The word “love” gets thrown around a lot in our culture. We use it all of the time. I love coffee. I love chocolate. I love pizza. I love to play sports. I love to watch a certain T.V. show. I love your outfit or your new haircut. My kids love their toys. I could go on and on…you get the idea. But what does it really mean to love something, or someone? Is love a noun or a verb? How does love behave and how do we show that we genuinely love?
Motherhood has made me think a lot more about love, because I use the word with my two young sons probably hundreds of times a day. Back and forth we say to each other phrases like: I love you, I love you more, I’ll love you forever, I’ll never stop loving you, I love you to the moon and back, I love you to infinity and beyond!
So if I tell my kids, or my husband, or anyone else who I care about that I love them, how do I show that in my actions?
At my wedding almost 20 years ago, this passage from 1 Corinthians 13 was read. It is a familiar reading, and I’ll guess that most of you have heard it. I think it is so popular because of the beautiful way it illustrates how to love. It is still one of my favorite passages to show us how God defines love, and how real loves acts towards others.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Whenever I read this passage I realize what a selfless act it really is to love another person. It is very difficult for us as sinful people to put others first, to be patient and kind, not envious, humble, forgiving, etc.
In fact, it makes me wonder if any of us can live up to this standard? How can we really love each other more than we love ourselves?
Then if we keep reading, the beginning of verse 8 actually says the words: “love never fails.” Wow! Love is so amazing. But then I realize, I fail at doing these things all of the time, every day in fact. So how can I say that I love?
Here is a little exercise that I learned a long time ago to help study 1 Corinthians 13. I don’t know who first made it up or where it came from. But here is how I remember it. When reading each line, instead of saying “love,” insert your own name. So for example I would start by saying, “Angela is patient, Angela is kind…etc, etc” Wow, is that an eye opener!! Am I patient with my children as they are learning how to navigate life? Or am standing over them arms crossed saying “hurry up!”? Am I kind? Am I not easily angered? Keep no record of wrongs?? Always trust, hope, and persevere, just to name a few? If I am being honest with you, and with myself, I would have to admit that I don’t always do these things. With God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit sometimes I can be a person who loves like this. But the Bible says, “love never fails.” I fail. And I bet you do too. So do we really love?
Before I give up hope, I am reminded of another verse from the book of 1 John. It encourages me to reflect back to the only one who can truly fulfill every one of these expectations that describe love.
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
1 John 4:15-16
The Bible says that “God is love.” What an incredible image! God Himself embodies everything that is good, kind, patient, caring and forgiving. He is the actual creator of this thing we call love. He is the ultimate example of loving sacrifice through Jesus Christ. HE never fails!
Therefore, if I have any hope of displaying these qualities that define real love in my own life, the only way I can do that is by abiding in Him. Instead of “love never fails,” since God is love, we could think of it as “God never fails.” That would be absolutely true! And it gives me hope that I can love others because of His success, not mine. I can love by abiding in Him, and knowing He abides in me, through having faith in Jesus Christ. I can stay connected to Him through reading His Word, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and seeking Him more every day of my life.
The last thing I noticed about these popular verses about love, is that they don’t mention a thing about being “romantic” or about physical love, or giving gifts. They are all character traits. They are ways we can treat everyone, and they are things anyone can try to practice. They are the “basics”…patience, kindness, honesty, forgiveness. They are what lay the foundation. I think if we are acting like this the “feelings” of love will follow and loving gestures will naturally flow.
What a better world we would live in if more people made 1 Corinthians 13 their definition of love! So this Valentine’s Day forget the expensive flowers, the fancy dinners, or the giant stuffed animals. Instead, just be a little more patient, a little more kind, practice humility and forgiveness. Abide in God, because God is love, God never fails, and so…real love never fails!