We hear a lot about love everywhere we turn. These days we might often hear about how love is either lacking in the world around us or how it is simply an expression of base physical desire. Love is a word that easily flows off the lips of most people, yet few can describe it or even practice love beyond feelings of affection or attraction. It is easy to get confused about what God-given love is all about.
Is there any way to clear the blurriness from our eyes and know what love really is? What does God’s love look like, and what makes it different from how the world thinks about love?
How is God’s love different from what the world thinks of love?
All those who are united to Christ Jesus have the gift of love from God the Father. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he answered that it is to love God and others. Thus, understanding how God describes love is especially helpful in knowing what love really is. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul helps by giving us a deeper understanding of love:
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5)
The “charge” to which Paul is referring is about teaching sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). Timothy is to proclaim and teach the truth from God as revealed by Christ Jesus. Then he writes that the aim or purpose or goal of teaching God’s word is love.
The aim is love—a love purified by God.
Yet, what kind of love? Paul gives the answer: love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. These are three things that ought to be found in our daily prayers, for surely we cannot love this way without the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s word.
Only God can purify our heart. He alone can cleanse our conscience of sin and guilt, making it good and at peace. And faith? It is a gift of God that leads us to know, believe, and trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation and all that we enjoy in union with him.
The aim of teaching God’s word is a love purified by God from a heart motivated by desires to please God and focused on others. It is a pure love unstained by sinful desires, lusts, and envy, pouring out from a conscience that reaches out for the benefit of another person. And it is a love grounded by faith in Christ Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the love from God who first loved us so that we may love him and each other. True love is impossible apart from God.