I used to think I knew what love was.
When I was a little boy, I thought it was someone being nice to me. At the very least, it meant I wouldn’t get a beating. I thought it was what I saw in movies and TV, as I grew older, and began to act on some of those ideas. The more people around me told me what love was, the more I thought I knew it.
That was foolish.
My idea of what love is has changed many times on the road from childhood to adulthood. There have been many lies I’ve believed about love. Lies like:
- Physical intimacy is the highest form of love
- “Good” or hormonal feelings are indicators of love
- When I am happy, I am loved
- Love requires toughness and brutal honesty
- Love is accepting of all
There are probably more lies that could go on this list. There’s probably little bits of truth when thinking each of those phrases through. I probably still believe some lies about love, considering that I’m still alive and have more to experience and more to think deeply.
What if love were an action, in itself?
Many of our churches in Evangelicalism like to ask questions like this, and frame love a certain way. The churches I grew up in liked this paradigm; it fits so well with the act of sacrifice that Christ made upon the cross. I certainly believe that it’s one of the most beneficial ways to view love in our lives. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that this is true, in the scriptures.
What if all of this is to make things complicated so that I have an excuse not to love?
What if there’s already a definition of love? What if we don’t need to spend hours making giant logical loop-de-loops about the difference between feeling and action? What if God cares more about simple, pure love than if we do something that the world approves of or not? What if God loved the world so much that he made love so easy to understand and acceptable that mature people in both “the World” and “the Church” have the same definition?
The words of Paul the apostle, in the letter to the Corinthians, make a case for love. It’s a definition, description, and call to living that I wish every church, every institution, and my parents had lived. Not just with their mouths, agreeing that it was true. That they had lived this. It’s my burning desire to live this and grow in understanding as I grow in age.
That’s because it’s not just a trite thing we say at marriages; it’s life-giving, and life-changing.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.Paul, 1 Corinthians 13, New Living Translation
Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
I think many of us adults might still be stuck with the ideas about love we had as children.
I feel, like all of us, the Evangelical church needs to grow up.