What is Love? (Part 2)

In Part 2 of “What is Love?” I want to share two more facets that are incredibly important when learning to navigate the depth and power of God’s love. As though looking at a multifaceted damond, discovering the power of love will enhance and mature your relationship with God, how you see yourself and how you interact with others.

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#2 Love Involves a Strong Relationship Affection for Another 

We cannot ignore the realization that love involves affection. 

Love has a connection to our affection. 

What we love, we have affection for. 

What we cultivate affection for, we love. 

Affection is a word that shows the emotional expression that takes place towards those we love. 

Wherever you direct love, affection becomes a way that love is expressed. 

Affection can be given by a certain look, a word or even a nurturing touch. 

Many people were raised without affection, so their definition of love often misses the reference of what loving affection is. Therefore, it can be challenging to consider God as a loving Father who has affection towards His children. 

So let me ask you this question, “Was affection a part of your upbringing?” Did you hear words of nurture, comfort and kindness? Was there a healthy sense of touch, where you were hugged, held and even kissed in ways that brought you healthy comfort as a child? Did you grow up experiencing the power of affection? 

The honest answer to those questions will impact how we express love, if we are comfortable receiving true love and what we look for when it comes to relationships. 

Is Love an Emotion?

In response to this, many will ask, “Is love an emotion?” 

You may be surprised at my answer, but, Yes, love does involve our emotions. 

Christianity at times has been so afraid of emotions, worried that emotions can lead us into deception or bondage, we forgot that we still connect relationally through emotion. 

You do not have real relationships without some kind of emotionally connected exchange. 

In fact, all our thoughts have corresponding emotions connected to them. You don’t think without emotion. You may try to, but emotions are the musical score to our thoughts. They give the interpretation and meaning of how to relate to our thoughts and how we process them. 

With every thought, an emotional association arrives with it. Its the emotional connection that determines what we do with a certain thought. Developing our emotions takes maturity. And maturity is experienced when we are taught, equipped and nurtured in how to deal with them. 

But the truth is, we all need to learn to mature our emotional world. 

In fact, one of the great markers of spiritual maturity is found in what is called the fruit of the Spirit. 

Galatians 5:22-23 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control 

Each of these words are demonstrated through a person’s emotional faculties. They are signs of emotional growth and maturity. The more we grow in Christ, the more we manifest these markers. When you are around someone who walks in the fruit of the Spirit, you cannot detect it through some written test. When someone walks in this fruit, you see it, you experience it, you feel it. When you are around them, you taste of that fruit. 

Notice the first on that list is love . . .

So I hope I am encouraging you to realize that God wants to be involved in your emotional world. He receives you in whatever your condition is. He is wanted to walk with you and let you experience His healing love, maturing you deeper and deeper into what that love means, while growing you in the fruit of His Spirit. 

But we have to learn to be ok with processing through our emotional world. 

We may suppress emotions or run from emotions, but they are there nonetheless. 

So let’s make a decision that we will just face them and deal with them. 

If I was to look at your emotional world with a microscope (a loving microscope hopefully 🙂 I would actually be able to see the themes of discipleship that God is cooking up in your life. 

True discipleship addresses how you relate to God, yourself and others. 

We think of discipleship as taking a course, memorizing something or being able to quote certain passages. While Bible literacy is important, the Scriptures are meant to lead you into greater relational depth with God. But depth with God is not complicated. The deeper you go with God, the simpler it becomes. You become more loving and gracious. The fruit of the Spirit is more powerful. 

Your emotional world brings out what you need. Your relationships with others bring out the emotional areas that God is seeking to heal and mature. 

You don’t have to be a theologian or genius. Observe the areas of relationships that fire off the most and trouble you the most. That will reveal an area of your life where God’s love needs to have a deeper work. 

So back to your emotions . . . 

Love is something that must be experienced, so of course it impacts our emotions.

We are not robots, but human beings made to feel and connect to the relational power of love. 

You are a relational being and emotions are a part of relating. 

In fact, many do not know how to give and receive love effectively because they were not taught how to navigate their emotional life. Many upbringings have very little mentoring and equipping on how to work through how you feel. 

Do you remember having a parent or loved one ask you how you feel?

