"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
If God is love (1Jno.4:8), the answer to my question can only be found by looking at what He has said about it. If I want to know something about economics, I'm going to consult Thomas Sowell, not Bernie Madoff; and when I want to know something about love, I'll ask God, not Oprah Winfrey. I have said before that even though God is love, not all (so-called) love is of God. All that glitters is not gold and all affection, attraction, or even altruism is not love.
Before I tell you what I think love looks like from the mirror of God's Word, let me tell you what I think love is not:
1. Love is not even. In the picture the Apostle John gives us in the cited verse, there was an Initiator in the relationship. Someone loved first. In the case of God, had He not made the first move, there would never have been a relationship at all. For all the sermons and songs about "searching for God," there would have been precious little to preach or sing about, without the wooing of the Holy Spirit. (Incidentally, feel free to apply any of this to human relationships, as you will.)
2. Love is not always reciprocated. John 1:11 says, "He came unto his own, but his own received him not." When "love came down at Christmas," as the old song says, there were those who said, "So what?" Thankfully, the next verse tells us that those who were ready to accept the gift of God's Son as their Messiah and Lord, were able to claim God as their Father, too. Not as the "only begotten Son," but as dearly beloved children of God. But rejection did not contradict the authenticity of the love that was offered.
3. Love, like life, is not complicated. Only people are complicated. Paul's desire for the Corinthian believers was that their life would exhibit "simplicity and godly sincerity" (2Cor.1:12); which leads me to think that the more complicated a relationship is, the less sincere it is. We dissect frogs not jewels; and those things that are most precious to us should elicit the least handling. God's love for us culminated in one supreme act. He does not ask us to analyze His love, just to accept it.
4. Love is not unconditional. John says later in this epistle, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (5:3). As my mother used to say, "Pretty is as pretty does." God says, "Love is as love does." God did not merely say He loved us; He proved it. He may not expect perfection, but He does expect participation. "Love" that flagrantly and unrepentantly breaks God's rules is counterfeit.
So, what does love look like? Well, from what John says in our verse, it's not a pretty picture. The one supreme act in which God's love culminated, was the torture and excruciating death of His Son on the Cross, as the payment for our sins. If there is one word that characterizes love, it is the word "sacrifice." Our pastor once said, "If you have a relationship that does not involve sacrifice, it is not a loving relationship." The sacrifices may be big or small, but the principle is the same: giving up my needs or wants for someone else's.
Without this, there is no love.