The best definition of love is found in the New Testament (see: I Corinthians 13:4-8). It’s one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies. If you hope to practice this love expect it to require deep transformation of the natural tendency to think first of yourself. It also requires an experience of God’s love in Christ (see: Rom. 5:8; 8:38-39; Titus 3:3-6; I John 4:7-11,19).
Love (as defined here) is anti-rivalry. It’s not about comparison, competition, envy, one-up-man-ship, retaliation, gossip or vindictiveness. Life based on love is counter-cultural living in the most profound sense. It’s also a prescription for resolving relationship conflicts on all levels. It is what the world needs.
Look closely at these words:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NLT).
14 Qualities of love
1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering and forbearing.
In a Godlike way, when provoked, love restrains anger. More than once, the Old Testament repeats a cluster of descriptive qualities for God reminding us that He is: “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love—and He relents from sending calamity” (see: Exodus 34:6-7; Joel 2:13, 18; Jonah 4:2)
The New Testament also reminds us that God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). In a passage warning about God’s inescapable judgment against religious hypocrites (i.e. those who condemn others for the very things they do themselves), the apostle reminds readers of God’s kindness and patience:
“…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (See also: Romans 9:22-24).
Jesus showed great patience when He prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen, the first martyr of the early church, showed great patience when he prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
2. Love is kind: The active advance of love.
Love is not content with passive restraint. It patiently holds back retaliation in the face of provocation but it also reaches out in good will. Romans 12:17-21 brings both together. Verse 17 – “Do not repay evil for evil,” Verse 19 – “Do not take revenge.” This is God’s right, not ours. On the contrary, extend acts of kindness and ministry: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20a). This is more than passive restraint and resentment, it is super-natural, counter-cultural living, based on a refusal to multiply evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). Doing this “will heap burning coals” on the head of your enemy (Romans 12:20).
“In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”? Doesn’t this sound like a way to harm an enemy! Is this a “kill them with kindness” philosophy? A “so take that” approach?
When a meaning seems unclear, we must not reach conclusions that contradict the context (Romans 12:21). There are 5 ways burning coals are understood:
- Punishment – (Psalm 18:13, Psalm 140:11). But, in Romans 12, anything aimed to hurt our enemy violates the context.
- Conviction – It’s a symbolic burning in the sense of bringing mental conviction
- Protection- (Leviticus 16:12-13). Like the high priest on the Day of Atonement who took a censor full of burning coals and incense so the smoke would cover him.
- Blessing – A near-eastern practice of carrying burning coals to distribute for the benefit of others.
- Melting – As burning coals melt hard metals, perhaps your kindness will melt your enemy’s hardened heart.
I view this reference as some sort of proverbial saying indicating that our acts of kindness have the potential to powerfully affect others, especially enemies. “Win them with kindness, not kill them with kindness.”
God’s kindness emerges against the backdrop of our sin (see: Titus 3:3-5). To be Christian is to be people distinguished by our kindness. Jesus taught us to be merciful as God is by reminding us that the Most High God is even kind to the ungrateful and wicked (see: Luke 6:32-36). Let’s be sure to model kindness as parents and teach kindness to our children.
3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others.
Envious rivalry was behind the murder of Abel, the enslavement of Joseph and it motivated religious people to crucify Jesus. An envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil (cf. Proverbs 14:30; 24:17). (See the article on my blog under envy)
4. Love does not boast: Love corrects an inordinate desire to call attention to one-self.
A loving person is not a windbag/braggart; does not parade himself; does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3). Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage and is not fueled by the applause and recognition.
5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. (cf. I Corinthians 4:6, 18-19; 5:2; 8:1) (See blog topic “Pride”)
6. Love is not rude: ( “does not behave unseemly” KJV); “Does not behave shamefully or disgracefully.”
To do this would be a violation of care for the community over the individual.
7. Love is not self-seeking: (“does not insist on its own way” ESV).
This is a corrective for a culture that promotes self-absorption. (cf. I Corinthians 10:24, 33; Philippians 2:3-5; II Corinthians 5:15)
8. Love is not easily angered: (easily agitated; easily provoked; hot-tempered; short-fused).
Imagine a world without anger. Our world would simultaneously become a safer and more dangerous place without anger. I know that I would be more dangerous to myself (and perhaps to others) if I didn’t get mad at myself. Anger is an emotion of protest and provocation. A person devoid of anger (in this world) is either amoral or immoral. But anger unrestrained and without divine boundaries is one letter away from danger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20). This is what makes the counsel of James 1:19 so potent: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Love’s first quality: patient, is a corrective to being easily angered, (See: Anger: Don’t let it destroy you)
9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: (thinks no evil, KJV); does not reckon or devise evil.
Love prefers forgiveness and reconciliation and genuinely works toward them (cf. II Corinthians 5:19 – God did not reckon our sins against us). When we’ve been hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice. Love will never become enslaved to bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). (See: Cherished Resentments).
10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out envy, gossip, slander, and satisfaction at the downfall of others.
(Example: Children tattling and getting a feeling of satisfaction by seeing others get in trouble).
Love’s four companions
Finally, we have what Spurgeon called “Love’s four sweet companions”: Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres (NIV).
This is love’s grand finale in a staccato of four verbs — each one explodes in a reach that is all-encompassing ! (”All things”; adverbial: “In everything/always”).
“There is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT). Love embraces faith and hope—no wonder the greatest is love. It is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.
Think about this:
“Paul does not mean that love always believes the best about everything and everyone, but that love never ceases to have faith; it never loses hope. This is why it can endure. The life that is so touched by the never-ceasing love of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:39) is in turn enabled by the Spirit to love others in the same way. It trusts God on behalf of the one loved, hopes to the end that God will show mercy in that person’s behalf” (Gordon Fee, I Corinthians, N.I.C.N.T., p. 640).
This is exemplified in a parent’s love. It never gives up. I know parents of older children who have watched their children make bad, life-altering decisions with serious consequences, yet the parents persevere in their love.
“…love is not easily angered; …But suppose genuine injury has been done? What then? Paul’s answer is that love “keeps no record of wrongs,” a private file of personalgrievances that can be consulted and nursed whenever there is possibility of some new slight. Its stance in the presence of genuine evil precludes such accounting; for at a very deep level, love cannot bear to be censorious or hypocritical: love “does not delight in evil (verse 6)…”
“It does not enjoy endless discussions about what is wrong with the churches and institutions we serve, and takes on such subjects only when competing demands of righteousness require it. If there is any report of something right or truthful going on, love will quickly rejoice over it…”
“…it always trusts—which does not mean it is gullible, but that it prefers to be generous in its openness and acceptance rather than suspicious or cynical. Love hopes for the best, even when disappointed by repeated personal abuse, hoping against hope and “always ready to give an offender a second chance and to forgive him ‘seventy times seven’ (Matthew 18:22).” Love perseveres: “When the evidence is adverse, [love] hopes for the best. And when hopes are repeatedly disappointed, it still courageously waits” (Showing the Spirit, D. A. Carson pp. 62-63).
Look more closely at what the Bible teaches about love: