The Bible’s definition of love is different than what we think love is, and it is certainly different than what the media portrays.
Recently, we (I and some full-timers that I serve with) have been getting into Ephesians 5. Yesterday, we got into verses 1-2. In verse 2, Paul talks about love. It says, “And walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.”
First, some context. Ephesians talks about the Body of Christ, the church. Chapters 1-3 talk about the Body of Christ in truth/theory, and chapters 4-6 talk about practicing the Body of Christ, including building the Body. So in chapter 4, Paul tells us that in order to build the Body, we need to walk according to the calling (which in the context is the calling to be in the Body). This walk is a walk that is in the Body and builds the Body through all members being perfected to function according to their measure (vv. 12-16). In order to function to build the Body, we need have a walk that is in the reality of Jesus (v. 21), learning Christ (v. 20), renewed in the spirit of the mind (v. 23), and putting on the new man (v. 24). The opposite of this is walking as the Gentiles walk which is in the vanity of the mind (v. 17), darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God (v. 18), hard in heart, not learning Christ (v. 20), without the reality that is in Jesus (v. 21), in the old man (v. 22). with an unrenewed mind (v. 23), and a lie (v. 25).
So here, Paul really presents a stark contract between the walk of Christians that builds the Body, and the walk of Gentiles of which we have already been called out of. So after we are saved, we should have a new walk that is not according to how the Gentiles walk, because we have already been called out of the old walk of the Gentiles into the new walk of the church. So after we are saved, our concepts, tendencies, preferences, habits, value system should all change. This is is the renewing in the spirit of the mind in verse 23.
So following this, in chapter 5 Paul talks about love. In the same way, there is the love according to the walk of the Gentiles, and the love according to the new walk in the church life, and the distinction is not so clear here. In our natural concept, love can be summarized into one word—sacrifice. Because we love someone, we are willing to sacrifice something that we want for their sake. However, in the Bible, although this is true, this thought is quite short of the real meaning of love. In verse 2, it is true that Christ sacrificed Himself, even going to the cross to die, for us because He loves us. However, there’s a crucial phrase in that verse that shows us something more:
an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.
This phrase is crucial. It shows us that, although Christ loved us and sacrificed His own life for us, this sacrifice is the reality of John 6:57, that He lived because of the Father. So actually, His sacrifice was not primarily for us but for God, to be a sweet-smelling savor for God for His satisfaction. This was the driving force, the motivation, for Christ’s sacrifice.
This is the difference between the natural love and love in the Bible. In our natural love, we sacrifice for those that we love either for their sake or for our sake. the love in the Bible also prompts sacrifice, partially for their sake, but mainly, primarily, for God’s sake. In our natural love we sacrifice because we hope to please the one we love. However, the biblical definition of love is that we sacrifice to please God, not man. The one we sacrifice for may or may not be pleased with our sacrifice, but all that matters is that God is pleased. Our love is a sweet-smelling savor rising up to God to satisfy God. Then we let God take care of the one we love, the one we sacrifice for. In the Bible, everything comes from God and is aimed at God, from who we love, to our sacrifice, to how we sacrifice, everything. This applies to our love toward God and also our love toward man.