By Kenneth E. Thomas
How to Describe Love
Poets have used reams of paper and gallons of ink, as well as numberless hours, in their attempts to describe this feeling and attitude we know as love. None has done the job sufficiently, though all have said some beautiful things on the subject. Recently I listened to an interview with some children as each in turn was asked to describe what love meant to them. It too, was interesting and beautiful in part, to hear what each had to say as descriptive of love.
It Remains for Scripture to Describe
A proper understanding of the subject is only possible to those who have drunk deep of the wonderful water of life and eaten their fill of the bread of life (Rev. 22; 17; Jn. 6:31-35; Matt. 5:6).
The World’s Description Is Wrong!
If one’s understanding of love is what commercials and motion pictures along with TV specials portray, one has a terribly distorted picture of love! Really what they describe could more aptly be called lust!
A Family of Words Translated Love
English speaking people must take into account that there are more words than one in the common Greek from which our English translations come, and one must get a good lexicon, a Greek-English dictionary, to see which word is being translated love, for a clearer understanding on the subject. Before you jump to the conclusion that I am saying that one cannot understand the Bible without outside helps, let me say that isn’t what I am saying. Such only serves to make it easier to understand. The context of how a word is used will always be a key to one being able to understand its meaning. Take the word translated “perfect” from the common Greek in our English. The context will show that 66mature, complete, full grown” is what is meant, not “sinlessness.” Some have had a difficult time understanding the word of love over the years because of the fact that in Scripture we are told to “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:17-21). Everyone knows that one cannot feel indescribable affection in his heart for his enemy! How then can one obey this difficult, if not impossible, commandment? The difficulty is removed as one comes to understand that the love commanded in those Scriptures doesn’t mean that kind of love; that the love therein commanded is from a different Greek word which has to do with our wishing them no harm, and even being concerned for their welfare. This one can feel and do for one whom he doesn’t really like emotionally speaking!
The Problem of Translations
If you use the 1611 King James Version of the Scriptures, love will not be so translated. It will appear as “charity.” If you use the American Standard translation you find love as in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. That’s the 1901 translation. But again, the context of a word still goes a long way in determining its meaning and usage in a given passage. This article is not a word study, rather it is a study of love as commanded in Scripture, regardless of which Greek word is being translated love. This scribe will leave it to the readers to do a word study which, by the way, can be a very rewarding exercise!
People’s misunderstanding of this word as used in Scripture has caused many to come to conclusions which are contradictory not only of Scripture, but to their own application of the same. Examples abound, but it will have to suffice us to use one. If one rebukes someone who believes and advocates religious error, he is often rebuked for rebuking the errorist by someone who says “You are not showing the Spirit of Christ; you should show more love.” One who talks like that not only has demonstrated by his actions his understanding of love, he also has not shown love for the very one he is trying to protect. Love often means that one must take unpleasant actions toward the one he loves. If I love my children for example, I will be forced because of that love to “tan their hides” from time to time for their good (Prov. 22:15; 19:18). An angel of the Lord told John to write, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Here, as well as in other Scriptures we are told that love requires us to attempt to correct those in error (see also Heb. 12:9-11; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). How can one possibly love people and know they are hell bound while he has in his knowledge the truth which could save their souls and withhold that truth in the misguided thought, “I love them too much to take the chance of making them angry! ” No my friend, that isn’t love whether one is using the word to refer to emotions or concern for their well-being!
The Character of True Love (1 Cor. 13-1-8)
One of my brethren in Christ wrote, “I believe that brethren everywhere need to consider and teach again the Bible teaching concerning love of God and of men. Many churches of our Lord, outwardly ‘sound’ and ‘standing for the truth’ are eaten up on the inside with strife, malice, ill will, hatred, bitterness, envy, jealousy and factions. We often see, and hear of, brethren biting, devouring and consuming one another. This is sinful (Gal. 5:13-23). We cannot love God if we do not love sincerely our brethren (1 Jn. 4:7-21).”
Love Suffereth Long, and Is Kind (1 Cor. 13:4)
The problems described above were characteristic of the brethren at Corinth to whom Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote. There were boasting, pride, jealousies, selfishness and envy among them and these are not consistent with the practice of love. Love crowds out such thoughts and actions toward one’s fellow man. Love is characterized by kindness along with longsuffering. So often we have such “short fuses” when dealing with each other, that no one wonders why so few congregations can find bishop material among them. You see, one who is soon angry (Tit. 1:7) cannot serve as a shepherd over the local flock of Christ’s people. In Timothy’s letter the apostle used the word “patient” as a qualification of elders (1 Tim. 3:3). Of course, elders must be what every Christian should be, with but a couple of exceptions. Please read the following passages for further use of longsuffering (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 3: 10; 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15).
Love Envieth Not (1 Cor. 13:4b)
Solomon called envy “rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30). Pilate, the governor, stated that the Jews delivered up Jesus for crucifixion because of envy. He said, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him” (Matt. 27:17b).
Love requires us to desire to see our brother honored before us. Paul wrote, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another” (Rom. 12:10). One who is envious (jealous) of his brother who is being honored for his achievements is lacking in love. Some just cannot stand others to excel them whether on the job, at the factory, in the office, or in the local congregation. Sometimes those of us who preach Christ harbor a “professional jealousy” among ourselves. Let a man excel in the work of an evangelist and be used more extensively throughout our great brotherhood, and sometimes those not so noticed and widely used begin to take what are usually called “pot shots” at him in our attempts to “bring him down a peg.” Brethren, you cannot make your light shine any brighter by envying your brother and attempting to put his light out! If you harbor feelings of envy in your heart, you need to repent and work to overcome this, for without the proper love we cannot be pleasing to our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Love Vaunteth Not Itself (1 Cor. 13:4b)
This simply means that one who loves is not a boaster or braggart. Some people are too proud of themselves to please the Lord or to make for very good company for that matter. No one can abide one who is puffed up with his own importance, and that is the next point, so we will combine the two thoughts. Paul wrote to the Romans that a man was not to “think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to be sober” (Rom. 12:3b).
