Love was one of the things that really confused me when I started life as a believer. It is around a lot at church, and to me, it was just a concept or feeling. Is it the same for you? I looked really hard at it the first few months of 2015 wondering what I was missing. It’s even in a kid’s song, “Jesus loves me this I know/For the Bible tells me so”.
That’s nice and all, so what does it even mean?
Our society is confused about love, to say the least. It’s either a concept, a feeling, a good thought, maybe a hormonal surge, but no action. It’s cheapened since we easily throw it around, or use it to get our way. Stop me if you heard this before; “If you love me, you’ll ___________.”
If you or someone is using that to gain control, sex, pleasure, or money, then it isn’t love. Taking advantage of others makes them jaded, and harder for them to love. It starts to eat at and eventually numb their hearts. Do you know anyone like this?
What about in a group that’s always at each other’s throats? A business, a group within the business, family, or church? The book of 1st Corinthians was a letter written to a truly, unruly church. Arrogant, power plays, getting drunk on the Communion wine, and one guy was having an affair with his stepmother. He was a likely candidate for the Jerry Springer Show. Paul had a lot to say to this church.
The thing is, they were Christians.
This was going to require a long letter; however, we’re just going to look at part of the “Love” chapter. 1st Corinthians 13:4-7. Verses 1-3 deals with getting your attitude right before you act. What we’ll look at will be evidence of that attitude. Taking all the virtues and embodying them in the love Jesus had. Agape love.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1st Cor. 13:4-7 NASB
The Greek word used for love here is agape, a good-willed generous love that’s concerned for others. Remember the last post where we went into the different words used for love?
Paul is describing what agape love is, and isn’t; what it does and doesn’t do. It also makes for a great self-examination tool. Where you see “love” at, put your name in that place and see where you land. I have room to grow for sure.
What Love Isn’t
It isn’t spiteful, or jealous, seeking to hurt or control you. That’s a red flag right there. Are you remembering a verse in the Old Testament now, though, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” It’s in Deuteronomy 4:24. This requires context, and it’s found in the previous verse, “Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.”
Israel agreed to a covenant relationship under a strict set of terms, in particular ‘no other gods before me’. It’s like a contract, or for a better idea, a marriage. If your spouse is spending time with another person, doing all the things that you normally do together, would it be wrong to become jealous?
We’re supposed to be jealous of our marriage relationship, that’s what keeps the sanctity of marriage intact. Despite how you feel, you fight to preserve the marriage. The exceptions are in the cases of abuse and unrepentant infidelity.
Love isn’t prideful. Agape isn’t about what we can do, but what we can do for others. It isn’t easily irritated or angry, because when we complain while doing something, we’re sending a value-message. It indicates to the other person that we’re more important and that we shouldn’t be doing this.
What Love Doesn’t Do
Love doesn’t brag or promote itself. To do that shows that we didn’t act out of concern for others. It was to make ourselves look good. It’s a struggle I have when I’m asked why I didn’t attend a party hosted by work or what I did on the weekend. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned about doing things for the attention of men rather than God.
The key is to do it for others, because of what God’s done for us. I just give generalities about my weekends, like ‘plans at church’. If they probe deeper, I’ll answer their questions.
Agape love isn’t unforgiving or bears a grudge for past wrongs. It’s “forgetful”, refusing to get even. When something wrong or deceitful happens to them, there isn’t any joy taken in it. That clouds its purity.
This is a long list of sorts, but it clears out any loopholes our human nature tends to add.
What Love Is and Does
It’s patient, gentle, and kind; all of these things the evidence that Christ is changing us is when we have them evident. It celebrates what is good and true. It’s an easier list to keep; however, it takes clearing out of us what isn’t love .
Look at the world, do you see how people use each other for some kind of gain? They use others for money, power, or just to hook up. In our limited strength, it beats us down and tires us.
That guy standing on the corner with a sign asking for help? He’ll just use the money for drugs or booze. Charities using salaries for exorbitant salaries, rather than meeting needs. One word, politics.
In Matthew 24:12, Jesus tells us why we don’t see the agape type of love much anymore.
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”
Jesus embodies agape. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and put Jesus’s name where “love” is.
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind and is not jealous; Jesus does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; does not seek his own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The love of Christ is an infinite reservoir that we cannot compare to. It’s what sent him out of Heaven to walk the earth as a man, and later put him on the cross. He is the example.
It’s hard to do on our own, and impossible to maintain. There are three motivations for doing good, and the last is agape. First is because we think we’re better than they are and do it out of pity. Second, you don’t like the other group and help out of spite for them. Third is out of genuine concern, because you’ve been broken at one point and needed help.
When we realize how utterly broken beyond repair we are, and accept Christ and follow him, his love becomes ours. It’s the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and it grows not by our effort, or strength. It grows by focusing on Jesus and following him as we go about our days.
Being patient, as he is patient with us. Kind and gentle, as he is with us. Celebrating what is good and true as he does. We do that every day and people will once again see the love of Jesus in our daily walk with God in this world.