What is True Love?
My daughter got married a couple of years ago, and like any mother of the bride, I was so excited for the wedding. I remember interviewing florists for the first time, and one in particular helped me go over all the plans for the flowers. When we said goodbye, he hugged me and said, “I love you.”
Now, I know he meant it with really good intentions, and was just trying to be nice. But we’d only just met! It made me think, do I ever flippantly say “I love you” and not think about what that really means? Do I downplay love’s power by trivializing it?
Love is easily underestimated, often treated carelessly and seldom thought about for long. We think we know what love is, but when I look around the world and into my own heart, I think we often misunderstand love.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
This is a long list, but that’s the nature of love! It’s so complex, so it needs a lot of words to be explained thoroughly.
Paul wrote this in Greek, and the beauty of the Greek language is that every word has a lot of nuances of meaning. Let’s go through these descriptors again:
1. Love is patient. It means love is willing to wait. It endures injury without seeking immediate retaliation. Love is slow to react.
2. Love is kind. Love recognizes others are broken like we are. They carry a heavy load as well, so love is gentle and soft.
3. Love does not envy, which means it doesn’t resent. Instead, it celebrates the achievements of others.
4. Love does not boast. It doesn’t show off. It doesn’t compare itself to others.
5. Love is not proud. It’s not puffed up. It’s not arrogant. It’s not overly self-confident. It celebrates others. Love sees the image of God in everyone, including ourselves.
6. Love does not dishonor others. It is not rude. It does not criticize. It does not shame or discriminate against others. Instead, it respects, honors and lifts up others.
7. Love is not self-seeking. Love is generous and selfless.
8. Love is not easily angered. It’s not irritable or tense. It doesn’t isolate but is self-controlled.
9. Love keeps no record of wrongs. It forgets. It forgives. It doesn’t pay back for injury. Some of us are historians in our arguments, remembering every time someone has hurt us. Love doesn’t do that.
10. Love does not delight in evil. It is just. It is honest. It is faithful and trustworthy.
11. Love rejoices in the truth. It doesn’t suppress the truth. It doesn’t minimize it or ignore it. Rather, it rejoices in the truth even if the truth brings discomfort.
Paul writes this using 15 verbs. He could have used adjectives to describe love, but he uses verbs to highlight the fact that love is dynamic. Love is not a feeling, but an action.
The coolest part of this passage is this: as Paul wrote about love, he was describing God himself.
See what happens when we replace the word love with God. “God is patient. God is kind. He does not envy. He does not boast. He is not proud. He does not dishonor others. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered. He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but he rejoices with the truth.”
God is love. God is eternal. That means love is eternal. Paul wrote: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Do you see the word always four times? The Bible doesn’t tend to repeat itself much, so when it does, we should pay attention. All those things we just said about love, it does them all the time, forever, always. That’s the nature of love.
12. Love always protects. It covers others.
13. Love always trusts. It believes the best in others.
14. Love always hopes. It looks forward to and anticipates the better.
15. Love always perseveres. When we think there’s no way and the problem is much bigger than us, love says, “nothing is impossible for God.”
The first thing we have to recognize is that true love, this love, is way over our heads. Our love is imperfect. We are broken people, so it gets twisted. It’s limited really by our own selfishness, so although we can be kind, we can be patient, and we can be a little slow to anger in moments, can we do it always and forever? Not so much.
The apostle John tells us, “God is love,” and we love because we have experienced God’s love. The Holy Spirit showers upon us God’s love.
What is love? Love is God who came into our mess, who gave up his life to redeem us so we could have life, who paid the price of our sins so we could be saved.
So every day, I work to avoid trivializing or downplaying love. Instead, I pray for love: ”God, do a healing work. Help me love the way you do.”
Pray for God’s grace to love well, as God loves.
How will this kind of love change your relationships?