What is love?
Does it have a definition?
Do you know it when you see it?
Do you know how you’d describe it?
If others are supposed to recognize us as followers of Jesus by our love like John 13:35 says, then we’d better know how to answer those questions. We’d better know how to define it, what it should look like, and who it is for. We’d better know if it is visible in us… or not.
The Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13. It says:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (verses 4-8)
I often have to hold my love up for others to these verses, and I sadly find that my love is full of rips and tears. But that doesn’t lessen the call that God has for me and for you. He calls us to love others unconditionally, with His help, in the love described here.
That can be truly terrifying. It can. When we love like that, we are opening ourselves up to so much hurt. But 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…”
If we are growing in Christ’s love, then that love will simply push out the fear that paralyzes us from doing right. Fear and love just cannot exist together. As our perfect example, Christ loved us so much that He didn’t fear the pain of His death, but “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). He considered it joy to suffer for us so that we can come to Him.
The thing about this kind of love, though, is that there is no logical sense in it. By our worldly view, it is nonsensical and even dangerous. But our world view rarely lines up with God’s more perfect view.
Paul had this kind of love for people. Not only was he willing to suffer in prisons, suffer beatings, and live a life always on the move in order to bring the soul-saving knowledge of Jesus to others, but he said that he would rather suffer eternity in Hell for the people of Israel than have them suffer for their rejection of Christ. He said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren…” (Romans 9:3).
And as Christ works through us and in us, He will help us to have that kind of love for those who seem to us completely unlovable. In Luke 6:27, Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” That kind of love can never come from ourselves. It can only come from God. Galatians 5:22-23 says that love is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit working in us.
I imagine that most of you reading this today know all of these things already. I’m sure many have read the verses and maybe even had them committed to memory, but I know that I need the reminders again and again. I need prompted to compare my love to the courageous, compassionate, sacrificial love of the Scriptures.
So how are we doing — as the body of Christ, in our churches, in our actions, in our hearts? What do people look at Christians and see? Is it love, or are we known by something else these days?