Is Love a Feeling or a Choice?


It seems that much of evangelicalism today views love as a choice, a commitment, a decision of the will.  This is to combat what is seen in the world.  The world’s love is emotion driven and inconsistent, demonstrated in the ramped divorce rate in America.  But is love truly just a choice?  And I ask that question in a biblical way – is God’s love for us, and the love that He would have us love each other just a choice, or is it a feeling?

One of the main arguments pro “choice” is that you can’t command a feeling, but rather love is action.  Some verses that convey that line of thought are:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18)

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16)

But why does God love us?  Many say it is because He chose to love us, or He loves us because He chose us.  But biblically you would have a hard time defending that view – for with Israel God says:

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

Now before you say, “See – God CHOSE them!” don’t forget that God set His love on Israel and chose them BECAUSE He loved them and kept the oath which He swore.

It seems that there is more a duality – God sets His love on people because He loves them.  God chooses because He keeps His oath.

And before you say you can’t be commanded to have a certain emotion (therefore say that love is not an emotion or feeling), remember that God actually does command our emotions: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:4)

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)

I really think it is because we are not perfect that we much “chose” to love.  If we were perfect, our love would flow out as an affection towards another, a feeling.  And when our love has no feeling, we must repent and ask the Lord that He would grant that we would love as He loves.

Father, I far I am from Your example of what it truly is to love.  You laid Your life down for those You loved.  You cared so deeply for them that You were brought to tears.  Forgive me for my lack of feeling, my lack of deep emotional love towards my neighbors, help me to love not because I have to, but as a natural outflow of my heart, a heart that has been renewed by Your Spirit.  Be gracious Oh Lord, grant me this for the sake of Christ. Amen.

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6 Responses to Is Love a Feeling or a Choice?

  1. Lee says:

    And “…the Lord loves a cheerful giver”, etc.

    Good thoughts.

    Wow – that’s a lot of passage references ending in “8″! Took me a second to figure out why you had so many emoticons on this page :-)

  2. Chris Gatihi says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Nathan. I agree entirely.

    I’ve thought about why much of evangelicalism, as you said, views love as merely a choice and I can’t help but wonder if mainstream evangelicalism has moved more and more in that direction in almost direct proportion to its move away from a proper understanding of the doctrine of regeneration and our desperate need for it. When we begin to take the supernatural (regeneration) out of Christianity which is entirely supernatural living, it follows that we are left with a mere willpower religion that degenerates love down to merely being a choice when it is SO much more than that. When love becomes merely a choice, have we not lost Christianity altogether?

    Thank You, Father, for the new covenant in which you take out hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh so that we can love earnestly from a pure heart as we were previously unable to. Please grant us more of Your Holy Spirit, to live entirely on Him and not our own feeble efforts. For Christ’s sake, Amen.

  3. dwinger says:

    I enjoyed your post…very good thoughts. Some things that came to my mind while reading…

    God is love, and He loves His creation. As a Christian, I am seeking to be “Christ like”so… I would want to love as God loves.

    God created me with a free will, therefore I have the “choice” to turn to God and love as He loves, or turn away from God and do my own thing. If I make the choice and die to myself and love as God loves then it is no longer me, but rather God working in me. I am then loving as God loves, which as you describe as a “not really choosing”.

    For God is love.

  4. Craig says:

    Wow, this has given me a lot of insight on my lessons, i would be very interested in bouncing questions off you and learning more, you seem to be very wise.

    One phrase you said stuck me, “I really think it is because we are not perfect that we much “chose” to love. If we were perfect, our love would flow out as an affection towards another, a feeling.” I have always been teaching my Youth Group that it is a choice, and they have been putting up the, “brick wall” because they don’t want to change their views and are stubborn. But with this new information that has opened my eyes, I have learnt a whole new side of love! Thank you!

    1st Corinthians 13:8-13
    8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

    13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    It says, “(10) but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” Then in verse 13 it says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” You said that our love is not perfect, because we choose to, i don’t agree, our love comes from God, because God is love, and God is perfect.

    Can’t wait to hear back from you, thanks so much.
    Craig

    • nathanwells says:

      Hi Craig,
      Thanks for your reply, may God grant us wisdom as we pursue Him.
      In regard to verse 10 of 1 Cor. 13 we first have to know what the “perfect” is.
      1 Corinthians 13:10–12 (NASB95)
      10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
      11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
      12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

      In my interpretation I do not believe the perfect has yet come. We still see in a mirror dimly – I don’t see face to face. I don’t know fully yet.

      But you are right to say that the love we love with is enabled by the Spirit – it is a fruit of the Spirit, not of our own – so in that sense it is perfect. But what I mean by imperfect is that sin still remains, we are still tainted, our actions are not perfect – inasmuch as we walk in the Spirit, we please God, and if we walk in the Spirit our love will be perfect, but I do not think we do so at all times. Therefore at times we much chose to love God because we know it is right, not because we feel like loving Him. Even without the feeling, it is right for us to chose to love Him and to what He has commanded us – and if He should grant us greater insight that we might love Him more deeply, we move closer then to perfection, to be like Him.

      The bizarre thing, the evil that is in our hearts, is that unlike other humans that we have a hard time loving because they do bad things to us, God has NEVER done anything wrong, and yet we have trouble loving Him. This is why I say if we were perfect we would always feel like loving God, because He is perfect, He is always good to us, and He loves us. The fact that we do not always feel love towards God is an indication of our own sin.

      I’m not sure if that makes sense – it is a hard subject to get my mind around. Two passages that come to mind:
      Romans 7:14–20 (NASB95)
      14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
      15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
      16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
      17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
      18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
      19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
      20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

      and

      Galatians 5:16 (NASB95)
      16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

      This is the balance. In ourselves, in our flesh there is nothing good – but God has given us what we need in order to love Him and have a relationship with Him, and if we use the means which He has given, we actually can love Him!

      I hope that is helpful – thanks for your questions – they help me to think deeper and long to love Christ more.

      Pressing on towards Christ,
      Nathan

  5. David says:

    Based on the quote you took from Deuteronomy, it sounds like it is pretty risky for us to serve God by just choosing to act in a loving way toward others without actually feeling it. “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart…”

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