My brother or sister, if you are such a person, be aware of this fact: it is noticed by your brethren! Worse than that, it is known by your Lord and he is the one who is judging you now and in the end (Jn. 5:22; 12:48). Love demands that you begin to look for ways to exalt others and show your appreciation to them for their work. If you do this it may surprise you at how much enjoyment life brings to you. The enjoyment and pleasure will be much more than if you spend your time and energy “tooting your own horn.” Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b); this applies in this case as well as in giving of physical things.
Love Seeketh Not Her Own (1 Cor. 13:5)
We often hear folks say of our society a very uncomplimentary expression, “It’s a dog eat dog society.” This may or may not be true of society in general, but it is not characteristic of the faithful brotherhood of believers in Christ! Because we, as we are admonished, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). Rather than seeking to be served, we seek to serve others as did our Lord himself. Jesus said to his apostles, “I am among you as he that serveth” (Lk. 22:24-27). This idea is contrary to the carnally minded of the world. The convert to Christ has different attitudes towards life and his fellow man than before conversion. It is called “the renewing of the mind” in Romans 12:1-2 and Colossians 3:1-6. Perhaps what is being said by the Spirit through the apostle Paul here is that a Christian’s main concern is not for himself; he is not a self-centered person. Certainly we are to see to ourselves as well as to our own, for it is stated that one who does not “has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8b).
In another place this writer told the brethren, “Look not every man on his own things (alone, ket), but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). The one who is lacking in love will be self-centered, concerned with self and many times will fail to realize that part of why he is to work and get gain is to assist others. “Let him labor . . . that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28b). The area in which this principle applies is certainly not to be limited to physical matters. Our first and greatest concern should be the salvation of others. We should be as Paul before Agrippa, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am” (Acts 26:26-29). As a Christian, Paul wanted others to be converted (see also Rom. 1:14-17). It is hard not to think of self first, but with love we are able. There is nothing requested or commanded of us that we cannot do with the assistance of the Lord for, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). No man is a faithful Christian who lives for himself alone. It was said of Christ that he went about doing good (Acts 10:38). We are told, “As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Love Beareth All Things (1 Cor. 13:7)
Love will cause us to be less critical of one another. Not that we overlook to a point of failing to correct when correction is needed, but it will make us put the best possible construction on one another’s words and/or actions. You are aware of how easy it is to magnify the faults in those for whom we have little affection. The opposite is true, of course, when we are close to someone. Think of your closest friend or loved one and how you react when some uncomplimentary things are said about them. Isn’t your first reaction to defend him? Certainly it is! This is how we act toward those we love. There are times of course when it happens that they are in the wrong on some matter and when such is the case, we must stand up and be counted. Love demands this too as we have already noticed in our study (see Matt. 10:34-37; Lk. 14:25-33).
Love Believeth All Things (1 Cor. 13-7)
These two points are closely related. We must first conclude that Paul is not saying that love causes one literally to believe anything and everything regardless of how false it may be. Like being longsuffering and patient, this characteristic regards the conduct of others, puts the best possible construction on the conduct of people. Love isn’t suspicious of others. We sometimes call such folks naive or gullible. Much better to be pure minded and appear gullible than to think the very worst about folks, especially our brethren in Christ. This kind of person will refuse to believe malicious gossip about another, and will not believe such unless irrefutable evidence accompanies the allegation. Isn’t this how we desire to be treated. It is simply applying the “golden rule” as it is found in Matthew 7:12 . We usually paraphrase the verse, “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” Great isn’t it?
Love Hopeth All Things (1 Cor. 13:7)
Hope that all will turn out well, gives the endurance needed to live for Christ, to deal with our brethren even when they do not behave as they should. Paul says here in I Corinthians 13, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). How well do you and I measure up to that which would make our relationship with our brethren in Christ what it must be to please him who gave his life’s blood to purchase us back from Satan by his gospel? How are you in the love department?
Love Is. . .
Sometimes with tender emotions
To its object’s faults we’re blind.
But then again to these same ones
We must hold them to the line!
“Live and let live,” is not true love,
For it never seeks correction.
It never demands repentance,
For one’s soul gives no protection.
Whom I love I rebuke and chasten,
The Lord himself has said;
You are illegitimate children,
If no rebuke you’ve had!
In the Scriptures we are told
Of all that love demands,
These must be met if Christians
Are to be safe in God’s hands!
Love is patient, love is kind,
Longsuffering is its expression.
Is not envious of other’s good fortune,
Does not pout at their adulation.
Love is not conceited,
Nor impressed with its own achievement,
Does not behave unseemly,
Nor seek only its own credence.
Love is not easily angered,
Thinks no evil of one’s brothers.
Love contrariwise will be found,
Involved in serving others.
Love does not rejoice in evil,
Rather truth is her delight.
Love bears with life’s great troubles,
Doesn’t whimper, fuss or fight.
Love looks for good in others,
Love hopes these things to find.
It’s love that keeps one’s hope alive,
It fulfills the law divine!
Love will never fail it is said,
In holy Scripture it’s quoted.
Love is a mighty force called God,
To love are you devoted?
You could give your body to be burned,
Feed the hungry and clothe the naked,
But if your motive is not love,
To you twill not be reckoned!
It’s not only a suggestion,
That we love God and man,
It is something we must do,
If on his right we stand.
We love him for his first loved us,
Our love’s a reciprocation,
He gave his Son to show his love,
Ours is shown by our dedication.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 8, pp. 234-236
April 19, 1990