1 Cor. 13:4-8, "Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy; love does not boast, is not puffed up; does not behave disgracefully, does not seek its own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil; does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…"
Personally, most churches I have seen and been in fall into one of two sides of the love equation. There is on one side syrupy, saccharine niceness that is very shallow and superficial that is supposed to represent love is kind, but never addresses issues or shows genuine concern. On the other side is a view that sees that love corrects, but has a tendency to censoriousness and is more punitive than restorative. To bring a better balanced view of the love of God, since we are to love each other in Christ with a fervent heart more and more as His coming draws near (1 Pet. 4:7-8), I want to look at these attributes again and apply them to our church relationships.
- Love is patient
Amazingly enough, while if we are honest we will admit that even when we see our own faults and desire to change our own progress can be slow, our natural reaction towards others is to expect instant transformation from them, especially if it is a problem that really irks us. Loving others as we love ourselves involves us being patient with them, if in spite of our desires we at times act worse than we wish, can we not believe that others also do so, or does failure on their part automatically constitute a lack of will? Patience will allow them time mature and perhaps change.
- Love is kind
Perhaps this is the main attribute in the thoughts of Paul when he says "speaking the truth in love…" (Eph. 4:15). I personally must admit that many times I have said true things, but in an unkind manner. Unfortunately, some of them were not only unkind, but also humorous, which makes them memorable. The truth hurts, but not in an unkind way. Kindness comes from desiring to correct in goodness, not self-aggrandizement. Unkindness in speaking the truth springs mostly from vindictiveness or self-exaltation. Love desires to correct but in the most effective way for the good of the one being corrected. A good relationship and genuine concern can make the hardest things easy to take which would be impossible to take from another.
- Love does not envy
If we loved each other as we should in the body of Christ there would not be all the political infighting and wrangling that often goes on, all of which flow from envy. Many times the first reaction when a new minister comes to notice is to question his faith or otherwise downplay him. While discernment is needed, sometimes that is just a mask for envy. If the Son has the right to quicken whom He will, does He not have the right to use whom He will, how He will, for what purpose He will. If we question another's ministry, first we should question if perhaps our reason for questioning is envy at another being used instead of us. Paul was able to rejoice even in the ministry of the insincere and even those hostile to his cause to the extent that Christ was preached.
- Love does not boast
So much in the Church world today is based on self-promotion and self exaltation that it shows how lacking in love we really are. The widow's two mites were not given with a display, but were the greatest offering because of the motive of love and what she had left – nothing. Likewise it is not our deeds or giving that matters, but the motive. Boastful deeds done for the praises and applause of men receive their reward in that and are unrewarded in eternity, works done in the sight of God without reference to what man sees are rewarded by God.
- Love is not puffed up
Because love is selfless, a superiority of any kind becomes not a means of exaltation in self-esteem, but an opportunity to share and uplift the other who is lacking. There are many things that cause natural men to look down on those who have less, be it education, wealth, power, intellect, or physical prowess. These things, while perhaps enhanced by our choices, are not given us by our choice. We could easily have been born in other circumstances and never had any of these things. Love lives by the rule that the greater our gifting the greater responsibility we have for them. Noblesse oblige – to whom much is given much will be required. Every advantage we have in this life should be viewed not as a source of self-worth, but rather as a responsibility that we must use well.
- Love does not behave disgracefully
Mere civility and good manners can never make up for a lack of love, yet love will produce civility and good manners. Manners vary somewhat from country to country, but caring for others and a desire to please produced by love can overcome countless cultural hurdles. Love and doing unto others as you would have them do to you are the essence from which all manners are distilled.
- Love does not seek its own
How many problems are caused in the church by our seeking our own way, putting forth our own opinion, or in some other way violating this precept of love. Many things which would be small in themselves are blown out of all due proportion because of seeking our own. As seen in First Corinthians, even the charismata were so abused as to be used to seek one's own rather than the edification of all. Prophecy was to be given one at a time since its purpose was to give God's message and edify the believers, the Corinthians were interrupting each other to show off the gift, which totally defeated the purpose of it (1 Cor. 14:29-33)!
- Love is not provoked to anger
Rather than being provoked to anger by someone's actions, love covers a multitude of transgressions. The wrath of man cannot work the righteousness of God. Love enables us to so good seeds and produce the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others. Wrath on one side will produce wrath on the other, but love on one side will also produce love on the other.
- Love thinks no evil
Distrust and suspicion are not fruits of the Spirit. In the human body if a part is hurt than the whole body takes notice. For example if someone stubs his toe, the eyes go to investigate, the hands go to minister comfort, and the mouth utters cries on behalf of the voiceless toe. The other body parts do not snicker and think serves him right… If we are truly part of the body of Christ than the health of one member must effect other members, and by aiding them we are aiding our Head and also even ourselves. As much as possible we should think good things of people and give them the benefit of the doubt in their motives where possible.
- Love does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth
This brings out the corrective power of love, as opposed to the thought that love is solely a niceness. Love hates unrighteousness, and loves the truth. It loves what will truly help someone. Love is performing a painful operation upon someone that will save them from a more painful death. It was with love that Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler and gave one of the hardest precepts He ever gave (Mark 10:21). It was love that addressed his real need though it was not well received.
- Love bears all things
Being easily peeved by the behavior of others is a sure sign of needing growth in love. Christ laid down His life for His Church, and it is our privilege to add our own miniscule part to that great sacrifice by laying down of ourselves for our brethren. If we find it hard to lay it down for them, then look beyond them to the Lord who bought them and lay it down for Him.
- Love believes all things
Unless we have very good reason to do otherwise we should accept people's apologies at face value. God delayed His judgment against Ahab, merely because he humbled himself with ashes and sackcloth at hearing the judgment pronounced. It is very doubtful that Ahab came to any real contrition, and was later killed by God's express design, but yet God took his partial repentance at face value, and in the Psalms encourages those who do not want to serve Him to at least feign obedience for their temporal (1 Kings 21:27-29;Psalm 81:13-16). Likewise we should make the most of signs of repentance when they appear even if perchance they are just feigned.
- Love hopes all things
What else but love could have seen a hero in Gideon hiding from the Midianites as he threshed wheat? What else but love could have seen a bold apostle in the persecuting Saul, or a rock steady Peter in Simon? Love hopes and thus draws the best out of people. God is a God of hope. He subjected Creation to the curse in hope of a new creation to come and every death croak of every creature is a cry for that better place. He also divided mankind into nations, so that perhaps they would seek Him. Leaving them together at Babel would have ensured victory for Nimrod's apostasy so God divided them. Though there are sheep and goat nations, yet from every nation Christ will have kings and priests. Love will hope for people, and thus produce results. People will often fail of your expectations, but they will almost never surpass them, so it is good to hope and have high expectations of people. The confidence Christ had in His all-too-human followers was amazing, even more amazing was what they became because of it.
- Love endures all things
Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it bears no fruit. Love makes us fruitful by making us willing to fall to the ground and die. This is the key to fruitfulness and multiplication. It was in the rock being struck that water flowed out, and it was from Christ's wounds that our healing has flowed. Love will make us willing to be struck to bring healing to others.
- Love never fails
Even if our recipient is proven unworthy of the love we give, we are still learning of the character of Christ. It often hurts to love, but it is never wasted.
May God grant us more and more of His love! Amen.