- Is there a way to know what love is? Is love something we can fall into and out of?
- If someone says, “I love you,” what does he mean? What should he mean?
When couples want to get married, they tell me they love each other. When they want to get divorced, they tell me they no longer love. What’s going on here? Are we victims of love? Or, can we choose to love? Even learn to love?
The most excellent way
Love is indispensable to marriage, family and community. Relationships are mediocre to miserable when love is absent. In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35).
All of this assumes that there is an objective way to understand what love looks like? It also assumes that living a life of love is possible. But how can we identify true love?
Love defined: the best description of love
The fourteen qualities of love listed in First Corinthians thirteen offer the best available description of love. This text remains one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies. It takes love to the streets where it can be lived in action! Reflect deeply and often on this description of love:
“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.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).
This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Especially notice that this love is anti-rivalry. When practiced, it protects relationships from destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad. But when a relationship deteriorates, some form of ugly and divisive rivalry is involved. If we are commanded to love one another, living this way is within our reach (obviously through the strength of the One who loved us first, our great Savior, Jesus Christ (see: I John 3:16-18; 4:7-11, 19).
- Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It’s active restraint that rests in God when provoked by circumstances or people (see: Romans 12:17-21; Ephesians 4:26-27).
- Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness (see: Ephesians 4:32; Titus 3:1-5).
- Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.
- Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to your self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.
- Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).
- Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude. It is respectful of others.
- Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.
- Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.
- Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. When hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice. (More on Forgiveness)
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.
- And the grand finale: love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT). Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.
- Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colo. 3:14).
The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love.
God’s love was put on display when He loved the unlovable — when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus Christ gave a living example of love. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the Sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice (see: Philippians 2:3-10).
A gift for you
I recommend regular evaluation of all relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We’ve put these qualities (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for quick and easy use. If you email your mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org , we’ll send you several copies as our gift.
“Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world. Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is. When we ‘do’ love, even if others are not able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts” (Nouwen).
See also: A Life Transformed by Love