When we love, we utilize all parts of ourselves. You literally bring your entire being to bear toward helping and becoming close to someone, God or human. This is why love cannot be reduced to simply an emotion, a thought, a behavior, a choice or a commitment. It involves the whole person, investing our very souls for the sake of another, loving with heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37).
This is why loving is so costly. To give yourself to the task of loving another isn’t worth a lot unless there is a cost involved. Time, effort, vulnerability, humility, and self-denial, are a few examples of the price tag. Yet this whole-self love has great benefits for both the lover and the receiver. The one who receives is loved well, which is the fuel for life; and the lover’s heart and soul are expanded from exercising this highest attribute of God. God’s heartbeat for love was so costly that he lost his life, yet even then lots of people spurn it. But he has no regrets about loving so lavishly.
As we are loved well, and respond responsibly to the love we are given, we begin to feel a sense of gratitude for what we are receiving from God and others: we love because we are loved (I John 4:19). Our gratefulness drives us to be concerned about the welfare of the other person, and our loved state gives us a safe foundation from which to venture out and begin helping and loving back.
Altruistic love is the most mature love. It is a giving type of love. It doesn’t need the other person’s support, and can love freely without depending on that other. It means that we have been loved so much, and have used that love to mature, that we are rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17). We are in a loved state, with enough emotional memories internalized through our experiences to sustain us. At the same time, altruists are never without regular, sustaining relationship with God and others in their lives. But they are deeply involved in things like charities, ministries and helping activities with those who aren’t in a position to give back to them. This is the love that constrains God to act on our welfare (John 3:16).
If this seems like a tall order in learning to love, you are right. And yet, there is no more worthy activity. Ask God to help you grow in faith and hope, but especially in love (I Cor. 13:13). It brings His grace and character into your life, both today and into eternity.