If you were to ask a follower of Jesus for the clearest, most complete description of love, you would probably be directed to 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter.” It has found a place in wedding ceremonies, inside Valentine Day cards, and on counter-cross-stitch pillows. And while I am sure it is not best understood lifted out of its painful, real life setting, it is a powerful chapter all by itself.
Verses 4-8 describe love in terms of what it does, feels, plans, and desires. In fact, the description almost sounds like a living being.
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.
Here are 16 direct statements about what love is and isn’t. But does love really have to be thought of as an “It?” Is love inert, non-living, and inanimate? Does it make sense to say that love has no capacity for emotion? Could love be a living being?
Twice in 1 John 4 the text says, “God is love” (vs. 4, 16). And so, take a few minutes and go through this little exercise.
First, if God is love, then it is appropriate to exchange terms, so that the description in 1 Corinthians now reads, “God is patient, God is kind … God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, etc.”
Second, John 3:16 says that God loves the whole world. But his love is specific to each of us. He knows the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7). He knows the status of each bird (Matthew 6:26) but says that I am much more valuable. And so, since his love is so entirely specific to each of us, add your name to the end of each description so that it reads, “God is patient with Bob, God is kind to Bob … God is not easily angered by Bob, etc.”
And please don’t allow this exercise make you feel childish. Be honest with yourself. For most of us, it’s not difficult to picture an abstract concept of love. It’s easy to conceive of “It” with these glowing terms. “It” is patient and kind. For some of us, it’s more difficult to picture God in this way. We have to personalize the concepts. But, the life of Jesus, makes this much easier (John 1:14, Hebrews 2:14). But for many of us, it’s very difficult to put our own name down as the recipient of God’s love.
And so, third, make an honest note of the phrases that are the most difficult for you to believe or accept. You may find it easier to believe that “God is patient with you” than to believe that “God is not easily angered by you.” Do you believe that “God keeps no record of wrongs on you and that God always trusts you?” You see, our ability to accept a dimension of God’s love will affect our ability to extend it on to others.
Frederich Buechner, in his book, Wishful Thinking, has written,
“Of all powers, love is the most powerful and the most powerless. It is the most powerful because it alone can conquer that final and most impregnable stronghold which is the human heart. It is the most powerless because it can do nothing except by consent.” (53-54)
Do we believe that God loves us? Until we give our consent, and open our hearts to his love, the deepest power of love will continue to elude us.