FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What is Love?

with Paul David Tripp | November 20, 2013
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Love may involve cards and flowers, but it's so much more than that. Biblical counselor Paul David Tripp explains that love is willing self-sacrifice. He further contrasts our culture's contractual view of love - I do this and you do that, to the biblical view of love which loves another not because they deserve it but because God loved us first.

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  • About the Guest

  • Love may involve cards and flowers, but it's so much more than that. Biblical counselor Paul David Tripp explains that love is willing self-sacrifice. He further contrasts our culture's contractual view of love - I do this and you do that, to the biblical view of love which loves another not because they deserve it but because God loved us first.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Biblical counselor Paul David Tripp explains that love is willing self-sacrifice.

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What is Love?

With Paul David Tripp
November 20, 2013
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Bob: So where exactly did we learn what true love is supposed to look like?  Well, too many of us learned it from listening to songs like this on pop radio—

[Music and lyrics of Love Will Keep Us Together]

Bob: So, do you think they had it right?—Captain and Tennille? Well, I guess it depends on how you define love; right?

[Music and lyrics by Captain & Tennille]



Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So who do you think has got it right?—the Captain and Tennille?—or Paul David Trip? We’ll see if we can tackle that question today. Stay tuned.

[Music and lyrics]

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.

Dennis: You’re kind of grooving here.

Bob: That’s a Neil Sedaka—he wrote that song—Captain and Tennille performing it.  And I know I had the Spanish language album of that: Por Amor Viviremos. [Singing] Por—por amor viviremos! Huh? What do you think? [Laughter]

[Music and Spanish lyrics by Captain & Tennille]

Bob: Yes, love will keep us together. That’s our enduring message, here on FamilyLife Today; isn’t it?



Dennis: It is, and we have—to speak to that subject—Paul David Tripp, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  He’s the author of What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.

Bob: You a big Captain and Tennille fan, Paul?

Paul: Oh yes, definitely—[Laughter]—even more so, now. [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes, I’m sure you are.

Bob: I’m guessing you were more of a Cream kind of guy; weren’t you?

[Music by Cream]

Paul: Oh, absolutely. You just hit it right on the head!


Bob: I could tell. I could tell.

Dennis: I’m going to pull both of you guys out of the past to the present. [Laughter] I was in a meeting with a guy, the other day, who had come to me for some advice. This friend has been married for 20 years; okay? Now, I’m going to pose this question to you, Paul, and just ask you to address his need here.

He had been married 20 years. He is sitting there, talking to me; and he is going: “Dennis, I do not know how to love my wife. I’ve been married 20 years. It’s just dawning on me—I’m not a safe person. I’ve not created a safe marriage.



Our marriage has all four wheels off in the ditch, right now. I’m on one side and she’s on the other side of the ditch.”

They’re in need of a primer—some basic teachings around how they both begin to love—but I was speaking to the husband, in this case. Where would you begin with a man, who’s just realizing: “You know what? This love-thing, that we just heard the song about—it’s more than just a popular song.”

Bob: Or more than just a romantic feeling. You have to uproot some of those misconceptions about love to start off; don’t you?

Paul: Yes, and you’ve named one of them. I think maybe there are three or four big ones. The first one is that love is romance. It’s that cards-and-flowers kind of view of love. 

The second is that love sort of is Western-culture “nice”—it’s being “nice” to you. I think it’s very important to realize that it’s nice to be nice, but you can be nice to somebody you hate.



Now, here’s what I think is the radical thing—that a believer in the Bible would be the only one who would ever say—is that you get your best definition of love from an event, and that event is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I think the Bible calls us to “cruciform” love. Let me explain that term. Cruci means cross. Form means “in the shape of”—love that shapes itself to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is exactly what John does in First John 4. John says, “This is love.” If love has to be forced, demanded, manipulated—it’s not love. The very nature of love is willing. Jesus said: “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord.”  Love is willing. Love is willing self-sacrifice.



If you don’t hear anything I say in this broadcast, hear this:  “There is no such thing as love without sacrifice because I have to step out of my wants, my needs, my plans, and my agenda. Love is always costly—the name of the game. It cost Christ His life.” 

Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another. I’m motivated by your good. I’m motivated by what is best, right, good, true, beneficial, wise, and beautiful for you. That motivates me—not just this narrow world of:  “I know what I want my day, my week, and my life to look like,”—but I’m actually engaged—that I can be part of good in another person. How cool is that?

Dennis: Yes.

Paul: And then it does not require reciprocation. Love is not a contract. It’s a sacrifice. 



Dennis: When you say reciprocation, you’re saying: “I did this for you. Then, you’re going to do this for me.”

