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What Love Is and What it Isn’t – A Few Thoughts from 1 Corinthians 13

Marriage Dynamics Institute Devotionals, Faith

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“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV )

How do we know what love is, exactly? From days of old up to this minute, people have answered this question in many different ways.

Greek philosopher Sophocles, who was around before Jesus, said, “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”  Yet many people would say love has brought nothing but heavy loads and deep mental anguish to their lives.

You may have heard that the Greeks had four ways of defining what we call love (look up philía, éros, storgē agápe). Then there are writers for secular thought leaders like Psychology Today who imply that love is different for each person. But for the purposes of this article, we will stick with what the Bible calls love.

Love isn’t so much about the way that you feel; it’s more about how you handle what you feel. In other words, it is the way you respond to life’s circumstances. Consider these verses that lead up to the text of our devotional thought:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

What Love Is

Remember how your school teachers taught you not to define a word using the word itself? Let’s take a closer look at the Greek text and how the characteristics of love are described. We’re not Greek scholars, but here’s what we came up with. See what you think:

Love is tolerant. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no right and wrong. Love’s tolerance is for people, not necessarily what they practice. It’s mild. In other words, it doesn’t get heated about the small stuff. Love is altruistic, actively seeking the good of others. Because it’s so focused on others, it makes you modest about your own accomplishments. This modesty results from the inherent humility in love. As C.S. Lewis said, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

But love is even more than tolerance and humility.

Love is proper. It understands how to create relational health in almost any circumstance and does so by being easy to please. When others are offensive, love is forgiving. Offering forgiveness comes from a conviction about what pleases God. Love finds joy in knowing that God is in control and works within any circumstance to find a positive outlook.

Here’s the hard truth: If you struggle with the characteristics above, you may have work to do in the love department.

What Love Does

The things just described are things that well up on the inside of us, influencing our worldview and how we see others. But the real test and proof of our love, according to Scripture is in what love DOES. For example, you could be an easygoing person who doesn’t lift a finger to do anything for anyone. That’s not loving. The love inside of you has to motivate and mobilize you to DO something.

That is where our verse comes into play. In addition to pointing out important features of love, we want to highlight the overwhelming benefits of love applied. We want to do so by sharing what we think these benefits don’t include, as well as what they do. The trend you’ll see emerging is one of applying a specific mindset, no matter the situation.

Love Bears All Things

What it doesn’t mean: You ignore the fact that there are threats to your marriage and put up with unlimited offenses indefinitely.

What it means: You seek to protect your relationship from the outside elements that threaten it. You go more in-depth than responding to an offense by trying to find the cause of the problem.

Love Believes All Things

What it doesn’t mean: You think everything your spouse says is right.

What it means: To have confidence in the ability of Jesus to bring aid to a situation.

Love Hopes All Things

What it doesn’t mean: You are ignorant of realities created by sinful choices, attitudes, or beliefs.

What it means: You’ll wait with joy and confidence for Jesus to deliver you from trials you experience or consequences you’re working through.

Love Endures All Things

What it doesn’t mean: The limits to the time you will spend with an unresponsive, abusive, or unrepentant spouse are inexhaustible.

What it means: You are calm and brave as you hold fast to Jesus in the midst of trials.

This may not be the way most of the world looks at love, but our definition comes from a more reliable source.

That source invented love and was the only one who demonstrated it perfectly.

He loves you.

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About the Author

Marriage Dynamics Institute

Marriage Dynamics Institute (MDI) wants to cultivate healthy families, churches, and communities by helping create marriages full of joy, meaning, and purpose. Having served more than 75,000 couples since 1994, MDI offers workshops and seminars for marriages at every stage, including those in crisis.