What is Love?

“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. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

“If you love me … “ It’s a phrase many people hear and say. The question of “if” introduces a lack of faith to begin with. If one has to question love, then one already doesn’t feel love. Perhaps one doesn’t feel loved regardless of its presence. After all, God’s love is endless. He sent his son to die for us.

And that, readers, is the message of this chapter. Love, ultimately, is sacrifice. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”

In the verse quoted at the top of this chapter, we see several examples that also prove the theory that love is sacrifice.

Love is patient. Love means denying what you want now (patience). Sacrifice your immediate desire for a greater treasure later. This is most holy when sacrificing your immediate desires to honor God, but it works great in Earthly relationships, too. Maybe I give up an hour of video games to watch an episode of TV my wife likes. It shows her love in that I’m willing to wait. She’s not even asking me not to play video games, she’s just asking me to wait.  The last chapter focused entirely on patience, so I won’t dwell on it here. I just wanted to draw the connection between patience as an act of sacrifice, which ultimately shows love.

Love is kind. Kindness is giving. A simple Google search defines kindness as being friendly, generous, and considerate. To be generous means to give. What would one possibly give but something one already has. The degree of sacrifice might be high or low, but any act of giving is at least to a small degree an act of sacrifice. I must note here though that the giving must be joyful (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

It’s not kind to give someone any gift and mutter about what it cost or complain about how you had to work to obtain it. You’ve sacrificed nothing and, therefore, gave nothing. That sort of act isn’t generosity, it’s self aggrandizing. What is consideration if not the act of letting one’s offenses pass over you (Proverbs 19:11)? And what is that if not the sacrifice of your pride?

Naturally that leads back to the idea that we should just live and let live. However, letting people jump off cliffs because it’s fun isn’t love. It might be fun, but when they die, the fun is over. Patience against a personal offense will indeed lead to glory. But those who sin against God are doomed. It can’t be loving to not even offer wisdom. I personally won’t cause an argument to try and “make” you see wisdom (fear of the Lord (Job 28:28.))  There’s a balance, but there is absolutely a difference between not becoming sinfully enraged at another’s sin and just letting folk do whatever they want. I might not be willing get into a fist fight over what is a sin and what isn’t (the Bible is clear on sin), but I also won’t pretend that sin isn’t wrong. Nor will I endorse it. 

Back to the subject at hand. We constantly want others to “get over” our mistakes, but if we want that sort of behavior (forgive and forget), we have to be willing to do the same. The instant you’re not willing to let go is the instant you can’t then get made at someone else who’s equally unable (or unwilling) to let go. However, each time you do this, you do this to your glory.

Love does not envy. You cant love someone if you covet what they have. If you look at a happily married man and then want his wife for yourself, you’re taking. More loving is to let go of your desire so that couple may live in peace. That would require the sacrifice of your love (or lust).  To hold onto that envy only leads to sin. This is because seeing leads to coveting, which leads to sin, which is demonstrated in hiding what you’ve taken because you’re aware it was wrong (Joshua 7:21).

Love does not boast. This is because boasting makes something about you. I touched on this when I talked about kindness. To give so you can show off how “generous” you are is only a way to boast and bring about attention to yourself. This is the opposite of love because any act of self is by definition selfish.

  I’ve spoken about these few things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because they prove that love is sacrifice. This is true because anything that leads to personal gain or attention is the opposite of what love does. Having offered a few examples, I want to skip over examples of what love does not do to return to the things that love does.

Love rejoices with the truth. So what does one give up with the truth? It depends. Truth reveals. Truth exposes. We use lies to hide (so we appear better). We use lies to fool (so we can dupe others to give us what we want). To have truth means to risk people truly knowing you. Is there anyone in your life (other than our all-seeing God) who knows everything about you? If not, why? If you’re like me, your answer is, “because I don’t want them to think less of me.”

Everybody has secrets. I do, at least from some people. But the secrets I keep (and I’d argue the secrets you keep) are because you refuse to give up the esteem you have in the other person’s eyes. While I can say I know that holding those secrets denies a person the chance to show their love for you, I won’t be hypocritical enough to say I haven’t done it. What I can do going forward though is to show more love. The easiest solution is to not do anything that would lead me to shame. If I think I’d have to hide an action from others because they’d think less of me, the best thing to do would be for me to not take that action. This shows love because I’m denying myself the sinful action I’m considering and because it shows that I love the person I’m thinking about more than the action I’m tempted to take.   

