Commitment Love

Love is often described as an emotion, a warm feeling toward another person. Webster’s Dictionary defines love as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties…warm attachment, enthusiasm.”[1] This works in some ways, when the object of our affection appeals to us. But when the natural affinity is gone, or the object becomes unattractive, indifferent, or hostile, emotional love fails.

There is a higher form of love that supersedes emotion. A love that derives from the individual and has little or no regard for the appeal or worth of the object. It is a love that is born out of the bounty of one’s own goodness and is marked by stability and commitment. This love always seeks the best interests of others at one’s own expense, and is not often understood or appreciated. It is this higher form of love that is described and promoted in the Bible. The Bible reveals God loves us, and we are to love Him and others.

God revealed His attribute of love to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exo 34:6-7a). According to HALOT, the Hebrew word חֶסֶד chesed denotes “lasting loyalty, faithfulness…to show loyalty.”[2] Here, God’s loyalty means He keeps His covenant promises to His people. God is faithful to His Word (see Psa 89:1-4; cf. Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Another word for love in the OT is the Hebrew verb אָהַב ahav. An example is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 where Moses wrote, “You shall love [אָהֵב aheb] the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5). Here, love is an act of the will in which Israelites were to commit themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly. Concerning the word love in this passage, Daniel Block writes:

Speaking biblically “love” is not merely an emotion, a pleasant disposition toward another person, but covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that seek the interest of the next person…Just as in marriage true love is demonstrated not merely or even primarily by roses and verbal utterances of “I love you,” but in actions that seek the well-being and delight of one’s spouse.[3]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part.[4]

The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love [ἀγαπάω agapao] Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives.

As Christians, God wants us to walk with Him and enjoy His love and blessings. Our obedience is motivated by His love for us. The apostle John set the order when he wrote, “we love [ἀγαπάω agapao], because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And God loved us when we were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love [ἀγάπη agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)

But love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

This command cannot be obeyed if love is an emotion, for one cannot conjure up a warm affection for the one who hates us and causes injury. Emotions are part of what it means to be human. I like my emotions very much, although there are times they get in the way of good judgment and right decisions. The truth is, emotions are unintelligent. They never operate on their own, but are always tied to thoughts or actions. Emotion follows thought like a trailer follows a truck. The trailer goes where the truck goes.

Being unintelligent, emotion does not differentiate between reality or fiction. I can watch a TV show, or read a book, and have an emotional response that is triggered by fictional characters and events. I can even produce a story in my own mind that is completely fictional and have an emotional response. If I want to change my emotions, I need to change my thoughts or actions.

Emotion Follows Thought

Emotional love is not in view when Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Rather, it is commitment love, in which we seek God’s best in the lives of others. Warren Wiersbe states:

Jesus defined our enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Since Christian love is an act of the will, and not simply an emotion, He has the right to command us to love our enemies. After all, He loved us when we were His enemies (Rom 5:10). We may show this love by blessing those who curse us, doing good to them, and praying for them. When we pray for our enemies, we find it easier to love them. It takes the “poison” out of our attitudes.[5]

William MacDonald adds:

Jesus announces that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The fact that love is commanded shows that it is a matter of the will and not primarily of the emotions. It is not the same as natural affection because it is not natural to love those who hate and harm you.[6]

Now, let me be careful here. Loving our enemies does not necessarily mean we expose ourselves to their hostilities. There are clear examples in Scripture where God’s people hid themselves from their enemies. For example, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh 2:6; cf. Heb 11:31). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki 18:1-4). These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel. There were at least two occasions when Jesus “hid Himself” from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59; John 12:36). Certainly, there was no sin in Jesus’ action.

Furthermore, it’s valid to warn others of enemies who may attack and cause unnecessary harm. When writing to his friend Timothy, the apostle Paul warned him about a dangerous man who hurt him. Paul wrote, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:14-15). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek revenge against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim 4:14b). Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him. There should be no hatred in the heart of the Christian. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6).

In summary, biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 336.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 189–190.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 46.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 24.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1223.

Marriage Vows and Ceremonies

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a covenant relationship (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14-15; Matt. 19:6).  In Scripture, the word covenant (Heb. בְּרִית berith, Grk. διαθήκη diatheke) is used of a treaty, alliance, or contract.  The strength of a covenant depends on the person, or persons, who enter into it.  Some covenants are vertical between God and individuals or groups, and some are horizontal between people.  Some of God’s covenants are unilateral, in which God acts alone and unconditionally promises to provide and bless another, either a person or group (e.g. Noahic covenant, Abrahamic covenant, Davidic covenant, New Covenant, etc.).  In a unilateral covenant, God will always bless the recipients, and there is no fear of God doing otherwise, because the blessing is in no way conditioned on any action by those whom God assures blessing (e.g. Gen. 12:1-3; Jer. 31:31-34).  Some of God’s covenants are bilateral, in which blessing or cursing is conditioned on obedience to stated laws (e.g. Adamic covenant and Mosaic covenant).  In a bilateral covenant, God is faithful to bless and curse depending on compliance to the agreed upon conditions set forth (see Deuteronomy Chapter 28).  God is always faithful to keep His promises in both unilateral and bilateral covenants.  In the Bible there are examples of people who made bilateral covenants among themselves (Gen. 21:27; 31:44-54; Josh. 9:15; 1 Sam. 18:3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13).  Covenants made by people are generally bilateral, depending on the faithfulness of each person to keep their promise.

