Is love a sacrificial choice? Or is love more than a sacrificial choice? What does the Bible actually say about love being a sacrificial choice?
Yes, Love Is a Sacrificial Choice, But It Is More Than a Sacrifice Too
I am not against the statement, “Love is a choice.” I believe the Christian teaching that is prevalent today that states love is not a feeling is helpful to some degree because it is directed at a cultural lie that love is an emotional experience only. In that context, when the emotions for someone are not present, you now no longer love that person. That is not a biblical understanding of true of love.
True love chooses to do the right thing for the benefit of another even when you don’t want to do it. Love involves a decision of the will to sacrifice for the benefit of another person. “Agape” is the Greek word for love that many have said focuses on a sacrificial choice. I agree.
However, I believe that love is more than “just a choice to sacrifice.” If you just choose to do the right thing for the benefit of another I don’t believe this means you actually love that person. Love is a big topic in the Bible and is used in multiple ways; however, I believe at the core of true love as taught in the Scriptures is joyfully sacrificing.
Without joy, I don’t think you can have true love.
Love Must Be a Choice Rooted in Joy
Love is not just a sacrifice for another. I believe true love is a joyful sacrifice for the object of your love. For example, if a parent provides food, clothing, and shelter for their child, this does not automatically mean that this parent truly loves their child. Perhaps the parent doesn’t want to get in trouble with Child Services. Perhaps the parent doesn’t want to be viewed poorly by others. Or perhaps the parent does these good things simply as a matter of conscience, because he or she does not want to feel the guilt of not providing for the child. If the parent is just doing their duty until they are free once the child turns 18, this is not love.
We know that’s not love and the child will not feel loved. It’s not enough for me to do good things for my children. I have to want to do good things for my children. I have to find pleasure in serving them for it to be true love.
What I am not saying is that we must be joyful about doing the actual task. I don’t particularly like cooking, wiping poopy butts, or playing the same child’s game for the 100th time after a long day at work. But underneath my choice to do these things is a pleasure in serving my children. Why? Because I love them. Without an underlying motive of finding joy and pleasure in my children, I would not be able to sacrifice for them. Because I do find pleasure in them, I am able to sacrifice for them. I choose to sacrifice, but my decision is rooted in a free choice motivated by joy.
Throughout the Bible, joy is consistently linked with love. According to the Bible, love is more than a choice to sacrifice for another. Love is a joyful choice to sacrifice for another.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Romans 12:9-10)
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)
Without our choice being “cheerful” and filled with “brotherly affection” our love is not genuine and God is not pleased with it. If we choose to do the right thing with a bad attitude, a begrudging spirit, or with a motive rooted in fear rather than freedom, we are not expressing truth love.
Again, none of this means we must be happy about making the sacrifice. Rather, we must have a deep affection for the one we are sacrificing for. When we love our enemies, for example, we are showing our love for God. Our affection is not rooted in our enemies and we do not enjoy them; but you love them because your affection is for God. If you did not love God there would be no reason to love your enemies.
Since you love God you can joyfully choose to sacrifice for others. The Bible says Jesus did this very thing:
. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. . . but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:2, 10-11)
Jesus did not want to die on the cross. His joy was not in suffering. But he joyfully obeyed God and suffered for us which is the root of love.
When it comes to God’s love for us, he expresses it in discipline. Discipline is not pleasant in the moment, but it produces a greater pleasure in the future when it takes effect. Discipline itself is not joyful, but it is an expression of love because it is a sacrifice rooted in producing joy.
Love Is a Sacrifice that Produces More Joy In You
So what is love? Love is a choice, but it is more than a choice too. Love is a joyful sacrificial choice done for the benefit of another. In John 15:9-13 Jesus states:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Verse 11 seems to come out of nowhere until you realize the link between true love and joy. If you just choose to sacrifice without wanting to sacrifice, you have not loved. People make sacrifices for many reasons besides love. Jesus wants his love to be in us, so he knows his joy must be in us too, therefore John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Without joy you don’t have love. And without love you want have true joy.
So not only does true love require a joyful sacrifice, a loving sacrifice will actually produce more joy in you, for as Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).