I recently preached on “Living in Love Not Hate.” I decided on that topic partly because Valentine’s Day was near, but more importantly, I chose it because there is so much animosity, incivility and downright hatred dividing people today … even in the church!
Since Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” I reviewed 1 Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter of the Bible. The author, the Apostle Paul, called it “a more excellent way.”
The first paragraph makes it clear love is not optional; it is essential. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal … if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
You may have an IQ of 140 and may be capable of defending your political convictions with eloquence, but if you are vindictive and mean-spirited, you are making a lot of noise and accomplishing nothing. Even if others curse you and call you nasty names, you are still commanded to speak the truth in love, not hate.
Rick Warren sums up the first three verses like this, “God is saying, ‘I can have the eloquence of an orator, I can have the knowledge of a genius, I can have the faith of a miracle worker, I can have the generosity of a philanthropist, and I can have the dedication of a martyr, but if I don’t have love, it doesn’t count.’”
The middle paragraph of this chapter identifies the attributes of love and makes it clear that love is not primarily emotional but intentional.
We are programmed to think of love as an involuntary feeling of infatuation. Songs describe love as an uncontrollable, spontaneous emotion that sweeps us off our feet in ecstasy. Songs such as Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and Justin Timberlake’s, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
Reexamine the attributes of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and notice how many of these virtues have nothing to do with emotion but everything to do with action. “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.”
Obviously, agape love is not what you feel; it’s what you do.
That kind of “love never fails.” Emotions fluctuate. Emotions fade and fail. But that love does not fail because it is based on a lifelong commitment of seeking others’ well-being more than self. Even though love “hates what is evil; clings to what is good” (Romans 12:9), it still chooses to do the right thing regardless of feelings.
I think the one word that best describes love is the word “unselfish.” The Amplified Bible says simply, “Love is unselfish concern for others.”
The final paragraph makes it clear that love is not temporal but eternal. Prophecies will cease. Miraculous speaking in tongues and supernatural revelations will pass away. Political kingdoms will rise and fall. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
E.V. Hill was a dynamic African-American preacher in the inner city of Los Angeles. During the Watts riots in 1965, he talked straight to both sides. As a result, his life was threatened on occasion. One day he received a credible report that anarchists were plotting to bomb his car. The next morning when Hill awakened, his wife was not at his side. He called for her, but she did not respond. He then noticed that his car was gone, and he became concerned.
A few minutes later, his wife drove back up the driveway. E.V. Hill demanded, “Woman, what are you doing?” She said, “I just got to thinking, this community needs you more than it needs me, and if they were going to rig that car to be bombed, I wanted me to be in it, not you.”
Hill humbly reported, “I always knew my wife loved me, but that day I understood what love is all about.”
Love is putting the interest of others above your own. Love is not an option; it’s essential. Love is not a feeling; it’s action. Love is not temporal; it’s eternal.
“By this, they shall know that you are my disciples” … that you have the right political convictions? No! Jesus said, “‘By this, they shall know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another’” (John 13:35).
If we are genuine followers of Jesus Christ, it’s time for us to grow up and act like it.
Bob Russell is retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church and founder of Bob Russell Ministries.