When love doesn't look like you expect it to

Love. It’s a word we use more often in February than in other times of the year, because of Valentine’s Day. As Christians, the word “love” is central to our understanding of God and the gospel; it’s used 57 times in the book of John alone. 

But has our understanding of love been colored more than we realize by commercially-driven sentiments? Do red and pink hearts, cherubic figures, roses, and chocolate spring to mind much more quickly than the images of love portrayed in the Bible?

Love, as depicted in the saving work of Jesus on the cross, is anything but soft and fragile. It’s borne of a deep valuing of His created beings, His image-bearers. 

It is, at its core, a battle cry.

I always puzzled at the notion of God being a “jealous” God (Exodus 34:14). Elsewhere in the Bible, jealousy is considered worldly (1 Corinthians 3:3), and is listed as an undesirable attribute (2 Corinthians 12:20) and act of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). 

What humans express imperfectly (sinfully), God expresses perfectly. When understood to be an unwillingness to let any threat come between two peoplejealousy describes exactly the aim of God’s sacrifice: He was unwilling to allow sin to come between us and Him. So, Jesus paid the price of reconciliation because of God’s jealous love for us.

The cross was war waged upon sin. Victoriously.


This is the kind of love we strive to imitate. The kind that values others, values the one. The kind that refuses to allow threats to come between us—as His children, in our marriages, and within our families. 

Just as the word “love” has different connotations in the Bible than it does in the world, so, too, “love” may look different than one expects or is commonly seen in today’s culture. 

  • Rather than sitting peaceably by as an onlooker, friends may need to become involved and express difficult truths to those in their circles because they love them and want what’s best for them. 

  • Spouses may lovingly intervene when addiction is creating separation in their covenant relationship.

  • Parents, especially those who are parenting adoptive children who’ve experienced trauma—or have other special needs, may not demonstrate their love for that child in a way that seems normative. 

When we observe or experience something that challenges our Hallmark-influenced notion of love, we’d do well to ask ourselves whether maybe it, in fact, reflects the kind of jealous love God demonstrates. And, like Paul did for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:2), we—as the church—must strive to embody and enliven that kind of love, as well. We won’t do it perfectly because we’re flawed human beings. 

But for the sake of Love Himself, we must try.

Kirsten Holmberg is a writer, speaker, and public speaking coach based in the Pacific Northwest. As an adoptive parent since 2004, her understanding of God’s adoption of her into His own family has grown and expanded. She is the author of  Advent with the Word: Approaching Christmas Through the Inspired Language of God and He is… therefore i am. Kirsten speaks regularly at church and community events, encouraging others to step closer to Jesus and better know His love for them through His Word. Find her online at www.kirstenholmberg.com.