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Love’s Graces

December 20th, 2018

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

To our society today, a description of true love is one of the most elusive things on earth. It has been described and defined as equivalent to a temporary and fleeting emotion – often a selfish emotion – to a friendship, to adoration and idealization. People seem to be increasingly distancing their hearts from anything profound, and have continued to degenerate spiritually into more and more selfishness. What Paul wrote of the secular culture in his day, we see also today: “Having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more” (Eph. 4:19).

Rarely do we hear anything in secular society that depicts the sacrificial and giving love that is described in the Bible. But the Bible uses these words agape and the verb form agapeo for God’s sacrificial love. It is the love that moved the Father to send the Son, the love that took Jesus to the cross, and the love that the Spirit moves in our hearts to reshape them into His own.

In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit, waxes eloquent on the nature of love.

What love is

What does love look like? It’s source is God, so it should look a lot like God. But what does God look like? The Spirit led Paul to be practical and clear in this passage, so we would not miss it.

He says that love is patient and kind and rejoices in the truth. Love tenderly deals with others and sees situations in life for what they are. A rude and impatient person may delight in having some power over another – like a tyrant – and he would shut his eyes to the sufferings of others, if it brought him some physical or material pleasure. But true love sees life for what it is. And out of the goodness that the Spirit places within our hearts, it has the capacity to see the other person’s perspective.

Love is resilient. It “bears” all things. That word “bear” is stego in Greek and it means to shield or to protect something, like a roof protects people from water. Love seals off danger from hurting others. It “believes all things,” that is, it believes what God says about all things and all people. This cannot mean that love believes any and every religious idea, every notion, or every thing that people say – whether false or not. Love does not turn us into naive idiots.  Rather, what this means is that we think the best of God’s promises and it also means to think the best of one another another, to see the potential in every person for redemption and fruitfulness. Biblical scholar Albert Barnes wrote:

…in regard to the conduct of others, there is a disposition to put the best construction on it; to believe that they may be actuated by good motives, and that they intend no injury; and that there is a willingness to suppose, as far as can be, that what is done is done consistently with friendship, good feeling, and virtue. Love produces this, because it rejoices in the happiness and virtue of others, and will not believe the contrary except on irrefragable evidence.

It is quick to believe the best, and it is not quick to believe the worst in others. Love does not delight in gossip, innuendo, suspicions, or the weaknesses of others.

Love hopes and endures all things that life throws at it. It is this type of sacrificial love that causes a parent, after their child has failed repeatedly, to still believe in his potential and to still pray for his success, and to still stand by him and help him to achieve it.

Oh, for Christians to love one another like this, to see the potential in one another, and to pray for one another in hope! We are too quick to give up on each other, and although sometimes people must be handed over to Satan for a season to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20), the Lord is never through with His own. We should always pray for each other.

What love is not

The Spirit also points out to us what true godly love is not like: “It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil.” Whenever we are envious of another’s success we are not letting the Spirit build us up in love. If you know that God loves you, why do you worry about what He chooses to do with another that He also loves.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote these profound words in the Gulag Archipelago:

What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusionary – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart – and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.

The one who loves with this God-like love, is the one who has first experienced it in his own life. If we would love others we must first experience God’s love in our lives. We must understand, or begin to grasp, how greatly God loves us, how secure His love is, and how much He yearns to bless us in Christ Jesus. This is where we must begin to experience love, and to share it honestly with others.

So has God touched you with His eternal love? Have you received His gift of salvation through Christ? Have you gained assurance and insight into what His love for you means? And, if so, you are set free by His Spirit to share it with others. Use your opportunities – even your imagination – to love others and to build them up. If a word of warning or even rebuke is in order, say it also with the hope of God for each life embedded in the message.

 

1 Corinthians