In making covenants God was solemnly invoked as a witness (31:53), whence the expression “a covenant of the Lord” (1 Sam. 20:8; cf. Jer. 34:18–19; Ezek. 17:19), and an oath was sworn (Gen. 21:31). Accordingly, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin (Ezek. 17:12–20). The marriage contract is called “the covenant of … God” (Prov. 2:17).[1]

     The marriage covenant is a bilateral agreement in which both persons promise, before God and others, to love each other faithfully.  It is regarded as a bilateral covenant—depending on the faithfulness of each person to each other—because God permits a way out of the relationship by divorce (Deut. 24:1-3; Matt. 5:32; 19:8-9).  A unilateral covenant would make no stipulations on the relationship.

     RingsThe marriage covenant glorifies God when the man and woman commit to love each other, to seek God’s best in each other, and to remain faithful to their promises.  Typically, marriage vows are thoughtful, addressing the reality of good and bad circumstances, the influence of wealth or poverty, sickness and health.  A vow is a promise, and a promise is only as strong as the person who makes it.  Often we vow to be committed to each other and to endure all tests and trials until separated by death.  We may not like the tests or trials that come our way, but it’s only in those situations that a person’s integrity becomes manifest.

     Marriage ceremonies mentioned in the Bible varied depending on the people and culture.  Sometimes we read about arranged marriages without any mention of a wedding ceremony at all (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; 1 Sam. 18:17).  Other times we read of great feasting and celebration during the wedding (Gen. 29:22; Judg. 14:12; Matt. 22:1-12; Luke 14:8-11; John 2:1-10).  The Bible does not prescribe a specific marriage ceremony, and each couple is free to follow whatever customs are particular to their culture so long as it conforms to the laws and customs of a nation (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). (this article is an excerpt from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill F. Unger, et al., “Covenant” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

Making a Biblical Marriage

     Marriage Book CoverMarriage is a divine institution originally designed to permanently unite a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18-25).  It is not a human invention.  The first couple was created in God’s image to live under His provision and authority, to walk in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill the specific purpose of ruling over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28).  They were to complement each other.  All three members of the Trinity[1] were involved in the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-28).  “God created man in His own image [Heb. צֶלֶם tselem], in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  Adam and Eve were special, created with intelligence, volition, and purpose.  They were created for a relationship; first with God, then with each other, then the animals and world around them.  They were to fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Adam and Eve were created in a state of maturity as perfectly functioning adults and were gifted with brilliant minds that were able to correctly perceive their environment and to properly communicate with God and each other.  They possessed a clear sense of purpose under the authority of God.

     Genesis chapter one provides a snapshot of the creation of the first couple; however, in Genesis chapter two, we learn there was a short lapse of time between the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. 1 Tim. 2:13).  Adam, by himself, was placed in the Garden of Eden with the positive command “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  Adam was free to work and enjoy the beauty and fruit of the Garden.  God blessed Adam and provided for him (Gen. 2:15-16), but also promised spiritual and physical death if he sinned (Gen. 2:17).  Later, both Adam and Eve would eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-8), but Adam’s sin alone would bring judgment upon himself and the world, for which he was responsible.  When Adam fell, the world under his care fell with him (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-14; 8:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

     Originally, Adam was created sinless, with the unhindered capacity to walk with God and serve Him.  Though he was sinless, Adam was not complete.  God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).  Before God created the first woman, He took time to educate Adam about his relational incompleteness.  God brought a multitude of animals before Adam (most likely in pairs of male and female), and after observing and naming them (Gen. 2:19), Adam realized “there was not found a helper [Heb. עֵזֶר ezer] suitable for him” (Gen 2:20).  God corrected what Adam could not.  The Lord caused Adam to fall asleep and “took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place” (Gen. 2:21).  God then “fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:22).  This was a divinely arranged marriage. 

Woman was taken not from Adam’s head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.[2]

     The wife was created to “help” her husband (Gen. 2:20).  The word helper (עֵזֶר.Heb ezer) is an exalted term that is sometimes employed of God who helps the needy (Gen. 49:25; Ex. 18:4; 1 Sam. 7:12; Isa. 41:10; Ps. 10:14; 33:20).  Just as God helps His people to do His will, so the wife is called to help her husband serve the Lord and bring Him glory.  The wife is also to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33), both in private and in public.

