Life Theology

What Love is, and What Love is Not

Here’s some of my notes from studying 1 Corinthians 13:4-5:

In addition to telling us two things love is, Paul tells us seven things that love is not. Love is not envious or boastful.  Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own agenda.   Love doesn’t get irritable or resentful.

At this point, it’s necessary to point out that just because we love people does not mean we cannot act for our own benefit or joy. When Paul says that love “does not insist on its own way” it means, as Jonathan Edwards points out, its own selfish, private gain.  This passage is not aimed solely at a marriage, but it is applicable to a marriage.  When a husband loves his wife in the way he should, he is seeking her good as well as his. No husband ever loved his wife so he could be unhappy. No (good) husband ever loved his wife dutifully.  He loves his wife so that she will be joyful and so that he will be joyful.  Picture this: A husband comes home to his wife with flowers and she says, “Oh, I love them!  You didn’t need to get these!”  He replies, “Well, I know I’m supposed to sacrifice and it’s my duty as a husband to get these for you.  They were even on sale.”  He would need grab his cup before he said that.  Instead, imagine this: The same husband comes home to his wife with flowers and says, “Call the babysitter.  I’ve made reservations at your favorite restaurant and then we’ll come back here for a wonderfully romantic night.”  The wife will probably cover her mouth in utter joy.  She’ll say, “Why?”  He will reply, “Because nothing gives me more joy in this world than loving you and making you happy.”  I think every woman would rather hear the latter.  That response shows a heart’s desire to please and love a wife, as well as seeking good, godly joy for himself.

Also, we must say that love is not making much of people. That is idolatry. Love is making much of Christ and pointing people to him. In our American culture, we have defined love as making other people feel good about themselves. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Love is something more splendid and stern than mere kindness.” Lewis is not overstepping Scripture by saying love is more than kindness. After all, Paul said, “Love is…kind.” What Lewis means is that love is not mere kindness. It is a supernatural, divine kindness that is able to be humble, gracious, merciful, truthful, and just all in one. If Scripture is used for teaching, correction, rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then making people feel good about themselves is a contradiction and, most of the time, impossible. Sometimes love is harsh and hurtful. But we know that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).  The wounds of a true friend are usually always helpful and prosperous. People who appear to be friends but only butter you up and make you feel good about yourself are not true friends. The Bible, and the gospel itself, is wounding. It shows us our brokenness and need for a Savior and makes much of the God who sent his Son to die for us.  The Bible was not written to make much of people.  It was written to make much of Jesus.  Anyone who read Scripture and feels better about themselves is not a Christian.  The gospel should cause us to fall on our faces in humble repentance because of the disgusting nature of our hearts.  The good news in all this is that Jesus came to love perfectly and save us through the ultimate act of love: willingly and joyfully dying for our sins (Heb. 12:1-2).

One reply on “What Love is, and What Love is Not”

Love is realizing that your happiness comes from making those you love happy. I know there is circular logic here, but love is a circle when engaged in properly.


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