This Thing Called Love

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My Musings – Love. Little else is as captivating or inspiring as love. It is, perhaps, one of the most sought after and motivating experiences that anyone can have. As a subject matter it permeates movies, songs, books, television and advertising. Yet it is often misinterpreted, misunderstood, mislabeled and misused. We say that we love this and that we love that. In the process we devalue something that is of such worth that it prompted God to send His Son to die for us.

The depth of that love seems far beyond our ability to fully grasp or adequately comprehend. But Jesus calls us to know it and be filled with it in our love of God (“with all our heart, soul and mind“) and for each other (“as ourselves“). All that is written in the Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) as well as the Gospels and Epistles (the New Testament) “hang on” these two commandments. If that were not sufficient enough to underscore how vitality important love is in the born-again experience, Jesus said that it was the primary and most distinctive characteristic by which all men will know that we are His disciples. It is the litmus test of how well the previous eleven steps of discipleship that we have examined are doing in making changes in our lives and character. For example, what causes us to desire what God desires? How do we know we are becoming more like Christ? What compels us to serve others? Why are we motivated to resist temptation? When we witness to others, what prompts us to do so? What causes us to unite with other believers in a local church? The common denominator, or at least it should be if we are growing as disciples, is love – love for God and for one another.

God calls us to the highest degree (agape) of love. Agape refers to a selfless and unconditional type love. It is the highest of the four types (Eros – sensual; Philia – brotherly; Storge – family; and Agape) of love in the Bible. That is not to say that the other three types do not have their proper place. But unlike these other three types of love, agape has less to do about involuntary desires of love and more about voluntarily desiring to love.

It is a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. It is a sacrificial love that willingly suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. How do we know it is the highest degree? Jesus said “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you,” and for us to “love each other as I have loved you.” It cannot get any higher than that. Jesus told us how to identify this type of love when He said “greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” Then He provided the ultimate proof that He was more than an itinerant preacher of the warm and fuzzy when He laid down His own life on the cross and died for our sins.

This is unmerited love – we do not deserve it. It is love that bore a very high cost – the sacrifice of the Son of God. It is love that is often rejected – not everyone accepts the free gift of salvation. It is love that not always returned – many do not serve Him the way that they should. Of course, relatively few believers will be called upon to literally lay down their lives for Him or for a fellow believer. But there are many ways that we can figuratively lay down our lives (serving Him, obeying Him, caring for those that He cares for, to name just a few). Paul refers to this kind of love as “the most excellent way.

Excellent means something that is of the highest or finest quality.

One might think this is definition enough for the kind of love God calls us to. But Paul affixes a superlative (most) in front of something that is already defined as highest and finest (excellent). Most means greatest in degree. So the love we are called to as Christ’s disciples is one in the greatest degree and of the highest and finest quality. As we look to some of the more challenging people in our lives we can begin to appreciate how great a challenge this might be.

Because the love Jesus refers to is of the highest degree, it is difficult for sinful man to understand it, much less to attain it. But perhaps we can gain a clearer understanding by knowing a few things about it. In what has become known as the love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul describes this type of love in terms of the positive characteristics it has (what it is) and the negative characteristics it does not have (what it is not). The positive characteristics it has are: patience, kindness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance and trustworthiness. The negative characteristics it does not have are: envy, boastfulness, pride, rudeness, selfishness, anger, bearing grudges and a delighting in evil.

Interestingly, Paul’s discussion about love comes immediately after his discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In conclusion Paul instructs his readers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” He then goes on to show us “the most excellent way” in 1 Corinthians 13.

In doing so he tells us that even extreme giftedness is of little value
if it is not accompanied or motivated by love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love. I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV 1978)). At some point the gifts may fade or disappear, leaving us with only faith, hope and love, of which love is the greatest.

LOVES ME CHARACTERISTICS

Love is patient, love is kind. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8. NIV 1978).

Is Patient –  Endure evil, injury & provocation without thoughts of resentment, indignation or revenge.

Is Kind  – Not only takes advantage of opportunities to be kind, but looks for such opportunities.

Rejoices In Truth – In the truth of God and the Gospel. Rejoices to see loved-one molded by these truths.

Always Protects – Unwilling to expose loved-one’s faults to others. Also translated bears all things, i.e., will put up with much injustice without harboring anger or seeking revenge.

Always Trusts – Believeth all things. Always sees the best in loved-one. Allows for circumstances. Keeps the faith when it is easy to believe the worst.

Always Hopes – Refuse to take failure as final. When trust or belief begins to give way, hope takes over.

Always Perseveres – Not resigned acquiescence, but rather an active positive fortitude. Willing to endure persecution for sake of, or even from loved-one.

Never fails Gifts will cease to exist or be needed. Love will never cease to exist or be needed.

LOVES ME NOT CHARACTERISTICS

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV 1978)

Does Not Envy – Not grieved at good or prosperity of loved-one, but rather rejoices in it.

Does Not Boast – Windbag. Fair words without regard to the truth, or any intention for good.

Is Not Proud  – Puffed-up, proud of oneself at the expense of another (i.e., pride in yourself obscures feelings for loved-one).

Is Not Rude – Base, vile, disgraceful, dishonorable, indecent.

Is Not Self-Seeking Not seeking own interests to the neglect of loved-one. On the contrary, often neglects own welfare for the sake of loved-one.

Is Not Easily Angered  – Not touchy or eager to take offense. Not angry without just cause. Hard to be angry, eager to be reconciled.

Keeps No Record Of Wrongs – Does not take into account wrongs done. More likely to disbelieve accusations of wrongs about the loved-one. Does not give way to suspicion based upon appearances.

Does Not Delight In Evil – Resist human nature of delighting in the misfortunes of others. Sins of loved-one rather bring grief.

My Advice – We live in a fallen world. Because it is fallen, it is imperfect. Because it is imperfect, our love is also imperfect. There is still a tendency towards harshness, quarreling and jealousy. All of which are signs of an immature love. But we need not lose heart. As we continue to grow as disciples, our love will continue to grow as well – our love of God and of each other. As Christ is reflected in us more and more we will find ourselves giving way to gentleness, peace and kindness. Where we once loved to fight, we will fight to love. Love is the litmus test of how we are growing as disciples. So how are you doing with this thing called love?

 

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