Do you remember them talking with you through those emotions, so you can find healing, growth and maturity? 

Most just say no to these questions. 

Your emotions are a major part of your every moment in life. Why aren’t we being equipped to identify them and manage them well? No wonder love and heart connection can be so challenging! 

Being Afraid of Emotions

Are you afraid of emotions? 

Many people fear their emotions taking over and leading them into dangerous places. As a result, they can dismiss emotions altogether, for fear their desires will get off track. For many, this shut off has disconnected them from the experience of true love their heart was designed for. 

Some Christians can freak out when the subject of emotions or feelings comes up, because they have an assumption that it automatically leads to emotionalism and looking for that “good feeling” as being the definition of love. 

While this concern is understandable, there are some things we need to learn as we delve deeper into the power of love. 

Yes, love involves your emotional capacity. But love does not mean that you are dictated by every emotional pull that comes your way. What you need is maturity, to help you navigate emotions. 

The reason many believers do not know how to navigate their emotional life is because they were not equipped. Therefore, they are left with an emotional immaturity that disempowers their ability to mature in love. 

When we are emotionally immature, we don’t know how to process certain thoughts and navigate challenging seasons in our life that take a toll on our emotions. The maturity of the Christian life involves learning to grow in how we process the emotional aspect of life. 

Love is something that roots us and grounds us, which means that true love roots and grounds our emotional life. The love of God teaches us how to steward our affections. God’s love first settles us in relationship. We don’t have to panic because we have goofy thoughts, feelings and emotions that flow through us. 

God leads us on a journey to learn step by step what true love means. The experience of love is so powerful, it necessitates that we learn to get rooted and grounded in it. It can be so easy to take the potent emotions that love brings out and apply them in immature ways. 

It is important to note that love is not defined by an emotional rush. Love is not lust. Love is not a “high.” You cannot measure love by a dopamine chemical rush in your body. 

Unfortunately, for centuries, love has been seen through the lens of a euphoric experience. This reveals that we lack the references for how love roots us, grounds us and matures us.  

When the Apostle Paul was fathering the church in Corinth, he brought out this pattern of being dictated by emotional immaturity. 

2 Corinthians 6:12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 

In this passage, the word affections speaks of the “bowels” or place of inner passions. 

If I could use a modern phrase, it could mean, “being driven by your gut.” We are always taught to follow our gut. . .that gut feeling. 

Paul was bringing out that no matter what instruction he brought to the church of Corinth, they would be driven by their immature emotional world of affections, which were trained to follow everything that passed into their thoughts. We can shake our heads at them, but today, we often have the same battle. 

If you find yourself following your every emotion and affection that appears, it is simply a sign that loves needs to become more deeply rooted and grounded in your emotional life. Don’t beat yourself up about this. We all need it. Trust me.

For example: I thought I knew what love was when I first got married. But once I got married, I learned how selfish I actually was. Today when I look back, it’s like I had no clue back then what real love was. 

But it is ok. God was leading me into a deeper understanding of what love is. He used the context of marriage to help bring out things in me that were based on an immature and broken definition of love. 

James had to address this in his writings, for he noticed the believers he was instructing were lost in their emotions. If you think your world is chaotic, his community was like the wild wild west. Look at what happens when emotions and affections are immature and lived out of immaturity. 

James 4:1-3 1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 

Today, God is inviting you and I to mature deeper into the power of love and what it means. 

For many, you may get lost in your affections. You may find yourself saying, “But Mark, this is just the way that I feel.”

I hear you and I understand what that is like . . .

But the reality is, those who lack grounded references for what love really is, often look for the rush or the super “feel good” feeling as confirmation of love. But using this as a primary gauge will keep you mired in immaturity. If we keep chasing this definition of love we will continue to look for love in all the wrong places. Not only that, the love we are looking isn’t love in the first place.

Too often, we confuse infatuation, obsession, addiction or lust with love. 

While you may experience an exciting rush in a love relationship, this is not the foundation, nor does it define what love looks like in the long term. True love endures when the rush is no longer present, when the infatuation and rush fades away. In fact, when those things begin to dissipate, it’s time to mature into the depths of mature love. 

