True love. Oh, how easily we say these words. We dream about it, read about it, watch movies about it. It fascinates us, consumes us. We love to talk about it. We claim to want it.

But . . . but.

Reality hits. Life happens. People disappoint. Did we not find love to begin with? Or perhaps, we don’t truly understand what love is.

For many years, the phrase “Love is action” has become popular. Christians like to point to Jesus’s cross as Exhibit 1, using John 3:16 or 1 John 3:18 as support. And while that’s an excellent example of real love, is that all love is?

Is true love always action? Or are we blinded by selfish expectations?

1. Love is action

Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

Love is often action. The trick is that it displays itself in various ways that we don’t always acknowledge. Let’s look at a simplistic example that most of us can relate to: Pets.

I love my dogs. Sure, they drive me crazy on occasion, but that’s a different blog post. Most often, I show this love in practical ways.

  • Feeding them or making sure they get fed every day.
  • Spending time with them, petting them, and allowing them to sleep while lying against me.
  • Talking to them and making a point to look them in the eyes, one way dogs receive love.
  • Taking them regularly to the vet for shots, well-checks, and required lab work.
  • Talking to my vet and reading an occasional book or blog post about how to keep them healthy.

All of these actions show my love and concern for the canines under my care. And, with the exception of the shots and lab tests, they are all actions that my dogs, well … love.

2. BUT … True love is also non-action.

The list above is not all I do to show love for my pets. I also show them love by not doing some things, some of which I can assure you they don’t appreciate.

I do not feed my dogs foods that are not good for them.

Well, not very often. Truthfully, they sometimes snatch a morsel that I’ve dropped on the floor or swipe a lick from the dishwasher before I shoo them away. But one is a senior-aged chihuahua with an underactive thyroid and arthritis in her back, which means she must watch her weight. And trust me, she does not appreciate that any more than the rest of us do.

I do not bring more animals into the house than I can mentally, emotionally, and financially take care of.

Let’s face it. Dogs can be like toddlers who never grow up. My high-energy three-year-old retriever requires a lot of mental and physical energy, but even my older, lazier chihuahua requires constant thinking about, making sure she’s been fed, can access water, isn’t too hot or cold, etc. That’s energy that I need to make sure I have available for the pets in my care.

I do not bring more animals into the house than my pets can mentally or emotionally deal with.

Before we got our high-energy pup, I occasionally dog-sat for close friends. My chihuahua did not appreciate my kindness. My little one is not good at sharing the attention of her people, and she loathes interlopers that refuse to acquiesce to her desires. So I love her by limiting other dogs access to my house.

You could also add some common sense basics to the list of non-actions.

  • I don’t let my dogs run free, encountering untold dangers. They don’t always welcome this, especially when kids are walking down the street that they would love to meet.
  • Rides in the car are limited to times when they can actually be with me. Not taking them with me is sometimes hard, but leaving them in a hot car isn’t healthy and waiting confined for hours inside a reasonable-temperature vehicle wouldn’t be as comfortable for them as waiting at home.

And for the record, none of this is always easy! It’s work. It takes dedication and a purposeful eye on the future. It’s doing today what is best for tomorrow even when it doesn’t feel convenient or pleasant right now.

3. Finally, true love can be action you don’t see.

This is probably the one that most irritates me with the whole Love is Action mantra going around. Think about it: Do actions only count when we are aware of them? Do the actions of another that we may never know about this side of heaven count for nothing? Must we assume that because we don’t know that a person is showing us love that they actually don’t love us at all?

How many people have you prayed for? Did you tell every one of them?

How many times do you think about someone, but don’t take the time to check in with them? Does that have no value?

How often do you pass a store shelf and see something that brings a memory of another to mind and a smile to your face, yet you never mention it to them? The emotion you feel brings value to your day, so should it be discounted because it wasn’t something that brought value to another? What if it leads to you being kinder to the next person in front of you?

The military life has brought me many friends only to take one or both of us off to other places. I don’t know where they all are or how to contact them. Does that automatically mean I don’t love them?


Spread love everywhere you go. ~Mother Teresa

Yes, true love is often action—through words, gifts, acts of service, time, and touch.

While actions can indicate feelings, a lack of action shouldn’t necessarily determine that love isn’t present. Maybe it does, and maybe you need to pay attention to that. Or maybe, your perception is wrong or your expectations are unreasonable. Perhaps you are caught up in selfishness, pride, and a lack of concern about others.

Instead, let’s focus where we are supposed to focus. Let’s love others the way God calls us to, whether it’s with action, non-action, or behind the scenes actions they may never know about.

Read More

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I’m offering a FREE 14-day Bible Study on 1 John 4:19: We love because He first loved us.

What is Love?

When you think about LOVE, what’s the first image that comes to mind?

How do you show love, and how do you like to receive it? What is true love? Can you define it?

The apostle John spends a lot of time talking about love in 1 John chapter 4, starting with the statement that love comes from God. And he continues with statements like when we love one another, God’s love is made complete. What does that mean? And do we really have to love everyone?

Over fourteen days, I walk through verses seven through twenty-one, one by one, giving insight into the words John used and how the people of his day would have understood them. You’ll take a closer look at the cross of Christ and all that it should signify to those of us who claim to love God.

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