Most folks are familiar I Corinthians 13 as it is considered to be the greatest chapter on love found in the entire Bible. However, the verses we most often quote are verses 4-7 and you’ll no doubt recognize them right away–“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 . . .” etc. They are spoken many times in marriage ceremonies. However, we have a tendency to skip over the first three verses which state (I Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG):
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
“If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”
Think about those words for a moment. If we say, believe, or do anything–ANYTHING–without doing it from a heart of love, it means nothing. Nothing! And we are bankrupt. Bankrupt! Without love, what we say means nothing, what we believe (or say we believe) means nothing, what we do means nothing.
Those are serious words. They give me pause for thought. It gives a whole new meaning and weight to the words that follow in those most familiar verses that we quote so often . . .
“Love is patient” (So just how patience are we? Do we get impatient waiting in a fast food line because the line isn’t moving fast enough?)
“Love is kind” (How often do we show kindness to those we don’t know or know well–for example, the homeless, the hurting, or even the clerk who was rude to us or someone we’ve heard some gossip about?)
“It does not envy” (Who or what are we jealous of, and who or what do we envy and why?)
“It does not boast, it is not proud” (How often do we seek acknowledgement from others or boast about something we have accomplished, hoping to look good in the eyes of others in order to elevate ourselves?)
“It is not rude” (How do we respond to someone who is rude to us? Are we rude back? What’s your first reaction to someone who cuts you off in traffic?)
“It is not self-seeking” (How did we feel when someone else got that promotion we thought we deserved? And how did we treat them afterward? When we think about money or material possessions, is it primarily to serve ourselves or to also help others?)
“It is not easily angered” (Are we quick to react in anger when something doesn’t go our way? Are we easily offended? Are we quick to judge?)
“It keeps no record of wrongs” (This is a very tough one. Do we have a tendency to constantly nurse grudges against those who have offended us, whether they are aware of it or not?)
“Love does not delight in evil” (Evil takes many forms. Do we take delight–in secret or with others–when someone–especially those we aren’t fond of or are jealous of–falls or fails in some way, privately or publicly? Do we gossip about others behind their backs? That is delighting in evil.)
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (Do we protect others and not just family and friends but those who are helpless–widows, orphans, the homeless, the less fortunate among us? Or do we just protect ourselves and look the other way? What about trust, hope, and persevering during hard times instead of complaining?)
Love is action and not just words we say to each other without doing anything that proves it out. If we “talk it” but don’t “walk it” it means nothing. Read those first three verses above again and let them sink in . . . really sink in.
Here are a few action steps to think about to start living out this life of love if we are really serious about it:
~~When someone tells us about a need they have, instead of just saying, “I’m praying for you,” and walking away, see if there is something we can actually do to help them is some tangible way, and then do it. It could be as simple as giving them a hug or inviting them to lunch, or giving them a $20 bill if they just lost their job (that happened to me after I lost my job and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me–not so much because of the money but because I knew it was a real sacrifice for the person who gave it to me and it was her way of showing me how much she cared about the situation I was in). Show genuine concern for the person and what they are going through.
~~Start putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. For example, if a clerk is rude to you, don’t automatically be rude back or grumble under your breath. Instead, say something kind. After all, you have no idea what that clerk has gone through that caused him or her to be rude. His bank might have just foreclosed on his house or her husband might have just lost his job or asked for a divorce. Don’t just react to the rudeness, but act with kindness.
~~Work is usually a hotbed area where little love or kindness is shown. Many folks are constantly “looking out for #1,” and gossiping behind other’s backs. Stay away from the gossip. Do the best job you can for your employer, even when someone else gets the promotion you expected to get or the boss is nasty to the bone. And congratulate that person who got the promotion over you (and do it with sincerity). God is still in control, even in the worst of situations. You never know what is going on “behind the scenes.” And God may have spared you from something worse that you can’t see or understand. Or He has something better in store for you down the road.
~~Don’t always be self-seeking. Think about others and how you can help them. Be “other” focused. And don’t gossip.
Well, you get the idea . . . . Love, real love, is always focused on others and not just on ourselves. By doing that one thing (focusing on others) the rest of the list will start to take care of itself. We will be more patient, and we will be more kind; we won’t envy, and we won’t boast about how great we are by seeking the attention and accolades of others. We won’t always be “looking out for #1” (which is pride in it’s ugliest form). We’ll stop being rude and self-seeking; our anger will start to dissipate and be replaced with “a peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) towards others and ourselves; We won’t delight in evil anymore (like gossip) but genuinely care about those we don’t know or understand (and without judging them, too).
If we want this world to be a kinder place, we can’t wait for others to do it. It starts with us. The next time you’re tempted to react negatively to a negative situation, which could be in the next few minutes, stop before you react and think about what is really going on. It’s not easy as we’ve been so used to reacting to situations instantly (and sometimes with great regret later on–we’ve all been there). Instead, count to ten internally (and say a quick prayer for God’s help). If someone just cut you off in traffic, instead of flipping them the finger or swearing at them in your car, say a quick prayer of thanks that you didn’t get in a bad accident, and pray for them, too.
Christmas is just three days away. The very best gift we can give anyone (family, friends, or complete strangers) is genuine love. And it starts with us (and no, we don’t wait for them to love us first–we could be waiting forever if that is the case). In fact, genuine, authentic love started with Jesus Christ. He is our example. He laid down his very life for us on the cross at Calvary. How can we not extend that same love to others if we truly follow Him? After all, in John 15:12-14 Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
And here’s the gift I want to leave with you this Christmas from the Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:8-9 (MSG): “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
And let’s start living life as if everything is a miracle . . . .
YouTube Video: “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” sung by Rod Stewart on his 2009 CD, “Soulbook.”
Photo credit here