Love is Irreducible

1 Corinthians 13:3   3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

For a while I was taught and had been teaching that ‘love’ isn’t just about feelings. It’s reasoned that you can love someone, perhaps particularly an enemy, without feeling any love toward them at all. The important thing is to act in a loving way towards them and that equals love.

I think it was D.A. Carson who pointed to this 1 Corinthians 13:3 verse and raised the question of whether it’s valid for us to reduce love to mere actions like that. This verse seems to be saying that you could act in loving ways and sacrificial ways and yet still be found wanting when it comes to love.

So is there an irreducible element to ‘love’ that simply acting in a loving way doesn’t quite capture? What is this irreducible element? Is it motive, emotion or affection?

How does God’s love for us in Christ shape our understanding of love? Jesus didn’t just sacrifice himself and act lovingly towards humanity. He was actually motivated by a deep love for us… But what is that love? 

And how does this affect how we ‘love our enemies’? It’s not enough just to act kindly towards them. That’s difficult enough. But if there’s some other irreducible element to love – perhaps something internal, something on the level of desire or motive – then it truly does take something supernatural to cause someone to love their enemies. 

But maybe that’s Jesus’ exact point. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions.


About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on May 26, 2009, in Relationships, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hey Pete,

    I’d agree with you that while love as an active verb is important, it can’t (shouldn’t?) be devoid of any emotion/motive/affection. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaches us that God is interested in hearts, not selfishly ( or even ‘religiously’) motivated actions. I don’t have a nicely tied up answer, but would offer that love can often, if it isn’t JUST an action, at least START with an action. If one wants to love an enemy (or anyone, I suppose), it’s probably wiser to act lovingly in the absence of loving emotions, and keep praying about it, than to wait for those feelings and affections to arise without acting first.

    Just some thoughts!

  2. Hi Pete,

    I think this has something to say in parallel to the situation like Ananias and Sapphira, and also the teaching in the first half of Matthew 6.

    That is, we can do incredibly “loving”, “generous”, “sacrificial” and “Godly” things, out of concern for ourselves, our reputation, and our own pride.

    We can do good so that others will see that we are doing it, to engender a warm fuzzy feeling in them about us.

    But to actually love, it is to put us second. To actually value the one receiving the gift, not just to patronise them. To be selfless in our actions, not just selfishly wanting to look selfless.

    I have much to learn in actually “living” this, but I have a strong feeling that this is the way the passage actually pushes us.

  3. Was reminded yesterday, through Mat 5, that our acts of righteousness needs to surpass that of the scribes and pharisees (who DO them)… so action in itself isn’t the measure, it says…

    Now that i think more about the pharisees, the more i feel Bible pushes me to the cross – 1 John 4

  4. Hey Pete, great blog.

    My initial thought is that love involves and requires all that we have within.

    ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ Mk 12:30

    All our heart – affections, desires and motives
    All our mind – thoughts, attitudes and decisions
    All our soul – our entire being
    All our strength – energy, might and strength

    So perhaps love is the direction of our whole lives. And our actions are only evidence of the love that we have for God, others, ourselves or things.

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