By Brent Rinehart
Love is something we have marveled about since the beginning of time. It has been the subject of countless songs, poems, sonnets and books over the course of history. Hundreds of movies use it as its theme. And, yet, expertise in the subject still seems to evade us. In many ways, we’ve simply “lost that loving feeling.” Spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook today, and I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s as if we’ve forgotten what love is, what it isn’t, and how we are supposed to do it. Love is simply another one of those things God created that we have managed to screw up.
What happened? If God is love, we were created in His image to exemplify love to each other, and love is everlasting… just how did we get so far off track? For many of us, we’ve simply lost sight of what the Bible reveals to us about love. The Bible has a lot to say about it, but here are 10 things we can be reminded of about love and how to live in response.
1. We have the ability to love because of God.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
We wouldn’t know what love is if it wasn’t for God. He showed us in that He loved us so much, “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Most of us learn from experience. We learn – good or bad – about marriage, parenting, work and faith from witnessing it from our parents. We experience the love of God by accepting His free gift of love, mercy and forgiveness. That gives us the ability to extend the same love to others.
2. Love is active. It requires action.
“And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10: 37b)
I realize that the whole “love is a verb” thing is cliché. That doesn’t make it any less true. God’s Word cannot be any clearer on the subject. Jesus instructs us to take action. In responding to the question of how to love a neighbor, Jesus gives us the parable of the good Samaritan. You can’t be like the good Samaritan by saying “I love you” or posting Bible verses on social media. It requires getting your hands dirty, so to speak, and physically meeting needs when you see them. Don’t talk about it, be about it. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
3. Love isn’t optional in the life of a follower of Christ.
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
Anybody in charge can make up rules. Commandments are divine; they are handed down by God, not man, and they should be treated as such. Jesus makes it clear in this passage that love is what is required from us. We are to love God and love each other, which is easy in concept, but much harder in practice. Love isn’t a suggestion, but a requirement.
4. We owe it to each other.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13: 8-10)
I hate to be in debt to someone. It is a constant weight on my mind until I’ve paid my friend back. Payment apps like Venmo and others make it easy to care of financial debts between friends quickly. It’s eye-opening that Paul uses this phrasing in this passage. Just before, he writes of monetary obligations like taxes. Then, he transitions from talk of money to talk of love. Do you feel like you “owe” your neighbor love? Being in debt in this way is a step further than just realizing that you ought to love people. When you are in debt, you work hard to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. What if you and I viewed love this way – as a debt? I have to imagine that it would affect how we act towards each other.
5. We are worthless without love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3)
No list of Bible love passages is complete without reference to 1 Corinthians 13. In fact, this is the first of several references to the “love chapter.” That’s because it is chock full of truth that should influence how we feel about love. None are more poignant than the beginning of the chapter. It’s easy for us to puff ourselves up with our talents and abilities. We can start to think we are pretty great – successful career, college degree, beautiful family, even growing in our faith. But, as Paul reminds us, it’s all worthless if we don’t have love.
6. Love stands the test of time.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13: 7-10)
Isn’t it crazy to think about how much energy we put into temporal things? We are all so focused on the things that do not ultimately matter, often at the detriment of the things that really do. Here, we are reminded that love lasts forever, so that is where we need to make our investment. All of those other things we focus on will eventually pass away.
7. Love is a sign of maturity.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13: 11-12)
I think about immaturity a lot as a parent. I think my kids are old enough to act a certain way, but sometimes, they remind me of their immaturity. Sometimes, I’m reminded of my own immaturity in how I respond to them. I used to think of this part of 1 Corinthians 13 as out of place in a passage about love. Why are these verses about maturity thrown into a chapter about love? Easy – if love doesn’t come natural, or if love is hard for us, we are immature. No one wants to be called immature, but think about it. As kids, we focus entirely on our own needs. As adults, we are required to shift our focus. We become parents ourselves or we have to take care of our own parents. We have responsibilities to care for others, in addition to ourselves. It’s a part of growing up. Paul reminds us that love for others shows our maturity.
8. Love is a barometer of our salvation. If we don’t love, we don’t know Him.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 7-8)
So, here’s where I experience God’s Word being sharp as a two-edged sword and I get my toes stepped on a little bit. This passage is hard to handle. Failing to live a life of love is not only sinful; it’s a sign that I don’t have a relationship with God at all. If God is love, and I’ve encountered Him, the only response is to live in a way that love pours out. You can’t give what you don’t have or haven’t experienced.
9. Love is easy to discern…by looking at what it isn’t.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6)
Love is so simple, but at the same time, so difficult. As I read through these characteristics of love, I think about all the times I’ve been arrogant, rude, selfish and resentful. It’s a reminder of how, in our fallen nature, we’ve messed up a beautiful thing. We’ve taken love from its purest form and made it into our own image. It’s always easier for us to be self-serving, looking out for our own interests. It takes deliberate action to put others first. We don’t have to try to be selfish, but it takes most of us significant effort to be selfless. True love is selfless.
10. Love is not just for people we like.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5: 43-47)
Recently, our country has gone through a lot. If one thing is clear, it’s that we need to have a renewed focus on loving EVERYBODY… not just the people we like. Anybody can love people like them. People who look like them, believe like them, worship like them, love like them, or vote like them. If I say I love Jesus, but harbor resentment in my heart for people not like me, I’m a liar. We have a long, long way to go as a country. And, I have a long, long way to go as a person.