Galatians 5:16, 22–23 (KJV 1900) 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
You Don’t Know What Love Is
“You don’t know what love is
Until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues
Until you’ve loved a love you’ve had to lose
You don’t know what love is”
[Don Raye, Gene De Paul]
The superpower of love is the foundation of every other power at the disposal of the believer, who is the true superhero. It is the greatest power, so great that it is directly identified as the nature of God [1 Jn 4.8b], the divine motivation in salvation [Jn 3.16], the believer’s chief evidence of salvation [1 Jn 3.14] and the identifying characteristic of mature Christian function. Without love every other power of the believer is exposed as artificial and contrived [1 Cor 13.1-3].
Despite these facts, it is likely that the typical Christian has no idea what the Bible is talking about when it refers to love. Most people, including most Christians, understand love as an emotion, perhaps also as a commitment, and there is a category of human love which has these qualities. Our patriotism, our family cohesion and our mental health turn on the presence or absence of what we call love. However, this love is not the love that God has for mankind, nor the love that is commanded by God to be practiced by the believer.
Superpower Definition: Love
Before we offer a definition, we must first distinguish between love as man has become accustomed to experiencing it and love as commanded by God.
Love is a transitive verb; it takes both a subject and an object. In the sentence “I love you.” the “I” is the subject and the “you” is the object of the verb “love.” Human beings typically, but not always, emphasize the object, the “you” in the sentence. The attractiveness of the object of love: an attraction to similar interests or values, an attraction to personality or achievement or to beauty characterize this kind of love. This human love is conditional. It depends heavily upon the object of attraction. Love that depends upon the attractiveness of the object of love leaves many variables outside of the control of the one who loves, consequently conditional love is volatile and unstable. Conditional love, because of its basis in attraction, can increase, diminish, or be lost altogether depending upon changes in the person that one loves.
There is another kind of love that is the love that God requires of the Christian. It is the love that God produces in the soul of the believer as a fruit of the Spirit. In this kind of love the emphasis is upon the subject of the verb, the “I” in the sentence “I love you.” This kind of love is not dependent at all upon the object of love. It does not matter if the object is attractive or abhorrent, kind or unkind, saint or sinner, beautiful or not so much. This love is entirely dependent upon the spiritual strength, the spiritual maturity of the one who loves. This love is not emotional, it does not require emotion to function. This love places no conditions upon the object of love, it is unconditional love, it is the love that God demands that the Christian possess, and it is the love that God provides as an endowment of the Spirit. Conditional love, by necessity, is directed towards few persons. Unconditional love can be expressed towards all.
Unconditional love [agape G26] is the love that God expresses towards the unbelieving world. Sinful man is not in any way worthy of the love of a holy God [2 Tim 1.9]. The righteousness of God demands that the wages of sin are death [Eze 18.4; Rom 6.23]. The love that motivated God to extend grace to fallen humanity through the sacrifice of the Second Person of the Godhead was not based upon emotion, but upon His own limitless integrity and commitment to His eternal plan. There was no change in man that motivated God’s intention to save [Rom 5.28]. Man has universally rejected salvation absent the prior activity of God in election [John 15.16a; Rom 3.10-11; Eph 2.1]. Man was not rescued because of God’s emotions towards man, as God is not a man and does not share human emotions [Isa 23.19].
God does not command that the believer show conditional love to anyone. God commands that the believer show unconditional love to everyone.
1 John 3:14 (KJV 1900) 14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
Matthew 22:39 (KJV 1900) 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Matthew 5:44 (KJV 1900) 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Therefore love, in the biblical sense, is the recurring decision to show favor, kindness, and compassion to another without regard for the attractiveness, goodness or perceived worth of that person. Biblical love is unconditional, it is not withdrawn due to the failures and disappointments by the object of love. Unconditional love looks and feels like love to its objects because it is real love, the love that comes from God and for which God is the supreme model. Unconditional love is not an emotion, but a decision to do these things based solely upon one’s own spiritual capacity and spiritual strength. The ultimate motivation in the exercise of unconditional love towards mankind is our own love for God [1 Jn 4.19-21].
How Does this Superpower Work?
