I remember early on in my relationship with my husband - I got upset with him. I can't remember why. I only remember saying something about not liking him, which scared him. He assumed I meant that I don't love him.
"No... I said I don't like you. I love you... but right now, I don't like you very much."
It was at this point that I had to explain to him that there are many different kinds of love, and in varying degrees. There are your selfish loves and your selfless ones. Passionate, physical ones, and loves that come from the soul. There are loves you feel towards family... towards friends... towards lovers... towards God. And you can feel multiple forms of love for one person.
Because of the different forms, and only having one word in the English language to encompass all of them, miscommunication are commonplace. I will say I love someone else, and my husband will become jealous. Or, I will tell a friend I love him/her, and they will assume I mean something with sexual connotations. Or, they will assume I want something from them.
The Main Types of Love
Philia/Phileo: brotherly love - the love we have towards friends, companions. This love is found often in the Bible.
Storge: familial love - the natural love which exists between parents, children, siblings, etc. This love is not stated specifically in the Bible, but there are many examples of it existing.
Eros: erotic love - the sexual, physical love that exists between two people. While not stated in the Bible either, eros is the form of love written of in Song of Solomon.
Agape: unconditional love - the truest form of love. This love is often considered a divine love as it is God's love for us, and the love Christ wants us each to have with each other, is unconditional. This love is found in the Bible.
If You Love Me, You'll...All forms of love, with the exception of agape, generally have conditions applied. Because of our human nature, we often attach these conditions without even thinking about it.
If you love me, you'll stay. You'll be faithful. You'll share your time with me. You'll teach me. You'll hold me. You'll have sex with me. You'll cook for me. You'll give up your career for me. You'll give up your friends for me. You'll...
Well, you get the point. I've done it many times. I've had many people do it to me. But do you notice the common theme? You will do something for me. Love like this is the epitome of selfishness. But, we brush it off because we often reciprocate - we will be selfless to the person we love whom is acting selfishly. In other words - it's ok if I say "if you love me, you'll give up your friends for me" because last night, you said "if you love me, you'll have sex with me" and I obliged. We often unwittingly trade favors and expectations to justify our selfishness.
Because I Love You, I'll...
Because "God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son... " (John 3:16)I have always disliked the phrase "If you love me, you'll..." even though I am just as guilty of it as anyone else. I may not say it, but the unspoken message is there. But this isn't how God wants us to love. He wants us to love as He does... "Because I love you, I'll..."
I'll be there for you. I'll hold you when you need comfort. I will wait for you. I will forgive you no matter what you do against me. I will not do anything to harm you. I will not take anything that is yours. I will show patience and understanding. I will not expect anything from you - including not expecting you to do any of these things which I will do for you, and not expecting you to not do any of the things I will not do to you. I will accept you as you are.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)Agape isn't easy. Some would say it's virtually impossible for us as humans to truly reach this form of love. And perhaps for us to love this way 100% of the time is impossible. We will always have human nature - human sin - human selfishness - pulling at us. But this is no excuse for us to not always aim for this kind of love with everyone.
Yes, with your spouse, there will be eros. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't also be agape. With friends, with enemies, with the beggar you met on the street corner - love them as God teaches us to love. With children, with teachers, with co-workers and bosses - love them as God teaches us to love. With God... love Him as He has taught us.
As soon as that "if he really loved me..." enters your mind, squash it. Pray on it. Pray for selflessness in your love. Pray for unconditional love.