There is great confusion over what love is. Love is nearly synonymous with sexual immorality. We should expect this as society becomes increasingly secular. Christianity rejects this. Paul’s line of thinking in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 10 shows that immorality follows unbelief and idolatry.
Repeatedly in the New Testament, we are taught that Spirit-born love is the antithesis of sexual immorality. For example, Paul’s list of the lusts of the flesh in Gal 5:19 begins with “sexual immorality,” while his list of the fruit of the Spirit late in the chapter begins with “love” (5:22). To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord in Eph 4:2 includes “bearing with one another love,” and being part of an assembly that is “builds itself up in love” (4:16) through Christ’s gifts, while Gentiles “have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy for every kind of impurity” (4:19). In Col 3:5, the first “earthly” thing Christians are to put to death is “sexual immorality,” while the thing that Christians “above all” “put on” in 3:12-14 is “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” After telling the Thessalonian believers that paramount to their sanctification is that they “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess 4:3), Paul turns directly to urge them to continue in “brotherly love” (4:9), urging them “to do this more and more” (4:10), for “God” is the one who “taught” them ” to love one another.”
But perhaps the link isn’t clear to us always, how these things are distinguished. Why is true Christian love the opposite of immorality? Well, on that note, I found this little explanation by the “Golden Mouth” John Chrysostom especially plain and helpful. Here Chrysostom responds to the question, How did Potiphar’s wife “who loved Joseph wish to injure him?” His reply:
Because she loved with this diabolical love. Joseph however not with this, but with that which Paul requires. Consider then how great a love his words were tokens of, and the action which she was speaking of. ‘Insult me and make me an adulteress, and wrong my husband, and overthrow all my house, and cast yourself out from your confidence toward God.’ These were expressions of one who so far from loving him did not even love herself!
“But because he truly loved, he sought to avert her from all these. And to convince you that it was in anxiety for her, learn the nature of it from his advice. For he not only thrust her away, but also introduced an exhortation capable of quenching every flame: namely ‘if on my account, my master,’ he says, ‘knows not anything which is in his house.’ He at once reminds her of her husband that he might put her to shame. And he said not, ‘your husband,’ but ‘my master,’ which was more apt to restrain her and induce her to consider who she was, and of whom was enamored,–a mistress, of a slave. ‘For if he be lord, then you are the mistress. Be ashamed then of familiarity with a servant, and consider whose you are, and with whom you would be joined, and towards whom you are becoming ungrateful and inconsiderate, and that I repay him greater good-will.’ And see how he extols his benefits. ….
But not from [his reasoning with her at the time of the confrontation] alone, but also from later actions, shall I be able to point out his good-will and his love. Yea even when he fell into a necessity of mentioning the cause of his imprisonment, and his being held there, he did not even then tell the whole course of his story. … He no where mentioned the adulteress, nor did he plume himself on the matter, which would have been any one’s feeling, if not for vainglory, yet so as not to appear to have been cast into that cell for an evil cause. …
Do you see how he cared for her? But her’s was not love, but madness. For it was not Joseph that she loved, but she sought to fulfill her own lust. And the very words too, if one would examine them accurately, were accompanied with wrath and great blood-thirstiness. For what does she say? ‘You have brought in a Hebrew servant to mock us,’ upbraiding her husband for the kindness, and she exhibited the garments, having become herself more savage than any wild beast, but not so he.
You can read the whole sermon (Homily 32 on 1 Corinthians) here. But here is the point. Love seeks the other’s good. Sexual immorality does not do this. True love is never seen in the quickly passing fires and passions of immorality, which is all about fulfilling the one’s own good. This “love” is so bent on seeing its carnal desires satiated (of course they never are really satiated), the individual seeks the spiritual, ethical, physical, and emotional ruin of the other with whom they desire to sin.
As for the true love of a man and woman and the human inclination toward intimacy, Christians need no apology (however quaint it may be perceived to be today) when we declare that true love is seen when a man and a woman abstain from sexual relations of all kinds until their marriage vows have been exchanged. This shows this love. We need no apology (no matter how prudish the public regards such mores) when we affirm with the God who created matrimony that true love is seen in the bond of one man and one woman for life. This kind of seeking the other and remaining committed in marriage for that other, for better or for worse, for the purpose of family life as long as God will grant it, is the true love of marriage, and that best foundation for expressing the physical unity of the marriage bond.
Ultimately, this other seeking love is best epitomized in the love of Jesus himself, who died for sinners on the cross. And that love of Jesus Christ best displayed today in local churches, in both their discipline and mutual edification.