Author Gary Thomas recently posted an excellent blog series on the differences between love and desire. He introduces his topic this way:
When an immature 29-year-old soul proclaims, “I love him; I really love him!” she may well be speaking with a five year old’s heart: “I love candy; I really love candy!”
Our culture has made love and desire synonyms.
As long as we mix up the two, we will never understand biblical love, and thus we will never understand sacred marriage. Biblical love is perhaps best understood (though not fully defined) with the old-fashioned word benevolence. It is wholly others-focused.
A five year old loves candy in the sense that he desires it. He wants to eat it. In the same way, an immature 25 year old says he “loves” a woman because he desires her. He wants to have sex with her, or at least he wants to be around her and he wants her to want him back with the same intensity.
The kind of love the Bible calls us to is a love that is focused on the other’s benefit, not our desire.
Read the rest of Part 1, and then check out Part 2 and Part 3. While his primary focus is the marriage relationship, Thomas’ insight applies to almost any relationship. We can desire people in many ways — seeking their approval, friendship, support, etc. These desires, though not always evil, are necessarily rooted in our own tastes, preferences, needs, and ambitions. Love is something entirely different. Love is always only about the other.