Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. –1 John 4:8
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
–1 Corinthians 13:13
GOD MUST DEFINE LOVE.
Loving someone can’t be about you. Your expectations. Your emotions. The way that person makes you feel. Your friend always being there for you. Your fairy tale vision of what your relationship should look like.
In short, it can’t be about your definition of love.
Since God is love, He has every right and authority to define love!
Knowing love would be essential for every relationship, God made sure to define love in 1 Corinthians 13, shining as a diamond with many facets: rare, beautiful, born of intense heat and pressure, the hardest substance on Earth. God’s love is rare and priceless, because His standard for love is severe and unyielding.
The Greeks called God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13 agape, or selfless love. Not motivated by self-interest, agape love acts in the best interest of the other person. God’s unconditional love never wanes or fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) Can the same be said of the love we have to offer?
This post starts a series about love based on the study of 1 Corinthians 13.
GOD MUST LOVE OTHERS THROUGH ME.
Even though the love passage calls us higher, love is always about others.
Anyone who studies 1 Corinthians 13 is motivated by something! In our humanity, we don’t like to climb on crosses. We only climb on crosses, when we care enough about someone or something to die to ourselves.
What motivates you to love?
Do you want to please God by loving others well? Are you married or engaged to be married? Is God calling you to love a difficult person? Or, like me, do you have serious shortcomings in this area and want to grow in loving others?
In humbling ourselves to study LOVE, it’s important to make one thing clear:
Your love, my love, is not enough, which is why we need God’s love.
No matter how strong your feelings, no matter how committed you are to loving God and people, no matter how devoted you are to your beloved, we all need God’s word to show us our proper place and perspective.
Despite my attempts to love “truly, madly, deeply,” I end up biting the dust. Many times I’ve been selfish and wrong. Even when I thought I was doing right, I discovered later I had the wrong motives. I can’t be the source of my love, since I know how often I fail at truly loving people!
If our love isn’t enough, how, then, are we to love people the way God loves?
WRONG DEFINITIONS WAR AGAINST GOD’S LOVE!
“Silly Love Songs”
You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that
I’d like to know
‘Cause here I go again
I love you…
Paul McCartney wrote a song about something as common as faucet water: silly love songs.
Silly love songs define love in careless, irresponsible and even dangerous ways. These songs run on heart, hype, hormones, harmonies and hurried and helpless emotions.
Driven by feelings, silly love songs indoctrinate people in so many wrong definitions of love.
Jeremiah told the nation of Judah, “You have as many gods as you have towns.” (Jeremiah 11:13) The same can be said for love songs in America and around the world. If you think about it, the majority of love songs war against the real definition of love in the Bible.
Movies, books, magazines and a host of other things also present distorted pictures of love.
The world, the flesh and the devil seek to bury God’s vision and purpose for love under mass confusion and rubble. Reclaiming God’s agape love from the wreckage of the world’s counterfeits will take time; it will take digging and picking through broken concrete slabs, bent bars and a whole lot of trash.
But, when we, as the people of God, commit to walking out love, we begin to redeem love from the wrecking ball, the ashes, the gutter, the locker room, the top 40 and a battlefield full of broken and unsustainable relationships.
We need to restore love to its proper place!
LOVE IS EVERYWHERE?
In contrast to agape love’s rare appearances, we use the word “love” to describe everything ranging from serious and genuine all the way to common and superficial. So often, we base our human love on how another person or thing makes us feel.
I love my mom! I love jazz music! I love spaghetti and meatballs!
I love using emojis!
No wonder we’re confused and muddled about what “love” really is.
When we have too much of something, human nature tends to cheapen and devalue it. Does our frequent use of the word “love” give the world the wrong impression? Love is easy come, easy go and can apply to as many ice cream flavors to satisfy every taste.
By the way, I “love” mint chip ice cream! (See what I mean.)
COUNTERFEIT LOVE CAN KEEP US FROM THE REAL THING.
Many people say they’re afraid of love, because they’ve been hurt too many times. Quite possibly, they’ve never been loved according to God’s standard. They wrestle with phantoms and counterfeits, while true love may be knocking on the door, but the person refuses to answer.
For this reason, God wants us to discern His true love from every form of false love! To renew our minds, we need to embrace, without compromise, Biblical love!
LOVE IS A VERB!
Have you noticed how often God connects love and action together in the Bible? Whenever the Bible mentions love, it also calls on us to demonstrate it. Can we truly say we love someone, if we don’t have the actions to back up our words?
John 3:16: God so loved the world, that He GAVE… (Caps mine)
John 14:15: If you love me, you’ll KEEP my commands… (Caps mine)
1 John 3:18: …let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Conclusion: Love is far too easy to sing and to say, but difficult to DO!
Granted, sometimes, God calls us to act by waiting on Him, being silent or refraining from saying or doing things prematurely. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4) Sometimes, waiting on God in relationship with another demonstrates love like few things can.
Ultimately, God’s way of love requires me to act. In this way, I can no longer hide behind love as mere theory or feelings. Love is a verb!