Bob: “You owe me.” Yes.

Paul:  And see, I think the average definition of love—exactly that—makes love a contract. It’s a sacrifice. And, if I could add this final piece: “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another, that doesn’t demand reciprocation—it’s not a contract; it’s a sacrifice—or that the person being loved is deserving.” If I only love you when you deserved to be loved, who am I actually loving?—I’m loving me. 

Dennis: Yes.

Paul: I believe that the Scripture teaches that love does its best, most beautiful work when that person doesn’t deserve it. You’re married to a sinner. They’re going to say bad things. They’re going to do bad things. They’re going to have bad days. That’s when love rises and lives in all of its beauty. Now, if I was listening to this, the next question I would ask is, “Where do I get this love?”



John says something in his letter that is radical and exciting. He says, “We love because He first loved us.” Now, that sentence means a lot of things. But one thing it surely means is that true love is best born out of gratitude, not out of duty. If I would plop down on the couch, next to Luella, and I would say, “You know, Luella, I’ve come to the realization that it’s my duty to love you. [Laughter] So, I’m going to do my duty because what else can I do?” She would never walk away, saying, “I’ve been loved.”

But when I wake up in the morning and say, “Quite apart from anything I could ever earn, achieve, or deserve, I’ve been loved with magnificent, perseverant, transforming, forgiving love.”



When I am so wet with the love of Jesus—that you can’t get next to me without getting wet—then I’m ready to love.

Bob: Again, you stop and think of the love the Father has for us. Imagine that kind of an approach where we go: “Well, I know God is doing His duty toward me. He’s obligated Himself to love me, and so He’s doing it; but He really could care less about me.” Well, who’d be drawn to that; right?


Paul: Well, that’s right. And think about this—it’s actually impossible for a Christian—if he’s thinking well—to say, “I don’t know what love is.” If you’re a believer, you have the most beautiful experience of what love is. On my creepiest days, I’m still loved. In fact, God has made such a commitment to love—Christ has born my rejection. I’ll never see the back of God’s head. What an amazing thing that is!



And so, I have an elaborate experience of what it means to receive the kind of love that I’ve just defined—while gratitude says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give that love to this life-long partner of mine?”

Dennis: I want to go back to my friend that I was talking to because I could hear him ask—at this point, he would say: “But Paul, I know of God’s love for me. I’ve studied it.  I’ve read about it. I’ve experienced it. But there are just those moments, Paul, when I feel powerless; and I feel like old habits / old behaviors surface—and you know what?— I just become plain selfish again. Where does the power come from to be able to love like you’re talking about?”

Paul: I think one of the most important passages for marriage is Galatians 2:20: “I’ve been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. Christ lives in me. And the life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 


Historical fact: I’ve been crucified with Christ. I’m identified with his life, death, and resurrection. Statement of present redemptive reality: I no longer live. Christ lives in me. This is mind-boggling beautiful—that God knew—because of who I am and where I’m living—it’s not enough to forgive me. He literally unzips me and gets inside of me. So, the living presence of Christ now lives inside of me. When Paul says, “I no longer live,” he’s not meaning he’s dead because he wouldn’t be writing. What he means is: “Now, what energizes me is not me—it’s the life of Christ.” 

Now, here’s the third phrase. I think it’s very important: “The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” That’s a confession: “I’m going to live like I actually believe that Christ is with me.” 



So, in this moment of irritation, I go back to my bedroom. I say: “Jesus, I can’t do this.  There’s everything inside of me that wants me to rip Luella, and I don’t want to rip her in this moment. I know this is wrong. Please help me. I’m going to walk down this hallway, believing that Jesus is with me; and I’m going to ask forgiveness from this woman that I’d like to rip.” That’s living the gospel.

Bob:  You know, as you quoted that verse, I was drawn back to when the lights came on for that verse, for me. I don’t remember the specific occurrence; but I remember thinking, “I am crucified with Christ; therefore, I no longer live.” It all sounded kind of metaphysical and ethereal. I don’t know how I came to it; but I took the word “I” out, and I just put “self” in its place: “Self is crucified with Christ; therefore, self no longer lives. Jesus Christ now lives in me; and then, the life I live now, is motivated by the Son of God.”



To see it that way—and to see what we’re really talking about is a death to self being the directive force of your life—and instead, Jesus Christ being the directive force of your life—so the life you now live, you live by faith to that what He’s calling you to do is better than what self is still banging around and saying: “No, you like this. Come on, try this. You’ll love it.”

