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How to Know if You're in Love, Part 1

From the series Love Sex and Lasting Relationships

Most of us long to be in love but how do you know if it's really love or just a very intense flurry of emotions? Join Chip as he explains that you could make the biggest mistake of your life unless you know how to tell the huge difference between love and infatuation. One can last a lifetime and the other will not stand the test of time.

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Message Transcript

Well, I’ve got a question for you: How do you know – I mean, really know – if you’re in love? If you meet someone, and feelings start to come, how do you know when you’re in love? When you’re dating, and it’s getting more and more serious, how do you know for sure? And then, when you’re married, and time, and years, and some things go by, how do you know if you’re still in love?

Well, love is a tricky business, and falling in love is even trickier. The ancients talked about falling in love, and they compared it to going insane. It’s true.

A question I would ask you is: If we have this insatiable, internal, God-given drive to passionately find the right person, to connect with them at every level – spiritual, emotional, and physical – and then we want it to last and be great forever, why is it, when we fall in love, we make some of the poorest decisions that produce some of the most dysfunctional relationships and pain in all of our life?

So, you really need to understand if you’re really in love. To do that, we’re going to answer two questions, and then we’re going to go on a quick, little journey.

Question number one is: You can never know if you’re in love, unless you define clearly what love is. We use love for, “I love pizza,” “I love the NFL,” “I love God,” and, “I love you.” Now, I’m not sure about that, but that can’t all mean the same thing. So, we’ve got to define what love really is.

The second thing we need to do is, we need to understand, what is the difference between love and infatuation? We will define both of those. If you are wrong, if you don’t understand, if you’re confused, boy, you’re in for real pain. And so, we’re going to take, actually, a little test, where you can know whether you’re in love, or whether you’re just infatuated.

And then, I want to take the last portion of our time and I want to talk about, “Well, how do you nurture love?” Whether you are not in a relationship, whether you are dating and pretty serious, or whether you’re married, how do you nurture the love that God wants, in every area of your life?

Question number one, let’s ask and answer: So, what is love? We use one very general word in English; there are about four in Greek. I want to deal with three of them – three very different definitions of love, in Greek, three different words.

The first kind of love is called eros love. This is a need-based love. It’s a physical attraction. This love is necessary for a marriage to succeed; however, marriage cannot be sustained by eros love alone.

Can anyone think of an English word that remotely might come out of this Greek word, eros? Erotic. That’s right. We said it out loud, and in church. Okay? God wants married couples to have erotic love, to be passionate for one another, physically.

In fact, I’d ask you, if you will, to follow along as I read Proverbs chapter 5 verses 15 through 19. It’s a, maybe, PG-13 passage. But so often, we have, in Christian circles, not talked about sex the way God views it. And because of that, we have all these hang-ups.

The wisest person who has ever lived – Solomon – wrote, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow into the streets, and your streams of water into the public square?” And he’s talking about your sexuality. He says, “Let them be for yours alone” – speaking about your wife or husband – “never to be shared with a stranger.”

And then speaking to the man, he says, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always; may you ever be captivated by her love.”

Depending on the text that you’re using, that word, captivated, it’s literally intoxicated. It’s these wild, passionate feelings that we have that God has given us, that are one component part of love that really matter. It usually starts on the front end of relationships, and unless it’s nurtured, pretty soon, people think it’s unimportant. It’s a critical part of a loving marriage.

Second aspect – because eros does not keep love alive. If you think about building a fire, eros is like the paper, and the little twigs, and a little gasoline. And it flames up quickly, and gets hot very quickly, but it doesn’t keep you warm, and it’s not sustainable.

The second type of love is phileo love. This is friendship love. The Bible uses the word companionship several times to describe a marriage relationship. Phileo love is a reciprocal, or sharing, love of activities, home, hobbies, games, objects in common, fellowship. We get our word – what’s the city in America? The city of brotherly love? It’s Philadelphia. Right.

Romans chapter 12, describes authentic community, and authentic community has to do with phileo, or “best friends” type of love. Eros love is, you are passionate lovers with your life mate. Phileo love means you become best friends.

And in Romans 12, it says, “Let love be sincere. Abhor what is evil. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” And then, it goes on to talk about, “rejoicing in hope, and persevering in prayer.”

It’s talking about all these kinds of relationships where you’re devoted, loyal, friends, caring. This is grinding out life together. This is doing the bills together. But it’s also taking walks, and playing a board game. This is walking around the mall when you really don’t want to walk around the mall, but you do. This is watching a ballgame, and you’re thinking, I hate ballgames, but my husband is into this. This is putting some popcorn on, and watching an old movie, and cuddling up close together. It’s becoming best friends.

Love has an eros component, it has a phileo component, but it also has an agape component. This love is a giving love. This can be unilateral, in that one loves even when the other doesn’t respond as expected. It’s a self-giving, and meeting the real needs of the other person, with the purpose of helping that person become better, more mature, a godly individual. Agape love takes the initiative. It energizes the other two kinds of love.

And agape love is characterized in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. It’s patient. It’s kind. It doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It’s not proud. It’s not rude. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects – notice the word always – always trusts. It always hopes. It always perseveres.

See, you can’t give a supernatural love to another person, unless you get it from God. And agape love is giving that other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.

And see, it’s a choice. It’s a commitment. It’s understanding, in a relationship, that my wife needs phileo love, but there is the NBA All-Star game on, and I haven’t checked my email, and I’ve got all this business stuff in my mind, but I need to stop, and choose to meet that need.

It’s a woman saying, “My husband needs some eros love, but I’m really tired, it’s been a really rough day, and the last thing I feel like doing is being affectionate, let alone making love.”

