Bible Exposition

What Is Love—And Do You Have It?

by John Pate

balloon shaped into the word love

“You just don’t love people.”

My lead counselor stared intently at me across the table as camp staff hurried around us preparing for another week of summer camp. As he conducted my counselor review, we began to discuss the previous week of teen camp.

It had been a hard week. I only remember one of my campers, but he was enough. He barely spoke the entire week, seemed always angry, and struggled with bedwetting. I was eighteen, coming off my first year of college, and I wasn’t sure how to handle him. I tried reaching out in various ways—to no avail.

So, for my review, I was hoping to receive some sort of comfort or pat-on-the-back for my efforts. Instead, my lead counselor told me quite plainly that I simply was not a loving person.

I bristled. I knew I struggled to love people who were hard to love, but everybody does. I wasn’t sure my lead counselor knew me well enough to paint with such a broad brush, so I wrote his words off as an overstatement and tried to move on.

The amazing thing is—those words have stayed with me. And, unfortunately, they have too often proven true. Although various situations have exposed my lack of love over the years, hands down, the biggest exposer of my unloving heart has been raising children. I have discovered—and perhaps you have too—that on our own, without a supernatural work of grace, we are unable to truly love our children.

For, in order to love our children, we don’t need a minor adjustment of a few degrees. We need a heart transformation!

Paul addresses the issue of love in his letter to the church at Corinth. The Corinthians were a young church and had recently begun using their spiritual gifts. Instead of using these gifts to build each other up, however, they plied them to their own benefit, flexing their spiritual muscles and attempting to climb the “ladder” of their local church.

So, right in the middle of this discussion, Paul takes an important detour. He reminds them in 1 Corinthians 13 that even the best talents, abilities, and gifts become mere noise and emptiness if they lack real Spirit-borne love. So, an impressive dad with impressive ministry ability or gifts, if he doesn’t actually love his kids, does nothing for God’s kingdom.

Paul gives the solution to this alarming situation in verses 4–8 by describing what true love looks like. Let’s take some time to ask the important question, “What is love?” and listen to what God says.

“Love is patient”

Read those three words again, this time slowly. A truly loving person is a patient person. The word translated “patient” means “long-nosed” or “long-tempered” specifically in regard to difficult people.

Are your children ever difficult? Do they ever make the same mistake multiple times? Do they ever wear you down with their behavior? A loving dad is a patient dad. He isn’t harsh. He doesn’t lash out.

He doesn’t boil over or blow a fuse. When his children persist in a sour attitude, he is patient.

When his day is upended by the mistakes of those around him, he is patient. When others do not deserve his patience, he is patient.

Love is “kind”

A truly loving person is kind or “good” toward those around him, especially difficult people. Do you ever feel like your kids run you over? Perhaps they unwittingly take advantage of you or abuse your kindness. A loving dad continues to be “kind” even to those who do not always deserve it. He treats them as he would a dear friend. He “lights up” when one of his children walks into the room.

“Love does not envy or boast”

A love that is patient and kind is going to affect every part of you. It will begin affecting your desires, transforming how you think about other people. You will not envy those who have more and you will not boast over those who have less. In other words, true love isn’t always trying to compete with others for the best spot. Instead, a loving dad will seek to outdo his kids in showing honor to them (Rom. 12:10). He will look for ways to show them their value and to praise them.

Love “is not arrogant or rude”

True love will also affect your demeanor, transforming how you speak. You will not be puffed up with pride over those who seem to be less important or act rudely toward those who may not seem worthy. A loving dad realizes that his children are cherished and honored by their Creator and treats them accordingly. His words do not demean them or run them down. Instead, he speaks to them as those who are worth a great deal to the God who made them.

Love “does not insist on its own way”

True love will affect your purpose, transforming how you act. A loving person is on the lookout for the needs and interests of others instead of seeking his own way. Does your home revolve around your own needs and interests? Do you expect your children to look out for your needs and then grow frustrated when they don’t? A loving dad seeks to be keenly aware of the needs and interests of even the smallest members of his home. And he empties himself of his own ambitions, if necessary, to meet those needs.

