Love: The Invitation and the Challenge
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, NASB)
I think this passage in the Bible is one of the most well-known ones. Even if you’ve never gone to Sunday school, never picked up a Bible, and never had a faith of your own, chances are, you’ve heard fragments of this verse someway, somehow. Whether it’s a scripture
reading at a wedding ceremony you attended or printed on some trendy home decoration at Marshall’s, 1 Corinthians 13 tends to be one of those Bible verses that crossed over into secular culture at one point or another.
And when I used to read this part in the Bible, I used to proverbially roll up my sleeves and rub my palms together, as if to say, “Ah, yes. Remind me of all the things I get to have because God loves me. Remind me of all the ways I get to be loved.”
And yes, it’s true. 1 Corinthians is a good reminder of what real love looks like and ways for us to signal to ourselves whether or not the love we receive is actual love or a self-seeking, counterfeit version of it. Yes, love has to be all of these things in order to qualify as genuine love. It is patient, kind, and never jealous. It doesn’t brag and it doesn’t act like a passive-aggressive jerk. It’s not selfish, it doesn’t keep score, and it doesn’t take pleasure in seeing others fail. It seeks out and rejoices in the revealing of truth. It endures all things.
But even more important than being a signal to us on the authenticity of the love we receive, it is a guidebook for how we give it. Here’s the thing: God doesn’t need a rulebook on how to love us. It’s just who He is. There is no separation between pure, unadulterated love and the spirit of God. They are one and the same. There is no way to separate those two ideas because God is love. We only know about it because God has this desire to share himself with us, even when we don’t deserve it.
So no, God doesn’t need a reminder for patience, kindness, or long-suffering. He doesn’t need a scripture-verse-post-it note to remember that love doesn’t keep score. Because never, not once, has God kept score with us. In fact, He shared Jesus’ blood with us; the only medium that has the ability to completely blot out sin. That’s how much He doesn’t keep score. Enough to give us free access to the only substance that can even the playing field and allow us to enter into intimacy with Him.
So why do we need these verses? Why do they resonate with us so much that we would print it on journals and wall hangings and t-shirts and coffee mugs? Because WE need the reminder. We constantly need to remember that love is all those things.
Love is not a social media post. Love is not a giddy feeling that makes life more fun. Love is not an engagement ring or a new home. You see, we mix up these aspirations in our pursuits for love, but they themselves are not love. The only way we can love and love effectively is to know the person of love– the one who lived, died, and resurrected in the name of it.
And the closer we are to Him, the easier it is for us to become these by-products of love. The better we know Jesus, the easier it is to be patient. The more I know Him, the easier it is for me to be happy for other’s successes where maybe I used to be jealous. The more transformed I become because of my proximity to Him, the less likely I am to be cynical, prideful, or competitive.
I’m 26 years old, so maybe some people out there reading this believe I’ve only just begun to learn about love and all the ways we get to experience it. I’ve known love as a child, excited to get to greet her father coming home from a day of work, flinging myself into his arms as he walks in the door. I’ve known love as a new wife, meeting the eye of my beloved at the end of an aisle, clutching wedding vows in my hand. I’ve known love as a friend, laughing until my eyes welled over with tears and my stomach ached. As I grow older, I’ll learn and experience snapshots of all different kinds of love.
But none will ever compare to God’s love. None will ever be as perfect as the love of knowing what Jesus did for me; knowing that I will never have to live in debt to the One who paid it for me. All I have to do is settle into the love it took to pay it and His desire to be my love.
Those verses don’t exist for us to have a list of fun perks we get when we walk with Jesus. They’re a guideline of things we should find within ourselves once we start walking with Him. And sometimes, they serve as a heart check. Am I trying to make myself seem superior over that co-worker? Am I strangely enjoying the unfortunate things that happen to people I don’t get along with? Am I dismissing my husband’s feelings when he tries to communicate what he needs to be better loved by me?
Friends, these verses are a lifestyle challenge, not just a list of things you get to enjoy. Perhaps there are some traits of love that come easy to you, and some that are so foreign that you don’t think you could ever attain them, let alone make them a part of your personality. My best advice? Draw ever nearer to Jesus, the One from whom all these other things flow. And memorize them, asking Jesus to bring them to mind when you begin to fall short in those areas. He is the only one who can correct us and transform us, we just have to be willing to surrender our pride and our control.
Hey Pops, Today, I want to thank you for your love. Thank you that it is so incredibly multi-faceted. Thank you that it is always available. I ask that today, you would begin to work those qualities of love into the very fabric of my soul. I pray that you would encourage those character traits of love that you created me to naturally exude, and that you would challenge me in the areas of love that don’t come as easy. Show me to be more like you, more like the love you are. Help me to not draw away in pride or to play the victim when you convict me to love better. Give me a desire to develop my character. I love you, Lord. You are absolutely awesome and I know you are faithful to guide me with a firm, loving hand. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.