Love is a challenging word to define. It doesn’t help that in the English language we use the same word to describe marital relationships (i.e. “I love my husband/wife”) that we use to describe feeling towards food (i.e. “I love bacon”). That being said, if I had to pick out one definitive characteristic of real love that I think sets it apart from “false love” (if that is even a term), I would choose faithfulness.
My favorite poem of all time, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, does an exemplary job of describing how love without faithfulness is not genuine.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.”
I really enjoy the powerful wording of this poem! Shakespeare argues that “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” (Lines 2-3). According to these lines, love does not change in the face of changing circumstances. Shakespeare calls love “an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, ” meaning that real love faces difficulties without wavering (Lines 5-6). Shakespeare notes that genuine love does not give way as time goes by when he writes “love’s not time’s fool,” and “love alters not with his brief hours and weeks but bears it out even to the edge of doom” (Lines 9, 11-12).
This poem provides comfort and encouragement for married couples who undoubtedly face obstacles in their love for one another. Personally, this poem encourages me through its message that real love is marked by faithfulness. If I say that I love my wife, I show my love for her by remaining faithful to her.
On a different, but related note, if love is marked by faithfulness, then I can have confidence in God’s love because of his faithfulness. The Old Testament, among other things, tells the story of God remaining faithful to his people despite their failure to reciprocate. When I am tempted to doubt God’s love for me, I can find great comfort in the fact that God has a spotless track record of remaining faithful to his people and to his promises (Deuteronomy 7:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). I can trust that he loves me and will do what he says he will do because he has proven himself to be faithful.
I realize that there’s undoubtedly a lot more that can be said about this topic. This post has really just scratched the surface of a very weighty and interesting subject. If you have thoughts that expound upon what I said or disagree with what I said, I’d love to hear them. These were just some ideas that I’d been mulling over for a while and thought might be helpful to some.
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