Okay, it’s Valentine’s Month. No, that’s not a misprint. What else happens in February? So let’s talk about love.
It’s great to feel “in love” with someone. Swept up with emotion at the thought of them. Dreams of their presence distracting you from work. It is a truly wonderful feeling that the Bible almost never addresses. Even when that kind of love does play into the biblical stories, it doesn’t always produce good results. More importantly, it is not the love the Bible tells us is at the core of God’s being and calls us to make the core of our lives.
That love is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “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 ESV)
This may seem like the standard “love” post — and maybe it is — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. This is a core truth of life. The truth will set you free. How you define “loaded” words in your life (for example, “love,” “forgive,” “peace,” “success,” “enemy”) will have a huge impact on the real course your life takes. Since the scriptures tell us that “love” is the greatest thing and identify it with the core of whom God is, let’s take the time to get it right. At the end of this article I will give you an important and practical suggestion on loving others.
Love, in the sense in which it defines the life of a Christian, is not a feeling. It is a decision about how to treat people. Look at the passage above. You will see that each and every word describing what “love” looks like is a matter of choice in your life.
I am not saying you will never feel impatient. I am saying that if you love someone you can choose not to be impatient with them even though it can be hard. I am not saying you will never feel envious of someone. I am saying that if you are going to be a person of love, you can reject that feeling when it comes over you and instead choose to be happy for the person for whatever precipitated your envy.
Love in the biblical sense is a practice. It is a decision about whom you want to be and how you want to act. Jesus said that we are even supposed to love our enemies. He never said to feel warmly affectionate toward them. He did say to give them a drink if they are thirsty.
Notice that love does not depend on the other person. It depends on you, on how you choose to treat people. Here’s what Jesus said about being kind to those who are kind to you: Big deal! Everyone does that.
So, why should you make the choice to love other people irrespective of how they are treating you? There are at least two good reasons:
First, love toward others is the appropriate response to God’s love toward us. The parable of the ungrateful steward depicts a man who, after being forgiven a crushing debt, went out and threatened another man over a tiny debt. When the original lender heard what had happened, he reinstated the huge debt and had the man thrown in jail until he repaid every penny.
God’s love for mankind is the core story running through the entire Bible. God loved the world so much he sent Jesus to be our Savior. In Jesus we are completely forgiven. God sees us as his children not his servants. In response, God expects us to treat others as he has treated us. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) This is not a grudging love. It comes from a heart that receives God’s amazing love and lives in humble gratitude. As we live in and absorb God’s love for us, the cleansed and redeemed soul says, “I have received so much love from God, how could I not love those around me?”
Second, loving others is the best thing for us. Consider the opposite of the words used in 1 Corinthians 13 and think about whether they indicate a happy and peaceful state of mind: Impatient. Unkind. Envious. Boastful. Arrogant. Rude. Selfish. Irritable. Resentful. Seriously, who would choose this anyway? Choosing love means choosing your own happiness and peace.
Here is the practical suggestion: become bilingual.
There is a concept called “love languages” that can help you in many ways, including demystifying some of your relationships. Have you ever thought you were being kind to someone only to have them get mad at you? Sometimes that’s because you are simply not speaking their language.
Dr. Gary Chapman describes five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch (hugs, pats on the back, etc.), Quality Time, and Receiving Gifts. Each of us best receives love in our own love language. If you are an “acts of service” person, inside your head you might respond in your mind, “big deal, talk is cheap, show me how much you care” when someone gives you words of affirmation. Likewise a “words of affirmation” person will be less readily able to interpret acts of service (for example, making lunch or cleaning out the car) as evidence of love.
So, your job, as someone who has devoted themselves to a life of love, is two-fold.
First, learn other people’s love languages and show them love in their language. If their love language is acts of service but yours is quality time, show your love by doing an act of service rather than arranging for time together. It won’t feel quite right to you at first because it’s not your love language (“exactly how does making a sandwich show love?”), but it will begin to feel right as you receive responses indicating the other person received the love you want to communicate.
Second, be willing to receive love in a language other than your own. If your spouse’s love language is acts of service and she does something nice for you, be willing to hear her love language and understand that you were just shown love, even though your love language is not acts of service.
This is other-centered love in the image of God’s love. Picture a marriage, a family, a church, a community where people live out biblical love in awareness of other people’s love languages. This is a picture of the redeeming, renewing love of God in Christ Jesus infecting and transforming our lives.