Dating Q&A: How do I know that I love someone?

Last night at Sola, (our student ministry) in honor of Valentine’s Day this weekend, we decided to take a look at God’s design and purpose for romance. After the sermon, we let students anonymously text in questions they had about love, dating, marriage and romance. However, in our short 15 minutes we had, we were unable to even come close to answering even a fraction of all of the questions. So, I will do my best now to go through and answer as many of them as I can. 

How do you know you truly love someone?

That is a great question. For us to know whether or not we really love someone, we need to first understand what “love” is. The Bible explains it to us very clearly, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11) and again, “By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

This is telling us very clearly that love is revealed to us, not by a feeling, but in a person: Jesus Christ. When Jesus came to this earth, He was demonstrating what perfect love looks like: a self-less live lived for the good of others, to the glory of God. Jesus was so committed to that kind of love, that He was willing to give up his life, so that we might have life; this is love. Notice in both of the passages, after John reflects on the love of God displayed in Christ, he immediately remarks that we should love others in the same way. It is like John is saying, “Look, if you experience God’s love, it will overflow out of you and spill onto everyone else.”

So, if I ever want to know how I am to love someone else, I simply ask myself, “How did Jesus love me?” Now this definition is talking about a love for all people, not just romantic love. Romantic love, however, still operates in the same way, as we see Paul in Ephesians 5 explain that husbands should love their wives, like Christ loved us. So I truly love someone when the way I am treating them, caring for them, and serving them mirrors with the same pattern, and heart in which Christ served me: a selfless life lived for the good of others, to the glory of God.

So how did Jesus love you? Was it because you were beautiful? Was it because you had great things to offer him? Was it based on some things you could give him or help him with? Was it because He was lonely? Did it have an expiration date on it? Did he run away when he saw your shortcomings? 

Think about that for awhile.

Now, this is an important caveat to make: Often we talk about love like its a hole or a window; we “fall into” love, and we fall “out of” love. When we say this, we’re talking about the butterflies and excitement we feel from “being in love”. Now, romantic feelings are wonderful, and they should be present in any romance – but we must be careful not to equate romantic feelings with love itself – that is a disastrous mix-up to make. Love is not a feeling, just like friendship isn’t laughter, but where there is love there will be feelings just like where there is friendship there will be laughter. To truly love someone is a conscious decision you make to work for the good of that person, at whatever cost it is to you. To truly love someone, you need so much more than feelings; you need commitment. C.S. Lewis describes the feelings as ‘being in love’ and the decision to love as the foundation that ‘being in love’ rests on.

But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from ‘being in love’ – is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other…’Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, “Christian Marriage”, pg. 109

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