The love of God is meant to mature us as sons and daughters. A good Father compassionately meets you where you are, but leads you into maturity. Many people do not receive this invitation and spin for a lifetime searching for that continual rush which never satisfies. 

Now, with all that said. Love still involves our emotional capacity. It does involve our affections. 

Many people are uncomfortable with affection. They didn’t receive it growing up, so a nurturing touch or a gentle gesture can seem very foreign to them. Masses of people in the world lack pure nurturing affection, so they only think of physical touch in a sexual way. They don’t have a reference for the power of a loving hug, an embrace of someone’s arm or a kind touch on the arm. 

Today, we are in desperate need for pure affection. Our lusts, addictions and uncontrollable urges are clear signs we need loving affection like never before. 

When interacting one on one with people in coaching sessions, my heart aches with the pain, emptiness and suffering that people are facing. The most profound thought that I have when interacting with so many is simply . . . “This person needs a hug right now.” 

Our anxieties, obsessions, panic, depression . . .our neurotic tendancies to see everything negative, over-react, hyper-analye and live in hypervigilent ways are a sign that collectively . . . what we all desperately need is a genuine hug. . . a connection to affection that reminds us that “We’re gonna be ok.”

Allow me to transition this into how you relate to God. 

So here is a question: are you able to connect to the affection of God for you?

Tough to answer this right? We are trying to connect to an invisible God as far as the five physical senses are concerned, while trying to make sense of Him having affectionate love towards us. 

Sometimes I have struggled with God loving me, because I felt that He just tolerated me. And He loved me because He had to. 

But I discovered a deeper aspect of God’s nature, hidden deep within the Old Testament of all places. 

17 The LORD your God in your midst,

The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness,

He will quiet you with His love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

It is in passages like this where I began to realize that God does not just love me. He likes me. This helped me to realize that in His perfect love, He doesn’t just tolerate me. He actually wants to be around me. He enjoys me. He’s glad when He looks at me. 

He rejoices over me. In some translations it says, “delights over you with singing.” He enjoys me. And He wants me to enjoy Him. 

Christians talk so much about loving difficult people like going to the dentist and getting your teeth pulled out. I often let that influence how I thought God saw me. 

Meanwhile, He celebrating over me. He’s throwing a heaven party over me as His creation. He delights in me. He loves me. But He also likes me. His affection is towards me, but away from me. It is not being withheld from me. 

It just took some time to learn to receive it. 

Now because we often struggle in what healthy affection is, it can be so easy for our affections to be pulled into roller coaster rides of ups and downs or pulled into places that are not best for our journey. 

This is where . . .

We Need to Learn to Set Our Affections

Or “direct” our affections . . . 

God freely loves us without sin interfering with His covenant affection towards you. He has no sin. 

But we are pilgrims in journeys of learning to heal and overcome what sin has contaminated. In fact, one of the greatest areas that sin has polluted is how to give and receive love and loving affection in pure and healthy ways. 

So here is something to consider. In working through our healing journeys, we have to hold onto our ability to set our affections. We have to choose what the target of our love will be. 

It has been my observation that most people have not been taught how to set their affections, guide their affections and watch over their affections. Therefore, we become easily overtaken by any wind of affection or feeling that comes our way. Without proper training, we can let our affections drive us into destructive places. 

Affections are something you steward. If you keep feeding an affection into a certain direction, it will grow. But affections are meant to be directed, you were not meant to be a slave to whatever affection pops up. If you find yourself saying, “I cannot help myself” it is often a sign that deeper equipping in love will help your heart learn to mature in how to steward your affections. 

It is true that where your love is targeted, that is where your emotions will flow. Where you invest your emotions is where your love will build. That is why we need to actively choose where we set our emotions. (I will get into “choice” more in a moment.) You and I need to learn to LEAD our hearts by growing in the deeper aspects of what love is. 

Many will say, “Just follow your heart.” This is not entirely wrong, but it needs further explanation. You were meant to live from your heart, but you must also determine what the guiding forces are that form what your heart goes after. A healthy heart in the love of God sets affection towards truth and righteousness. In other words, in a loving relationship with God, we learn to love what He loves. 

