Are there legitimate objects of love? Can we love some things? Can we love some people? Nearly everyone would say YES.
But are there illegitimate objects of love? Should we not love some things and some people? Many people today would give a resounding NO. We are often told that we have the right to love whomever we want however we want.
So how would we know the right answer? Many people reason that since love is the most important power in the world, we should love everything. But, of course, that is not possible—nor advisable. To love one thing is not to love its opposite. For example, when we love truth, we do not love lies. Also, most people decide what and who to love based on their feelings rather than an objective source. Emotions are a God-given trait, but they are hardly a good basis for making decisions. Also, our human reasoning is too often flawed.
Since we need an ever-relevant but never-changing basis for what to love, maybe God himself should be that basis. After all, God is love (1 John 4:16). Wouldn’t God be the best one to tell us about love?
So what does he say? He says to love him, to love what he loves, and to love all people the way he loves them.
But how does God love? He is unlimited, so is his love unlimited? In other words, does God love everything?
No. God’s love has limits. He placed the first limits in Eden by telling Adam and Eve not to love the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He blessed this first couple with one another and with fruit from plenty of trees. But his love also had limits. Love always has limits. If it did not, it would accept everything, including things that harm us.
God also modeled for us the ideal marriage because of his love—a man and a woman, distinct and different but beautifully compatible in their diversity. He limits marriage like this because he loves us and wants the best for us.
Loving what God does not love is called idolatry. And here is what he says about loving idols:
Psalm 106:39 NLT
They defiled themselves by their evil deeds,
and their love of idols was adultery in the LORD’s sight.
Jeremiah 50:38 NLT
A drought will strike her water supply,
causing it to dry up.
And why? Because the whole land is filled with idols,
and the people are madly in love with them.
But you say, “Yes, but I am not committing idolatry. I don’t bow down to lifeless images.” Well, we need to see how God defines idolatry. Thankfully, he is clear: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5 NIV). So, God says that following our illicit loves instead of his legitimate loves is idolatry.
These texts teach that illegitimate love exists. It is wrong and harmful to love what God does not love. He loves all people enough to send his son Jesus to die for everyone, but his love cannot condone all behaviors. If it did, he also would be guilty of illegitimate love—but that would be contrary to his nature.
Is God mean to limit our loves? He is as mean as the father who limits kitchen privileges for his toddler. He is as unjust as the government that says you can only drive on one side of the road without exceptions.
So, it behooves us to find out what he loves and to imitate him. His first command to the first couple was to have babies (Gen 1:26). This leads to human flourishing and is only possible between a man and a woman. He declared it “very good” (Gen 1:31). We do well to heed what he says.