Is Christianity Really About Love?
Christians talk a lot about how Christianity is a religion that is all about love. However, that's not exactly what the NT says.
Love in our culture is primarily a feeling.
In American culture, when we talk about loving another person, we primarily mean a romantic or emotional attraction towards that person. Often, but not always, our culture means sex when it says love. Try substituting the word “sex” for the word “love” in any pop song. Most of the time, the song will make more sense.
I am not trying to discount the romantic side of love, but I am trying to correct a problem of interpretation. When the NT talks about love, it is not primarily talking about love as a feeling. It is talking about love as an action, specifically, an action of putting the other person first.
For example, Jesus said to love your enemies. How exactly are we supposed to have a feeling of emotional or romantic attraction towards them? If we had that, they wouldn’t be our enemies, right? However, if you think of love as acting selflessly toward another person instead of being emotionally attracted towards him or her, it makes better sense.
Selflessness is a better translation for agape than love.
Many of us know that the Greek word behind “love” in the NT is agape. However, while “love” is the most accurate way of translating agape into the English language, it is not the most accurate way of translating it into American culture. Given our culture’s definition of love, we need a different word to express the original meaning if we are to communicate clearly to those around us.
If we translate agape as selflessness, then when Jesus said to “love [agape] your enemies,” He meant “act selflessly” toward your enemies rather than “have positive emotional feelings” toward your enemies.
Give this a try as you look at the NT, and see how it works out. Anywhere the NT talks about love, try out both definitions. Try talking about the love in the passage as romantic or emotional feelings, and try talking about love as selflessly acting on another’s behalf. Which do you think makes more sense?