What is Love?

Coal Ridge Church

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is first Corinthians 13. This is the “love is patient, love is kind” chapter that has become synonymous with marriage. Marcy and I even have a large plaque that reads “And the greatest of these is love” in reference to one of the verses.
I went back to reread this chapter in my favorite Bible, one that I have had for nearly 30 years. In this one, it uses a lot of the old language and the word “love” in Corinthians 13 is replaced with “charity”. Reading the chapter, with that word, made things a little more clear to me as to what God is telling us to do here.
But first, some background on first Corinthians. This book of the Bible is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He spells out God’s expectations, what we should and should not do, as well as the story of Jesus and what it means to be of the church. It’s kind of like the cliff notes college kids use to avoid reading one of the classics, in that it gets more to the point of things in fewer words.
In chapter 13, Paul begins with “I can be a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. With faith, we can move mountains, without charity – LOVE – we are nothing.” More on what that symbolism means later.
What Paul’s telling us is that we can give to the poor, sacrifice ourselves and try to do all the good in the world we can, but if we don’t do it for the right reasons, it’s all for naught. God doesn’t want us to do these things for the recognition, kudos or for any reason other than it’s the right thing to do. Performing acts like this to fulfill God’s will and purpose for us is we, as Christians, truly being the embodiment of Christ on Earth.
Of course, from there, we go on to one of the most common verses known to wedding officiants.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
Paul is saying we need to do things out of genuine love for one another – not out of any kind of obligation.
What better metaphor for this exists than marriage? Family? Friendship?
Sure, here in America, a marriage is a binding contract that obligates the spouses to be there for one another, but that’s not why you do the things you do. It’s not out of obligation that you share your home, your heart and your life with your spouse – you do it because you love that person. The same can be applied to anyone we take care of; you’re doing it out of love.
The things you do for those you care for should be done for the same reason. For example, I make Marcy breakfast when I can because I love her. This is where I fall short of the “boastful” and “patient” portions. I always ask her if she enjoyed it. I sometimes ask, when I perform some housework, if she notices, because I like to hear the kudos. I like to know she appreciates the effort. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m only human.
All of us humans can get easily discouraged when we do good and struggle to see the impact or return. But remember – we’re doing these things out of love and for the glory of God. We don’t do these things to “puff ourselves up” – in fact, my Bible even uses the phrase “puffed up.”
The same can be said for marriage. Unlike most sitcoms focused on the writers’ warped view of “marriage” it is not a competition with a winner or loser. We need to honor our spouses and by doing so, we honor the Lord. When we honor our friends, family and neighbors, we honor the Lord.
And we should never expect earthly rewards for what we do. Within the family, you’ve already been rewarded, because those people are in your life. We all have the joy of being in each other’s lives and each other’s friendship – even if we only gather together once a week.
Paul goes on to say love honors, keeps no record of wrongs, nor does it delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. We all know from John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We must rejoice in Jesus, whether as a couple or a congregation. Honesty is how we can do that.
No record of wrongs? I know this one is hard to do, because we all get into arguments and need ammunition for them.
But remember, Jesus is here to erase our records of wrongdoing with the Lord. That’s why God sent Him to Earth, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son and whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” If Jesus was able to clean our slates with the Lord, why shouldn’t we do the same with each other?
Jesus was the only perfect person to ever walk this Earth. While we all consider our partners and children perfect – or perfect enough for us – we know they most definitely are not. Even if we want to believe we share our lives with saints, God told us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
We may fall short of His glory, but we will never, ever fall short of His love. Because, as Paul continues in Corinthians 13:7, love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.
We protect each other as God protects us. We are called to protect our fellow man. This is one of the many reasons police officers, veterans, firemen and current service members deserve our respect. They are literally doing God’s work.
By being charitable with our time and our blessings with our neighbors, so are we offering protection. We don’t all need guns, fire hoses or any other weapons to look out for our brethren. We can protect them by helping them pay for shelter, caring for their children, sharing a meal and by sharing the word of God.
“Love always hopes”? This one is hard for me, as a pessimist. It is just easy to see the bad and to fret about things, but that’s not what God wants us to spend our time doing.
We must remember that God has a plan. As He puts it in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.”
That’s a tough thing to do, but that is essentially, “Have faith. Trust.”
Trust the Lord. Trust your partner. Weather the storm. Persevere – you can do all of this because God – Love – has you.
And He will never fail. Love never fails. There will be challenges, moments of doubt and worry, but we need to adapt and change.
As verse 11 tells us, as children, we spoke and understood as children, but as men – or adults, we put away childish things.
Except for cartoons, superheroes, baseball cards and pro wrestling in my case. I’m 40 and I don’t intend to ever let those things go.
But I know that I can enjoy those things, but I also know they’re not what really matters.
The chapter ends with verse 13, “And now abide by faith, hope, charity – LOVE – and the greatest of these is charity – LOVE.” If we put our greatest emphasis on loving each other, it can restore our hope and faith.
Going back to the start of the chapter, when Paul references the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal.
Both of these instruments can either be played softly or with authority. It’s like marching band vs. concert band.
When playing brass on a football field, you really need to purse your lips, fill your lungs with air and really belt out the music to produce a sound the masses can hear. While in concert band, more focus is placed on finesse. There is no need to play as loudly in a confined space.
The same can be said with a cymbal. You can smash it and get attention, or slowly and softly tap on it to add to the rest of the ensemble – just to let the audience know you’re there. In marriage, and perhaps in life in general, we all need to do more than just let others know God is there. We need to tell them He loves us, and He IS love.
God calls us to be the marching band. Our love needs to be loud, noticed, recognized and true. Even if we don’t get a standing ovation. Even if we, as partners, spouses, friends, family, etc., get lost in our own little worlds and sometimes fall short of showing our appreciation, we must keep going and keep trying.
Because, even when the audience doesn’t notice or feel the love, God notices. God has already rewarded us, given us out kudos, standing ovation, what have you – and he will continue to do so as long as we remain charitable.