What Is Love, Truly?—Preach This. Live This.

Perhaps no idea has been discussed and debated more than love. But what is love? If you listen to the songs that have been recorded over the years about love, you’ll find some interesting definitions. In fact, it’s kind of frightening to think that some people might take their understanding of love from movies and songs.

For instance, what do we know about love from songs? We know, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” We also know that “love is a many-splendored thing.” Another song tells us that “love is the answer.” Perhaps the Beatles recorded the definitive song on the subject: “All You Need Is Love.”

Various philosophers have opined on love as well. Plato called love “a grave mental disease.” Oliver Wendell Holmes was more optimistic about love when he said, “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.” And Erich Fromm called love “the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”

The Bible says clearly that God is love. We don’t have a greater example of love than what we have in God showing his love for us. The definitive statement on love is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We have this amazing example of love in which God loved us. So how should we respond? We ought to love him back. In fact, the Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19,).

We can talk all day about love and how much we love God. We can sing about our love for God. We can speak about our love for God. But probably the best way to show our love for God is in what we do. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Jesus also said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

God wants to be number one in our lives. He wants our faithfulness. He wants us to be loyal to him. How sad it is when a husband leaves his wife or a wife leaves her husband. How tragic it is when there is unfaithfulness in the marriage. But let me ask you this: How would you feel if your spouse left you for another—not another person, but a mannequin? You would think your spouse had flipped his or her lid.

Is it any stranger when we leave the true God for a false one? Any person, any pursuit or any passion that takes the place of God in our lives becomes an idol.

I think there are a lot of people today who worship a dumbed-down version of God. Yet we find that the first of the Ten Commandments has to do with worshiping the right God: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). We must reject every false god in order to worship the true God, who is the only God.

Jesus also said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is good to worship God in spirit. There is a place for emotion in worship.

When we watch a Super Bowl game where a lot of excited people are screaming, yelling, painting their faces and wearing the team colors, we think, There is a fan for you! It seems very normal to us. But when someone comes to church and lifts one hand to the Lord in worship, people look at that person and think, Fanatic. That is so out of place.

Is it? Is there a place for emotion in worship? Yes, there is. We need to worship God in spirit.

Jesus also said that we must worship God in truth. There is a right way to worship the right God. And God doesn’t like it when we think we need images or icons or statues to help us in our worship. And not only is God against material images that misrepresent him, but he is also against false mental images.

When we say things such as, “Well, my god is like …” or “I like to think of god as a …” we are making God a figment of our own imaginations. If the image of God is false, then the thought of God is false, and it will produce a character that is false.

Let me take it a step farther. When someone says, “I believe in a God of love, not a God of judgment” or “I believe in a God of forgiveness, not a God who would send someone to hell,” they are inventing their own god. And when they speak that way, not only is it unbiblical, but it is having another God before the true God. We cannot edit God.

God is zealous in his love for us, and he wants us to be zealous in our love for him. God loves us and wants an exclusive relationship with us. After all, doesn’t a wife want her husband to be faithful to her? Doesn’t a husband want his wife to be loyal to him as well? Doesn’t a parent look out for his or her children and care about their welfare? Of course.

God was saying in the Ten Commandments, “I want your complete love. I don’t want you to bow down before other gods.”

We don’t have to do certain things to be loved by God or to earn his approval. That has been accomplished at the cross, where Jesus met the righteous requirements. God already loves us, and the things we do should be a response to his love for us.

God loves us, and we should want to show our love to him—not just in what we say, but also in how we live.

Greg Laurie is the senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside and Irvine, California, and founder of Harvest Crusades, large-scale evangelistic events that are held across the world. This article originally appeared on Greg’s blog. For more from Greg Laurie »