Happy St. Patrick’s Day! How fitting to look at “love” on the day that we honor of the missionary who went to Ireland out of love for Christ and the people to whom he was bringing the gospel. As noted in the last post, we must replace the sinful attitude of criticism with love.
But what is love? Love is misunderstood and over used. We use the word love for just about everything: “I love BBQ!” “I love the Aggies!” “I love my wife.”
We use “love” in referring to how we feel about a lot of things.
But besides being misunderstood, the word love has also been misinterpreted. Many today are use the word love in place of the word lust. Also, people say, “I fell in love” as if somebody tripped them and the force of gravity takes over. Unfortunately people also say they “fell out of love.”
Love for many is an ocean of emotions. And while love does create feelings, love itself is not just a feeling. What is love as the bible describes it? In the Greek language that the New Testament was written there are four distinct words for love.
1. “Eros” – means sexual passion, is where we get our English word, erotic.
2. “Philia” – means a bond of friendship, from which the city of Philadelphia is named, the city of brotherly love.
3. “Storge” – means affection and is the type of love we display towards family members.
4. “Agape” – means unconditional no string attached and is word use for God’s love for us and how we are to love one another
Instead of love being only a feeling, love is a choice. We must choose to love.
One of the greatest descriptions of how to love is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. From a literary viewpoint some would argue that this the greatest passage Paul ever penned.
Paul lists fifteen characteristics of Christian love.
1. Love is patient. It describes the one who is “slow to anger.” It is used of God in his relationship with us. Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength. Like the man who is wronged and who has the power to avenge himself but will not.
No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than Edward Stanton. He called him “a low cunning clown.” He nicknamed him “the original gorilla.” Lincoln said nothing and never retaliated. Later as president, Lincoln make Mr. Stanton his war minister. When asked why, Lincoln replied, “because he is the best man for the job” and he treated him with every courtesy. The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in the theatre. In the little room to which the President’s body was taken stood that same Stanton and looking down on Lincoln’s silent face, he said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” The patience of love had conquered in the end.
2. Love is kind. Church father Origin wrote that this means “sweet to all.” Such love is considerate and helpful to others. Kind love is gentle and mild, always ready to show compassion, especially to those in need.
3. Love does not envy. It has been said that there are really only two classes of people in this world–“those who are millionaires and those who would like to be.” There are also two kinds of envy: one covets the possessions of other people. The second doesn’t so much want things for himself as he wishes that others had not got them at all. Are you thankful when family members or friends gain success, get raises and do well?
4. Love is not boastful. When the loving person is himself successful he does not boast of it. He does not brag. Love does not parade its accomplishments. Bragging is the other side of envy. Envy wants what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what we have. Envy puts others down; bragging builds us up. It is ironic that, as much as most of us dislike bragging in others, we are so inclined to brag ourselves.
5. Love is not proud. The loving person really never thinks of his own importance. William Carey, who began life as a cobbler, was one of the greatest missionaries and certainly one of the greatest linguists the world has ever seen. He translated at least parts of the Bible into no fewer than thirty-four Indian languages. When he came to India, he was regarded with dislike and contempt. At a dinner party a snob, with the idea of humiliating him, said in a tone that everyone could hear, “I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoe-maker.” “No, your lordship,” answered Carey, “not a shoe-maker, only a cobbler.” He did not even claim to make shoes–only to mend them.
6. Love is not rude. There are some Christians who takes a delight in being blunt and almost brutal. There is a graciousness in love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are loving.
7. Love is not self-seeking. There are those in this world who are always thinking of what life owes them and there are those who never forget what they owe to life. Most of our problems which surround us today could be avoided if we would think less of our rights and more of our duties. Whenever we start thinking about “ourselves” and “our place” we are drifting away from true love.
8. Love is not easily angered. Love never becomes infuriated with people which is a sign of defeat. When we lose our tempers, we lose everything. Kipling said that it was the test of a man if he could keep his head when everyone else was losing his. The one who is master of his temper can be master of anything.
9. Love keeps no record of wrongs. “Record” is an accounting term, the word used for entering up an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. That is precisely what so many people do. One man in describing his wife to a friend exclaimed, “When we get in an argument, she always gets historical!” “You mean hysterical, the friend replied?” “No, historical! She brings up everything I ever did wrong!” Love learns to let go.
10. Love does not delight in evil. Love finds no pleasure in anything that is wrong. In particular, the delight that comes to most of us when we hear something derogatory about someone else. It is one of the traits of human nature that we prefer to hear of the misfortune of others rather than of their good fortune. Love finds no pleasure in gossip or bad news about someone.
11. Love rejoices with the truth. That is not as easy as it sounds. There are times when we definitely do not want the truth to prevail; and other times when truth is the last thing we want to hear. Love has no desire to veil the truth; it has nothing to hide and so is glad when the truth is revealed.
12. Love always protects. It is possible that this may mean “love can cover anything,” meaning it will never drag into the light of day the faults and mistakes of others. Love would rather mend things than publicly displaying them. It can also mean that love can bear any insult, any injury, and disappointment.
13. Love always trust. This characteristic has a twofold meaning. (1) In relation to God it means that love takes God at his word. (2) In relation to people it means that love always believes the best about other people. We make people what we believe them to be. If we show that we do not trust people, we may make them untrustworthy. If we show people that we trust them, we may make them trustworthy.
14. Love always hopes. Love looks forward, not backward. It seeks for growth and maturity in the church, knowing that God is working in every person. It knows that failure is not the end.
15. Love always perseveres. Love is active and committed. When we love we hold on, no matter what difficulties we face. Hardship and pain do not stop love. When we persevere, we hang on when the going gets tough. We strive to save our marriages and love our children despite disappointment and to continue to trust God despite setbacks, and to continue to serve God despite fear or sorrow. When we truly persevere in love nothing can stop us!
Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist and founder of the Menninger Clinic, has written that “Love is the medicine for our sick old world. If people can learn to give and receive love, they will usually recover from their physical or mental illness.”
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