In the song of the same name, Haddaway asks a profound question. In a day where the words “I love you” are used as sparingly as sand on the seashore, and passion seems to be the order of the day, it’s a question worth pondering. In truth, I think most people who use those words (“I love you”) don’t really think about what that means, both in theory but especially in practice.
Unless I miss my guess, most folks (especially those outside the Church but even those within) use those words as a mere indicator of current emotional status – much like a mood ring. In romantic contexts, they are spoken as an outlet for passion, a verbal reminder that the speaker feels very close to his/her significant other at that particular moment in time. In friendly contexts it can be used in much the same way, i.e. to denote that a moment in time has come in which the speaker is particularly emotionally attached to the individual in question.
Now understand, I think those are perfectly reasonable uses of “I love you”, etc. When your boyfriend bought you flowers and held the door/pulled the chair out for you and made you feel like a princess, “I love you” is a perfectly understandable and reasonable response. Likewise, when your best friend has just helped you move into a new house and you are indebted to him for his freely given time and energy, “I love you, man” is certainly acceptable.
However, we err to think that the type of love that is begotten of powerful emotions exhausts the category of love itself. My concern is that we, as a society, have turned these words into empty vessels. We have come to so associate love with the emotional and the passionate that we forget that the word has meaning beyond mere feelings – feelings which constantly fluctuate, and may actually come and go over time.
Even though our world is in such a state of confusion over what love is, we as Christians have the answer from the highest authority Himself. You see, real love, the love that God demands from us, is about putting others before yourself. It is defined, not by flighty emotions and subjective feelings, but by humble service to others.
This type of love the world shuns, because, even though it is a privilege, it is also a duty. It is a privilege because you walk in the way of Christ, entrusted with the enormous task of loving the unlovable. It is a duty because it requires sacrifice to be done rightly.
What is love? Real love?
Regardless of how close, distant, infatuated, annoyed, cared for, or shunned you may feel emotionally towards your neighbor at any given moment, love – real love – remains the same.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love, unlike our flighty here-one-moment-gone-the-next emotions, never ends.