Paul: And in His living presence with me that—let me say it this way: “Every day every married couple, husband and wife, measure their potential. It’s intensely human to do it. I’m always measuring my potential—what potential I have to live through this day—what potential I have in my job. You know, we’re always measuring potential. 

What Paul is saying is: “Don’t measure your potential just by your track record or the size of your problem. Your potential is Christ.  He’s now living in you. He is in you, with you, for you. You, now, have power to do what you would not have been able to do, apart from Christ.” 



I would ask the husbands and wives, who are discouraged in marriages right now: “How are you measuring your potential? Has Christ been part of that measurement?”  Because if it’s only your track record, and only the size of the problem—the problem is getting bigger / the track record is getting longer. You give way to discouragement—panic, denial—all those kinds of things. It’s when I say, “Christ is my potential,” I step forward with courage and hope.

Bob: Yes. What can’t He do through you? 

Paul: Absolutely.

Bob: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In fact, we were talking with a couple, not long ago, Paul. They had had a marriage situation where there had been infidelity, and there was anger in the marriage. It looked like it was over. The wife went to a marriage counselor. She, basically, said to the counselor, “There’s no hope left for our marriage.” In the middle of the counseling session, this counselor stopped her and said: “Let me ask you a question. Do you believe Jesus came back from the dead?”



She said, “Well, yes.” He said, “No, you didn’t hear me, do you believe Jesus came back from the dead?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “And you don’t think there’s any hope for your marriage?” And it was the breaking point for her—

Paul: Amen!

Bob: —to go, “Hmmm, if I really do believe this is true—that Jesus came back from the dead—there’s hope for anything;” right?

Paul: Amen!

Dennis: And, Paul, I want to ask you for a little personal self-disclosure, at this point.  When did you first love Luella with this kind of love? 

Paul: Never. I think that I am not a grace graduate. I am very committed to this lifestyle. I have grown enormously in the willingness to make sacrifices for my wife, to not ask for reciprocation, to not ask for her to be deserving; but I’m in the middle of that process.



And, by God’s grace, I celebrate what has already happened; and I’m expectant of what is to come. You live that way—you’re in a good place.

Dennis: Yes. I think what our listeners need to take heart in is—I think nearly all marriages experience profound disappointment—profound dysfunction—popular word we use today—all kinds of issues like pornography, affairs, lying, cheating, deception with one another—and they don’t have a way out. They don’t know what the solution is. 

This is where this book, right here, the Bible—and I go: “What would I say on this radio program today, if you took the Bible out of my hand, and I couldn’t speak the truth about the cross, and call people back to an event that illustrates the love of Christ? I don’t know what solution you’d have for two broken, selfish people, living in this culture, because it feels like it is out of control.”



Paul: You teach the skills of marital détente—how we negotiate one another’s selfishness, and we quit fighting, and we don’t have explosions—but it’s not love.

Bob: Well, you say, in the book, that most people are coasting when it comes to marriage. How do we get out of the coasting rut and get the car back into drive?


Paul: See, I think what the book, What Did You Expect?, does is—it just takes the Bible seriously. We’re needy people. We haven’t arrived to a point where we’re okay. We still need God’s grace and God’s help. If we’re needy people, then we’re going to make mistakes. We need to confess those. We need to forgive.

We need to say where there are weeds of bad behavior in our relationship—where they need to be pulled up—what seeds need to be planted. It’s that process: “How do we build trust between one another? What does it look like to love this person in a Christ-like way?



How do we deal with the differences that we have—we come from different backgrounds? How do we esteem those under grace?” Here’s what I think we have to have. We have to have a work ethic—marriage is work. 

Bob: That’s right.


Paul: I think we’re lazy. People ask me about my marriage. I say, “I have a great marriage. I am so excited for marriage.” Then, I say, “We’re still working on our marriage.” It’s that work ethic, and I can do that because I believe in God’s grace. I believe in His presence, and we’ve already harvested the fruit of that work in our marriage.

Dennis: Earlier this week, Paul, I went to a homeless shelter. It’s an unusual homeless shelter. It takes care of married couples and families that are homeless.

Paul: Wow.

Dennis: I was walking around there—seeing the programs and seeing what they had in place for these people.



I was just amazed at the expressed love to these who have lost their homes. They’ve lost their credit rating. They’ve been living under railroad trestles with infants. I mean—bizarre stuff. I thought, “These people in this homeless center need to be trained in how to have a real marriage with a real person.” As I was driving away, I thought, “There are a lot of people in mansions—who are not homeless—who need the same thing.”

Paul: That’s right.

Dennis:  Our need, as human beings, may be more acutely seen in someone who, in our culture, has” lost it all”. But our real needs are most exposed in the most intimate of all relationships, marriage. It exposes who we are—that we are imposters, that we are in need of a Savior, we are in need of redemption. 



