I had a friend ask me a question the other day regarding an issue involving a student situation, and how to handle it. The question has been haunting me ever since: “What does love require?” As Christians, we know we’re called to love. Jesus’ Great Commandment is, simply, to love, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37). But, what does love really mean? What does love actually require?

Matt Chandler once observed that we use “love” to capture many ideas: I love my wife; I love the Baylor Bears; I love salted caramel ice cream; I love Jesus. Love can’t mean the same thing to capture all those sentiments. To actually love with a God-shaped calling can’t mean the same thing as “have an affinity for,” “prefer,” or “be attracted to,” and still capture Christ’s command to love. We can’t conflate all these ideas when we say “love.”  Love, as Christ calls us to love, is not a feeling or a preference; it’s a willful act.

Love is the conscious decision to be all for another. If so, what does love actually require?

Anyone who has actually ever truly loved knows that love requires suffering. In his wonderful book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller says that “suffering is the crucible for love.” Counterfeit love is full of all sorts of self-interest, and stems from a desire to have one’s needs met, even at another’s expense. Suffering is the place where self comes to die, where we’re stripped down to the state of humility that allows us to truly love. To love is to suffer.

Suffering also requires sacrifice. In fact, the true measure of love is what you’re willing to give up for it. The pure love of a parent is willing to sacrifice everything, and expects (and often receives) nothing in return. The ultimate love of our Father in Heaven conquered death through the shed blood of His son, love that cost Him everything.

Perhaps the greatest passage on love in Scripture is found in I Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous “love” chapter. Ironically, we read it most often in the context of marriage and weddings; however, Paul wrote it for the church, a group of people called to unity through loving each other and using its gifts to serve each other. This kind of love is not eros, not romantic love, but phileo, brotherly love.  It’s how we’re to love God and love our neighbor.

Love is patient, and kind, and doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not irritable or resentful. This kind of love is built for daily living, and daily loving. As chapter 13 says, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It is relentless and persevering, even when it doesn’t want to be.

So what does love require? Love requires a desire to tell others about the way to eternal life. Entertainer Penn Gillette, who is not a believer, once famously said, “How much do you have to hate someone when you believe you know the only way to be saved from death, and you fail to tell them about it?”  Even Gillette understood that love isn’t afraid of offense, or is strong enough to conquer that fear. We’re preconditioned by a dark culture that doesn’t want us to tell the world about Jesus, tells us that doing so is offensive, a social faux pas, not for polite company at best, a violent act at worst. But, love requires breaking through social mores to others’ deepest need, whether or not they’re aware of that need.

Love requires being the one to initiate the resolution of conflict. Love requires the act of kindness to the person who treated you like dirt. Love requires the tempered response to the person who just blasted you on email or social media. Love requires choosing to ascribe good intentions to the person who just said or did something whose word or act could be interpreted either way. Love requires giving one more chance. Love requires walking across the room and introducing yourself to or engaging that person, even if that person is completely “other” than you. Love requires gathering those moms and dads who you don’t really know that well together for prayer. Love requires a commitment to peace–not fake peace, which is just ignoring problems and conflict, but doing the hard work of confronting, humbling oneself to admitting wrong, trying to see things through other’s eyes, and seeking and extending forgiveness.

So much of love is unnatural, which is why it requires drawing on supernatural strength, pressing into the Lord daily for strength and grace, humility and perseverance. Love requires staying in the fight, and never letting go.

Love is the most powerful force on earth. When set even against the second most powerful force, death, love won. And, we can’t fully live without it. Love requires all that we are, and all that we have. Yet, it gives everything in return, even when we don’t expect it.  And, we can’t do the “community” part of Grace Community School without it.

Jay Ferguson, PhD, Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.