What is love?
All questions in this article I am asking myself first. I am not asking for approval. I do not want approval. I am trying to share a self-examination in the hope that it will be meaningful to someone else.
First, love is important: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1st Corinthians 13:1-4)
So if I want to accomplish anything worthwhile in this life, have the approval of God in what I do, and have any reward in the next life, the first thing I should try to cultivate in myself is love. Lately I have begun to wonder if I have any qualifications at all in that regard.
OK, if love is so important, what is it?
“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. Love never fails.” (1st Corinthians 13:4-8a)
I shudder to think that I have been guilty of hurting other people because I did not have love.
The word translated “love” here is “agape”, defined as “love, goodwill” It’s used as “love, benevolence, good will, esteem; plural is ‘love-feasts’.”
“Love is patient.” The words translated “patient” is in Greek “makrothymei”. That word comes from “makros”, meaning “long, distant, far; of long duration” and “thumos”, meaning “passion”. In athletic terms, not a sprint.
Love is passion that runs a marathon!
It scares me to think that the Biblical definition of love is “Love until it kills you.” That’s not a direct quote from the Bible, but it seems appropriate to me, and it fits what the rest of 1st Corinthians 13:1-4 and the rest of the Bible have to say about love.
“For God so loved the world that he sacrificed His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life.”
Love, the kind of agape love we are being admonished to have, will get you nailed to a cross you don’t deserve, beaten, despised, mocked and slandered by almost everyone, dying for someone who doesn’t deserve your sacrifice.
Love can prevent you from denying the name of Jesus because people need to know that “there is no other name given under Heaven among men by which we must be saved.” And that can mean you become the scapegoat for or toy of demonically owned or influenced or just plain psychotic minds.
“Love does not envy.” I don’t envy your good fortune. I don’t envy you if you’re richer, stronger, better looking, have a sexier spouse or a better quail dog or can throw a faster fastball than me. Envy can very quickly lead to hate and injustices. “Love does not envy.”
“Love does not boast.” If I boast about myself, I’m being an idiot, because I have nothing and am nothing that is not a gift from God to me. If I boast, I may provoke you to envy or despise me. Either can be the seed of hatred and even violence. I should never tempt you into hate. I like the response of Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective) when he was complimented: “I am as the good God made me.”
“Love is not proud.” What do I have to be proud of? Yes, there is a place for self-esteem, for loving yourself, for being proud of having done a job well, but pride is the sin of the devil. (1st Timothy 3:6) Pride can make me take credit that belongs to God. Which could lead to those who observe us not coming to God in Jesus’ name for forgiveness of sins and salvation.
“Love does not dishonor others.” Sometimes it’s called “bullying”. Apparently teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this. It may also be called “shaming” someone for some allegedly noble reason. It’s one thing to point out error in spiritual matters. But dis-honoring a person can literally destroy that person’s life. It can lead to suicide. Nothing good ever comes of dishonoring a person, unless it is a necessary element in removing guilty parties from positions where they are deliberately damaging others.
“Love is not self-seeking.” Whatever I do, I should do to bring honor to God, to other people, or to do good to others. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven … when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing … Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (From the first four verses of Matthew 6)
Be a REALLY Secret Santa! Better yet, leave a note with your secret gift: “This is a gift to you from God and from Jesus, Who love you with an everlasting love.” Or words to that effect.
“Love is not easily angered.” If I lose my temper easily, who is going to want to listen to me, or ask me questions that give me a chance to talk about Jesus? What kind of example of Jesus is that?
I actually think I’ve made some progress on this one, but that may be just the effects of age. Too tired to raise a ruckus any more.
“Love keeps no record of wrongs.” Marriage counselors hear this one a lot. “He / she keeps bringing up things I did six months ago.” Start over, dude, lady. Start from NOW. Or if the past is too painful, bring it up in a non-confrontational manner so it can be healed. Friends and neighbors too. It’s not just a marriage issue. How about communities, ethnic groups, and nations? My word, what a lot of problems would disappear if we could all do this!
I’m out of space and we haven’t finished defining love. We’ll finish in the next article. Promise.