(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Of all the questions mankind has asked, from poets to philosophers, academics to artists, this is perhaps the most profound and mysterious of all: what is love?
Love is so fundamental to the human condition that it forms part of our DNA. It is part of our nature to seek, hope for and long to love and to be loved.
No man is an island, as some wise man once wrote, and it is true. To be an island is to be separated and held apart from all others, and the most severe of separations is the separation from love.
But the challenge for all mankind is to learn to understand love not as man sees it, but how God sees it. To be separated from ones fellow man is dire indeed, but to be separated from the love of God is catastrophic, for to be in His love is life, but to be separated from His love is death.
There are three types of love expressed in the bible, and in Greek there are three words that are typically translated as “love” in English. In fact the English usage of the word love has so degenerated from the original meaning that it almost has no meaning at all anymore.
In Greek the words are:
- Eros – this is the sexual form of love and the word from which we get the word “erotic.”
- Philo – this is the brotherly love that exists between family and friends.
- Agape – this is the act of love and the actions of love, and it is this that is defined in these scriptures from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
The scripture here tells us what love is and what it is not. It would be fair to say the list is not complete and goes much deeper than what is written here, because we are told elsewhere that God is love, and no few paragraphs could possibly define the love of God.
But let us look at what the scripture is saying here.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
These few words give us some insight into the nature of the “agape” love, and by extension the nature of God.
What is Love?
The first thing that stands out in this list is that this love is not an emotional love. It is not the mushy pap that is served up on television and in movies that is supposed to be love.
In fact what we see stand out in these descriptions that this agape love is first and foremost under control. It is built on a foundation of self control, not ruled by emotional outbursts but by sound reason, calmness and cool-headedness.
To be able to live in the love of God as described here, is to have your wits about you. It is a considered way of living based on insight, wisdom and understanding.
The second thing that stands out about this agape love is that these are things we can and should do or not do. It is a behavioural love based on how we act and react in relationships. There was a song some years ago by DC Talk called “Love is a verb,” and that is not a bad description for this agape love because it is about what we do.
The third thing that stands out about this form of love is that it is about relationships and how we treat others. This makes sense when we remember that Jesus Christ Himself, who reflects the nature and the love of God, came as a servant and to serve. He came to help us and to serve us, and His message was that we should go and do likewise. We are called toserve our brethren, so it makes sense that love should be about our interactions and relationships with others.
Love Never Ends
Usually when people quote these verses they add also the beginning of verse 8 which says, “Love never ends.”
I have deliberately left this out in this post as this is particularly relevant to the next few verses, which I will cover in my next post.
However it bears mentioning in brief as it does relate to the verses above.
God is love. God is eternal. Therefore love is eternal and so love never ends. This is a simple exercise in logic that many will recognise.
But as we look at the aspects and attitudes of love as described in these verses, we see that these too must be eternal.
And one of the aspects of eternity, apart from lasting forever, is that it never changes. The nature of God never changes, never has and never will. So too love never changes.
So as love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, and so on as the scripture reads, we should think of it in terms of eternity because God is eternal and love lasts forever; it never ends. So if we remember that the we could read the verse above in the light of…
Love is eternally patient and eternally kind, it is eternally not jealous and eternally not boastful, and so on. Go back or look in your own bible at this scripture and reconsider it from the perspective eternity as I have started here.
The changes in our nature that are being made by the Holy Spirit as we walk in and with Jesus Christ, are to bring us to the perfection of eternity so that we too bear the stamp of the nature of the Father. As He is, so we must be if we are to live with Him in His presence into eternity.
These changes indicated in these few verses are changes that we must put on as we walk with Christ. We need to learn how to live, act and behave in the love of God with one another, not sometimes but ALL of the time into eternity for that is where the path of Jesus Christ is leading us.
We cannot do this alone. That is why we have this relationship with Jesus Christ. That is also why we receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the spirit for it is the work of the spirit to transform us. And transformation can and will come only when we walk with Christ according to the plan and the pattern He provided and He has laid out for us in His teachings.
The aim is to learn how to live in the love of God and how to walk I n love with all mankind, the kindly and the overbearing. Just as Christ showed no bias or prejudice towards anyone who sought Him out, so too we must show that same love towards all mankind.
This is the essence of love. This is our calling and this is the path that we walk that leads us to God for this is love.