The Defining Trait of Love



Valentine’s Day. I find it funny that my first blog post of the year happens to be on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had ideas for other blogs, but every time I’ve sat down to try and write, the words weren’t flowing. And then as what often happens to spark inspiration in my heart, I stumbled across a specific Bible verse last week that ignited a whole fire of thoughts and reflections. And that verse has to do with love.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” -Romans 12:9-10

Since it’s Valentine’s Day and love is on most people’s minds and hearts, I thought it would be appropriate to write and post this love-related post on the day dedicated to love. At least in my own life, I find that my ideas and notions of what love looks like and what love is are too often twisted by my own selfishness and emotions. Can anyone relate? So often we evaluate how “loved” we are or how much love we can give based off of how we feel. If I feel appreciated, I must be loved… and therefore I can appreciate the person making me feel that way. If someone helps me out, I feel more obliged to find a way to help them. If someone shows me honor or encourages me, it’s a lot easier for me to want to show them honor. Noticing a pattern? When love is based in feeling, it’s like an “if-then” agreement. IF you love me, THEN I can love you. The problem here is that this isn’t actually love. Because real love gets rid of the whole IF clause entirely. 

I am more and more convinced that the defining trait of love, the characteristic that proves it to be true, is sacrifice. It’s when we are willing to sacrifice our own emotions and feelings and convenience for the sake of another; when we are willing to “outdo one another in showing honor.” Going the extra mile for someone, whether or not you “feel” like it, proves that your love is genuine. This is what Christ does for us. He went the extra mile all the way to a cross, sacrificing his comfort and emotions and life out of deep and unshakeable love for YOU. He got rid of the “if-then” contract when it came to His relationship with us; he didn’t meet us halfway, he came 100% of the way to carry us home.

That being said, how do we even begin? And what does it look like?

I think we begin by following the rest of this verse; we abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good. We don’t focus on the flaws in other people, we don’t focus on their mistakes and shortcomings. Instead we focus on the good we know is in them. It’s a pattern of forgiveness and mercy followed by encouragement and exhortation. That gets really hard when it feels one sided, but then again, if Jesus didn’t care that His love for us was (and often still is) extremely one-sided, then we shouldn’t either. Have boundaries and protect your heart when necessary (I mean, we aren’t Jesus)… but love as unconditionally as you possibly can. Focus on the good. Love each other with brotherly affection- not just your partner, but your co-workers, your friends, the stranger you bump into at the grocery store, your family…. when we know we are loved unconditionally by a perfect God, it opens up our hearts to begin spilling out unconditional love without limit. How cool is that?!

Outdoing others to show love can be really fun if you think about it right. It’s fun to surprise people with encouraging notes, whether or not they do anything for you. It’s fun to surprise your family with an unexpected meal, to clean a friend’s apartment for them because they’re overwhelmed by the rest of life, to ask someone how you can pray for them. When you stop thinking about what’s in it for you and whether or not you’ll receive back, it suddenly becomes about trying to show to others the extraordinary love that God has shown to you.

That’s why real love can’t be based in feeling; it has to be based in commitment to God and to His love that captured your heart. It has to be based in a desire to outdo others in love regardless of what you get back. It has to be based in a willingness to sacrifice, because sacrifice is the defining trait of love, and Christ sacrificed for us.

So this Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to outdo someone (or multiple people) in showing honor and genuine love. And have fun with it! Because it’s actually really fun to try to outdo people in showing love 🙂




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