In This is Love3 min read

Love is always in season, but the month of February, with the annual celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, tends to be a time when it gets especially accented. The English word “love” is notoriously ambiguous such that we often wish we had more words to choose from than just one. But the reality is that the limitation of our language forces us to say such things as “I love my wife,” “I love golf,” and “I love ice cream” all with the single word “love” when obviously we don’t mean quite the same thing in every context of its usage. Many have pointed out, including C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves (1960), that in the Bible we have the luxury of several words for “love.” There’s a separate word for friendly or family love, and for romantic or sexual love, and for committed covenant love, and for altruistic sacrificial love even for the unlovely. But in English we often have to use some other words than simply “love” in order to be more precise in our meaning. For example, we could sign off a Valentine card simply with the word “love,” but to our spouse or “lover” we might want to say something like “affectionately yours” or “yours forever,” and we probably wouldn’t sign off that way to our children or to a friend.

All this being the case, it’s not really helpful to say, as many do these days, “love is love.” The fact is, “love” needs definition and context in order to be properly understood. A heterosexual could very appropriately say to a homosexual “I love you” and mean it as a friend, as a brother or sister, and as a Christian striving to love one’s neighbor as the Bible directs us to do. That love very well may need to be what we sometimes call “tough love,” that is “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 5:15) to people who may not appreciate it at the time but need to hear it nonetheless because it is in their best interest. It’s this kind of love with which loving parents discipline their children, and with which God disciplines us as His children because He loves us (see Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6). Certainly God calls us all to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, etc.) but we love our neighbor within the appropriate and particular parameters that God has given for our love to be expressed. So it’s not really a matter of “who you love” as much as it is “how you love.” Loving my neighbor does not mean coveting or committing adultery with my neighbor. Our loving God out of His love for us wants the “marriage bed” (Hebrews 13:4) honored by all and kept undefiled by devoting our sexual expression to the marriage context and defining marriage as Jesus does (Mark 10:6–9).

Far better than saying “love is love” we should say, as the Bible does, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and then let God define what love is and how it is to be expressed in the various contexts of this life that He has given us. When we do, it will often surprise us. God demonstrated His great love for us by loving us even while we were yet sinners and His enemies (see Romans 5:8–11). It’s been said that Lutherans love Lent, and that’s no doubt because we see God’s love in the cross of Jesus. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). I don’t know if you love this Lenten hymn or not, but it says it well: “My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me; love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be” (Samuel Crossman: 1623–1683). May the Lord bless our Lent, and bless our love for Him and each other in response to His indescribable love for us.

Photo courtesy of Elisa Schulz Photography

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. Paul R. Naumann currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Portage, Mich. During his over thirty-five years of ministry, Naumann has been active in positions in the Circuit, District, and Synod, working especially in the areas of Youth Ministry, Outreach, Worship, Campus Ministry, and Small Group Ministry. He has been published in various periodicals and has been a speaker at a number of seminars and workshops.

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Craig Britton - February 9, 2023

Such a great reminder always, but for our times in particular: “God is love.” Simple. Powerful. Thank you, Pr. Naumann.

Linda - February 9, 2023

Well done:clarifying,