And there’s a little moment that happens in a couple’s relationship where, Oh, God, I don’t have in and of me what I need to give to this person, and, honestly, the way they’ve treated me lately, I don’t want to give it to them. But I want to honor and love You, and I want to choose to love. And as I choose, will You give me power?

And that is what produces this amazing relationship. But you have to understand what love is. Three types. A relationship that really works needs all three. We’re going to talk about how to nurture each one in just a minute.

The second question we need to ask and answer is: What is the difference between love and infatuation? Well, we’ve said love, biblically, is three different things. But the fundamental aspect of love is, it’s a commitment, and it’s a choice.

Infatuation is a strong, passionate feeling that comes through chemistry. In fact, I have a quote from Dr. Michael Liebowitz, from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and they’ve done research that shows when passionate attraction occurs, a chemical substance called “phenethylamine” is released in the brain, causing feelings of elation, and excitement, along with a physical sensation such as light-headedness – that’s that tingling feeling – and a sense of being short of breath.

So, what you need to understand is, when you are infatuated, when you are attracted, when those things start bubbling inside your head, and your body, this isn’t you having an illusion. It’s real. It’s chemical. It’s physical. And it produces these amazing good feelings.

It also produces, as we’ve talked earlier, about a drop of thirty to forty points in your IQ. And when you’re infatuated, you get these new glasses. And this is where Nietzsche says, “You get these new glasses, and you start perceiving things, and life, and people, and priorities as far from reality as you’ll ever do in your life.” Now, there’s a right time, and a right way, and infatuation and those chemicals are a gift from God. You just need to know when to use them, why, and where.

So, here’s what we’re going to do. I have twelve questions for you, and we’re going to walk through and find out whether you’re in love, or infatuated.

Test number one is the test of time. Love grows, and all growth requires time. By contrast, infatuation may come suddenly. The feelings, they just explode. You don’t have to know the person. You can bump into the person – you’re at a Bible study, you’re at a coffee shop, you go to a meeting, it happens at work. Someone has a bright-colored something that they’re wearing, he looks really handsome, the light shines through, and all of a sudden, these chemicals start. Real love takes time. Infatuation can just drop on you, like – boom!

The second test, closely related, is the test of knowledge. Love grows out of an appraisal of all the known characteristics of the other person. In other words, to love someone, you need to know them. Who are they? What are their values? What are they like? Where do they come from? What matters to them?

By contrast, infatuation may arise from an acquaintance, with only a few, or one, of these characteristics. In fact, I shared a little earlier when my roommate from college, he came in and said, “I am in love!” I said, “Wow, that’s great! What’s her name?” He goes, “I don’t know. I don’t know!” No, he’s had infatuation chemicals go off in his mind. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not love.

The third test is a test of focus. Love is other-person centered. It is outgoing. It results in sharing. When you love someone – here’s the shift: How do I help them? How do I encourage them? What do they need? What is going to make this relationship work? How do I create time, and space, and structure, and resources, and energy, and finances to help this person? That’s love.

By contrast, when you’re infatuated, you get very self-focused.

The fourth test is the test of singularity. Genuine love is centered on only one person, and an infatuated individual may be in love with two or more persons, simultaneously.

See, genuine love is singular. And, see, here’s what happens: When you get married, and then you have some kids, and then there’s some pressure, and then there are some financial issues, or some health issues, and that triangle of God that is agape and eros and phileo, and parts of that aren’t working too well, you need to understand that just because you’re married, infatuation doesn’t stop. The chemicals in your brain don’t go, “Oh! You’re married! We’re not setting them off for you.” They’re just chemicals. There’s just attraction.

And so, pretty soon, you’re married, and it’s a difficult time right now. And in that difficult time, some people don’t look as pretty and so wonderful, and he’s gained a few pounds. And pretty soon, you go to work, and someone is very responsive, and there’s just something about them, and there’s a connection. And you believe the Hollywood model, Maybe I have the wrong person. Maybe this is my right mate. I’ve fallen out of love, now I’m falling in love.

That perspective will destroy two families. And, at best, it’s going to last six weeks to eighteen months. And you’re going to wake up and realize you’re the dumbest person on the face of the earth. What you needed to do was realize what real love was, realize the difference between love and infatuation.

In fact, I had a guy recently call me from a far, other state. And he’s a very educated guy and he’s a very committed Christian. And he said, “I have a problem. I can’t even talk to my pastor, because I don’t even know how to handle it.” And he began to talk to me.

And I said, “Well, what’s the deal, man?” He said, “There’s someone at work – and we’ve not done anything; we’re not involved physically, at all, but all that stuff you talk about going on inside your head. I just acted like it wasn’t happening. I found myself wanting to be around this woman at work. I found myself talking to her in a different way. I can sense that she’s probably on the same page. And it’s a difficult season at home. Chip, what do I do?”

I took a deep breath, and I said, “Number one, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s pretty normal. Most people aren’t this honest about it. And then, let me give you Jesus’ advice on this, and it’s the only way.” He said, “Oh, great, what is it?” I said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if your eye causes you to sin, poke it out.” To which he said, “Thanks?”

And I said, “Look, you are on a collision course to destroy your life. That infatuation – it’s real; there’s chemistry.

And then, he talked about the relationship, and the company, and what he would have to do. I said, “Buddy, I got news for you. If you have to quit your job, or sell your company, to be righteous, and have a family intact five years from now, it’ll be the smallest sacrifice you ever made.”

How are you doing? Do you see how important this is? Love, or infatuation?