What does it mean to love somebody? We live in a culture that thinks a lot about love. We write books about love. We make movies about love. We sing songs about love. But what does that mean? What does it mean to love a person? What does love look like? What is love?

Many of you have learned by now that love is not a feeling. That’s a good start. Love causes feelings. Love affects feelings. Love is connected to feelings. But you’re right, love is not a feeling in and of itself. That would make love too temporary, too erratic, too undependable. The essence of love can’t be a feeling.

Love must be how I behave. The essence of love is the way in which I treat the object of my love. The words I use. The tone of voice I choose. The time I spend. The forethought I impart. The care I take. Love seems to be best understood as behaving lovingly. When we say we love someone what we are saying, in essence, is that we behave lovingly toward that person.

Now that’s certainly a step in the right direction but it doesn’t get us all the way there because the question still remains: what does it mean to behave lovingly? This seems to be difficult to define since that which one person perceives as loving behavior another may reject as unloving behavior. So I’ve come up with a working definition which I submit can change how you love every person in your life.

Love is behaving in a way that is in another’s best interest.

Much of what passes for love is simply disguised selfishness. Most behave lovingly as long as they are treated lovingly. Some behave lovingly in order to manipulate another into treating them lovingly. But as soon as someone perceives they are being treated unloving, frequently their loving behavior is altered. That is behaving in one’s own self-interest: that is selfishness.

Love is behaving in a way that is in another’s best interest. Love does not consider the self in how it treats another. If it did, love would stop as soon as pain is received. Love can only be love if it behaves lovingly even while there is pain. Love can only be love if it does not act in its own self-interest. Love can only be love if it transcends the self and is consumed with the other. Any other definition of love is too small.

Loving my spouse means behaving in his/her best interest. Loving my children means behaving in their best interest. Loving my neighbors means behaving in their best interest. Not giving them what they want. Not avoiding pain because it hurts too much. Not lying because it is too uncomfortable. Not enabling their destructive behavior because they might become angry. Not trying to make them happy so they’ll love me.

This is how God loves me. This is how I am called to love you.