Love is all sorts of elements in motion. Imagine that one of your loved ones has just died. At the wake, a co-worker who doesn’t really like you comes up and says coolly and properly, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Also at the wake, your best friend walks up to you and puts her arms around you and with tears in her eyes says “I’m sorry for your loss.” Two different people saying exactly the same words to you, and yet the impact is entirely different. The meaning is entirely different.
Love can transform and fill words so that mere cold ideas become truth in the purifying fire of love. We have all heard hollow words that do not spring from genuine compassion. They feel cold and metallic, unreal and inauthentic. The power of someone’s words comes not primarily from their phrases, but from a genuine warm heart that cares and loves. In essence, Paul is saying that spiritual experience is wonderful, but only if it comes from a heart full of love. Paul teaches,
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
The love that is depicted in this verse is that of a strong person, a loving person who protects what is right and pure. A loving person doesn’t turn away from life as a bitter cynic. A loving person feels pain but perseveres. A loving person is not undone by life and approaches the future with a smile.
Love moves forward with life. I meet people sometimes who are living in the past or are fixated on what they don’t have. Someone who loves God and loves people doesn’t have time for that. Love moves forward. It doesn’t deny or dismiss any of the difficulties of life, but it moves forward trusting in God, hoping, persevering and being faithful.
When it comes to the Biblical principals of love, I need to be clear that I am not speaking of the modern tendency to have positive thinking. My wife and I recently had dinner with a couple who believe in PMA – a positive mental attitude approach to life. When the wife began to describe a difficult situation, her husband would turn and correct her as they attempted to ignore or dismiss all of life’s difficulties. They denied ½ of life as they hung desperately on to a pagan idea of positive mental attitude.
The believer is to have a wide eyed view to life. I am not talking about having a fixed smile carved into our faces. We are to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. There is nothing a Christian fears to see or wishes to avoid. Christians should not be shocked by the brokenness of the world or sin. But we are also not dismayed. We never lose hope because we know God.
The prophet Nehemiah in the Old Testament is known as a leader of hope. Through him other individuals learned hope because they saw how big God was. As Nehemiah proclaimed, “The God of heaven will give us success.” (Nehemiah 2:20) From understanding God, we can keep in perspective the difficulties and trials of life. We look at heaven and see God and it changes how we view others.
Part of this process is believing the best. We always have the opportunity to interpret others’ behavior. When we encounter difficulties or seeming affronts we have an opportunity to believe the best. We can and should put the best possible interpretation on the circumstances. Love is a compassion which interprets other’s behavior with grace, just as we would like to be given grace.
In the midst of this situation we often fail. How do we deal with failure? A proverb teaches that, “A righteous man falls seven times and rises.” Righteousness is not equated so much with perfection as perseverance. A biblical perseverance allows us to understand our mistakes and failures and yet try again. Many people feel that they need to be perfect. Satan is able to accuse them, and lie to them, and deceive them that they don’t have access into God’s grace.
Struggles, failures and difficulties are unavoidable. But how we respond is our choice.
When I used to play football, the most devastating element of our 3-a-day summer practices was the wind sprints. After hours baking in the Indiana sun, when we were already exhausted and soaking wet in the sweat of our uniforms, the coaches would delight in having us run dozens of wind sprints. Many promising football players would walk away after an afternoon of wind-sprints and never return. The coaches knew that we needed to know that exhaustion and pain would tempt us to cowardice. At this point when everything in our bodies was screaming to give up, we needed to know that we could and would endure. The coaches exercised our wills as much as our bodies. We needed to learn endurance.
The person that is depicted in Paul’s words here is a strong person. To love means to “always persevere.” In other words, to Biblically love means to feel pain and not run away. Part of the value of an athletic career is that it trains you in how to handle pain. At one point in my senior year of football I broke my thumb. At the time I wasn’t sure that I broke it, as I did not go to see a doctor. I thought it was broken, and I knew if I told anyone, they would require me to stop playing. I was very foolish and played the last 3 games of the season with a broken bone in my hand. Every time my hand made contact with someone, it felt like my whole arm was on fire. By the time I brought it to a doctor after the season, the bone had already set awkwardly.
Yet this sort of physical pain is nothing compared to the emotional pain of a marriage in trouble. I have felt the excruciating and naked pain of a troubled marriage and wanted to quit. And so has my wife. Love perseveres. Love endures. Love is not directed by pain but by truth. Love endures in doing right. Love is a long courage.
Building a healthy marriage is the most difficult task I have ever done. It is also the place of my greatest failures and most hopeless moments. Yet by the grace of God and persevering love, we have been able to grow in our love of each other. Love isn’t love unless it endures pain and difficulty.
Love is the most eternal thing there is. In the midst of changes in life – and life changes all the time – there is one thing that doesn’t change: the love of God for us. As we accept and live in this love, God’s loving character shows forth from us in a genuine and deep love for others. We might get older and weaker, but the grace of the Lord can shine brighter.
Love is all these elements and more. An illustration of this whole love process in operation recently happened to my wife and myself. Lori and I had a misunderstanding. We got mad and had an argument.
It took us long time to finally hear each other out and eventually sort through the problem. How, you ask?
– We reaffirmed our commitment to each other.
– We forgave each other before we ever sat down.
– We sought to show each other affection and encouragement.
– We were straightforward but not crass in honest communication, both honest emotion and our thoughts.
– We listened to each other.
In a word, we loved each other.
Was that whole process necessary? No. It was a failure—a problem that should not have happened except for both of our mistakes. But the point to underline is that it was a solvable problem because we sought to love each other.
To truly love is to hurt: love is defined in terms of pain. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13, “Love bears all things: love believes all things; love endures all things.” It is difficult to love. But love multiplies the joy of life as well as the pain. There is nothing to touch the oneness that Lori and I shared last night after talking and praying. We were one in the Spirit.
I would like for you to think of someone you are having a problem relationship with. Ask yourself:
– Am I committed to this person?
– Have I shown affection for this person?
– Have I encouraged this person?
– Have I been honest with this person about yourself?
– Have I been honest with this person about them?
– Have I served this person?
– Have I forgiven this person?
We need to be committed, affectionate, honest, truthful, serving and forgiving people.
We have been satisfied with too little for too long. We need to be captured once again by the awesome, wonderful, thrilling task of being representatives and visible displays of God’s love. The gospel is good news because it changes us. It changes everything, because it makes us lovers. The abundant life is a life of love.