What does it mean to love? No matter what your opinion of Valentine’s Day is, this time of year, in most of the world, love is either in the air or on the minds of many. It’s definitely all over the floral shops and department stores as retailers hope to rake in a huge profit from this so-called “holiday of love.” Except for retailers in Saudi Arabia, however, where the “muttawa” or religious police (that doesn’t sound good to me) have threatened to punish all businesses which do not comply with their “no Valentine’s Day” fatwa.
Red-colored or heart-shaped items are legal at other times of the year, but as Feb. 14 nears they become contraband in Saudi Arabia.
I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, but that news almost makes me change my mind.
Before I have all the ladies angry with me , let me say that there is nothing wrong with flowers, candies, and cards for your loved one on February 14th (or any other time for that matter). It is even fun, but on this day when nearly the entire world is “love” saturated, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves what real love is and how it behaves .
Because there is a difference between real love and phony love. Phony love is cheap, and by that I mean it doesn’t last. People may spend a fortune on phony love, so it is costly, but it doesn’t endure. That kind of love makes me think of Joe. He was an older man, well-to-do, a widower, and hard of hearing. He was often seen walking the streets in his small-town, but since the loss of his wife he always seemed a little down. Until the day his doctor saw Joe walking down Main St. with a gorgeous young woman on his arm. They briefly stopped to talk, and the doctor was amazed to see Joe in such good spirits. He said, “Joe, you look better than I’ve seen you in sometime.”
“Well, doc, I just took your advice” answered Joe. “You told me to get a hot mamma and be joyful. So that’s what I did!”
The doctor just shook his head. “Joe, I said you have a heart murmur. Be careful!”
Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear. That is often true when it comes to the matter of love. I believe we must have a good answer for the question, “What does it mean to love?” Of course, with this question, or any other, I think the place to turn is to the Bible. There we will find our answer in one of the most famous passages on love in all the NT – 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.
The first three verses are striking to me insofar that Paul clearly states that regardless of how gifted, knowledgeable, faithful, and charitable I am, if I’m not loving I gain nothing. Quite an introduction, but the revolutionary nature of his statement does not stop with the end of verse 3. Beginning in verse 4 the apostle defines what love is and is not; how it behaves and does not behave. Charity, which is not donating to a charity but “agape,” an “others’ first” kind of love. You see, love is not an abstract idea; not some vague feeling that comes and goes. Love is action! Love is Jesus Christ being made flesh, born in a manger, raised by poor Galileans, and, ultimately, nailed to the Cross in my place; the sacrificial substitute making atonement for all who believe. That is love! It is so much more than a second-hand emotion. Love is action. But how does it act in us?
For starters, it is long-suffering and kind, or to condense that into one word—loving-kindness. Paul couples patience—longsuffering– with kindness. These two belong together. It is one thing to suffer injury or the hostility of others for a long time, while simultaneously being bitter or even plotting your revenge, but Biblical long-suffering includes the virtue of kindness in response to the cause of that suffering. What is love? It is genuinely responding and behaving and thinking and speaking with Biblical kindness. And kind people are not rude. They are not severe or mean. A kind person has a generous heart; is sensitive to, concerned with, and considerate of others.
We should not think that kindness equals weakness. Generosity is not synonymous with foolishness. A gentle person is not a pushover. I say that because our culture does not exalt kind, generous, and gentle behavior; it wants to receive all that rather than give it. We must be on guard against that mindset seeping into our churches and homes.
How do you combine strength with kindness; power with gentleness? God does it! Only through His Spirit may we bear this fruit of loving-kindness. Think about it. The more powerful and strong person is able to demonstrate kindness not through retaliation but because he does not retaliate with meanness, harshness, or rudeness. Their power and strength is demonstrated in their kind manner.
Without exception, everyone wants to be treated with kindness. The problem is that many of us are not adept at displaying kindness. Oftentimes Christians can be as harsh, rude, or just plain mean with their attitudes, actions, words, and tone. But love is not unkind. We will be kind when we are longsuffering, suffering long with some offense, hurt, or rudeness pointed our direction. Love is not mean.
Sometimes (as a preacher I especially face this) I’ll be approached by someone who will say to me, “I want to tell you something in love.” However, what is said and the way it is said is unkindly communicated. Biblically speaking, that is not love! Love is kind. Always. We often hear statements like the above, or use them ourselves, to fool the listener, or ourselves, into thinking that we are bludgeoning them with love. You should not forget this: if it is unkind it is not love.
This in no way means we cannot communicate hard things. There is such a thing as an honest disagreement. Constructive criticism is not a myth, but those things that are said in love are said kindly or they are not said in love. Kindness is the opposite of meanness, and the last thing that Christians should be is mean.
Obviously, to take a Biblical stand on many issues, especially moral issues, will lead some to call you unkind. That is alright, “let God be true, but every man a liar.” (Ro. 3:4a) There is only one truth and that is God’s truth and we must not equivocate. Stand on and for the truth, but do so with longsuffering and kindness. Don’t imitate the conservative talking heads. Imitate Christ. Be a living illustration of what it means for love to suffer long and be kind; for love to not be envious, proud, arrogant, or rude; irritable and resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing; even if it is done to wrongdoers. Biblical love rejoices with the truth. Biblical love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Biblical love never ends.
Our culture, communities, schools, families, and churches desperately need this kind of love. God has demonstrated this love through Christ on the cross. We may love like this through the empowering of His Spirit. Love is not just an emotion. It much more than a feeling. Love is not abstract. Love is action. Specifically long-suffering and kind.
One last thing; to stand for the Gospel will lead many to say that you are unloving; it will cause many to cry “foul” and seek your destruction. To stand for the Gospel in love will also be used of the Holy Spirit to cause some to cry out to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith! To be a Biblical Christian is not to be accommodating to sin in our own lives or in the lives of others. That is being hateful. Being a Biblical Christian is to consistently be kind, patient, and gracious as you say and live Biblical truth. It’s to truth God and His Word, and to demonstrate that trust by the joy with which you live.
This is love. It is possible only because of God’s grace. That is no surprise, because God is love and we love Him because He first loved us.