© 2008 by Deidre Campbell-Jones
February Theme: Love
Love’s Action: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Love’s Command: Matthew 22:37-39
1 Corinthians 13: It’s on posters, greeting cards, plaques, bookmarks and in nearly every devotional on love – this one included. It is the end all, be all definition of love – or so we have been taught. “Love suffers long, and is kind; love does not envy; love does not exalt itself, is not puffed up, love does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
And still, even though we are familiar with the verse and we look to it as a guideline, many of us are still challenged to love unconditionally in the manner it describes. It is because we are trying to live by an example with out a definition.
Consider these words: to suffer; to be kind; to envy; to be exalted; to be puffed up; to behave or not to behave; to seek; to provoke; to think; to rejoice; to bear; to believe; to hope; to endure and to fail, or not to fail. These are all verbs. A verb is the part of speech that expresses existence, action, or occurrence. To be or not to be – the words from the Corinthians list are all a state of being; they are an action of existence and not of definition. In fact, I’ll pick any one of love’s activities as proof: “love thinks no evil.” Ok, if “think” is the verb and “evil” is the subject that is modified by “no”, does that make “evil” or “no evil” one of the definitions of love? If so, the sentence might be phrased, “love is not evil.” And all that would explain is what love is not and not what it is.
So what is love? The bible says God is Love. 1 John 4:8 “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. “ That means then, if God is love then God expresses Himself through His being… to be, or not to be… Be longsuffering; be kind; be free of envy; be not puffed up or self-exalted; be seemly; beseech for others; be not provoked; be not evil; be joyous in truth, not in sin; believe; be hopeful; be enduring; always be. And so, if this is God’s behavior, it’s no wonder we have such a difficult time! And if indeed this is God’s behavior, how is it that we are to accomplish this list of loving actions and ways to be?
1 John 4:16 gives us the answer. “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.” Being in the presence of God is being in the presence of love. The more God that is in us, the more we can love ourselves as He does and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Still action without definition often gets lost in translation no matter how much sense it makes. So if 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 is not a definition of who God is, but what God does and what we through God should do – we are still left with the question: what is the definition of why we do what we do? Asking what is the true definition of love is synonymous to asking what the definition of God is. Here’s some good news – the bible does not leave us without this definition and I have my Bishop to thank for this. It’s just too good to keep for myself so allow me to plagiarize the information in this, our last lesson on love for this February month of love and all the topics that have related.
[There are 7 elements of God and therefore 7 elements of love. God is Faith (Isaiah 49:7); God is Truth (Ephesians 4:15); God is trust (Psalms 9:10); God is giving (John 3:16) and God is forgiving (Ephesians 4:32); God is good (Matthew 19:17) and God is fruitful (Galatians 5:22). Indeed, I recognize that many of these definitions are verbs just like the examples in 1 Corinthians.] So what is the difference?
In our human condition, we can “love” someone without any one or even several of the actions in 1 Corinthians. Some of us have been so damaged and marred, and our earthly definition of love is so twisted that some of us can even say we love and still not do anything in the Corinthians list.
But God cannot be God without any of the 7 elements listed above. God does not and cannot be anything other than faithful, truthful, trustworthy, giving, forgiving, good and fruitful. God’s love bears fruit because the fruit of the Spirit is love.
Analyzing these 7 elements in our life is then how we know if what we are experiencing is love – and more specifically a Godly love. So many theologians, pastors and ministers talk about love in biblical terms that just don’t translate to the loves we have in our lives. Often they’ll talk about a distorted definition or a diluted importance – how can you say you love your husband and then so easily say you love ice cream. In that regard I agree, we need a different word for how much we enjoy our favorite things in life. Because when I think about all the things in my life for which I am faithful, trusting, truthful, giving, forgiving, good and fruitful towards, the list narrows considerably and does not include ice cream at all.
And furthermore if there is anything in our lives for which we can apply those seven elements towards, it does indeed become easier to act towards those things as 1 Corinthians 13 describes. But the reason the list is there is because we need a reminder to act lovingly even after we understand what a Godly love is.
I believe our reminders (especially to ourselves) should begin with the 7 elements of God. They are tangible, realistic guidelines to determine if what we feel towards someone or something is actually love. They are reasonable traits to help us determine if anyone is loving towards us. They are easily understandable concepts to consider whenever God tells us to love our neighbor and love our selves as Christ loves us. And I am finding them to be perfect concepts to teach my child.
What is love? Love is faithful – what are you faithful to? Love is trusting – what do you trust implicitly? Love is giving – what do you so freely give because of your love? Love is forgiving – do you easily forgive those whom you love? Love is good – what things are you good at? Do you love what you’re good at and are you good towards the things or people you say you love? Love is fruitful – does your love bear more love? Does it ignite and give love to others – does it give peace and joy? Or what about the love you’re receiving does it bear Godly fruit in your life?
So then here’s the toughest question of all. Even with our twisted, convoluted and earthly definitions of love, we still do not and would not hesitate to say without a doubt, “Yes, I love God.” Of course we love God. But do we love God with the same love He loves us with? Can we honestly say we reciprocate the 7 Godly principles to our Heavenly Father, when we say we love Him? If so, then do we also follow our 1 Corinthians actions in our relationship with God? Remember, our relationships with Him should not be defined by our relationships with each other, but instead by His love towards us.
“You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind… and love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matthew 22:37-39
Your Home Study homework: Did you read all the scripture references? If so, then you might know what else the fruit of the Spirit bears besides love. Find the scripture with this answer.
(Note: Aspects of this lesson are taken from the book “Father, Brother, Lover, Friend: Finding “The One”, expected to be released by Destination Publications in June 2009 and the coinciding presentation “The Relationship of Love”.)