“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
We listen to it at a wedding. We love to quote it on social media. But the truth is these few verses are NOT the final and complete definition of love. We have a habit as believers to take specific parts of the Word of God - the parts that preach really good – and think we’ve got the subject of love covered. We have not been trained very well to use the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). As with all things in scripture we must receive the entire word of God to have a complete picture of
1 Corinthians 13 is an easy one to preach. It’s poetry. It makes us feel all warm inside. It doesn’t offend. But if we are to take the whole counsel of God we must recognize that several chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 Paul actually commands the Church to do something that would not fit in with most Christians’ definition of love.
“But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
He commands the Church not to even eat with believers who are sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, addicted or a thief (note he is not speaking of unbelievers). We must take these kinds of passages into account when formulating our definition of love. Friends I know this is hard but this scripture actually tells us not to associate with believers who are sexually immoral.
Most people would say “How is that love?” Perhaps Paul was attempting to illuminate the thought that Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
We must receive the whole counsel about Who He is – not just the parts that we agree with. Either all of the Bible is true or none of it is. I believe it’s all true. Even the difficult parts.
Unfortunately we have redefined who God is because of our subjective definition of love. It doesn’t work like that. If you are going to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength – you have to love the truth about His character too. You cannot make God conform to your idea of what love is.
Love is not the definition of God... God is the definition of love.
When examining our definition of “love” we must take into consideration several things that happened in the New Testament. (I use only the New Testament to make my point for those who believe that The Old Testament no longer represents God’s character after Jesus shed His blood.) These things God caused to happen might shake you to the core if you don’t really understand God’s characterization of the word LOVE:
1 ) Ananias and Sapphira are struck down dead after lying to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5)
2) Herod is struck down dead by an angel of the Lord. (Acts 12)
3) Paul directly tells the churches to stay away from specific people who are false teachers and calls them by name. (2 Timothy)
4) Jesus Himself called church leaders to their faces: hypocrites, snakes, white washed tombs, murderers and blind guides. (Matthew 23)
5) Jesus overturns marketplace and whips the people who are selling in the temple. (John 2)
6) Jesus has a dire warning for people who cause His children to sin. The punishment would be worse than being drowned with a brick around their neck. (Matthew 18)
7) In Revelation 2 and 3, in His prophecy to the seven churches Jesus HATES the practices of certain people.
He threatens to remove one of them from the lampstand in heaven.
He says he is going to bring suffering on a woman named Jezebel and everyone who supports her.
He says He will repay the churches according to their deeds.
He spits out of His mouth those who are lukewarm.
He tells one of His churches that they are poor, pitiful, naked and blind.
In Revelation 11, two witnesses are given the power to burn to a crisp those who try to hurt them.
You must include these characteristics of God when forming your opinion of love.
I know this might seem harsh to some of you but all of these actions are included in the definition of love. We must open our minds a little more about the definition of love because those few verses in 1 Corinthians 13 cannot cover the vast characteristics of who God is.
Check out one of Paul’s prayers in Philippians 1:9:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”
Love has depth to it. There is knowledge and understanding that comes with the definition of love – we are meant to discern (judge) what is best so that we are pure and blameless. Love must include the fruit of righteousness. Love is costly, and we cannot simply throw it around and say, “God loves you unconditionally so you can behave however you want to behave.” That is not a discerning love.
The Message interprets Philippians 1:9 like this:
“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.”
Too many people have considered 1 Corinthians 13 as the final definition of love. If you do not take the whole counsel of the Word of God and the characteristics of God’s personality what you get is SENTIMENTAL GUSH.
Friends, God is not a sentimental gushy Heavenly Father. He is a God that will not hesitate to punish sin. (1 Thess 4:2-6) To punish sin is an act of love! A loving Father DISCIPLINES His children. (Rev. 3:19)
It’s like getting your hand burned on the stove as a child. If you touch a hot stove once and get burned you won’t do it again because it harms you. Our loving Heavenly Father doesn’t have a problem letting those who sin get hurt by it because He wants you to stay away from things that hurt you!
Allowing suffering into our lives is a way of disciplining us. Speaking with sharp words to us in order to get us to repent is a way of disciplining us. God allows a separation when we sin against Him, this is another way that God disciplines us. He is not afraid to hurt our feelings.
Our definition of WHO God is must include the characteristic of Holiness. God hates what sin does to His children. It harms us. It harms His plan for our lives. He has no problem bringing painful discipline because He wants it to produce in us harvest of righteousness. (Heb 12:11) I am so grateful for the times when God has brought painful discipline to me. He has kept me from such disastrous mistakes because when His discipline came, though it was painful, it caused me to seek Him for His truth. And the Truth set me FREE!
There was one time that I knew a friend of mine was entering a marriage that was not from God. I very gently told her to really think about it before she entered the marriage. Then I just put it in God’s hands and left it alone. She married the man and it all fell apart very quickly, he was a charlatan. A few years later we were discussing my gentle warning and she looked at me with pain in her eyes and said “Why didn’t you rebuke me more harshly?! I might have listened if you had hurt me.”
Another time I did hurt a friend with the truth, and our relationship suffered a season of separation because of it. But God confirmed to my friend that I indeed had brought her the truth and she repented and God restored our relationship. She was so thankful that I was bold enough to hurt her feelings. The path that she was on would have forever altered the course of her family’s life and caused great damage to everyone.
In my own life, God warned me through a sermon I 'just happened' to hear on the radio that if I continued on the rebellious path I had chosen that I risked being removed from this earthly life sooner than He planned. That REALLY hurt my feelings! But I was headed for destruction. And He was incredibly gracious to fully inform me of the consequences of my choices. Now as I look back at the stern rebuke I received from the Lord, I feel incredibly loved and protected by His unvarnished truth.
Love never fails.
Love includes 1 Corinthians 13. It is patient, it is kind. We are to pray for our enemies and those who use us. We are to turn the other cheek. We are absolutely called to lay down our lives for our brother, and sometimes be crucified by them and their words, and as you are bleeding we are required to follow Christ and say “Father forgive them.” But love does not end there we are also called to confront sin with the truth. This is also love.
Our definition of love must come through the lens of what God says love is. Otherwise we are creating an idol out of our own imagination into a twisted version of love in which everyone is free to do whatever they want without consequence.
God is love. Not the other way around.