Monday, September 24, 2012

What is Love?

Love is, without a doubt, the most powerful element of existence.  Countless people have given their lives in the name of love while countless others have taken their own lives in hopeless pursuit of it.  The effects of love range from the darkest depths to the loftiest heights.  But how many people fully grasp the true nature of love?

How can we begin to define the far-reaching facets of something as complex as love?  For starters, we can consult the Word of the very One who gave us love.

Paul gives us a vivid account of the attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Here, we read that love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude.  It is not selfish, irritable, or resentful, and rejoices with truth while opposing wrongdoing.  It bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.

In this passage, Paul personifies love.  He gives actionable qualities to an intangible force.  We can more easily grasp Paul's description by substituting the phrase "someone who is loving" for "love" in the passage.  Thus, we read:  "Someone who is loving is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, etc."

If you were to ask the majority of people to define love, they would inevitably define it first and foremost as a feeling.  But Paul's insights from the very Word of our Creator shed a very different light on the matter.  While strong feelings certainly play a role with love, they are not what primarily define it.  As Paul points out, love is proven by action.  One who shows love acts in a way that upholds the nature of love.  To love is to do something - namely, to demonstrate patience, kindness, and a love for the truth, while rejecting jealousy, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, irritability, resentfulness, and wrongdoing.

We read in Romans 5:8 that God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  In other words, Christ's death has special significance because we were not deserving of God's love.  The proof of God's love for us lies in the glorious reality that Christ did something for us when He had no reason to feel anything for us in our wretched, undeserving state.  He endured the most unimaginable pain for the most undeserving recipients.  This is why Jesus told His Jewish brothers to not take credit for the simple task of only loving those who loved them in return (Ma. 5:46; Lu. 6:32).

Jesus and His Father didn't prove their love by feeling something; they proved it by doing something.  And that "something" happened to be the most selfless, kind, and patient act in all history.

The Bible's definition of love is clearly opposite that of the world's.  It's no wonder marriages end more often than not and that countless families are torn apart throughout the world.  When love is viewed primarily as a feeling, the inevitable result is always misery.  Love as a feeling is rooted in selfishness while love as a committed action is rooted in self-less-ness. Is it any wonder marriage vows consist of commitments to love, honor, cherish, and support one another in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer?

What, then, can we learn from the truth about love?  When we understand that love is an action more than a feeling, we realize the importance of taking action to keep our relationships strong regardless of how we may feel.  When we follow Christ's example by doing the things that define love even when our recipient seems undeserving, the rewards will be greater than we could possibly imagine.

Christ's death as the greatest expression of love demonstrates to us that the more undeserving someone is of love, the more remarkable our love is when we grant it.  If your husband wrongs or annoys you, commit to acting in a way that demonstrates your love.  While other wives withhold love-making as a form of punishment, make love to your husband with intense passion.  If your wife harms you, show your love by acting graciously and with forgiveness.  When other husbands may leave the house, buy your wife flowers and praise her qualities you cherish most.  If a coworker offends you, demonstrate your love by responding with selflessness and kindness.  Where others may insult him in defense, buy him lunch and tell him how valuable of an asset you think he is to your team.

In 1 John 4, we read that "God is love."  He is not lov-ing; He is love.  Period.  Love defines Him; it is His very essence.  The qualities Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 13 define Him.  God not only feels these attributes, He acts upon them in dealing with His entire creation.  Imagine our fate if God were to act upon His feelings toward the unending sins of mankind.

Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 13 to uphold love as the greatest force, even compared to faith and hope. Why?  Because without love, faith and hope are meaningless.  When we hope, it is for something we long to have.  When we are faithful, it is because we find something worth believing in.  Love is the very thing we hope for and believe in because it is ultimately the only thing worth hoping for and believing in.  It is the culmination of everything holy, perfect, and righteous.  Even the entire Law is "summed up" in the commandments of love (Gal. 5:14).  Without love, there can be no goodness or happiness. Since God is love, lovelessness equals godlessness.

Above all else, remember by the examples of our Lord Jesus Christ and our great apostle, Paul, that, contrary to popular belief, love is best exemplified through action, not reactions to fleeting, deceitful feelings. Commit to living a life of love through action above feeling.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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