First Corinthians 13:4–7 is a list of fifteen specific actions that love performs on behalf of other believers. That should immediately dispel the notion that love is primarily a feeling or an emotion. Although true love will carry emotion with it sometimes, feeling is not a necessary ingredient of love, nor is it the basis. Therefore, biblical love is not a feeling: it’s an action.1
A blog named after love has a duty to define love correctly. Or at least, this blog-named-after-love does. The above statement, which I got out of a high school Bible textbook, is not the definition this blog will put forward. Instead it’s a good example of why the meaning of love has become a (the?) major theological theme of this blog.
Let’s examine the author’s claim that the Love Chapter should dispel the very notions I’ve tried to promote on βλογάπη.
Most simply, I would argue that the passage he cites makes it clear that love is not an action. Take it away, D. A. Carson:
Though some have attempted to strip God’s love of affective content, making it no more than willed commitment to the other’s good, the philology does not support this view, nor does 1 Corinthians 13, where the apostle insists it is possible to deploy the most stupendous altruism without love.2
Remember that part of the passage?
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (ESV)
Giving away all you have and delivering your body to be burned are actions, good actions, good actions that can be performed without love. So love must be something different from apparently good actions. Love, Paul is saying, is the one righteous motivator for actions, the only motivation that makes actions count as “good.”
Even if 1 Corinthians 13 made love an action, several of the verbs Paul uses to describe love are emotions: love rejoices (2x) and hopes.
I think that the author of the comment at the top of this post knew better than to banish emotion from love, because he followed up his comment with this: “As we examine each of these actions [in 1 Cor. 13], we need to humbly inspect our own hearts to see if we truly love other members of Christ’s church.” If love were an action, we wouldn’t need to inspect our hearts. If we were performing the action, we’d know—no cardiogram necessary.
Love may not be “a feeling,” full stop. But it’s something internal. It’s, as Edwards would say, an inclination of the soul. It’s a delight and a pleasure. It’s a bent. It’s a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the Christian. It’s a lot of things, but it’s not an action.
I hope I’ve undispelled a notion for you today. May God help you and me love Him with all our hearts. It will require His power.
1. Don’t ask.
2. “God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156: 623 (July 1999), p. 259.