Valentine’s Day. It’s about that time again. When the holiday comes around, what do you think of? Hearts, flowers, boxes of candy, sentimental cards, romantic dinners? LOVE? But what do we mean when speaking about “love,” anyway? What comes to your mind when you hear the word?
If we’re to believe Hollywood, it’s about being all starry-eyed, hearts a-fluttering, and uttering profound words like, “You complete me” or, “You had me at ‘hello’.” (Yes, I’ve seen the movie, “Jerry Maguire.”) TV, commercial films and books insist it’s about animal attraction, “chemistry,” or believing “it can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” Right? Even super-sappy Hallmark movies preach, “You’ll know it when he/she is the one!”
But is that what love’s really about – being all mushy, gushy toward each other? An emotional state that’s so easy to fall into – and fall out of, when the novelty wears off?
I’d like to think not. After more than 45 years of marriage, through the good and the bad, sickness and health, poorer and richer (comparatively speaking, that is), we’ve discovered that for love to last, it’s going to require lots more than fickle feelings.
So, getting back to the earlier question, what is love really all about? To put it another way, what should love be all about? To find the answer, there’s no better source than a very familiar passage from the Bible’s New Testament, one you’ve probably heard more than once at weddings you’ve attended. You might even have used it at your own.
The passage? It’s 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, particularly verses 4-7.
It opens with a description of what our actions might look like in the absence of love:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Those words alone are convicting. For instance, I might believe I can recognize the truth of a situation, but when I offer my perspective, I’m lacking the sensitivity, compassion and love needed for conveying my message.
Are you old enough to remember “The Gong Show”? Contestants on that show knew the resounding gong wasn’t the sound they wanted to hear. And having performed in the percussion section of my high school marching and concert bands (as they say, “back in the day”), I learned a thing or two about clanging cymbals. ‘Nuf said!
But the next several verses really get to the crux of the true meaning of love. These are the words that will probably ring a bell with you: “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 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).
Wow! Each of those descriptors deserve an entire chapter in a book: Patient. Kind. Not envious. Not boastful or proud. Not rude. Not self-seeking. Slow to anger. Doesn’t get “historical” by refusing to forget past wrongs. Shuns evil. Cherishes the truth. Protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres.
Do these sound like the qualities emphasized in our culture? Probably not. Because our culture insists, “It’s all about me.” Being patient, kind, humble and trusting requires being focused toward the other person.
Being rude, self-centered, quick to become anger, suspicious, and eager to give up when the going gets difficult are easier to do, because we’re doing what comes naturally. But if we keep in mind the one Person who embodied love, maybe we can resist the natural impulses.
As Hebrews 12:3 instructs us, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” And Jesus Himself, before putting these words into action, underscored the sacrificial, selfless qualities of genuine love: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It can’t be said any better than that.