questions, we are well on our way to experiencing the richness of real love.

Susan Thomas is a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializing in Marriage and Women’s Counseling, and a Plenary Session Speaker at this year’s ABC National Conference at Irving Bible Church in DFW. She and her husband, Brandon, planted Keystone Church in Keller in the Fall of 2004, where they live with their 4 children.

Posted on February 14, 2017