"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
It's one of the most well-known passages in the Bible because it defines what love is, and it's a hallmark description of what love does. When someone asks me, "What is love?", I can tell them that love is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it isn't proud, it isn't rude, or self-serving, or easily angered, and it doesn't hold grudges. It is truthful, it protects, it trusts, it hopes, and it never fails.
This is an incredible passage and holds a lot of wisdom and insight on how we as Christians are to win the lost: by loving them. However, I think many people misunderstand what love really is.
The dictionary has four definitions for love:
- A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
- A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
- Sexual passion or desire.
- A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
I believe the dictionary also misunderstands what love is. Love is often confused as being a feeling or an emotion. It's not. Love isn't those warm fuzzies or butterflies you get when you have a crush on someone. Love isn't about how you feel. But I'll come back to that in a second.
Jesus talked about love quite often. He told us to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies. He told us to love God first and to love others second. He even told us to love others like He loves us. The Greek language had different words to describe the different types of love. The word eros meant sexual attraction or desire (which is where we get our word erotic). Their word storge meant love between or for family members. Neither of these two words are used in the New Testament. Another word for love was philos, which means brotherly or reciprocal love (and it's where we get Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love). And finally, the Greek had the word agape. Now the word agape means "unconditional love." Want to guess which word was used in the New Testament? Yep, you got it: agape.
The latest book that my boss has given me is called The Servant by James C. Hunter, and I've been learning so much from it. The thing that has impressed upon me the most is the idea that love is a behavior and not a feeling. This idea blew my mind. I had never looked at it that way before. People have tried to tell me that it's a behavior. But it never really made sense until I heard James Hunter discussed it in The Servant. Suddenly, so many Scriptures make so much more sense than they did before. I realize that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he wasn't telling us to have warm fuzzies for them. He isn't telling me to have a "profoundly tender, passionate affection" for the bully I faced in 5th-7th grade. He's not saying that we should be sweet on criminals or terrorists. And He wasn't telling us to be affectionate toward that womanizer in youth group.
When I look at love as a behavior, suddenly I now understand He's telling us to be patient and kind and even polite and respectful to those people. He's telling us to be humble, to not hold grudges, and to fulfill others needs before your own. Suddenly, it seems possible to love others as Christ loves us. Christ came for us and not Himself. He is the perfect example of selfless, humble love. And that love, agape love, is the type of love we're to demonstrate as the church of Christ.