John instructed us in this, because he knew it could be easy to get our affections wrapped up in what the world loves. He mentioned in 1 John 2:15, Do not love the world or the things in the world.” The world, or the Greek word “kosmos,” is the system of belief the world lives under. Not loving the world is more than “don’t do bad things.” I believe its deeper than that. 

Not loving the world is being aware of what the world sets its affection upon, which is mostly achievement, lust, money, power and status. This is summed up in John’s description of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. They all lead to dead ends. But if our hearts don’t learn to get rooted in the Father’s love for us, we will all seek to set our affection to those areas, the same way the world does. 

Part of our journey of love is learning where we set our affections. You and I will have all kinds of emotions and pulls of affection come our way. Don’t be afraid. It happens as a result of living in a fallen world that chases fallen goals. The maturing journey that you and I have before us is, “Where will we set our affections?” That is a decision you and I get to make each day. 

Falling in Love

Which leads me to another subject . . .

When it comes to emotions and love, some will ask, “Is it true that someone can ‘fall in love?’”

What a person means by that is they found themselves drawn in or overtaken into an initial emotional affection they had for someone. I don’t think this is wrong in the right context. But it is only the initial stages. This is simply introduction. What is needed is a lot of more development, maturity and groundedness. 

Affection may begin with an emotion or feeling, but love is not sustained by waiting for emotions to arrive, simply because our emotions can be influenced by many factors. A healthy emotional life does not just respond to whatever pull the current emotion is saying. The “ebs and flows” of life, sin, brokenness, immaturity and even the weariness and limitations of our own strength can have a great impact on our emotional capacity in a given moment. 

Our initial love connections may have be influenced by an emotional connection or an initial draw to someone, but love must be sustained in the long run by decision. 

That is why many marriages can have what is called “the honeymoon phase” because there seems to be a flow of loving connection with little interference or resistance. But at some point, love gets tested. It simply a sign that what love is needs to be matured. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. In fact, it may be that something is “right.” That “something” is a new level of maturity to what loves means. There are continual times where love needs to go deeper. A call for upgrade is happening. 

The problem with “falling in love” treats love as something that just happens to you and you follow it. Like you have no choice or decision. If you can fall in, then you can fall out. 

This reveals we all need to grow in what love means. 

Love will be challenged. We live in a fallen world that is at war against the true, pure and life-changing love of God. 

In addition, our love is flawed and always in development. God’s love is perfect, complete and always present. Yet our hearts are in a journey or working through the broken experiences and immature references we have that influence our definition of love. 

That is why in order to mature in what love means, we need to learn the power of decision, which is intended to lead our hearts into what love is, as we learn the pure definition of it. 

#3 Love is a Decision

At the end of the day, what will sustain and help you mature into the beauty of love is the power of decision…your God-given ability to choose. When you choose, you are the one that determines where you will set your affection, how you will feed your affection and what affections you invest in. 

Your emotions may go through many ups and downs, but your overall course of life is guided by your decisions on where you will point the compass of your affections. 

What makes love so incredibly powerful is that you are the one that gets to choose to love. No one can do this for you. 

You don’t have to love. No one can truly force you into love. 

You may at times feel you are forced to comply when being controlled by someone or manipulated into something with guilt. Because we lack a reference for love, we can become so vulnerable to its counterfeit, guilt. People use guilt to control others. You can at times be put under the work of control. But you cannot be pressured to truly love. 

Someone can attempt to use force on you or pressure you into something. They may even use force to get some form of compliance out of you. But even then, they cannot dictate true love out of you or from you. At the end of the day, love says, I choose you. It has to be a decision. 

This is very empowering, but it also leaves a lot of room and vulnerability to pain and heartache. 

Even God Himself will not force you to love Him. With all that He has laid out for you as an act of eternal love, He knows you may not choose Him. You may reject Him. You may never choose to love Him. He still chooses to love you. But He will never violate your ability to choose. Within the power of love is your freedom to choose to receive Him or reject Him. 

You experience this in life. People will choose to love you or not love you. It can be a greatest blessing but also the domain of the greatest heart-ache known to man. 

You will make your own choices when it comes to love too. 

This is what makes love such a vulnerable subject. Alongside that power to choose comes about a massive possibility of choosing not to love. In fact, so much destruction of massive proportions has come out of decisions where people did not choose to love or be loving. 

