Love as Emotion

Have you ever heard someone say, “Love isn’t an emotion; it’s an action”? This idea comes, I think, from a good desire to have love translated into action, rather than stopping at mere feelings. But I think it’s an overcorrection. Still reading through Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World, last night I read a great explanation of this principle.

What about the idea that since Jesus commands that we love him, and emotions can’t be commanded, love can’t be an emotion?

If a feeling is proper to have, Jesus can demand it. The fact that I may be too corrupt to experience the emotions that I ought to have does not change my duty to have them. If Jesus commands it, I should have it. My moral inability to produce it does not remove my guilt; it reveals my corruption. It makes me desperate for a new heart– which Jesus came to give. (52-53)

And regarding the relationship of emotion and action:

Jesus’ demand that we love him may involve more than deep feelings of admiration for his attributes and enjoyment of his fellowship and attraction to his presence and affection for his kinship, but it does not involve less… “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). The love that binds us to these relationships is not mere willpower. It is deep with affection. Jesus says that the love we must have for him is not less than that, but more. (53)

All this, of course, makes me realize that I don’t love Jesus with the passion that he demands and deserves. I don’t love him more than father or mother or Melissa or Sam. He’s commanding something I can’t do– unless he comes and renovates my heart, removing more and more of my flesh and making me more and more able to see how beautiful he is and cherish him the way I should. This is why the promise of the Spirit is so essential– there’s no hope for me without it.

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