So far we have seen attitudes of faith, obedience, growth and self-discipline. These attitudes are, for the most part, God-directed. That is, they pertain to our attitude toward God and our relationship with him. We turn a page in this study as we look at the attitude of Love. Love is primarily seen in our interactions with and attitudes toward others. It is the most all-encompassing of the others-oriented attitudes. If a Christian has in his heart an attitude of love, many other spiritual attitudes will naturally flow from it. Let us first consider the primary role that love plays in the life of a Christian.
The Primacy of Love
Love is so central to God’s character that it can be simply stated; God is love (1 John 4:8). It was love that brought Jesus to earth (1 John 4:9; John 3:16), it was love that lead him to heal multitudes (Matt 14:14), it was love that drove him to seek and save the lost (Matt 9:36; Luke 19:10), it was love that lead him to the cross (1 John 4:10; Rom 5:8) and it is by his love that he dwells within us today (1 John 4:16; Rom 5:5). Because love is central to God’s character, it is also foundational to the teachings of Jesus Christ. So much so, that the idea of loving others became known as the “law of Christ.”
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Christ’s theme of loving others was so strong and so clear that it became an evident characteristic of true discipleship. Even the unsaved could observe the love among Christian brethren and immediately conclude that they must have been disciples of Christ.
1 John 3:11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is because love is so central to the character and teachings of Jesus Christ that one cannot claim to be his disciple and not also love like he loved.
1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
The power of our testimony for Christ lies in the evidence that He has changed our lives. This change is displayed when we love others like He loved. This is the love that seeks the salvation of the lost and loves the brethren even to the point of sacrifice (1 John 3:17; Php 2:4).
Paul taught the primacy of love in the fifth chapter of Galatians when he mentioned love first in the list of spiritual character qualities (Gal 5:22). He emphasized its primacy once again in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Paul’s ultimate point was that even the best gifts, practiced without love, are useless. In the third chapter of Colossians we read a list of great Christian virtues. At the end of this list, after Paul has listed compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness he again emphasizes the primacy of love (charity).
Colossians 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Love is the virtue that binds all the rest of Christian character together. All of the fruit of the Spirit and all of the gifts of the Spirit are to be saturated with love. Without it we become empty shells, poor representatives of Christ and hurtful to his cause.
The Personality of Love
We have already learned the importance of love; that it is central to the character of God and that it should characterize all of his children. Now let’s consider the personality of love. How does love behave? Paul answers this question in one of the most oft-quoted chapters of scripture – 1 Corinthians 13.
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.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
Love is Steadfast (patience)
1 Corinthians 13:4 begins “Love is patient and kind.” The word here literally means to be “long tempered” or to “patiently endure.” Practically, this can be seen as one is provoked over and over again yet refuses to retaliate (1 Pet 3:9). It is this love that enables us to forgive others even when they repeatedly offend us (Matt 18:22).
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
True love is enduring. It is not swayed by circumstances, nor does it wear thin over time. Love is not diminished when we are annoyed or irritated by others. A fleeting love is no love at all.
Love is Serving (kindness)
Because love is patient it endures suffering. It can take the hurts, offenses or lack of love that others dish out. Over and above this longsuffering there is kindness. Kindness does more than endure hurts. It actively seeks to be gracious and serving toward others. Even more than this, true love serves those who do not deserve to be served.
Luke 6:27-36 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
It is God’s kindness fueled by his love that lead Him to send Jesus Christ to be our savior (Titus 3:4-6) and He did this while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). God now asks us to show the same loving kindness to others even when they do not deserve it, just as He has done for us.
Love is Sincere (does not envy)
Next in 1 Cor 13:4 we read love does not envy. True love is not jealous. This is not speaking of being “jealous for” someone as God is for his people (Ex 20:4-5; Ex 34:14) but being jealous of someone. A husband or wife may be jealous for their spouse, meaning they want their spouse to be faithful and belong to them and them alone. This can be a healthy “jealousy” but it is not the jealousy that is spoken of here.
The jealousy spoken of here is always sinful and one of the most destructive sins we can commit. Proverbs 27:4 tells us Proverbs 27:4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Consider the following examples.
Jealousy lead the crowd to deliver Jesus to death, Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, Cain to murder his brother, the Jews to resist Paul and the prodigal’s brother to be stirred to anger. It is easy to see how devastating envy can be!
Jealousy can be a matter of wanting something that someone else has or wanting to be something that someone else is (status, acclaim, following, etc). No matter the type of jealousy, it is all rooted in pride. It is believing that we are more deserving of benefits or privileges than others. This is the complete opposite of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
As devastating as all envy is, there is one type of envy that is more sinister than the rest. It is the jealousy that not only says “I wish I had what they had” but goes one step further and says “I wish they did not have what they have.” This is the jealousy, rooted in hate that actually wishes ill upon others. There is no possible scenario in which love and this jealousy could dwell in the same heart.
1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.