Here’s why I’m gonna tell my guy friends that I love them: because I do love them.
Pretty simple huh?
We live in a culture that has, for all intents and purposes, reduced the the phrase “I love you” to only two definitions:
- I want to have sex with you.
- I vaguely wish that you would be happy, because being happy is so nice.
Both of these definitions lack the true meaning of love. You want to know my definition? I steal it from J. Budziszewski who stole it from Aquinas, who stole it from Aristotle, who actually stole it from God without realizing he was doing so. My definition of love is this, “A commitment of the will to the true good of another.” (< You should read that footnote… just saying.)
The First Cultural Definition
Sex with the other person might be involved in their true good, but the boundaries for this “true good” expression must be found in the words of the author of “good” itself: the Bible. The boundaries God gives for sex is one man and woman, within marriage, for the supreme purpose of unifying two souls, to teach about the mysterious nature of the trinity, and for the minor purposes of pleasure and procreation. (You might give “The Biblical View of Sex” a listen to, and follow along with the powerpoints to get support for this claim, or read this post.) So for sex to be involved with your love of another person (their true good), you have to be the opposite sex of them, married to them, and growing closer to and understanding God more as a result.
The Second Cultural Definition
Wishing that the other person is happy might be involved in their true good. But the boundaries for this “true good” expression must also be found in the words of the author of “good” itself: the Bible. Unfortunately for this definition, God gives many examples and instructions to do rather unhappyifying things (it’s a word, trust me) in order for someone’s “true good” to come about. Jesus told the rich man to sell everything he had, and that didn’t make him happy (Luke 18), but his true good would have been to follow Jesus and have eternal life. Jesus also told his followers to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow him (a reference to dying), and I’d argue that he told them those things because he loved them (Luke 9). The apostle Paul ostracized a man from the church in Corinth for his sin, because of his (Paul’s) love for the man (In Paul’s words, “hand him over to Satan… that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord.”) (1 Corinthians 5). It only takes three chapters for the Bible to show that God makes people unhappy for their own good. Just read Genesis 3:21-24. You think leaving the garden was a happy occasion for Adam and Eve? It was necessary so that their sin could be dealt with… so that they wouldn’t live eternally in rebellion.
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:21-24)
True love drives people to make others quite unhappy at times. So, for “wishing another to be happy” to be involved with your love of them (their true good) their happiness has to be in line with, and come from, you encouraging them on toward holiness, godliness, and possibly self-sacrifice and pain for the cause of Christ. Yes, you can be happy while in pain. (Though a better word for that kind of happiness would be “joy”).
Love doesn’t have to be reserved for husband and wife, and it doesn’t have to be reserved for a pithy slogan like “no h8” which only involves vague well-wishings to a nameless, faceless, mass of people. Love is personal and it’s for all humans to experience, by God’s grace. So when I tell my guy friends I love them, I mean it!
It’s taken me a while to get over the fear of saying I love you to someone I wasn’t related to, or interested in dating, because I was afraid of the cultural baggage attached to the phrase. I selfishly, foolishly, wondered, “What might they think about me? Would it send the wrong message?” But I’m glad I’m over it now. It’s more biblical and more Godly to love your neighbor as yourself, and to show them that fact often.
 J. Budziszewski’s definition:”A commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” in “Homophobia, Part 1: Rage,” Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students by J. Budziszewski
Aquinas’s definition “To will the good of another.” In Systematic Theology I-II, 26, 4.
Aristotle’s definition “Wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him” in Rhetoric 1380b36–1381a2.
In the Bible, the very first time hesed (love) is used, it’s when God is sparing Lot from His own wrath against sin. Reminds me of another time God spared His people from his own wrath against sin… hmmm… might that be their true good?