5 Characteristics of Real Love

People often talk about the “will of God.” Is it God’s will for me to move somewhere, marry someone, or start a business? These questions are legitimate, and God certainly has something to say about them.

We should also remember, though, that what God wants us to do is clear. His greatest priorities are very clear. He wants us to be loving people. He wants us to love God and our neighbor. If we learn to do that, then we are doing what God wants the most. Becoming lovers of God and others will keep us busy and give us great fulfillment.

But what does it mean to love others? There’s a lot of fake love. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s hard to show real love for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is that we haven’t been taught how to love. We need to think more clearly about what love actually is.

The Apostle Paul gave an explanation of what love is all about in Romans 12. His more famous chapter on love is 1 Corinthians 13. 1 Corinthians 13 is more inspiring, but Romans 12 might have more solid instruction on what it means to really love. Let me show you five characteristics of real love from this chapter.

1. Real love is sincere: it starts in the heart. In Romans 12:9, we begin a long list of commands or rules. The first is, “Love must be sincere.” It must not be hypocritical. What does this mean? We can act like we love (“Bless our hearts”) and not really have that love in our heart. It is an act. We show kindness in our interactions but do not have it in our hearts. We have all known people who acted like they wanted to be with us but who ended up not having any real interest in us. It was a mask. We have also done this to others. It hurts when we discover it and when others discover it in us. This is insincere love.

What this means positively is that love begins in the heart. It is not enough to show it on our faces. We have to have it in our hearts. How do we really think and feel about people? That’s where love starts. Love is a genuine affection of the heart that desires union and communion with others.

2. Real love is attentive: it takes an interest in anybody it meets. Philostorgos is a Greek word. Paul uses it in Romans 12:10, and it is the only place we find it in the Bible. It is love like parents have for their children. It’s hard to translate into English in one word. Love takes an interest in other people’s well-being. Parents generally seek the well-being of their children in a way that simply gives. We need to learn to take that love and extend it out to others.

Love is not just affection. It does not just want to be with others. It wants the best for them and is willing to sacrifice for them. Christ’s sacrificial love is the ultimate model of this.

3. Real love is active: it starts in the heart but is manifested in action. How can we say we love others and not care about their needs? That’s why Paul says, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” It is not enough to say we love others. We have to show it. If we have an affection for others and care about their interests, then we will be ready to help them.

This does not mean simply giving money. That may or may not help them. It can also mean giving emotional support and encouragement. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). We come alongside people in their triumphs and tragedies and show our concern and support.

4. Real love is respectful. Real love is not condescending. It is ready to help, but it is also ready to receive help from others. Love gives, but love also honors others as those from whom we can receive something. “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). This includes not only the rich and powerful but everyone, even the most poor. “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position” (Romans 12:16).

The Apostle and missionary Paul showed this attitude. He had learned a lot and had a lot to offer, but when he spoke of visiting the Roman Christians, he also wanted to learn from them. He believed that they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).

5. Real love conquers: it loves even when it’s hard. A big part of Paul’s instruction includes teaching people to love even when it’s hard. He says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:15). “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .” (Romans 12:19).

That is very hard to do. That is real love not insincere love. So, how do we make it happen? That’s what I’ll explain in the next two posts.

Thanks for taking time to consider love with me. Please comment below with your thoughts or questions. If you liked this post, please share it and subscribe below. I hope to see you back here again soon.


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