I think it’s time to dispel a popular platitude infecting many Christian pop songs, sermons, blog posts and other half-baked but well-intentioned mediums.
Love is not a verb.
The obvious and true counterpoint to that is, “Yes it is.” OK, yes. True. But love isn’t THAT kind of verb. It’s not like saying, “sit,” “stay” and “roll over,” as you do to your dog, cat, or incredibly acute but maladjusted hamster.
Why? Because love doesn’t mean, “Do something on someone else’s behalf.” We would have it that way, wouldn’t we? It tames the command: “Ah, I can do that.” But it’s not that easy.
Riddle me this. If love is simply altruism—just the action of some bland, stoic do-gooder—than how can this be true: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3)?
Now, follow me here: A guy can give up everything he has to the poor, but not love anyone (and I’m sure giving all to the poor is on your bucket list, even if it is last). Which means: Altruism isn’t love. Service isn’t love. Charitable giving isn’t love. Not necessarily. Why? Because love is, at root—get ready for this—an affection.
“But!” you qualm. “God can’t COMMAND me to have an affection for my neighbor, especially when my neighbor is a crotchety old woman who picketed my yard with Donald Trump paraphernalia!” Well, I have bad news and good news. 1. Yes He can. And 2. Yes he does.
In fact, here’s another affection God commands: “Rejoice.” That little verb is found over 200 times in the Bible, according to my whiz-bang Google-search calculations. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having trouble picturing someone ‘rejoicing’ without registering somewhere on the emotional Richter scale (you might argue that point, in which case I would see your argument and raise you an incredulous “Please just don’t be that guy”).