Monday, August 16, 2010

What is Love?

What is love? Is it the butterflies we get when we see the guy or girl we are attracted to? Is it the warm feeling we have when we hold a newborn baby for the first time? Is it the look shared between a couple married for 50 years? Or maybe it’s the stories shared over coffee with two best friends. I think love goes deeper than this. In Radical Wednesday (Bible study on Wednesday nights with Coach F. for those of you who don’t already know), we’ve been doing a word study on 1st Corinthians 13:4-7. For those who don’t know that passage, I’m copying it here. “Love is patient, love is 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 think it’s also vital to look at the opening verses in that chapter, as they set the tone for this passage. “If I could speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but had not love, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but had not love, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I own to the poor and sacrificed my body to be burned, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others I would gain nothing.”
Love, according to the Bible, is vitally important, and it goes so much deeper than the things I mentioned at the start of this entry. Even having all knowledge, without love, would mean nothing. That’s a hard concept to realize. Because there are days when, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this, I don’t feel like loving someone. Someone’s hurt my feelings, or I don’t like the person in question, and it’s hard for me to try and show them love. But yet, God tells me that even if I have everything else together, I still have to have love.

Love is patient…this is something I struggle with personally. This means that we do sometimes have to be willing to wait. After all, patience is a fruit of the spirit. It’s hard to sit there and love someone patiently. This means that even if the individual has no interest in your loving them, you still have to patiently show them that you will be there for them.

Love is also kind. It’s easy for me to be kind to someone… but, unfortunately, sometimes it’s not really sincere. I’m kind to them because I have to be, or because the Bible tells me to, not because true love is characterized by me being genuinely kind to them. Something Coach mentioned when he was talking about this trait is that is also means being able to say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. It’s hard to be kind to someone that you have wronged. And, as Christian brothers and sisters, this is vitally important. This also requires that we humble ourselves in order to accept that we have done wrong.

Now for the four things love is not. Love is not jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. When Paul wrote this, he could have simply said “Love is humble.” Instead, however, he chose to give us four traits that, while similar, are also slightly different. There’s a good kind of jealousy and a bad kind. This took a while for us to understand when Coach was teaching it, but the kind of jealousy Paul is mentioning in here is when you wrongly want something of your neighbors for yourself. It’s a lot like coveting. Paul tells us that boasting is absolutely bad, but in one passage he tells us to boast if we must, but only in our weaknesses. This will help us to maintain our humility. Being rude is just downright annoying to most people.

Pride…that one word is mentioned many times throughout the Bible, always in a negative way. The Bible says pride goes before a fall and the Lord detests the proud. Those are just two examples of many. This is also something that I struggle with, and I believe most Christians probably struggle with this as well. We tend to think ourselves better than everyone else….we have been given God’s gift of life…which we often promptly forget was a gift and we start looking down on everyone who is not “like us.” Likewise, I think it’s something that any of us who didn’t attend the public school have a double dose of. You see, we had what we might consider a “better education” than those who didn’t have the opportunities that we had. Therefore, we might be tempted to lord that over our friend’s heads. This can even be boiled down to simply having something more than someone else, whether it is a car, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a new CD, or a vacation. Love is not proud. That cannot be said enough. Therefore, true love can only be reached when an individual completely humbles themselves.

Love does not demand its own way is basically another way of saying love is not selfish. It does not want for itself, but for others. It’s difficult to love unselfishly, because there’s always going to be a part of us, as humans, that are self-seeking. We want things for ourselves. But true love is willing to sacrifice everything they own for another individual. This I also struggle with. Some days, it’s so easy to not want to do something for someone else. If I’m tired, or stressed, or just want to spend a day in bed relaxing, it’s hard for me to love someone enough to talk to them if they’re having a rough day, or go out and pick them up from the airport. But yet, I am told I must.

Love also is not irritable. This is a huge whammy for me. If I’m tired, stressed, upset, or just in a bad mood, it’s so very easy for me to be irritable. Snapping at people seems almost natural, especially if they cross my path at the wrong times. Sometimes if all I want to do is write something, or read a book, and someone interrupts me, it’s so hard for me to show them true love. But love is not irritable. Love is calm, and so if I were to act in true love, I would take a moment before answering someone and ask God to give me calmness and love in my answer.

Love keeps no record of wrong. I’m not one of those people that can hold a grudge; in fact, I honestly can’t stay mad for more than an hour or so unless someone seriously pushes my buttons. Yet, this can be an issue for people. It’s hard to let things go sometimes. If our mom wrongly accuses us of something, if our boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with is, or if our best friend spreads rumors about us, our first default emotion is anger and holding a grudge against that person. But we are called to forgive them…and to forget the wrongdoing. You know when people say “I’ll forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you did?” Well, that’s not showing true, Godly love…and it’s hard to follow, I know. God wants us to love this way for a reason. When we keep records of wrongdoing, we are susceptible to develop all the other negative traits that Paul mentioned.

“It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” This statement goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. By keeping no record of wrong, we are not able to rejoice in injustice. Rejoicing in injustice would enable us to develop a prideful spirit, and a hurt air. But rejoicing when truth wins out requires us to remain humble. Also, if boasting becomes an issue, we would be boasting in the truth.

Finally, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Every time I read that passage, I think of how many people give up on love. When a marriage is rough, how many times do you hear about couples getting divorces? If a friend hurts your feelings, how many times are you willing to forgive them and give them another chance? If a girl you are interested in ignores you, how many times are you willing to be a man and pursue her? My guess is not much. But Paul says love NEVER gives up and is always hopeful. Love never fails. Those three words are so powerful, and I believe Paul saved it until the end of the passage for a reason. To let us know that true love, even when we mess up, will never fail and is always willing to persevere. And that, my friends, is true love.

Sometimes it’s hard to do this. I know I don’t have all the qualities of love, as much as I would love to have those. But I’ve learned that love takes time. This will be something that I will be forever growing in and learning about. In my 20 years on earth, I’ve already learned so much about love, and how to love like Christ, and yet I’m still nowhere close to perfection. In fact, I’m pretty far from it. But the more I spend time with my Lord, reading his word, and trying to practice what He wants (with His help of course) the easier love will be for me to practice. And so I ask again: What is love? I believe love goes deeper than what I mentioned at the start. True love can only be earned or given through Christ’s love.