I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what love is.
People fall in love, get married, and then, at some point, a sizable percentage of them start having an affair with someone else. Sadly we see spouses not just divorcing, but sometimes committing violence against one another. Parents abuse their children. Children attack their parents. Friendships shatter. Churches split. How does love turn into hate?
Paul of course, gave us a definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. We may be familiar with this passage, so familiar in fact that we no longer hear the symptoms of love. Perhaps we need to listen a little harder.
Love is Patient
I have three daughters, all adopted out of foster care. My youngest was born addicted to crack cocaine, besides being prenatally exposed to methamphetamine and alcohol. When she arrived in our home five days after her birth, she was still going through withdrawal and suffered uncontrollable tremors. A consequence of her drug exposure is that she now suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is bipolar. Among other problems, this means that she has trouble thinking about the consequences of her actions. If the mood strikes her, she does it. “I have scissors, the cat has hair. What can I do about that? Hmm.” So she has required a lot more effort and to raise and discipline than our other two daughters.
But we have kept her around. How come? Because we love her. From the moment she came into our home, we sought out the best therapy for her. She had physical therapists and speech therapists. She went to special preschool, and special kindergarten. She has a psychiatrist and a psychologist. We work very hard at helping her.
The point, of course, is that love is willing to stick with a person, to wait however long is necessary, to do whatever needs to be done in order to solve the problem, for however long it might take. Why is that? Because the person is the object of my affections, and because that person and his or her welfare is vital to me.
Do you collect your paycheck at the end of every day of work? No, you get it at the end of the week, or the end of every two weeks, or maybe at the end of the month. Do you say “to heck with it” because you don’t get paid at the end of every day? No, you happily wait; you’re patient, because that paycheck is worth the wait, worth the process.
How long you are willing to wait for something is dependent upon how important it is to you.
Love Does Not Boast
Boasting is a consequence of feeling inadequate, of not feeling accepted by the one you love. During a new relationship, one tries to impress the new guy or gal, especially during the “in love” phase.
The more the insecurity, the more the need to start listing one’s accomplishments and attributes. But when one is comfortable, one doesn’t need to show off. That’s why a husband doesn’t feel the need to put on fancy clothes and cologne and suck in his gut when he is with his wife of twenty years.
Love is comfortable.
Love Is Not Easily Angered and Keeps No Record of Wrongs
This comes from the fact that you’re focused on the other person. Anger arises from the failure of expectations being met. You expected your loved one to remember your birthday. He didn’t. So now you’re angry.
Peter asked Jesus, how often he should forgive his brother when he sinned against him? Seven times? No, said Jesus. Seventy times seven times. Does that mean that now I keep track? “Oops, that was four hundred ninety times, so now I won’t talk to you anymore.”
Jesus point was that you shouldn’t be keeping track. In fact, you shouldn’t even think about it. It shouldn’t matter to you because the performance of the person you love has nothing to do with the fact that you love him or her.
Remember: God loved us while we were unlovely, while we were his enemies, while we were actively opposed to him. He loved us when we had done nothing to make ourselves loveable. And that’s what true love is: it is unrequited and no longer depends for its existence on the behavior of the other person. The love is there, regardless, even in the face of hatred and opposition.
Love simply can’t remember that the beloved ever did anything wrong.
Love Always Protects
When something bad happens to one we love, we automatically want to do what we can to help. We read stories of the father who drowns trying to save his daughter from the raging river; or mothers running into burning buildings to save their children. Our best friend’s car dies on the freeway and he calls us at two in the morning and we think nothing of going out there to help, even if he is a hundred miles away.
One day my youngest daughter when she was very young—the one with mental illness—was running through the house, chasing after our dog. My wife warned her to stop running in the house. But she didn’t obey and wound up smacking into the aquarium. She cut open her head and bled profusely. But I didn’t stand over her and comment, “Well, you got what you deserved, now suffer the consequences.” I did not leave her bleeding on the floor. Instead, my wife and I scooped her up and we took her to the emergency room, where she got stitches.
We help those we love, no matter what.
Love Always Trusts and Always Hopes
This can look like stupidity, as when a wife trusts her husband even though he is cheating on her. But that is how love is. It is not willing to believe anything but what is best about the other person.
I got a phone call from a friend once that I always remember with humor. She had a question about a
Christmas present for my wife Ruth. Part way into the conversation, she told me that a couple of weeks earlier she had given a card to her husband to mail to my mom. But just that very afternoon, she had found it buried under some papers on his desk. She was very annoyed, and told me that she’d mail it herself now. Then she asked, “Why do I always do that? Why do I always think he’ll do something I ask him to do and of course he never does? Why don’t I learn?” Admittedly, her husband tends to be a bit absentminded. I simply told her, “Because that’s the nature of love. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that ‘Love always hopes’ and so you can’t help but always think that he’ll do what he’s been asked to do.”
She laughed and commented that love is kind of stupid, then.
I’m glad that God loves us with that kind of love. True love does make us stupid, but it’s a good kind of stupid.
Love Always Perseveres
Love cannot end, it does not die. This of course is a great comfort as we think of our relationship with God. But it also affects how we relate to others. Love is not dependent upon performance; it simply exists and cannot be stopped.
…for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned. (Song of Songs 8:6b-7)
If someone ordered you at gunpoint to stop loving your daughter, would you be able to comply?
Love is something that God does through us. In order to have the sort of love that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13, we need to be comfortable with the fact that God loves us and that we are complete and whole in him. I suspect that if we don’t understand the unconditional nature of God’s love for us, it will be hard for us—maybe impossible—to give back that kind of love to him, or to anyone else.