Love “is not irritable or resentful”

True love will affect your responses, transforming how you react. A loving person does not grow irritated by ongoing wrongs or resentful about past wrongs. That word “resentful” is an accounting word. I like how the NASB translates this phrase: “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” It carries the idea of keeping a ledger in which the offenses of others are carefully recorded.

A loving dad is not irritable or easily annoyed by his children. He’s not touchy, reacting at the slightest provocation. His family doesn’t need to tiptoe around him, always wondering what kind of mood he’s in. He’s also not resentful. He doesn’t “mark iniquities” (Ps. 130:3). He doesn’t allow yesterday’s offenses to affect today’s responses. He doesn’t resurrect an old offense in a heated discussion. Every morning is a morning brimming with new mercy toward those around him.

Love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”

True love will affect your emotions, transforming how you feel. A truly loving person will not take pleasure when he hears about the misfortunes or sins of others. He doesn’t latch on to a rumor about someone, secretly hoping it is true. Instead, his heart soars when he hears that others are experiencing the blessing of walking in the truth!

When do your children see you the most animated? Is it on the drive home after you’ve had to pick them up at the principal’s office? Or is it when you catch a glimpse of God’s spirit at work in their heart and life? A loving dad will look for those glimpses of truth, no matter how small they may seem. A loving dad will experience the greatest joy every time he finds his “children walking in the truth” (2 John 4).

“Love bears all things”

At this point, Paul begins a staccato-like crescendo as he concludes his description of love. The kind of love he has been describing will affect every aspect of your life, transforming how you endure. A truly loving dad will bear up under whatever difficulty arises as he loves his children. True love doesn’t take its leave when the going gets tough.

Love “believes all things”

A loving dad will be ready to give the benefit of the doubt. He is not gullible, but his default setting is to believe that God is always up to something good in his child’s life.

Love “hopes all things”

A loving dad also believes that God will win. Even on his child’s worst days, he resolvedly trusts that God’s Word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11).

Love “endures all things”

While the word “patient” in verse four describes perseverance with difficult people, the word “endurance” describes perseverance with difficult circumstances. True love stands the test of time. Through whatever chaos, drama, or heartbreak may come his way, a loving dad endures. He keeps going. He is faithful.

This kind of love, Paul says, “never ends.” It never falls. Impressive ministry ability or spiritual giftedness will fail, but true love will never fail.

Heart Donor Needed

As you’ve heard Paul describe love, you may be thinking, “Great. If that’s true love, then I don’t think I’m a loving person.” Maybe you are sometimes short-tempered and harsh. Maybe you have dishonored your children or lashed out at them with your words. Perhaps you are easily annoyed by them. Or maybe right now you can pull up a mental list of ways they’ve made your week difficult. Perhaps your love is quick to flag when the going gets tough.

The truth is—simply reading through 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 isn’t going to fix this problem. Trying to be patient and kind instead of testy and cruel doesn’t make you a loving person. It doesn’t change your heart. What you and I need is more than a shot in the arm. We need to be transformed from the inside out. We need a heart transplant!

But where are we going to find a new heart?

To answer that question, we need look no further than this passage. Take a look again at verse four: “Love is patient and kind.” These two words, “patient” and “kind” were quite familiar to early New Testament believers. They had encountered them over and over again in their Greek translation of the Old Testament. All throughout their Bibles, they had seen these very words used—to describe God and His character.

1 Corinthians 13 isn’t just describing a quality to emulate; it’s describing the character of God Himself and how He transforms the way we treat others. In other words, we don’t just need to turn over a new leaf or reform our actions. We need a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ!

In part 2, we’ll explore how our relationship with God transforms our hearts and lives by asking the important question “Who is love?” In the meantime, read back through 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 and begin to meditate on the patient, kind love of your God.

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