“Love is…”

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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 

We all have a big problem, it would seem.

It would seem we are mistaken about something we think we know pretty well, or at least, something we have a lot of songs about, businesses centered around, movie genres based upon, books written about (novels and non-fiction), something we’re all worried about or want. And we’re a bit confused about what kind of work it is. It’s a four-letter word, and some might say it’s a dirty and/or bad word, but it’s often described as a noun, a thing. 

We’re pretty confused about love. 

On Sunday, our guest preacher Kevin Flannery went into a bunch of different ways we mess up in love, in romantic relationships, marriages, and in platonic relationships, too. And one of the ways we get love wrong, he pointed out, is that we think love is about us and how we feel:

“What am I getting out of this?”

“Maybe if I had married/made friends with the right person, this would be better.” 

“Am I happy?”

“Love is supposed to fix my problems!”

“Our love has died.”

Stuff like that.  

But to quote the great 90’s Christian rock trio DC Talk, love is a verb. And this kind of description breaks down all these statements, which assume that love is a noun. And the tricky thing about using love as a noun means that it becomes about ME. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, unless this is the only way we understand love. We need to be loved, sure, and at some level love is about us, too. But it shouldn’t only be about us. 

When we get don’t “feel” love anymore and use that as the reason to make an exit in that relationship, that means we haven’t really gotten what love is about. 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses love as a noun (oh dear, what would DC Talk say about that?) but he also personifies it, explaining what love does, not what it is; love takes action. Loves does stuff. And notice that love doesn’t receive anything in these verses. That isn’t the main point of love. 

It’s funny how we can get some truths from the strangest places: last semester I showed the film Adaptation to my English Comp classes, and there was one conversation between the main character Charlie and his brother Donald that really stuck out to me:

Charlie: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.

Donald: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.

Charlie: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.

Donald: I remember that.

Charlie: Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti… You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.

Donald: I knew. I heard them.

Charlie: How come you looked so happy?

Donald: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.

Charlie: But she thought you were pathetic.

Donald: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.

Granted, it would seem that Donald’s definition of love is pretty selfish here, where he claims ownership of it. And yet, when you really break it down, this view of love, of owning it rather than owning the way love affects other people and can be used as a tool for getting what you want, maybe his approach to love is the less selfish way of going about it. 

Because thinking: “you are what you love, not what loves you,” changes the dynamic. And as followers of Christ, when we love people purely, we become like him, we become like God, because God is love. 

I think John puts it even better:

 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

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