By Aaron Earls
As with so many other searches today, the search for love in 2021 often begins online. Google searches for the word spike every Valentine’s Day. While “love” searches do increase dramatically in February on Scripture websites like Bible Gateway, love remains the top search term all year long.
“Love” (and amor in Spanish) was the most searched for word at Bible Gateway in 2020, just as it was in previous years. According to Jonathan Petersen, content manager at Bible Gateway, “love” has been the top search term every year since they began collecting data in 2016.
Three of the six most popular verses for 2020, including the most popular verse (John 3:16), contain the word “love.” Three verses from 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” rank in the top 100 verses. The heart emoji was even one of the most searched for emojis at Bible Gateway.
For Andy McLean, director for Bible and Reference at Lifeway, it’s no surprise that people would be turning to the (digital) pages of Scripture for love. “It’s not only a felt-need that everyone identifies with, but it’s also a topic where definitional ambiguity exists—especially in light of the way secular culture understands love and how often this conflicts with the biblical understanding.”People turn to the Bible to not only understand the notion of love properly, but to also hear what the Bible specifically says about God's love for them. — @AndyMcLean14 Click To Tweet
McLean says people have a vested interest in knowing what love is and what love looks like, “and thus people turn to the Bible to not only understand the notion properly, but to also hear what the Bible specifically says about God’s love for them.”
What type of love are people searching for?
Petersen says “love” searches at Bible Gateway fall under 15 categories:
- family love: loving children and parents
- forgiveness: love and forgiveness
- losing a loved one, loved ones in heaven
- lying: hate the sin, love the sinner
- offense: speaking the truth in love
- loving your husband or wife
- loving your enemy
- God loves me: God is love, unconditional love
- romantic relationships
- doing good deeds: showing love for one another
- loving each other in the context of sibling and friendship relationships
- repentance: God’s love endures forever
- loving God more than the world
- love of money
- loving your neighbor
What does the Bible say about love?
If you search for love at Bible Gateway, you’ll find a suggestion to read 1 Corinthians 13 before giving searchers a full list of Bible verses that contain the word—beginning with Genesis 22:2 for most translations like CSB, KJV, and ESV or Genesis 4:1 in the NIV.
Typing love into the search bar of your YouVersion Bible app will bring up John 3:16 and Romans 5:8, videos explaining certain verses on love, reading plans on the topic of love, and images of love verses to share on social media.If a searcher takes the time to understand exactly what the Bible says about love, they’ll probably walk away with their presuppositions challenged. Click To Tweet
But if a searcher takes the time to understand exactly what the Bible says about love, McLean says they’ll probably walk away with their presuppositions challenged. “Not necessarily challenged in the sense that their cultural understanding of love is completely overturned (though that may indeed happen),” he says, “but more so in the sense that any preconceived notions of love they adopted from culture fall short of how the Bible describes it.”
He says the biblical perspective on love will brighten and refine examples of love they see from others. “They’ll be able to better see and trace individual instances and acts of love to love’s actual source, much like one can trace glimmers of sunlight to the sun itself.”
Another aspect of the biblical picture of love people may find surprising, according to McLean, is “Sure, love can be both—we are to feel a certain way toward God and others, but the Bible has a lot to say when it comes to highlighting what love looks like in action.”We are to feel a certain way toward God and others, but the Bible has a lot to say when it comes to highlighting what love looks like in action. — @AndyMcLean14 Click To Tweet
Ultimately, McLean says those turning to the Bible to find love will realize “just how far and wide and deep the love of God is for humanity. All of the nuances and various descriptions of love found in the Bible are again pointing us to the source where love originates—in the character of God. God is love, and His love is persistently demonstrated through His loyal commitment in redeeming a rebellious people through Jesus.”
When web searchers read about love on Bible Gateway, Petersen says he hopes they “get a full and complete understanding that God considers love to be the most important virtue of all.”
How can pastor teach a biblical perspective on love?
As encouraging as it is that many are using the internet to find out what the Bible says about love, pastors should recognize this as a need that most likely exists within their community and even their congregation.
A 2016 Lifeway Research study found most Americans have a positive view of it, but only 1 in 5 have actually read the entire Bible. Around half (53%) say they have read little to no Scripture.Most Americans have a positive view of the Bible, but only 1 in 5 say they've actually read it all at least once. Around half (53%) say they have read little to no Scripture. Click To Tweet
Even among churchgoers and Bible readers, there exists some confusion. A 2019 Lifeway Research study found 57% of American Protestant churchgoers say they find it challenging to make sense of the Bible when they read it on their own.
McLean says pastors could do a thematic sermon or series on love in Scripture, but that type of temporary direct focus may not be the best way. “Perhaps the most easy and effective way for pastors to help their people understand love from a biblical worldview is by simply making an effort to trace and highlight this theme as they faithfully teach the Scriptures,” he says.Not all biblical lessons are learned directly from the pulpit. — @AndyMcLean14 Click To Tweet
But even away from the pulpit, all church leaders can help showcase what God’s love is by showing it in action and through other interactions. “Not all biblical lessons are learned directly from the pulpit,” says McLean, “which is why it is incumbent upon pastors and lay leaders to continue to find other means of relaying important biblical truths in one-on-one opportunities for discipleship or in a small group setting.”
Aaron is the senior writer/editor at LifewayResearch.com.