“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
You have heard it before and you have wondered if it is true. We look at our lives, at our families, our friends, and in the news, and our conclusion is: love almost always fails. We have all been affected by divorce in one way or another. And we have all flaked out on our friends before, whether intentionally or not. And, no matter how good of an attitude we may try to have, we eventually find that one person who is hard to love, or sometimes we are that person. Given enough time, we fail to love even the people we want to love. We all know ourselves well enough to know that we can and will let people down. So, is the Apostle Paul using hyperbole, exaggerating the attributes of love for effect? Is this kind of love a worthy ideal but rare at best? Or could the picture painted in this ode to love actually be attainable?
I contend that it can! Here is why: this love passage is describing God’s love, the only love that never fails, and God’s love always succeeds to make the person He loves a loving person. In other words, God’s love to us never fails to flow through us.
Who do we love? Who should we love? We need to love God, our Father, who loved us by sending His Son so that those who believe in Him could have eternal life. And we need to love one another, our brothers and sisters who walk with us in faith. Of course, that’s not all. Jesus said we need to love more than just those who love us back. And throughout the scripture, God reveals Himself as a protector of the weak—the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the poor.
The foundation of a Christian’s life is love, not should be love, not could be love, not will be love… The foundation of a Christian’s life IS LOVE! First and foremost, love begins with God. He is love. He is loving. He has an infinite amount of love to give. So, He created us, as objects of His love; He made us so He could love us. He does not love us because we are so lovable, but because He is loving, not because we are good, but because He is good and wants to show His goodness to us. We do not deserve His love in any way, yet God has shown His love to us is by giving His Son to be a sacrifice for our sins.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Notice something here: Love is more than just feelings. Biblically speaking, love is not love unless, given the chance, it is acted on. You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. Christian love is more an attitude–a willingness to act–than a feeling. So, since God loves us, we should be able to see His love in the way that He acts toward us. We can see His love every day in the way He blesses us, answers prayer, speaks to us, and comforts us in our time of need. But the Cross was God’s greatest act of love. As it says in 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” And it goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” When it comes to loving one another, people should be able to see our love in action. Why? Because God’s love to us never fails to flow through us.
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
“If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words [only] or tongue but [also] with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:17-18
“God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us”
“We love [our brothers and sisters in the Lord] because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
The more we experience and understand God’s love for us, the more we want to love others. He pours His love into us and it overflows into acts of love for one another. Knowing that God loved me even when I was still a sinner helps me to love you when you sin against me. Understanding the way that God loves me unconditionally helps me to love you whether I think you deserve it or not, and whether I feel like it or not. If he forgives me, how can I not forgive you? If He blesses me, how can I not bless you? If He loves me, how can I not love you? If God loves you then you’re worthy of my love too!
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:10-12
Loving one another is not a one-time thing. We need to keep on loving one another. If we do, then we know that God lives in us. If God does not live in us, we cannot love one another. If the Spirit of God isn’t dwelling in our hearts, making us children of God, then we are not even part of that “one another.” If God did not live in me, then I could not call God Father or you brothers and sisters. And without God living in me, I would not have the ability or even the desire to love you as I would my brother. But when we keep on loving one another, then we know God is living in us. And though we cannot see God, people can see His love in the way we act toward one another. When we keep on loving one another His love is made complete—it is perfected. That is not to say it was incomplete or imperfect before, but that it is reaching its goal; it is accomplishing its purpose. We have to realize that it is his love that is being perfected. When He commands us to love one another, he does not expect us to somehow muster up the love from within ourselves. Remember, He pours his love into our hearts, and we love one another with the love He gives to us. We are only giving what we have already received. That means that when we feel like we don’t have any more love to give, it’s okay. His love is never-ending, His well does not run dry. If you have His love in your heart, you always have something to give.
So when we find ourselves in need of love, He is there. And when someone else is in need, we can ask Jesus to love them through us. When I love you, that is what is really happening: God is loving you through me. And when you love that person sitting next to you, it is really God loving that person through you. That is the love that never fails. God’s love to us never fails to flow through us.
If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of doing good works—to give the love of God to others. So when we show God’s love by doing good works and meeting needs, God’s love is made complete, it’s perfected, it is succeeding at its intended goal.
You can do good works without having faith, but you cannot have faith without doing good works; faith without works is dead. Once we come to Christ in faith, we must express that faith in acts of love. Why? Because Jesus has saved us from our sin. We have repented and renounced sin to follow Christ. To turn away from sin is to turn toward love because sin is a violation of our love for God and for others. So if we place any value on what Christ did to cleanse us from our sin, then we will commit ourselves to be loving people. And you see that the same love that forgives us for sinning against God by not acting in love, is the love that makes us able to love others.
There are many ways we can love one another, but I want to give you two major guidelines. First, if you see a brother or sister in need that is your cue to love them. Always pray for them. And if you can help them in a practical way, do it. Second, Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” If my wife is freaking out because there is a large spider speeding up her leg, the best course of action is to grab a phone book and smack it right away! Depending on just how large it is, and how much force it takes to stop (kill) it, the blow may actually hurt. But I guarantee you that I will be her hero because, although love may not harm, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes being nice is not loving at all. Sometimes the loving thing to do would be to not let someone get away with something they did wrong. Sometimes it is creating boundaries so that you do not encourage destructive behavior. With that in mind, let us go back to 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [God’s] love [to us] never fails [to flow through us.]”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
When it says love is patient, if you replace the word love with God’s name or your name, as some suggest, I think you may be missing something. This whole passage is after a discussion of spiritual gifts which God gives us to benefit the whole church. Love is the greatest of these gifts, and the gift that every Christian has to share with one another, and we have it because of His Spirit inside of us. So this list of the attributes of love is really a list of what God wants to do through me. God’s love to us never fails to flow through us.
The post has been adapted from a sermon I delivered in July 2008.