Love bears all things. The word “bear” is such a deceptively small verb. It implies to carry or support. Imagine that. Love means carrying others. Love means supporting others. How would one be able to do that unless they are willing to set down other things? Husbands, did you ever, just for a moment, resent your wife for that time you couldn’t go fishing, or play video games, or finish that book? We husbands carry the hearts of our wives wherever we go. If we remember that, then we should realize we set those hearts down to chase after whatever other pleasure we choose. Does this mean you can’t play golf on Tuesday? That’s not what I said. What it means is if you start to desire golf more than your wife, you should really take a look at your priorities. To bear anything, we must have hands free, and that is only possible if we let go of what we might otherwise hold on to.

Love believes all things.  Here again we must let go or sacrifice our own preconceptions. Is this saying we should believe whatever we hear? Not exactly. A loving heart is trusting. A loving heart believes that what is right will come. Most importantly, with God’s love, we can believe all His promises. Here on Earth, we can believe that those you love aren’t trying to hurt you. That belief could be false. Unfortunately, several people are abused by people who claim to love others. However, we can use this list as a way to verify love.

The short test, if the person you’re looking at is completely unwilling to sacrifice anything for your sake, he or she doesn’t love you.

However, one who consistently sacrifices to some degree or another is at least showing you some love; therefore, you can trust and believe in that love. Naturally each time that person is unloving, that trust is damaged. This is why we need forgiveness on Earth just as God offers it through Christ in Heaven. We need to be able to forgive so that love can overcome and take it’s place where hate and resentment would otherwise live.

So we can also have hope, the sacrifice of despair, because the love we have shows us that the things we want to happen will come to pass. Why would anyone want to hold onto despair? I don’t know, but we do. We don’t trust that the repentant person who’s sinned against us won’t do it again. We don’t trust that the goal we’re pursing will come true. This might be because the person who’s sinned against us had committed this sin seven times before. This might be because we’ve been chasing this goal for five years. We have the best hope when we have the most secure love. This is why God is our greatest hope because he’s never failed to show his love for us.

Again, this isn’t an endorsement for one to stay in an abusive relationship. First, one who’s willing to injure for any reason has already shows murder in his heart (Matthew 5:22). Second, I leave it to you to determine if a person is loving or not. I can’t know your circumstances. What I am saying is that if you hold fast your hope in love, you will have more peace than if you don’t. Our highest hope and faith should be in God, the ever-living, who always provides (Matthew 7:11), who is slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17 among many others), and ultimately gave up His Son so that we might live (John 3:16).

Of course any other hope in any other person bears risks. They’re human! I would only ask that you weigh the sins of another against the sins you’ve committed to see if they are unworthy of love.

Love endures all things. What has God endured from us? How often do we stray? How many sins have I committed? Are there enough stars in the sky to compare? Are there enough sands on the beach? How much has he put up with me? How slow has his anger been for me? While we were enemies of God, sinners living in our own lusts, God sent his Son to die for us.

On Earth, how wonderful it is to endure our trials. Maybe you and the wife are in a rough patch, but you endure that trial in hope that things will be better. The reward is a marriage that’s stronger, tested by fire and proven true by patience and sacrifice. Anyone can quit if something isn’t fun, but to endure suffering or fear is to show how much you love the person for whom you suffer. Most people think that’s easy. We causally say, “I’d do anything for my son,” and then shout at him when he interrupts our TV show.

We say, “I love my wife more than anything,” and then grumble when we have to take out the trash in the middle of the game.

Those aren’t even comparatively real trials. How much more sacrifice comes from the wife who endures her husband’s cancer treatment? How much more sacrifice comes from the father who endures his son’s special needs? As we endure trials with those we love, our love becomes strengthened. Who wants to suffer alone? However, who wants to suffer at all? Therefore, if you find someone willing to suffer with you, hold fast to that person, for his love is readily apparent. 

All these words are descriptors of the ultimate form of love, which is sacrifice. Let go of yourself. Let go of your wants so others may have. Sure, you might have less on this world than you could have, but God promises that what treasure we deny ourselves here is piled up for us in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

For our panel: Why is it so hard for man to sacrifice for others? Is there a point where we would ever be justified to stop loving (and therefore sacrificing) for another? If that’s the case, doesn’t that mean that there is indeed a point in which God is also just to deny us his love? Is it only love if a person is always willing to sacrifice, any unwillingness or failure means an absence of love? What is the greatest form of sacrifice?

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