1 Corinthians 13: 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
How often have you heard someone say “I love the Yankees”, or “I love the 49ers”, or “I love Real Madrid”? Or perhaps it is “I love Messi”, or “I love Josh Donaldson”, or “I love Payton Manning”. I guess those feelings from fans might make a team or an athlete feel pretty special, but any seasoned team owner or athlete knows that the fan’s “love” is pretty fickle. Fans are also pretty quick to tell you that they love the beer and hot dogs at the stadium or they especially love those warm oversized pretzels. The reality is that the word “love”, in English, can cover a myriad of meanings, and therefore can often have very little actual meaning.
The New Testament was written in ancient Greek and in that language you had the benefit of multiple words for love including: eros – for erotic love; philia – for a deep friendship love; ludus – for playful love; pragma – for long standing love; philautia – for love of self; and last, and definitely not least agapé – referring to a divine love for everyone.
I take great comfort in knowing that when I read the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, and I read the word “love”, it is referring to agapé, the divine love that can only originate through God. It’s not a fickle love which depends on performance, but is a much deeper unconditional love.
1 Corinthians is often used in wedding ceremonies. I am sure it has often been read at weddings where years later the couple has chosen to divorce. While there is frequently a myriad of issues that lead to such a decision, I believe strongly that such a decision is not made if the type of love professed in 1 Corinthians 13 is lived out in a marriage. Picture a relationship with patience and kindness, without envy, boasting or pride (vs 4); one which does not dishonour and is not self-seeking nor is easily angered, and doesn’t keep track of wrongs (vs 5); where love does not delight in evil, but loves truth (vs 6); where it always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (vs 7).
One can rightfully look at that passage and say “I can’t possibly practise that type of love”. I’d agree. I can’t live up to that in my marriage. Fortunately, this passage is describing the pure agapé love that can only come from God. As humans we can mimic some of those attributes of this love, and we can have some success, but to truly live out that type of love on a consistent basis, it can only come through a deep relationship with the creator of agapé love. Making an effort to be more loving may have a limited effect, but ultimately it leads to frustration as our sinful nature trumps. In contrast, when we seek to focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ, when we allow him to have His way in our lives, then He begins to transform and sanctify us, and the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23) become more evident in our lives. In this place we can begin to better live out the 1 Corinthian 13 love described above. Lord, teach us to love.