Love is …

As part of my ongoing work in 1 Corinthians 12-14, here’s my analysis of the characteristics of love described in chapter 13.

What Paul gives us is not so much a definition of love, but a description. It’s not an exhaustive list, it’s selective. Why does he include these characteristics? Presumably because these were their issues. After all it’s possible to go through the letter and find places where Paul has to take them to task for lacking these qualities.

It’s patient It’s long suffering. It copes with the shortcomings of others. It endures personal injury. It manages when we’re ignored, criticised and neglected. Do I endure wrong doing or do I look to retaliate? Do I suffer fools gladly? Have I got a short fuse?
It’s kind It’s not critical. It goes beyond what’s expected. It goes on being generous despite provocation. It’s about being hospitable, welcoming and friendly. Am I someone who knows the needs of others so that I can give them what they need? Am I someone who’s always on the look out for others?
It does not envy It is not jealous of what others are or what they have. It is not envious of others abilities, it doesn’t say ‘I wish I was like them’. But it rejoices that God has made others the way that they are with the gifts that he’s given them. Are you content with the way that God has arranged things? Are there some houses that you can’t visit or some people whom you can’t talk to without the big green giant of envy coming to visit?
It does not boast It doesn’t boast of its own achievements because it recognises that what we are and what we have are from God. And it’d be stupid and wrong to take the credit from someone else who really deserves it. It doesn’t therefore hog conversations with tales of what’s good about me and my experiences. Do you have to let everyone know what you’ve done? After doing something of which you’re proud is your first instinct to update your facebook status? Are you good at praising others?
It is not proud
It is not arrogant and self-seeking. It’s not full of its own self-importance. It doesn’t suffer from an over inflated view of itself. It doesn’t think highly of oneself and entertain a contemptuous view of others. It doesn’t think that others are beneath us and undeserving of our attention or company. Are you willing to ask others what they think you need to change? That would be humility in action, wouldn’t it? Do you hang around with everyone at church or just those whom you think deserve your attention?
It is not rude It doesn’t do what is shameful, improper or embarrassing for others. It doesn’t try to be deliberately shocking or rub people up the wrong way by what is said. It’s careful to tailor what’s said so that no unnecessary offence is caused. Do we enjoy the inappropriate? Do I get a kick out of being unnecessarily and provocatively risque? Do I love to shock?
It is not self seeking It doesn’t insist on its own way throwing the toys out of the pram when decisions go against us. It realises that not all things are about me and my preferences Do you often insist on your own way of doing things? Are you happy to lose? Is your conversation always about yourself? Are you keen to find out about others?
It is not easily angered It’s not irritable. It doesn’t have a short fuse that blows at the slightest irritation. It’s not explosive or touchy. Are we someone that people have to handle with care? Do others need to handle us with kid gloves?
It keeps no record of wrongs It’s not resentful but quickly forgets the wrongs that others have done to us, it keeps no record of reasons to be aggrieved with someone. It doesn’t seek to be repaid for teh wrongs that have been inflicted. Do you bear a grudge? Do you always have an issue with people? Do you have a mental drop down menu entitled ‘issues’ which we can access anyt time we’re in an argument? Can I cancel the debts of others?
It does not delight in evil but it rejoices with the truth It’s righteousness for real. It’s not hypocritical. It doesn’t pretend to be horrified by a scandal but secretly finds pleasure in reading all the details and looking at all the pictures. Do you like it when bad things happen to others?
It always protects It bears all sorts of wrongs and puts up with all manner of annoyances and inconveniences. Are you easily irritated by the failings of others?
It always trusts It believes the best about people. Without being gullible, it believes what people say. It entrusts ourselves to others even though we know their track record. It’s willing to be vulnerable and let down. Do you find it easy to delegate?
It always hopes It’s constantly looking forward expecting change in people. It’s confident that this will occur. It gives people another chance and doesn’t give up on them. Do you give people a second chance?
It always perseveres It never gives up. It comes out the other side. Does your love keep on keeping on or is it just a flash in the pan?

What do we do with a list like this?

I think we can do three things

1. We can be appalled at the description of the Corinthians’ lovelessness. But that’s the way of self righteousness. So let’s not go there.

2. We can marvel at the love of Christ. Jesus is the personfication of love. This describes him. And this is how he treats us. He is unbelievably patient with us. He is immeasurably kind to us. It’s worth spending a quiet time simply thanking Christ for each one of his loving characteristics, praising him for the way he handles us.

3. We can examine our own lives and ask the hard questions. Where do I fall short? Which two or three of these are in need of urgent attention. Am I easily angered? Am I self seeking? Is my love just a momentary change rather than a settled pattern of behaviour? But let’s not do 3 with out also doing 2. We need the love of Christ to inform and inspire us. We must pursue change, for sure. But we do so with our love shaped and motivated by God’s prior love for us in Christ.

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