About two years ago I began studying “Love” according to how it is defined in 1 Cor. 13 and I have since shared what I learned twice in two different Bible studies. I am convinced that this will probably be my first non-trumpet book, but I’ve decided to also share the information here on my blog one more time before I finalize the book .
What Love Isn’t
Before I start writing blog posts about what love is, I think it’s important to begin with what love is not. I believe there is, for example, a very big difference between love and being “in love.” Being “in love” is not always a bad thing. It’s an important part of courting and romance. I do not believe being “in love” is absolutely necessary for a successful and happy marriage, but it certainly helps. However, because love and being “in love” are two different things, it is actually possible to be “in love” with someone and still not love them.
Can a psychopath love?
That said, love is really not a feeling. I actually believe that you could be a sociopath or psychopath and still love. For those who don’t know, a sociopath or psychopath is someone who has a lack of empathy or remorse (among other things). Generally speaking they are people who cannot feel emotions the way most people do. But I believe that Biblical love is not feeling based and that’s why I also believe even the most psychopathic people can love. Because love is not about feelings. Love is not feeling based. Perhaps those who feel less are actually more capable of Biblical love than those who feel more. (Hmm… That’s an idea worth exploring.)
Love is also not good intentions. We sometimes do the most hateful things with good intentions. My wife, Pearl, once wrote a wonderful story about the difference between doing what is right and doing what is good. I’ve asked her permission to re-post it here because I believe she says it better than I can.
I was recently reminded of one of the many valuable lessons my dad taught me. He was a very wise man, and had an amazing ability to make really complicated things seem simple, even to a young child. One day, he sat with me and gave me a piece of advice I have used many times when it comes to making tough decisions. He was explaining to me about how to deal with grey areas – you know, those difficult situations where it isn’t always clear what choices to make. He told me that if I was ever faced with having to choose between what is good and what is right, that I should choose what is right above what is good. He explained that there would be times when what is good would not be the same as what is right. When we do what is good, we will make people happy. They will think we are kind and charitable and that we care about other people, our environment and the things that rate as important in society. When we do what is right, we will make God happy, but it won’t always make other people happy. In fact, some people might even hate us for doing the right thing.
When I was much younger, I thought that good and right always went hand in hand, so my father’s advice didn’t seem so useful. As I got older, I discovered the complexities that life has to offer. I stepped into situations where doing the right thing sometimes hurt and seemed anything but good. I stepped into situations where it was tempting to go with a popular choice that would make a lot of people happy. I learned that when “good” and “right” don’t describe the same thing, choosing the good over the right is a recipe for regret. I am grateful for a father who took the time to share his experience and wisdom with me. I have come across many fathers who are so busy providing for their children’s material desires that they don’t have any time left to prepare their children for the challenges of life. I have learned that the most valuable things in life don’t come with a designer label or fancy wrapping. I can’t remember most of the material gifts I unwrapped over the years. Even the nicest gifts eventually dated or broke or got moved to the back of the cupboard. The most precious gifts I have received and still cherish today almost always didn’t come gift-wrapped in shiny paper. They came in the form of lessons taught by people who knew the value of sharing these vital tools for life. I will always be grateful for parents who knew how to give these valuable gifts.
Dr. Pearl Lewis 9/21/2005
Applying what Pearl wrote in the context of love, it’s not love to give your children everything they ask for. It’s not love to only feed them food they like. It’s not love to allow your wife to speak to you disrespectfully. It’s not love to have a drink with your friends so they don’t think you are judging them. It’s not love to get a divorce because you think your children will be happier if you are happy. It’s not love to keep hiring the same musician even though he is always late and makes the band look bad. These sorts of good intentions are often hateful when you dig deeper to see them at their core, but when we are doing them, we think we are doing something loving.
Also love is not just something you are supposed to share with family, friends and/or lovers. Jesus very clearly says that we are to love even our enemies…or in other words…we are to love everyone we come into contact with in our lives. Not just the people who love us back.
Now, that’s a bit confusing, right? I mean, how do you love someone who is your enemy? By definition, someone who is our enemy is someone we don’t like. Our feelings for that person will not be what most of us would consider love. But that’s the point I’m trying to make, isn’t it? We are not supposed to “feel” love towards our enemies. Yes, that comes with time, but that is not how it begins. The feelings come later – after the love has had time to change people’s lives. But we will get into that later, in another post. For now it’s good enough to clarify that biblical love is not feeling based.
Love is not a standard we are to use to judge other people’s behavior. It is not love for me to expect you be patient, kind, to not envy, etc.Yes, as a Christian, love is a way of life that you should want to pursue, but it is not love for me to point out to you when you’ve missed the mark. It is no love for me to judge you when you don’t love me. God gave us free will and we are supposed to be as much like Christ as we can be. Jesus does not judge us when we fail to love, so we should not judge others.
Love is not “fair” in the sense of what that word has come to mean in the streets. To us today, “fair” means that I get the same as you do, that rewards and punishments are divided equally. That is actually not what “fair” really means, and that definition of the word is NOT in any way related to love. People use the word “fair” today as a means of manipulating other people. If you look at “fairness” as everyone being and getting equal, then the perspective of that fairness can be changed and manipulated in ways that deceptively show that one person gets more or less than another (while another perspective will show something entirely different). It’s an evil word the way people use it today and it is certainly not what I would consider love.
Love Is a Choice Followed by Action
We will dig deeper into what love is in subsequent posts, but generally speaking, love is a choice we make in the way we treat other people. Love is about how we live our lives and about the decisions we make at every fork of the road. We actively choose to love or not love as often as a few hundred times per day.
When you wake up in the morning and decide what you will wear that day, you can choose to love or not to love. When you eat breakfast you will choose to love or to not love by what you choose to eat. As you drive to work or school, you will be presented several opportunities to love.
Does that sound unbelievable to you?
Then you will want to read the other posts from the series when they are published. We will explore each of the points on the love is list from 1 Cor. 13, at least one blog post per word. When you finish reading those posts, you will understand how we can choose to love hundreds of times per day and why this has nothing to do with feelings.
To read the next post in this series please go to Love Intro Part II.