     Sin changed humanity and the world in which we live.  Satan (a fallen angel) attacked the first marriage and tempted the man and woman to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-7).  Adam and Eve listened to Satan and rejected God’s will (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8), and sin was introduced into the human race and the whole world is now under a curse (Gen. 3:8-19; Rom. 5:12-19; 8:20-22).  Eve was deceived by Satan, but Adam sinned with his eyes open (1 Tim. 2:14).

     christian_marriageThe institution of marriage continued after the historic fall of Adam and Eve and took on various ceremonies based on ever changing social customs.  The Bible directs believers to marry believers (1 Cor. 7:39; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15), but does not prescribe a specific ceremony to follow, or vows to take, but leaves these matters for people to decide for themselves.  Marriage is divinely illustrative of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Isa. 54:5), and Christ’s relationship with the church (2 Cor. 11:2).  Marriage is to be holy, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  Marriage is to be loving, because God is love (1 John 4:16-21).

     God designed the husband to be the loving leader to guide the relationship into His will, and the wife is to walk in harmony with him (Gen. 2:18; 21-23; cf. Eph. 5:25-33).  The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).  Biblically, this is called agape love. 

Love [Grk. ἀγάπη agape] is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)

     Agape love brings God into every relationship, provides spiritual nourishment, conforms to God’s will, and seeks God’s glory.  It stands the test of time and survives in the furnace of affliction.  It is sacrificial (Eph. 5:25; cf. Matt. 20:28; John 13:34; 15:13; Rom. 5:8; 14:15; 15:3), understanding and honoring (1 Pet. 3:7), and greater than feelings (Col. 3:19).  It is, in fact, God’s love, born in the heart of the believer who walks with God and desires His closeness. 

     God’s love comes from God, and only those who know God and walk with Him will manifest His love (1 John 4:10-21).  There is a biblical love and there is a worldly love.  Biblical love has its source in God who always seeks our best.  Worldly love is deceptive, self-serving and destructive, just as Satan is deceptive, self-serving and destructive.  We cannot give what we do not have, and only those who know and walk with God can manifest His love.  Anyone who claims to love but does not know God or walk with Him is a deceiver, and this one leads others into sin.  A successful marriage is built on Scripture and displays God’s love. 

     Where there is constant spiritual development in the life of a Christian couple, there will be the gradual manifestation of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a).  We manifest these qualities because we walk with God and desire to reflect His character.  Walking with God means we become more and more like Him, gradually manifesting His attributes, such as righteousness (Ps. 11:7; 119:137), justice (Ps. 9:7-8; 50:6), holiness (Ps. 99:9), truthfulness (2 Sam. 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), love (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16),  faithfulness (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 2 Tim. 2:13), mercy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5), and graciousness (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:10).  These attributes will strengthen the marriage, but they must be pursued intelligently and by choice. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[This article is taken from my book: Making a Biblical Marriage]

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[1] The three persons of the Godhead include God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).  God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4), and three in Person (Matt. 28:19; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 35.

Mature Christian Love

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

       The apostle Paul wrote the above passage on love to first century Christians living in the city of Corinth.  Reading through the entire letter Paul wrote to his Christian friends, we realize they did not have much love at all.  Paul describes some of them as quarrelsome (1 Cor. 1:11-12), carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3), sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:1-2), with some getting drunk and acting selfishly during their time of fellowship (1 Cor. 11:20-22).  Their behavior was what we might expect to see at a local bar rather than the local church.  Many of the Christians at Corinth were immature and worldly minded, placing an emphasis on spiritual gifts rather than the greater virtue of love.  The apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to grow spiritually and to display love in their behavior toward one another, for love is enduring and does not fail. 

       It is important to realize that Christian love is a reflection of God’s love toward us.  The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  That’s the order.  And what was our state when God first loved us?  He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him.  Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  Paul also says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).  God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love.  God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b).  God loves because of who He is and not because of who we are.  Mature Christian love is the same.  It is a love that is derived from the source of the Christian’s own godly character and freely extended to others.  It is a love that seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation.  It is a gracious love.  Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver.  Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). 

       God’s Word gives us the standard for love, and mature believers will display it in their lives.  But love does not arise automatically in the life of the believer, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict.  Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by the Christian who chooses to love others.  Love is not easy, and at times it can be risky because we may be hurt.  This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may harm us.  Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and feelings cannot be instantly manufactured by an act of the will.  Emotion follows thought.  The mature believer advances to overcome his emotions in some situations and love others according to their needs.  J. I. Packer states:

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).[1]

       This kind of love takes time.  It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in her/his Christian walk.  Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives.  They love because He loves.  They are gracious because He is gracious.  They are kind because He is kind.  They are merciful because He is merciful.  Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] J. I. Packer, “Love” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).