The same power that raised Christ from the dead can empower that listener, right now, who’s in a marriage that’s tough. And you know what? I think most marriages are tough—if not all—because you need the love of Christ to rule in your heart richly if you’re going to build the kind of marriage that goes the distance.

I just want you to know that I appreciate you, your ministry—

Paul: Thank you.

Dennis: —all that you’ve done in your writing, and in your training, and just exhorting our listeners to not settle for second best. But, as I said earlier—to be a little bit of a trouble-maker, and kind of stir the pot, and force people out of their routines and what’s become predictable. I just appreciate you, Paul. You’re a good man—and appreciate you and your ministry, as well.

Paul: Thank you.

Bob: And I know a lot of our listeners appreciate the contribution that you made to The Art of Marriage—




along with Dennis, and Crawford Loritts, and Voddie Baucham, and Al Mohler, and Michael Easley, and Mary Kassian, and Barbara Rainey, and others who were contributors to this six-session, Friday night  / Saturday video event, that FamilyLife has created, that has now been seen by more than 350,000 people.

You stop and think about it—that’s a lot of people—but there are a lot more marriages than 350,000. That’s one of the reasons why our team has its eyes on Valentine’s Day in 2014 because Valentine’s Day is on a Friday. Everybody was thinking that might be an ideal weekend for churches to host an event to strengthen marriages.

It doesn’t have to be The Art of Marriage. You can do your own home-grown event. You can do Love and Respect or any of a number of series that are available for use. But we thought: “If you wanted to do The Art of Marriage, do two sessions on Friday night / four sessions on Saturday,”—hosted by anybody. Really, any married couple can host this event.



Here’s what I recommend you do: First of all, go to; and click the link for The Art of Marriage so we can get you a certificate for a free event kit. We’re only giving out these certificates between now and Thanksgiving—so you need to go today and get your certificate.

Then, once you have the certificate, go to the pastor and say: “Could my spouse and I host The Art of Marriage at our church Valentine’s weekend?” or, “Is there another weekend that would work better? We’ll do it Friday night / Saturday.” I’m guessing your pastor is going to love the idea that you lead some kind of a ministry effort like that.

Then, you spread the word through your church, social media—we’ve had people do all kinds of things—flyers. We can help you put posters together—whatever you want to do to help spread the word.

And when you’re ready to order workbooks for the couples who are coming to your event—as long as you’re ordering workbooks for more than five couples—you can cash in that certificate for the free Art of Marriage event kit. That gives you the DVDs, another workbook, and the Leader’s Guide—everything you need to pull off an Art of Marriage event; okay?



We really want to partner with you in making this happen. All you need to do today is go, click the link for The Art of Marriage, get your certificate, and then start making plans for what weekend works best for you—either Valentine’s weekend or another weekend in 2014. If you have any questions about The Art of Marriage, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY; or look online at

Don’t forget to get a copy of Paul David Tripp’s book, What Did You Expect? We have that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center—a great book for couples to go through, talking about how to strengthen your marriage relationship. Order, online, at; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

And as always, we are grateful for our partners in ministry—that’s folks, like you—our Legacy Partners—who help support this ministry each month with your financial contributions—and those of you who get in touch with us, occasionally, to make a donation.



We appreciate your linking arms with us in this ministry. In fact, this month, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your partnership,” by sending you a resource that Barbara Rainey has developed that’s great for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s called Untie Your Story—it’s ribbons to wrap the napkins in. Each ribbon has a question for someone to answer during the holiday meal. It’s designed to spark some more meaningful conversation at the dinner table.

When you go to and click the button that says “I CARE”, you can make an online donation. We’ll send this resource out to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone and ask for the Untie Your Storyresource when you donate. Or if you prefer, write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR, and the zip code is 72223.



Again, ask for the Untie Your Storyresource when you get in touch with us to make a donation. “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you are able to do in support of the ministry this week.

And I hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to spend some time getting to know the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible. Her name is Sally Lloyd-Jones, and she joins us tomorrow. Hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

©Song: Love Will Keep Us Together

Artist:  Captain & Tennille

Album: Ultimate Collection: Captain & Tennille, (p) 2001 Universal Music

  Enterprises, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

©Song: Por Amor Viviremos

Artist:  Captain & Tennille

Album:   Ultimate Collection: Captain & Tennille, (p) 2001 Universal Music

  Enterprises, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

©Song: Sunshine of Your Love

Artist:  Cream

Album: The Very Best of Cream, (p) 1995 Universal International Music B.V.

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