We are all looking for love. However, what does real love actually look like? How do w know when we’ve found it? Some people think that being in love is an indescribable feeling that we fall in and out of. However, the Bible in it’s ultimate wisdom gives us a much more meaningful and enduring picture of what real love is.
A City in Need of Love
It seems kind of strange that one of the most beautiful descriptions of what love is was associated with a city such as Corinth. The inhabitants of this city were very well known for their decadent and heartless behavior and for their self-centered relationships. Lives around them were routinely used and destroyed. But upon closer look, the setting is actually very appropriate. If there were ever a group of people who need the pure principles of real love to change their lives, it would have been those in the church in Corinth.
The Christians in Corinth had a lot to overcome. For one, the religion of the city was worshiping Aphrodite, the Greed goddess of love whose temple happen to employ 1,000 prostitute priestesses.
Wealth was another challenge for them. The city’s prime location made it a great port for connecting northern and southern Greece making it have great commercial prosperity which in turn fed its moral decline. This very lethal combination of materialism mixed with a sexually oriented religion produced a culture that was purely based upon personal pleasure.
The church in Corinth quickly began to reflect the condition of the environment around it and Paul had to deal with a variety of problems. In his first letter he had to deal with the following:
- Division in the family of God (Corinth Ch 1-3)
- Pride and spiritual arrogance (Corinth Ch 4)
- Sexual promiscuity (Corinth Ch 5)
- Lawsuits between believers (Ch 6)
- Troubled marriages (Ch 7)
- Abuse of spiritual liberty (Ch 12, 14)
- Abuse of the Lords Table (Ch 11)
- Misuse of spiritual gifts (Ch 12, 14)
- Neglect of doctrinal basics (Ch 15)
Paul’s readers had to understand that there was more to following Christ than just the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and power. All of their eloquent arguments, right doctrine, expressions of faith, and sacrificial giving would actually drive others away Paul told them. He told them that if they didn’t rediscover the real meaning of love they would be in trouble. Paul showed them what really happens when our actions, even the good ones are not done with real love.
It is even possible that we too have amassed mountains of information given to us from God and about God without really understanding His heart. It’s possible that despite the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we may not truly care for the people in our lives. It’s also very possible that we see how and when others are wrong without seeing when we are wrong.
This kind of insight that Paul’s gives is not to condemn us, just like it was not to condemn the people of Corinth, but instead it is to shine a light on us when we lose our way. What Paul tells the people of Corinth serves to help us realize that we can’t let our failures in our relationships and attitudes ruin us. We cannot let arguments over our own interests reflect poorly on the credibility of our God.
Just as the Corinthians needed to learn, we need to realize that people are not going to care much about what we know until they see how much we care about them. Without the real love of Christ the evangelism will become judgmental. Personal commitment becomes a self-righteous act and worship grows routine and mindless.
Christ is there offering to change us from the inside out. He wants to lift us above our own natural ways and do something in us that we could never do on our own.
The Marks of Real Love
The Beatles actually stirred up an entire generation with their song “All You Need is Love”. They also stirred things up when John wrote “Real Love”. The lyrics express a note of sadness in them. While describing rel love as his goal in life, the song ends with the sad thought that he was destined to “only be alone.”
We all look for love, think we have found it, but grow disillusioned when the feelings fade. So, what is love and why does it seem so illusive?
The Greek word eros was a term that was often used to describe romantic love. Storge was a term that described a strong love that protects and makes secure. Phileo was a term that represented the brotherly love of family or friendship.
Then there is the term agape, which is the term most often used to describe God’s love. It was used to describe love in its most profound and pure form.
Paul chose to use the word agape to describe love in 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that he wanted all of us to see that it is the highest kind of divine love that gives lasting meaning to all other expressions of love on earth. By using agape to describe this love from our Creator’s point of view, this is what Paul wrote:
“Love suffers long and is kind, love does not envy, love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Paul is telling us that real love does not retaliate or seek to get even. It doesn’t embrace bitterness but patiently endures. It recognizes and deals with the heartaches it faces without becoming vengeful in response. This quality of love enables a person to do what others say they could never do.
The purpose of real love is to seek the welfare of the one loved, then we see why real love must not only be patient but gracious and kind. It is kindness not harshness that encourages good in another person. Being gentle and full of grace is being “Christlike”. See how Jesus described Himself to those in need of His help. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowlyh in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29)
Jesus tries to remind us that while love calls for truth, truth expressed without kindness is not loving. He reminds us that while love calls for patience, patience without kindness is not loving either.
Paul tells us that real love does not resent the blessings, successes, or the well being of others. Love does not say “If I can’t have what I want, I don’t want you to have it either.” Instead, real love says “I can be happy for you, even if I never achieve the accomplishments, recognition, or comforts you are enjoying. While I might wish myself more, I could not wish you less.”
Disappointments are going to happen, unfair circumstances will test our faith as well as our love. But, we can be disappointed for ourselves and still show love to others, if we have learned how to trust in God.
Real love doesn’t go around bragging about itself and accomplishments and is not given to self-display. Jealousy wants what someone else has and bragging tries to make others jealous of what we have and real love doesn’t do that.
Paul reminds us that real love will not behave rudely nor will it make inappropriate demands of others. Real love will never prompt anyone to do something they don’t want to do. Real love will not use friendship to pressure someone to do something contrary to their principles or faith or the moral principles of God.
Real love also is not touchy or irritable and it does not have a short fuse. Real love does not get provoked. Real love does not simmer and boil inside and does not show signs of selfishness when it does not get what it wants when it wants it.
Real love doesn’t think about evil and it won’t keep records of unkindness with the intent of getting even. Real love will not hold bitter grudges or let longstanding resentments against others. Real love does not keep track of wrongs with the intent of making others pay for their wrongs. Real love does not keep score.
Real love does not find joy or delight in anything that God might say is wrong. It also doesn’t take secret satisfaction in the failure of others. Love does not pass along a bit of juicy gossip about someone and their failures because it feels good to do so. Real love doesn’t get involved in gossip to look knowledgeable or to feel better about itself by publishing news of someone else’s shame. When love compels us to expose sin, it must only be for the good of others.
Real love revels in the truth and stays away from iniquities and refuses to get involved with untruth and unrighteous behavior.
Real love can bear all things and it can bear the storms of disappointment, failure, and the winds of time and circumstances. Love will shield us from the extremes and it provides us with a shelter that can withstand the worst situations in our lives. But, love does not insulate us from the harsh realities of living in this broken world of ours. It also cannot protect us from the consequences of our own actions and choice in life. However, love can give broken and hurting people a place to find someone who cares for their well-being. Love gives even unrepentant people an advocate and intercessor who prays for their ultimate well-being. Love offers the worst sinners a place to bring their repentant hearts.
Real love gives us hope and real love is one that never fails. This is the love that we can find in the arms of our heavenly Father!
All we need to do is believe that we are loved and to acknowledge our sin and our need for Christ in our lives, the One who cam “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) It is in Christ that we will find the love of the Father and it is in Him that we see what it really means to live in the kind of love Paul describes.