Abiding in Christ sets into motion the process of spiritual metabolization of the Word of God in the soul by the Spirit of God. The outcome of this process is the creation of the character of Christ in the believer as manifested by the fruit of the Spirit. The mentality and the will are strengthened so that the believer becomes better able to resist temptation and to maintain the control or filling of the Holy Spirit [Gal 5.16; Eph 5.18]. This is how the believer acquires spiritual power. This process of spiritual maturity, if sustained, produces in the believer the capacity to appreciate the love of God [in itself a big deal] and to extend it to others.
Once the capacity for unconditional love is achieved, the believer exercises it by making decisions to show favor, kindness, and compassion to all each day. She is not attempting to cultivate feelings for a person before showing love. Unconditional love is a mental attitude rather than an emotion. The attempt to conditionally love everyone is a recipe for mental illness, not spiritual maturity. Life is full of opportunities to express love, often through small things like listening, overlooking a slight, giving a compliment, remembering a significant event in a person’s life. On occasion, there is the opportunity for significant gestures of love towards another, such as forgiveness.
Unconditional love is the primary superpower of the believer. It is the capacity upon which every other spiritual power is based. Without love every other power of the believer is exposed as artificial and contrived.
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (KJV 1900) 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love-rw], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
How this Superpower Affects You
One of the greatest failings of sincere Christians is the attempt to feel an emotion of love for everyone in the attempt to obey the scriptural command to love. Conditional love is completely inadequate to the requirements of the love that God commands. Psychological distress, spiritual failure and even mental illness result from the stress of attempting to direct emotions of human love towards every person.
Understanding the command to love one’s brother, neighbor, and enemy as a series of decisions to act in a specific way, regardless of the character or attractiveness of the object of love, liberates the believer to do what was before impossible. Even the immature Christian can express in a limited way this kind of love and become encouraged to pursue their spiritual advance with greater confidence of achieving success.
Another incredible advantage of unconditional love is the understanding that God is not vacillating in his love for you because you commit sins. The love of God for the believer is not based upon her performance, but upon the divine decision to invest the believer with the righteousness of Christ through imputation.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (KJV 1900) 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Romans 4:8 (KJV 1900) 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Even the discipline of God is based in love rather than wrath [Heb 12.6]. Understanding that the love of God is unconditional is essential to maintaining spiritual momentum, not giving up when one fails. It also engenders the attitude that supports this same unconditional love towards others who sin against us [Mt 18.21-22].
The love that God demands of the believer is the same love that God shows towards him. It is a healing love; it is an enabling love. Each expression of unconditional love is a spiritual test and a spiritual victory.
How this Superpower Affects Others
1 Corinthians 13:4–8a (NASB95) 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails;
These are the characteristics of unconditional love. Unconditional love looks like conditional love, it feels like love to those who are its object. It is not hypocrisy, and it is not artificial. The Spirit of God produces the spiritual capacity in the believer, not to have special feeling towards everyone, but to treat everyone as if you did.
It is a fair statement that no one really expects to receive the kind of love described above, that is, unconditional love. To experience this love is to receive the greatest gift, the gift of acceptance. Sinners craved Jesus’ attention not only because of his supernatural abilities, but because he socialized with the hated tax gatherers and their girlfriends, he touched the untouchable lepers, he ministered to and identified with the poor. It was clear that he was not one of them; his teaching and his deportment revealed him as the sinless Son of God, which was why he was crucified [Mk 14.61-64; Jn 10.33]. Jesus, although God, showed favor, kindness, and compassion to those who were unattractive, unaccepted, and therefore unloved. Soon thereafter, he would give his life for the very people who crucified him [Lk 23.34].
Unconditional love gives life. Like all the superpowers of the believer, it is evangelistic, but before this love leads people to Christ, it heals them, as Jesus did.
At this point, the incredible power of the Christian to change the world can be seen to originate in his own transformation by means of the power of God. By directing spiritual power inwards, the believer accomplishes far more than any secular superhero could ever hope to achieve. When the Hollywood superhero has completed his task, people might be marginally safer, but the world is still the world and sinners are still sinners. The mature Christian becomes the agent of God, personally engaged in the divine plan to redeem man and the earth and to vanquish evil permanently. The secular superhero may restrain evil, the Christian is used to resolve evil through the gospel. The Christian becomes the clearest evidence of what God can do and will do in the world.