By Javan Rowe
Most of us fluctuate between highs and lows in life, with countless intricate layers in between. One minute our children bring us joy; the next we respond to them in anger and frustration. Our kids may know our love for them is unchanging, regardless of their behavior, but can we say the same for other situations we regularly face? Do we display a love that is constant?
The Importance of Love
Phrases like “I love you with all my heart” may reduce love to random bursts of emotions. In truth, love is not an emotion; it gives feet to our emotions. My children’s actions do not affect my love because love is the steady rock that forms the foundation of our relationship. My emotions are fleeting expressions of my unyielding love. Sometimes my love is expressed in hugs and at other times in anger. Love is the constant.
Many of us look to 1 Corinthians 13 as an example of how we should express love in our daily living. But we often miss what this passage actually says about love. If more people realized the full impact of this chapter, they might feel uncomfortable having it read at their weddings. They would realize their vows could never live up to such love that only Christ himself fulfills.
We are told love is supreme over any accomplishments or experiences, no matter how impressive. Love is displayed through patience, hope, perseverance, and other character traits. It isn’t until verse eight we begin to see why love is so vital. We are told, “Love never fails.” From this verse until the close of the chapter we see love as something constant and reliable. Specifically, the passage shows how dependable love is when it originates from a God who demonstrates perfect love.
Fast-forwarding to the end of Paul’s love discussion, we read, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v. 13). We are dealing with something significant here. After all, we know faith and hope are vital elements of Christianity. Love, though, is said to be even more important. This means we must pay special attention to what Scripture says about love.
An Imminent End
Paul reminds us that everything has an end. It’s an encouraging concept when we’re experiencing pain. But when life seems to be going well, we may not want to hear that some things “will pass away” (v. 8). The encouragement comes in knowing no matter how powerful our ministry, or fulfilling our jobs or families, we have only glimpsed what the Lord has in store for us. “When completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (v. 10). Knowing God has even more blessings in store for us brings optimism.
Love is the constant that has no end. God’s eternal love will be forever expressed in the glorious blessings revealed in Heaven. In the meantime, the world we live in continues in its inconsistencies. We live unstably, with imperfect views of God. But we trust in his constancy and reliability as we await the consummation of our love in Heaven. “For now we see only a 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” (v. 12).
Focusing Our Blurry Vision
Though our knowledge of God is imperfect, his love enters and permeates our hearts like floodlights on a stage. Our knowledge of him may be incomplete and our faith and hope may fluctuate, but we can trust in the images he has given us of himself. We can believe that one day we “shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Though we currently remain unfocused, we steady ourselves by looking to the love he demonstrated for us on the cross.
Paul wrote, “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 the ways of childhood behind me” (v. 11). Children tend to see things dimly because they do not have access to the entire picture. They lack the broader vision, unable to relate their limited past to the present and future. Age and experience lead to better vision because we not only learn from our mistakes, we realize the gravity of our sin and our need for a Savior’s intervention.
Like children, we often act rashly and inconsistently. Parents correct their children when they see them displaying undesirable character traits. Likewise, God wants us to grow up and imitate the love he has displayed toward us. Our service to God should overflow from the love in our hearts, the love the Spirit has poured into us.
A Good Workout
I am amazed by the power, agility, and durability of professional athletes. The key to a baseball player’s longevity, for example, is consistency. What appears to be a routine double play becomes routine only through dedication, practice, and regular workouts.
In similar fashion, if we wish to live a life that consistently displays love toward others, we need a good love workout. Because we have received love from God, we should work tirelessly to know him better and to reflect his amazing love. If we want to receive love from God, we must learn from him.
In Ethics [Touchstone, 1995], Dietrich Bonhoeffer presented the case that God is love, as 1 John 4:16 states. The only way to know what love is, Bonhoeffer asserted, is to know God. The staple in any relationship is communication. That applies to our relationship with God as well. We must spend quality time in God’s Word and in prayer so we can discover more of God’s love revealed through his Spirit. Just as the athlete trains vigorously to find success on the field or court, we can train to learn more about God.
Learning more about the love of God produces love in our hearts. Love can then accompany our acts of patience, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. Our service will reflect God’s selfless love. Situations will arise that are beyond our control, but we can rely on love. After all, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If all we have is love, then that love is enough—as long as it’s constant.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning Christlike Love
The Gospels don’t simply tell about Christ’s love; they show it. Jesus’ life provides a powerful example of love for us to follow.
Pick a Gospel account. Skim through, chapter by chapter, considering Christ’s example of love. Record the verses where Jesus displays the following attributes of love found in 1 Corinthians 13.
• patience when frustration would have been easier: ________
• unexpected kindness: ________
• blatant lack of envy: ________
• complete aversion to boasting: ________
• an attitude that shuns pride: ________
• refusal to dishonor others: ________
• choices that put others first: ________
• control over anger: ________
• a mind that doesn’t record wrongs: ________
• no delight in evil: ________
• joy when the truth is proclaimed: ________
• steadfast protection: ________
• deliberate trust (even of flawed people): ________
• persistent hope: ________
• perseverance: ________
• If you’ve seen all these qualities, you’ve seen this one: he never fails.
The next time you’re struggling to show a specific aspect of love, look over the passages you wrote down. Read them aloud. Study them. Pray through them verse by verse. See what you can learn from the way Jesus exhibited the qualities of love. And thank God we have a perfect example to follow.