Imagine just one concept encompassing all of God, or one word describing every aspect of his being. What about a single motive underlying his every action?

God is love.

His very nature — his primary language — is love, and he is its source (1 John 4:16). In everything he does, he willingly follows this course. We fall so short of love ourselves, it's hard to imagine anyone living and acting in it with complete consistency. But he does, and every aspect of his character—his righteousness, holiness, justice, and thorough truthfulness — while without compromise, is secondary to and flows out of his preeminent quality of love.

To genuinely believe this though, we must correctly define love, and understand how God’s perfect love relates to us.

What Is Love, Exactly?

Biblically, love is far more than a powerful, positive feeling toward others. It means genuinely relating to them in a way that brings them benefit, whether by thought, attitude, words, or behavior. So, if I’m nice to someone, but inwardly harbor bitterness and hatred for them, love isn’t involved; I’ll have no motivation to help them thrive in life. On the other hand, if I maintain a spirit of love and “live to give” to others, I’ll do things for them I wouldn’t ordinarily do. I might adjust my schedule to give a friend a listening ear, make time to meet a practical need, or use my spiritual gift of teaching to help someone grow in Christ. My orientation would be to serve God first, and in doing so, to serve others.

Relating to others for their good separates real love from its imposters. Recognize any of these?

– Bending the truth to spare someone's feelings
– Supporting wrong to avoid conflict
– Inflicting self-harm to inordinately care for others
– Speaking the truth harshly, without genuinely caring about the recipient

It’s so easy to dodge the truth and call these habits “loving,” especially when choosing to truly love is awkward, messy, and hard. But 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the real scoop:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4–8a).

Living by this biblical definition of love, our actions might start to look like this:

– Giving honest feedback in a loving way, generating trust and intimacy in relationships
– Confronting wrong and “faithfully wounding” friends headed down a destructive path (Proverbs 27:6)
– Recognizing personal limitations and helping within those bounds, promoting others’ dependence on God and his timing/will for meeting their needs (Jer 17:5–8)
– Truthfully expressing anger out of concern for others’ well-being and a desire to preserve healthy, thriving relationships (Eph 4:25–27)

God's Love Is Our Salvation

Our perfect example of love is God himself. When we seek to know and be like him, he changes everything. Our perspectives, attitudes, desires, and doings become more and more loving.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:7–12).

Through God, we see that love is intrinsically relational—it’s incomplete when it’s not extended to others. The greatest love is one that continually sets aside a self-promoting agenda to serve the needs of others: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We Give, We Get

In turn, when we love others out of the love God gives us, we know him more. We experience thinking, feeling, acting . . . being like him. We understand that loving doesn’t always mean doing what others want, but doing what serves them best. In our own lives, we awaken to this truth as well. He reveals that his presence and good purposes for us outweigh the pain and heartache we endure in this life. Once, horrible circumstances may have seemed like a completely unloving allowance on God's part; now, the freedom, growth, life, and intimacy with him they yield are seen as the greatest wealth we would never forfeit.

It’s counterintuitive, but fully surrendering ourselves to God’s love (and by extension to loving others) brings salvation and fullness in life (Matt 6:25–33; John 10:7–10; 1 John 4:7–12). Jesus taught this to his closest followers: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23–24). By giving ourselves completely to God, we find our completion in him.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:37–40).

Here Jesus tells us the pinnacle of existence, the totality of all God asks of us, is this: living in loving relationship with him and others. God is love. In finding him, we find everything.