People throw around the word “love” a lot these days. I love ice cream. I love cats. I love my best friend. How do you stack up a love for ice cream with a love for a close friend or a family member? The word “love” has been quite diluted.
“Love” is not the same thing as “like.” I can like something a lot, like my pet goldfish. But we can’t put that at the same level as love for a spouse or a child, right?
Love is not the same thing as a romantic feeling. When people are “in love,” like when they are dating, the feeling of love is at a peak. But what’s up must come down. The feelings of love might get you to the altar, but it certainly will not sustain a marriage for 50 years.
When I was dating my wife, I was “in love.” I bought flowers for each date, I took her to nice restaurants, I planned out the entire evening, I tried to be funny and engaging in conversation, wrote her cards, bought chocolate (later I found out she doesn’t eat chocolate so I wish I had that money back). But what happened? The romantic loves gradually faded over the first, maybe second year into the marriage. Now 12 years into our marriage, I don’t buy flowers, we eat at cheap restaurants, I don’t speak as much, very rarely do I write cards (I should write more), and I definitely don’t buy chocolate. The romantic feelings have diminished, but do I love my wife any less? No, quite the contrary, my love for her grows with each passing day.
When the Bible says, love your neighbor and love your enemy, it uses the same word. It’s easy to love a family member or a friend or someone who treats you well. But how can you possibly feel like loving an enemy? You can’t. But we are called by God to love enemies. This should clue us in that love is not a feeling. Love is an action.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Nobody feels like loving an enemy. But we are called to obey this. Love is an action first. Then, the feelings follow. Love an enemy. Do nice things for them. Greet them. Care for their needs. Pray for them. Obey first and your feelings will follow. Love is an action first. Feelings will follow.
Normally, in marriages, the actions of love stop when the feelings of love diminish. Feelings get you to the altar. But the feelings subside and the actions stop and then the marriage drifts apart. 20 years go by, the kids are off to school and there is nothing to keep the marriage together.
The Corinthian church probably thought they were loving people. But look at their actions. There are divisions and strife. Factions. And to this splintered church that had no love, Paul gives them chapter 13. The love chapter.
1 Cor 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I attended a funeral yesterday of the mother of a friend. Funerals are hard because of the simple but profound truth that love was meant to be forever. Deep down inside, we feel wronged when a loved one is taken from us. Family members grieving a loss can wonder, why now? Why couldn’t we have just a little bit more time, another year, a few more months, even a few more days? So that we can tell them how much we love them and cherish them and enjoy their company. We sense a huge injustice when someone passes. It’s wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way.
The Bible agrees. It is wrong. We were not supposed to die. Loved ones weren’t supposed to be separated. This is not the world that God envisioned when he created it. Sin entered. And with it, brokenness, separation, death also entered. And like a big bully, death has been defeating everyone–young and old, rich and poor–in its path ever since.
But thanks be to God that two chapters later, in 1 Cor 15, death, the big bully, was defeated once and for all on the cross. For the Christian, even on days like this, and esp. on days like this, we can shout victoriously, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
My friend’s mother experienced the greatest victory this past week because Christ’s victory is now her victory. We believe that she was not swallowed up by death, though it may seem that way on the surface. Right now, she is dwelling with a God on high whose very essence is love. Love is the definition of God. God is love.
“…now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Why is this verse true? Why is love supreme? It’s because my friend’s mother doesn’t need faith anymore. Because for her, faith has become sight. She is present with God. The person she has been reading about and praying to daily for all these years, she can now see with her own eyes. Faith has been replaced by sight.
Hope, too, is no longer necessary. Because her hope has been fulfilled in Christ because she now dwells with the Savior and Lover of our soul. So faith and hope can be put aside. And so, in the end, of the three, all that remains is love.
For us, we need faith. Because we see life as if everything is a poor reflection as in a mirror. We see glimpses of God, flashes of his goodness and his grace. But many times, things are out of focus, fuzzy. For us, we need hope. We need hope for a better tomorrow. We need hope that life will continue beyond the grave. A hope that we will one day be reunited with loved ones who’ve gone before us. On this side of eternity, we need faith and hope, and both in extra measure.
One day, for those who are in Christ, only one thing will remain. Love. Because we will be with our loved ones and we will be in the presence of a God whose nature is an infinite, unending, boundless, eternal love.