What is love? Perhaps no word is so often used, yet so rarely defined. The meaning floats around in the air. We are sure it means something. But what? For most, love is no doubt a feeling, an emotional response to something we desire or like. It can be a football team, a car, a pizza, or a woman. But for Christians, this definition is not just inadequate, it is blasphemous. For us love is bound up with the character of Almighty God, especially in the supreme act of sending His only Begotten Son. All love must be boxed in by this definition. That means for us love is primarily sacrifice; a willingness to give up so others might have. Greater love as no man than this to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). But moderns love is about what we want and what we get. If we love this girl then we will gladly abandon wife and children for her. For the modern, greater love has no man than this, to get what he wants no matter who gets hurt. So love must be boxed in by God’s character. Here is my attempt to do that.
In my room, hidden away in a shoe box are all that love letters that I wrote to my wife while we were dating. Most of them are embarrassing, bad poetry mixed with terrible sentimentality and lack of masculinity. If you wanted to make me blush then get some of these and post them on the web. However, there is one piece of paper I am proud of. After we got engaged, we spent a summer counseling kids at a camp out in Oregon. It was a good summer, but also a hard one. I was not ready to care for a woman. We were not married yet, which added to the tension. I was generally selfish and arrogant, which made me a hard fiance. As I worked through my own selfishness I decided to try to love her better. Naturally I went to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter. I wrote down on a sheet of paper each characteristic of love Paul mentions in verses 4-7. Then I wrote specific ways I would try to imitate that love in my relationship with my bride to be. Here are some examples:
Love is patient/long suffering-I will not interrupt her when she talks. I will not be upset when she is late to meet me. I will keep my hands off of her and wait patiently for marriage.
Love is not rude-I will speak kindly to her. I will not make fun of her or her views on things like movies. I will be attentive when I am around her family and respect them.
Love rejoices with the truth-I will rejoice when she is more righteous in an area than I am. When she shares what she learns from reading Scripture I will listen, assuming that God has something for me in what she is saying.
I listed at least ten specific things I would do for each characteristic of love that Paul mentions in I Corinthians 13:4-7. Many of them are trite, but they expressed a desire to be more godly. The total came to almost four pages of lined paper. At family worship this morning we read this passage. I was reminded of how wonderful and how painful that text is. Paul cuts us up with the Word.
Perhaps this Valentine’s Day you should take some time and examine how well you are loving those around you. How are you treating your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends? Make a list of all those traits Paul mentions, patience, kindness, not irritated/easily provoked, not seeking your own, bearing all things, etc. Then list some specific ways you would like to change. Ten per trait is too many. My exuberance got the better of me when I was sitting in my cabin nineteen years ago. Now I realize how hard it is to improve in one area, much less ten. So list one specific way you would like to be more patient. One way would should stop rejoicing in iniquity/wrongdoing. One way you should stop being puffed up. Keep the list somewhere you can look at it, perhaps in your Bible or journal. Pray over it. Work at it. It will not make you spiritual overnight. It is not going to taste as good as chocolate or smell as good as that dinner you are planning for your wife or look as good as what you will wear this evening. But it may be the best thing you can do this Valentine’s Day for those you love.
1. Love is not self-evident. Love must be defined and explained.
2. God is love. We cannot properly define love without the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the end, there is only the love of God. Hell will be a place of infinite hate. Heaven will be a place of infinite love. To speak of love without speaking of God is like a blind man talking about the glories of a Rembrandt painting. He may heard about the painting or even felt the painting, but he really has no idea what the painting is really about.
3. Who this Triune God is, is not self-evident. There are some remnants of God’s image in each man and each woman. But these remnants are twisted. Therefore we cannot come to a definition of God or love by looking into ourselves or at human relationships. We know God from the Scriptures, the whole Scriptures. Thus to know what love is, we must know who God is. To know who God is we must know the Bible. The only path to a coherent definition of love is through the Bible. To speak of love without speaking of the Bible is impossible.
4. Every Christian believes they are acting out of love. Therefore to tell a Christian that they must love someone else is usually a waste of time. They believe they do love them. The Christian who refuses to call homosexuality a sin believes they are acting out of love. The Christian who tells every woman they meet that they must wear skirts to their ankles also believes they are acting out of love. The fire breathing legalist and the lesbian minister both believe they are acting out of love. No-one believes they are acting out of hate. This is true of most non-Christians as well, though there are some exceptions.
5. Thus it is not enough to simply say, “You are not being loving.” We must prove how their behavior is inconsistent with the Biblical teaching on love. If they refuse to accept the Bible’s definition of love then they are not interested in worshiping God. They are only interested in worshiping their idol called “love.”
6. Love is defined by the Bible. It is not defined by our feelings or the feelings and/or perceptions of those in our community. People will not always feel loved, even when we show them love. We cannot expect people in our community to always walk around saying what a loving church we are. Sometimes they will say this. Other times they will call us hate mongers or bigots or traitors. Sometimes the community will say we love them when we are just sleeping with them. Sometimes they will think we hate them even when we are loving them. The Bible sets the criteria for love, not our communities or critics.
7. This does not mean we ignore our critics. Many critics have good points. But those critics must be judged by Scripture, not Scripture by the critics.
8. Just because we can quote a Bible verse, which justifies our position, does not mean we are actually loving God and loving our neighbor. The motives behind our actions and words are as vital as the words and actions themselves. Love is a biblical act or message linked with a biblical motivation for that action or message. Sometimes the motivation is faithfulness to God. Sometimes it is the desire to see someone repent and believe. Sometimes we say something because we are defending God’s people against slander. There can be numerous righteous motivations for doing things. Without righteous motivation, it cannot be called love.
9. To love God and our neighbor means we must hate evil. We must speak with clarity and boldness against sin and unrighteousness. To refuse to hate evil is to refuse to love God and our neighbor. The one who loves sin hates God. If we love God then we bound to rebuke men, women, and institutions who love sin. We can’t love God or our neighbor if we don’t hate sin and evil. Biblical hatred is a prerequisite for Christian witness and mission.