Love is ...
In learning the craft of needlepoint, a person will sometimes work on a sampler. The sampler generally contains a notable quotation and a variety images and scroll work to demonstrate the different stitches mastered. Bible verses are often selected for the basic text, and one of the most popular selections is I Corinthians 13:4-8:
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.
Though we often associate this passage with weddings, Paul originally penned it to describe the love shown between fellow Christians. But since it describes love in general, it also applies to the love between husband and wife, parents to their children, and the love that God has for each of us. Let us consider what each point means.
The word here expresses the willingness to wait, even through disagreeable times. It is probably best illustrated by God's longsuffering with mankind. "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24). Mankind, as a whole, has not been the most loveable of God's creation. Our behavior in rebelling against our God would have tried anyone's patience. Yet, we find that God has put up with the bad in order to save the good. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). God tolerance of man's sins is not endless, but it is very long, giving us every opportunity to improve.
Our society doesn't cultivate patience. We seek after instant gratification and impulsive whims. We lost something as our economy moved away from its agricultural roots. "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 5:7-11). That which is worth having is worth investing time to gain. It takes time for a person to mature, so invest the time in the people you love.
Not every relationship goes smoothly all the time. Even the best relationship will experience rocky points of heartaches. It is patience, born of love, that carries us through the rough times. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4). Too many marriages are only wonderful during the honeymoon. Difficulties are bound to come, but they are also bound to be followed by good times. It is patience that helps us last through the bad times so that we are still together when things turn rosy once again.
"Kind" means showing yourself to be useful or acting in a benevolent way. "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32). Kindness is more than an absence of ill-will; it is an activity showing your care for another person. "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35). Kindness is not something reserved for major events; kindness is demonstrated in the little things that we do day-by-day for the one we love. "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:9-17).
Envy is an infection that eats away at life, ruining even its best moments. "A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones" (Proverbs 14:30). Envy is believing that what another person has ought to belong to you. Joseph was his father's favorite son and he showed his favor by giving him a special coat. God also showed favor to Joseph by sending him dreams that indicated he would one day be head of his family. However, Joseph's brothers envied him (Acts 7:9). They only saw that they were not getting what Joseph was getting. Their envy eventually led them to consider murdering their own brother and eventually selling him off into slavery. Love cannot survive when envy invades the soul. "Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5:26).
Does Not Vaunt Itself
On the flip-side, when you love someone you don't give that person cause to envy you. There is no need to put yourself on a pedestal when you already have someone who admires you. "But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:16). "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
Not Puffed Up
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Pride is a destructive force, ruining relationships, causing arguments, and keeping a person from seeing things through the eyes of another. "He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife" (Proverbs 28:25). Paul mentions this to the Corinthians because their pride was destroying the church. "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other ... Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power" (I Corinthians 4:6, 18-19).
Does Not Behave Rudely
Yes, love requires good manners for love does not act unbecomingly. Though you must wonder at the world's idea of love. So often husbands and wives are depicted saying the rudest things about each other in order to get a laugh, but such is not a depiction of love. James told brethren, "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge" (James 4:11). We should appreciate those to whom we are closest instead of regarding them with contempt.
Does Not Seek Its Own
We have enough people who act as if they are the center of the universe. Love is for other people, not for yourself. Other people must come before our own. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4). "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well -being. ... just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." (I Corinthians 10:24, 33).
Not Easily Provoked
When you truly love someone, it should be difficult to become exasperated at them. Love is willing to overlook the little annoyances that are bound to occur. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). You cannot love another with a chip on your shoulder.
Now, this doesn't mean you will never get angry. It means the threshold for becoming angry is higher. And when you do get angry, you settle the problem quickly so that the anger will not last. ""Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Thinks No Evil
The phrase refers to a person who keeps records of every past misdeed ever committed. Sure, in any relationship there will be missteps. Given time, you are bound to say something or do something which you wish you had not. But in a loving relationship such misdeeds should be willingly forgiven when the person repents, and once forgiven never brought up again. "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:4). Forgiveness is not dependant on how many times a wrong was committed in the past. Each event is to be looked at separately and independently. Imagine asking God for forgiveness only to be told "I sorry, I've already forgiven you a thousand times. You've used up your quota." "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Colossians 3:12-13).
Forgiving wrongs means letting go of the past. "For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). It is not that the memory of the event will disappear, but that it will no longer matter because it will not be brought up for discussion again.
Does Not Rejoice in Iniquity, But Rejoices in Truth
Even though it is wrong, we sometimes feel a certain glee when someone we dislike fall on hard times. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17). Worse yet is when a person is happy for the failings of someone they supposedly love.
Our concern should be that those we love will be saved. Yet, there are some who claim to love while leading a person astray. How often have you heard the phrase, "If you really love me, you would ..." and then some sinful action is suggested. Such is not from love but from self-interest.
Instead, we should find pleasure in our loved ones' righteous deeds. "I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father" (II John 4).
Bears All Things
In Greek this phrase literally means to cover a subject with silence. There are going to be times when a loved one will injure you in some way. Hopefully the problem will be handled and forgiven. "Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). While we earlier noted that love keeps no records of wrong doing, here we go a step further. Many sins carry embarrassing consequences. To love someone is to help them deal with the consequences after you have forgiven them. "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" (Psalm 32:1). We have to be sensitive to the feelings of those who know they have done wrong and have turn away from sin. It does them no good to further drag them through the mud of their own making. "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins" (Proverbs 10:12). When you love someone, you go through the bad times with them.
Believes All Things
When you love someone, you demonstrate that love by trusting them. Love is built on a foundation of trust. There is an old song called, "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" that speaks the exact opposite sentiment. The author of the song claimed that you would have to watch her every move because you never know when she might cheat on you. Such an attitude is simply not love!
When someone is willing to trust you, you in turn need to demonstrate that you are trustworthy. You should never place yourself in a situation that would destroy the trust you have.
Hopes All Things
Love is optimistic and not pessimistic. We should always expect the best and look forward to better times. Even if this world has its disappointments, there is a home awaiting the will not disappoint. "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14). "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Endures All Things
Love keeps going even when our life is filled with burdens. It doesn't quit or give up. The righteous, "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:3). God's word sustains us through good times and bad.
Some approach marriage with the idea that if it doesn't work, they will get a divorce. That is not love! I have seen Christians deal with congregations the same way. They will stay so long as things go smoothly for them. But as soon as there is a bump in the road, they are out the looking for another congregation. Such Christians have no love for their brethren.
Love Never Fails
True love never stops. You can't fall in and out of love. Love endures. Love grows.