What is love? No I’m not referring to the 1993 Haddaway song (now I’ve got it in your head and you’re doing the head nod!). But really, what does it mean to love? What does love look like in marriage, in family, in the church? How do we love others? Let’s look to an all-too-familiar passage with fresh eyes:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “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.”
The importance of love in the context of human relationships cannot be overstated. You can have all sorts of spiritual gifts and power, but without love it all means nothing. In marriage, you can have great communication skills, effective time management and financial planning, a vibrant sex life, shared parenting values, but without love, you’ll gain nothing. Without love, you have nothing. The passage goes on to specifically unpack what love looks like.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – “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.”
Here we see love defined. Thirteen traits, characteristics of what love is – and is not. Love is a feeling, but it is also an action and a choice. Let’s look closer at this picture of love:
- Patience – When you love someone, you persevere with them. You are not short-tempered.
- Kindness – This is basic, but crucial. How many of our marriages and friendships would benefit from just an extra measure of basic kindergarten kindness? Love is understanding, merciful, and good.
- Not envious – When you love someone, you are not bitter when they do well. You are glad to see someone you love receive a good thing. You rejoice with them.
- Not boastful or arrogant – To be loving means you don’t brag and puff yourself up with conceit to make yourself look good at their expense. You are humble and gracious.
- Not rude – Love means you don’t act or speak in a way that is dishonorable or indecent. You respect the other person – how you think about them, how you speak to them, and how you treat them.
- Not insistent on your own way – You consider the other person more important than yourself. When you love someone you are not selfish. When you don’t see eye-to-eye with a friend, you don’t get pushy with your view – you value their perspective.
- Not irritable – Don’t be a touchy person who is easily set off, or easily provoked to anger. When a relationship is strained, you remain calm and peaceable.
- Not resentful – This means you don’t keep an account of every wrong a person has done and hold it against them. Whether a casual friend or a life-long spouse, you forgive and leave it in the past.
- Not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in truth – When you love someone, you don’t delight or take pleasure in their misfortune. You take pleasure in what is good, true, and right.
- Bears all things – Love bears with the other person. In marriage, you cover over the faults and weaknesses of your spouse to protect them.
- Believes all things – When you love someone, your disposition is to trust them. To see the best in them, believe the best of them.
- Hopes all things – You don’t just believe the best about them, you hope and pray the best for them.
- Endures all things – When you truly love someone, you remain committed to them even when things are hard. In marriage you endure both on the days when you are madly in love and you can’t keep your hands off each other – and on the days when you feel so distant, you wonder if you’ve “fallen out of love.”
These are thirteen beautiful realities of love. The passage goes on to describe how true love never ends, because God’s love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 – “Love never ends. 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. 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.”
Real love never ends. It lasts. It never fails, falls, or collapses, because true love is from God. All our knowledge and spiritual gifts only enable us to see God, as in a mirror dimly. But one day when the Perfect comes, when Jesus returns, we will see him face-to-face. And what will remain when we stand with God in eternity is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
In marriage, in the church, in the community, we must be filled with and driven by love. Without love you will fall apart. But the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 must be centered on Christ because he is the embodiment of love. He fully lives out each quality of love described in the passage. The life of Jesus shows us what selfless love is. His death on the cross as our substitute, releases us from the penalty and the power of our sinful, loveless hearts. His resurrection empowers us to walk in freedom, obedience, joy, and love for one another.
Whether you are young or old, married or single, look to Christ, trust him as Savior, and let him fill your life with his love and grace. Hold onto Christ, hold onto his love for you and let his Spirit drive you, each and every day, to walk in love for others.