Love Is Concern

Live by this eternal truth.

What is love? Opinions vary wildly.

Aiming for a simple definition for true love, educator Herbert W. Armstrong penned these four words: “an unselfish, outgoing concern.” True love, defined by God, is not an emotion, though it can be expressed with emotional content. Love is a decision; love is action. Mr. Armstrong often expressed it as living the “give way.”

This definition meshes with the biblical description of true love in 1 Corinthians 13. This passage gives wonderful detail about godly love and shows how this love is everything and outlasts everything.

Mr. Armstrong’s definition went on to say that this concern is “for the good and welfare of the one loved.” So this love isn’t simply the action of give; there is genuine concern involved—concern for their good and welfare.

That is what 1 Corinthians 13:3 tells us. Read it carefully: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [godly love], it profiteth me nothing.” This is remarkably profound. You can give all your goods—and lack God’s love. You can sacrifice your life—and not have God’s love.

This too squares with Mr. Armstrong’s definition—that love is more than emotion and even more than just action. In true love, emotions and actions spring from concern, which is an attitude or frame of mind.

That attitude is all-important in determining whether or not we are expressing God’s love.

Action and concern are not necessarily separate concepts either. God’s love is action-based concern and concern-filled action. Mr. Armstrong continued: “True love combines the rational aspect of outgoing concern—desire to help, serve, give or share—along with sincere concerned affectionate feeling.”

Consider: You could do “giving” things, yet if you did so with a “get” attitude these wouldn’t yield harmonious relationships or other fruits of God’s love in your life. We all can give, serve, even “cooperate”—in the wrong attitude. We can do those things in the spirit of competing and taking, or perhaps of self-righteousness.

A way we can gauge this is how weary we get in our service. If we give only because we are supposed to, then we will get tired of serving. If we do it only because no one else will, we can grow weary in well doing. If you help someone only because it’s the “right thing to do,” then you can only sustain that for so long. Such service will wear you down.

We all get physically tired and need rest and recharging. But if truly motivated by godly love, we will not get spiritually tired. If you help others and give of your time because you care for them—that is, you care about it getting done more than caring who gets credit—that is the “outgoing concern.” If you serve because you truly care for the one you’re serving, then you are cooperating with the invisible, immutable, inexorable godly force that governs all relationships.

If we are concerned about others, our actions can be truly loving. The next verses in 1 Corinthians 13 define that love in action: how it behaves and doesn’t behave. It also shows the attitudes behind those actions: what it is concerned with, or not concerned about, or what causes it to rejoice.

Verse 8 shows how this is an enduring law in creation: “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” (New King James Version). So much of what we deal with is “partial.” A prophecy is no longer a prophecy when the event it has forecast has come to pass. Language (“tongues”) is only a means of representing reality. Even knowledge itself could just be an intellectual form of some reality—not the reality itself. Verse 9 says even what we prophesy and know is partial and limited.

But God’s love is everything. It has always existed because God has always existed and will continue to exist forever. “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (verse 10). When God’s plan is fulfilled, so much of what we deal with will cease or become obsolete—but not God’s love. Because that is the force that has forever governed and will govern all relationships.

God is concerned with our outgoing concern. His purpose for man is to build His character within us, which is fundamentally His love—because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He must give us His love, as we don’t have it naturally within us (Romans 5:5). The more we express it in our lives, the more we are sharing in something that will last forever, and the closer we come to fulfilling the purpose for which we exist!