IT TAKES GOD TO LOVE LIKE GOD!
Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Likewise, we can’t truly love another person apart from Him. God wants to be a part of the process and relationship. His presence ensures strongly bonded relationships. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
To illustrate, loving others with God’s love is like plugging a lamp into an electrical socket. The electricity powers the light bulb. We’re only conduits, and not the source of God’s love. Therefore, we must stay connected to the power source!
How important is it, then, to put God first in our lives! After all, I can’t give what I don’t have.
God must love me first, before I can love others. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Moreover, I’m blessed as I bless others, since that current has to go through me before it can flow from me.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9)
ELECTRICAL CURRENT = OIL
Interestingly enough, the Bible draws on the same metaphors of lamp and light to describe how believers influence the world around them.
Back then, instead of electricity, they used oil for lamps. Without oil, the light of love would dim, fade and eventually go out.
Oil represents the work of the Holy Spirit.
In Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is love. As we partner with God and exercise love, the Holy Spirit will help us to love others. For our part, we must intentionally practice love in our daily lives, dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Love is the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruit of my efforts. With this in mind, it’s when we die to ourselves we’re made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18) In exercising the muscle of love, it’s likely I’ll die a thousand deaths, thereby allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way in and through me.
Historically speaking, where did the people in Jesus’ day get this oil? They didn’t simply go to Costco to buy a jug of olive oil, disconnected from the process. Back then, the oil-making process wasn’t hidden inside factory walls; the point was clear, to produce oil you had to crush and press olives.
How can that same process of producing oil speak to us today?
Jesus showed us how to produce oil to love others.
The night before His greatest act of love, dying on the cross for us, He prayed earnestly with great drops of blood as He struggled to submit to God’s will. (Luke 22:44)
He didn’t feel like going to the cross. Nobody ever feels like it. He knew what was to come and braced Himself. He’d be whipped, bruised, crushed and finally die a shameful death as a common criminal. Yet in those moments of agony and counting the cost, He said, “…not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Gethsemane was where He wrestled, prayed and submitted to God’s way of love.
Most people don’t realize Gethsemane means “oil press.”
We will all have our times of struggling prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like Jesus, Gethsemane is where you’ll decide whether to go your way or God’s way. Gethsemane is the crossroads of love.
THE HIGH COST OF LOVE
If love is the highest virtue God has given, why wouldn’t it cost us our very lives?
I’d love to share with you an easier way, since that would keep me from going to the cross, too. Frankly, in doing this study on 1 Corinthians 13, I’m signing my own death warrant and preparing for my own funeral.
Knowing I will die, ideally, I take every opportunity to die well. I want my epitaph to read: She learned to love well!
It didn’t take too long to put this into practice. In a recent situation, because I was meditating on God’s love, I was able to tell myself, “This is not about you. This is not about how you feel. It’s about what’s best for this other person.”
In other words, God had asked me to take the road through Gethsemane and I stepped forward knowing what it could cost me. Though willing, every step was a chore. Emotions unraveled here and there and the ground became uneven and shaky, as I submitted to what God wanted me to do.
God was teaching me how to love this person. For the purpose of loving well, I positioned myself, “not my will, but yours be done.” Crushed and pressed, the oil began to flow.
Can it be called love by God’s definition, if you don’t die to self?
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
— Joyce Lee
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS:
Since love is about doing, the application of God’s word is so important.
How can we apply the study of God’s love to our lives?
- Examine one of your favorite secular love songs. We can easily sing a song without reflecting on its meaning. What does the song declare about love? Do your findings change the way you view this song?
- Have songs, movies, magazines, books, etc. compromised and distorted your picture of love? What lies have you believed about love from these sources?
- How will you redeem God’s definition of love in your own life and refuse the counterfeits? What steps will you take practically?
- We talked about the need to put God first and be loved by Him in order to love others. Are you putting God first in your life (time, attention, focus, thought life, relationship)? If not, what steps will you take to put Him first and build a closer, deeper relationship with Him? When we allow God to love us in our lowest, darkest places, we can, in turn, love others in the same way. How will you become more transparent and open your heart to accept more healing, love and acceptance from God and trusted others?
- Take time to spend alone with God. Ask Him about your relationships and listen to what He has to say. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance regarding your relationships. Ask Him to show you how to love others better.
- Do you have broken relationships from the past, including with family members? Reflect on those relationships. Did they show you accurate pictures of love? Why or why not? Do you fear relationships because of your past? What can you do to forgive, heal and renew your mind in God’s love? God wants you to “clean the slate,” so you’ll be ready for the love He has for you.
- Reflect upon your own life. How much has emotion played a part in your love for others? If it’s been the basis of your love for others, what happens when those feelings are challenged, start fading or even disappear? How can you move from feeling-based love to decision-based love?
- What verses or passages on love or points in this post can you study further, meditate on and begin to practice to fortify true love in your life?
- In what ways can you love someone even when you don’t feel like it?
- Try to do one thing daily or weekly where you put someone else’s interest, need or preference before your own to practice love.