When we watch sin, evil and relationship destruction take place, we often ask God, “why?” When in reality, we are witnessing the decisions of mankind to NOT walk in the love and ways of God. It actually aches the heart of God to watch mankind reject His eternal love and grace. 

If He steps in and removes that ability to decide. He also removes your ability to live with the liberty to choose love. You become a robot with no need for emotion, relationship or connection. 

Now because you were made for love and you long for love, you need to know that you will choose to place your love somewhere. You will set your affection somewhere. 

Many times, we can get caught in directing our love to unhealthy and unfruitful places. 

You may have affections towards things that you know may be wrong. It is simply an example of affection headed in the wrong direction. Affection moving in the wrong direction is a sign that pure love needs to have a deeper, more fulfilling work. 

The good news is that you can set your affection into a new direction. You get to choose what gets your affection and daily shift your investment of love. 

Even though love expresses affection and involves emotions, we can choose where to direct love and choose what to feed on when it comes to love. When you live a life by choice, it sets the compass in your life for your emotions to follow. Every day, you and I get to choose what we love and feed on what we love.

Love involves an act of the will. It is your decision. It is a heart decision. It says, “I choose to love you.” Which means, “I choose to set my affection towards you.” 

Many will say, “I don’t have that.” 

This can mean a lot of things. But one implication is actually, “I have turned off my loving affection towards this person. My heart is shut off from growing in love towards this person. Therefore, I have nothing to give.”

We don’t realize that when we turn our hearts from cultivating affection towards someone, we can harden our hearts towards them. 

Now please understand, this is not about leaving a toxic or abusive relationship. That has nothing to do with a relationship that you just need to move on from. 

I am addressing how we often follow a distorted internal definition of love.  

You can harden your heart to one person and open your heart to loving another person. You will choose who you will love. You chose who you will not love, withdraw from loving or even hate. 

That is why a man who tells his wife, “I have fallen in love with another woman,” is basically saying, “I have chosen to turn off my love towards you and turn my love towards another woman. I have hardened my heart towards you and turned my affection towards another.”

Many don’t believe this because we often live as slaves to our affections, thinking there is nothing we can do, as though we have no choice in the matter. 

But each day, you and I choose what we love, who we love and where we set our affections. Over time, our thoughts, feelings and emotions will come into flow with our single minded decisions and action out of those decisions. 

I make a decision to love. I decide who I will love. And I choose to love you. The good news is that the more I feed that choice, the more my heart in the long run will come into alignment with that decision. My feelings eventually follow firm decisions. My affections eventually follow where I set my affection. 

This is very empowering. 

Look around at your relationships. These are the people that you choose to love. If you feel you are forced into these places, then you don’t understand the ability to choose. 

If love is a struggle in your life, the first way you can recover it is by exercising your ability to chose. When you choose, you set your compass into a new direction. Your feelings and emotions will not shift overnight, but you begin moving your heart into a new intended direction. 

Furthermore, if you struggle to experience love from God, you can exercise your ability to choose. Experiencing love from God starts with choosing to accept and receive the love God has for you. You have to tune your senses to learn to rest in the flow of His eternal love for you. That takes time and practice. but it starts with a choice. 

You also need to know that you may struggle with connecting to God’s love because you do not know how to receive love from Him. For so long, Christians have been seeking to love God without learning to acknowledge the love He has for them. 

We love Him because He first loved us. Just as love is a decision in what we chose to love, it also takes a conscious decision to receive love, to be loved and to allow love to have root in our hearts. For so many, the battleground of love in people’s hearts is they are not comfortable receiving love. They don’t see themselves as loveable. Their hearts are filled with rejection, abandonment, unworthiness, shame and fear, all which seek to block their hearts from the freedom of love. 

Do you relate to this? If so, there are amazing aspects of God’s love that you can experience in the days and months ahead. You can make a decision to open your heart to that love. 

But so far, what aspects of love are you seeing needs to be more of a part of your life experience? 

Questions for Consideration: 

  • “Where does love need to be matured more in your life?”
  • “How can you activate the power of decision . . . to choose where you will set your affection and allow love to flow?”