Thoughts on love
Ah, St. Valentine’s Day. Candy kisses and pink greeting cards. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but instead of making singles feel more lonely, divorcees more heartbroken, husbands more pressured and wives more miffed, how about we return the holiday to its original meaning, and try to recapture the true nature of love? For that, let’s turn to The Authority on perfect love, 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
These are amazing lines. It’s not eloquence and articulation that make us anything; they can be a cover for a bad heart. It’s not depth of understand or wisdom; knowledge can be cold and lifeless. It’s not even powerful faith that builds us up; faith without love becomes aggression. And surprisingly, it’s not even great sacrifice that amounts to anything, if it’s not rightly motivated.
There is something else more basic than all these things, which alone gives life, and without which we are nothing: love. The next section of 1Cor 13 describes the characteristics of perfect love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
If I could wrap this up in one short statement, I would say that love seeks the good of the one loved above the self interest of the one who loves. This is not merely some gauzy romantic fantasy (though romance can be a wonderful part of true love), this is redemptive, costly love.
The world would be a much better place if we all loved on this plane, but where do we find the inspiration and strength to love this way? 1Jn 4:8 tells us that God is love. So let’s do a mathematical substitution on this same section of 1Cor 13. For every instance of “love”, we’ll substitute “God” and change the pronouns accordingly.
God is patient and kind; God does not envy or boast; He is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on His own way; He is not irritable or resentful;
He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
God never ends.
You see, this is exactly how God deals with us. The Author of love, who indeed is Perfect Love Himself, did not instruct us to love without first modeling it for us Himself. His teachings are always a reflection of His character, so whenever we see something in the Bible that God expects us to do, at the same time we’re also receiving a clue as to His true nature.
God is not a hard taskmaster to be abjectly feared, who “takes up what he did not lay down, and reaps what he did not sow.” (Lk 19.21) No, we love because He first loved us (1Jn 4.19). Christ was the forerunner, laying down his life, so that we too should lay down our lives for the brethren (1Jn 3.16).
If we would get revelation of the depths of God’s love for us, we would gain the power to overcome all obstacles, for faith works through love (Gal 5.6). Just as rejection can bring great pain and debilitation, there is great power in acceptance. This is why David sang, “Thy gentleness has made me great”. Whenever David blew it – which was rather often – he repented and found that God received him back with open arms, without reproach. And so David was able to accept forgiveness, clear the slate, and start over again, rather than carrying around guilt, shame, hurt, anger or bitterness.
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
All the gifts we have been given, as wonderful as they are, are just vehicles for us to help each other to grow in love. Paul says elsewhere:
But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. -1Tim 1:5
The day is coming when we will no longer need the manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit, or any religious props at all. We will be continually walking in the fullness of God, so there will be no need for special manifestations.
But in that perfect presence love will continue to abide. It is something we will never outgrow.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul is saying that we have an opportunity to mature in our concept of love. We don’t have to be tied to unclear, futile or toxic notions about what love is. We can turn to God and learn from Him, drinking in His very nature in the process. And when we see Him clearly, we will be like Him (1Jn 3.2). He is the ultimate example to which we can aspire:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
May we all find and walk in the fullness of this unfathomable love this day.