I think one of the greatest debates in our culture centers around the question, “what is love?” emotion, action, state-of-mind, fluctuating, indefinable, in the eye-of-the-beholder, “whatever you make it”.
The Scripture has quite a lot to say about the subject, but the most famous chapter is 1 Corinthians 13; here it is in the New Living Translation:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
When most people hear these verses it comes in the context of a wedding to set the mood and tone for the couples’ life together, but contextually Paul is writing about the Church… about how believers are supposed to treat other believers.
Now, I’m going to admit that verses 1-3 and 8-10 of this chapter kind of cut me to the heart because I spend a great deal of time refining sermons, working with the hurting, and gaining biblical knowledge – all of which are implied in those verses. While none of those things is wrong, Paul’s main point is that they don’t mean anything, and in fact can be detrimental (noisy gongs and clanging symbols can hurt) if the effort is not couched in love.
In case his readers were to say, “Great, what does that mean?” He gives them the nut of the matter: patience, kindness, a lack of pride, a lack of jealousy, a lack of rudeness, giving way to others, stands for justice in all its forms, is hopeful, and encouraging in every circumstance. Love is a complicated thing, but it begins with the basics of patience, kindness, civility, and humility.
As Christians, I think we have lost the basics of love in order to demand the greater things of love as defined by our perspective. We, as Christians – and I can be guilty of this too – can be so concerned about the truth aspect or the justice aspect or an agenda that dominates the headlines that we ignore the power of a kind and encouraging word, the impact of a smile or a listening ear. Love isn’t about our perspective – it’s about God’s, and God’s definition of love focuses on the way we impact others in the tiniest of ways to the biggest.
Where do you struggle with God’s view of love?
More on love…