Real Love – How To Know It When You See It

What Is Love?

In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul gives a description of love. This is often a go-to verse for a wedding ceremony. But, with divorce topping between 40-50%, and subsequent marriages for divorcees being higher, it’s safe to say that ‘love’ is something we really need to understand.

Hint: Paul doesn’t say that it’s an emotion that’s here to-day and gone tomorrow. That was Tony Asher and Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds, for those trivia buffs out there.

So, what is love? I thought I’d do a series on this, taking each of the 11 signposts noted by Paul. The purpose is for anyone who reads this to say, “does that describe me?” and then, “how can this be more true of me?”

The first marker for Love is this: Love is patient!

Another translation has ‘love’ as ‘charity,’ and ‘patient’ as ‘long-suffering.’ Here’s what Matthew Henry notes in his commentary:

It is long sufferingmakrothumei. It can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.

All I can say is that I’m guilty of the opposite. I have patience … to a point! I endure evil … but have my limit! If provoked, I feel resentment, indignation and start cherishing thoughts of revenge. You know, to help God think of ways to repay those dastardly people who treated me unfairly.

Guess what? That’s not love! Ouch!

I dare say, nobody does this. In fact, even our non-Christian culture admits that society today is one of hyper-sensitive offence. From public bathroom selection to wedding cakes and someone’s personal faith in Jesus, our culture seems to be a bright, bulging wound. Use the wrong word on Social Media and you’ll be “flamed.”

We’ve got a problem in our world with bullying, both cyber and the garden-variety. That activity shows the depths of the lack of love in our world. On the other side, we’ve got people who are not long-suffering of the pain inflicted by the bullies.

My mom used to always say to me and my siblings, “It takes two to fight!” And that’s true. Maybe one person instigates the conflict, but the victim keeps it going.

In the ’60s there was an anti-war slogan, “What if they had a war but nobody came?” Being analytical, I’d say who’s the “they?” But the point is that someone may do something hurtful and the victim can decide to … pay that price for the bully.

There’s Always A Cost

Love costs us. If there is no cost, it’s worthless. Those roses a husband buys his wife cost money. If he opts to collect wild flowers, it’s a nice gesture, but won’t be as amazing as when he parts with his money for something more special.

That’s the easy part, though. Buying flowers or taking your spouse out for dinner is something that is fun for you, too!

How about returning goodness for meanness? That’s not as fun. No fist-bumps for being kind to a bully. That type of behavior costs us more than overpriced roses.

A bully owes the victim an apology. He needs to acknowledge the wrong he’s done and admit it was wrong. He needs to make amends with good behavior, showing that he’s repented from his bullying ways.

But that’s not likely to happen. It certainly won’t happen when we return the favor, an eye for an eye.

Love is patient. It endures the mistreatment of people and returns good for evil. It is patient when that good return is never admitted or acknowledged.

We Don’t Have To Look For Mean People

While patience is the hallmark of love, it doesn’t mean we go looking for bullies to hurt us. There will be enough of them finding us in life. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, not to go find them again so they could hit us over and over. He taught us to go the extra mile when compelled by someone (referring to a law that required Israelites to carry baggage for a Roman official if told to do so. Under the law they had to go one mile. Jesus taught that they should go two. So, more than the law required). But Jesus didn’t teach that we should go finding people to have them compel us in such a way.

These circumstances will happen naturally. We’ll have people at work that say unkind things, or stab us in the back. We’ll have church leaders abuse their position and inflict pain. We’ll have family members treat us with contempt and envy. The commuter on the freeway will cut us off, honking and using the “swear finger.”

We don’t have to go looking for it. But true love is found in the patience that we have for all of those situations.

We Don’t Have It In Us

Here’s the kicker: We don’t have real love in us. God is love. Many will try to indict God by saying, “If God exists, why does He let all the horrors go on in the world?” Well, God is patient. God rains good things on the righteous and the unrighteous. God’s goodness is meant to bring people to repentance.

Even though it doesn’t seem to bring people to repentance (rather, it seems to make them think they can get away with whatever they do) it will stand as a statement against them. When the Judgment comes, what will people say when God points out all their wickedness and their disregard for His mercy?

I believe we cannot show this patient love until we have accepted God’s love and Lordship. I believe it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This isn’t to say that every Christian will demonstrate this patience perfectly. But, increasingly as they allow the Holy Spirit to fill them.

Do you want to know if you have the Holy Spirit? Paul was telling the Corinthians that it isn’t in the amazing signs and wonders like prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc. It’s in how we love.

Does your love show an increasing amount of patience and long-suffering?

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Can I Really Love Myself?

One of the more common statements that everyone wants to believe is, “You need to learn to love yourself!” Or, a variation, “You need to learn to forgive yourself.”

The idea is pleasing because everyone gets down on themselves, or feels depressed about some mistake or foolish thing …. But can we really love ourselves? Isn’t that sort of what “Honest John” Foulfellow said to Pinocchio? “You need to live a little,” “You deserve a break!” Isn’t all that just an expression meant to convey “you really need to burn that conscience right out of you.”

What is love, anyway?

According to the Bible, love is defined by sacrifice. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. By this we know love, that God laid down his life for us… both written by the apostle of Love, John.

Can I “lay down my life” for myself? Can I sacrifice for myself?

Typically, we might have a responsibility for money, which we shrug off, sacrificing duty to indulge ourselves. Or, we might have a choice of providing for a friend, or indulging ourselves …

I don’t think we can really sacrifice for ourselves.

There is an example, however, of preserving yourself so that you can be of the most help to others: Lifeguard training.

Odd as it may sound, if a lifeguard is rescuing someone near a pier, and the waves are pushing them toward a large, wooden beam, the lifeguard is to keep the victim between himself and the beam. Why? Because the victim’s bruises and broken bones can be mended when the lifeguard safely gets him to the shore. Getting him to the shore is far less likely if the lifeguard is pummeled unconscious and they both need rescue.

I think we need to watch out for instances where we throw ourselves in the path of large beams, thinking we’re saving some poor victim from another problem, but we’re making ourselves incapable of further assistance.

That’s not really “loving ourselves,” it’s just maintaining our usefulness.

Jesus often turned the crowds away, or went to a solitary place to refresh His spirit in communion with God the Father. While it might seem selfish, or that he’s just “loving himself,” it was actually needed because He was fully man. He needed rest so He could continue his rescue mission.

Wisdom is knowing the difference between self-indulgence and self-preservation for the greater good.

What do you think? Is “loving ourselves” good advice for Christians, or is it just a justification for indulging the self-life?