Love Greater than (and Different from) the World
The stores are filled with hearts, candy, and teddy bears in anticipation of Valentine’s Day on February 14th. A day in which we are to demonstrate love to our significant others - and I’m all for it! Sure we should show love every day but one day a year to highlight that love is always good. Similar to your birthday – yes celebrate life everyday but one day to specifically celebrate is appropriate. However the world’s definition of love is quite different than the biblical definition of love. As a result our definition of love can be easily shaped by the Hollywood love story version rather than the true biblical command to love. So what is love? And how do we love properly?
During our Keenagers (Senior Saints) Lunch we have been looking at different aspects of love from 1 Corinthians 13. Known as the “love chapter” of the bible it is often read at weddings but very rarely looked at much beyond that. But Paul makes several stark comments about the nature of love. Let’s look at several aspects:
1) Importance of Love
It may go without saying that love is important – but why? Love is of upmost importance because love is the sum of all virtues. It is the first on the list of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) and it can be said that all the others (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) flow out of a heart that loves and seeks to demonstrate that love. That is why Paul says earlier in Gal. 5 – “through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Again Paul makes this clear in 1 Cor. 13th when he states that you can have all the spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, understanding all mysteries) but yet have not love, you are nothing. You can dedicate your life in the greatest acts of service (give away all you have, deliver up your body to be burned) yet have not love, you gain nothing. In other words Paul is saying that you may think that you are doing great and wonderful things for the Lord, but if you have not love you are failing at the most basic and fundamental level. God renders all of those other “great works” void because they do not come from a right heart motivation – a heart that loves God and his fellow man.
2) How NOT to Love
Paul goes on to give several ways on how to love and how not to love. We will begin with the negatives first. He say that love does NOT envy, boast, insist on its own, rejoice in wrongdoings; it is NOT arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. Eight attributes and actions that are the opposite of love (and I’m sure he could have listed many more!). But all these come down to one major problem – loving ourselves more than others. Thinking about us first and others second or not at all. In other words we have failed to recognize ourselves as a servant to God by serving one another. In John 13 it says “having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end” (vs. 2). The passage goes on to describe how Jesus gave his disciples the perfect example of that love – he washed their feet. He put them and their needs above himself and said to them “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (vs.15). Anytime we do the eight things “not to do” mentioned in 1 Cor. 13, we are doing the opposite of what Jesus told us to do – we are not loving.
3) How to Love
Paul also gives the positive aspects of love. He states that love IS patient, and kind; love does rejoice with the truth, bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. The interesting thing about how Paul writes this section is that he uses verbs to describe how love acts. In other words love is demonstrated through the actions of being patient and kind, not envying and boasting, etc. Love is primarily an action demonstrated by our attitude and actions. That is why John says in 1 John 3:18 - “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” This is not to negate the emotion or feeling of love, but emotion and feeling are not enough. We must demonstrate our love through the ways we serve one another and think more highly of others than ourselves.
Many talk about “falling in love” which makes it sound like love is easy and natural to us. True love is actually opposite to our sinful, selfish nature. If we do not work at love – demonstrating it through our actions, attitudes, and words – we will “fall out of love” as easily as we “fell in love.” But love is the worth the work and self- sacrifice because it is the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:30) that we will be built up in the faith and more resemble our Savior. May we by God’s grace be a church that loves - and loves well.