“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” –Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13
Three days ago on my other blog I published a blog post titled, “The Sound of Silence.” The title came from Chapter 3 in a brand new book titled, “Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, radio broadcaster and founder of Key Life Network, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, host on the radio talk show, “Steve Brown, Etc.”, Bible teacher, keynote speaker, author of over a dozen books, a former pastor, and a personal friend of mine. Chapter 3 is titled, “The Sound of Silence.”
Chapter 8 in Steve’s book is titled, “Love Happens,” and after I read it, I knew I wanted to include some of what he wrote in this chapter in another blog post. In the opening paragraph to Chapter 8 he writes:
I want to talk to you about love, but it is hard. I have been putting off writing this chapter–not because I do not have anything to say. I am a preacher and I always have something to say. I have preached and taught often on the subject of love. I am not having difficulty in writing this chapter because I am unloving (even though sometimes I am), or because I do not think love is a good thing (it is). The difficulty is not because Love is not important. In fact, there is no way believers can speak truth without love, and certainly no reason to live it before the world except for love. It is not that it has become such a cliché (even though it has). The difficulty is not because there is only one word in English for love when there are several different kinds of love (there are at least four different words in the Greek). And it is not because I think everything that can be said about love has already been said (even though it has). (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, page 71).
Steve continues with the following:
The reason this is a hard chapter to write is because I have discovered that so much of what I have said, taught, and preached about love is either wrong or irrelevant. And so have many Christians.
Believers too often have made love an impossible and unreachable standard of the Christian walk. Christians faked love for so long that, most of the time they do not even know what it is anymore.
You might already know that the title of this chapter comes from the 2009 film of the same title. The film is about a therapist whose wife is killed in a car accident. He writes a book (it’s what I sometimes do, and for the same reason) claiming he wants to help others, but what he’s really doing is dealing with his own issues. It’s a feel-good, idealistic, and kind of shallow movie, but with a good point. I’ll spare you the details, but the therapist is surprised by a number of things. In his efforts to fix others, the therapist discovers that he is the one who needs fixing. Then, to his amazement and joy, love happens.
It does, you know. Love–as is true in any number of important things–is something we very often discover when we’re on the road to and looking for somewhere else….
When you least expect it, you find love in all sorts of surprising places. When it happens, it’s God. The Scripture says that God not only loves, is loving and loves us, but that God is love (1 John 4:8). That’s who God is. It’s called an “attribute” of God, meaning that wherever you encounter love, there is a sense in which you encounter God. It’s not something one defines very well, can put in a gift-wrapped box, or even adequately put in doctrinal form. At any time, in any place, and when you least expect it, love really does happen–and when it does, you know it and are surprised by it….
For years, the ministry with which I am associated (Key Life Network) conducted a seminar on radical grace titled “Born Free.” I have taught the seminar material in a number of countries and seminary classrooms. When people heard that it was a seminar on grace, they immediately thought, “Been there, done that, got it.” It was like selling ice cubes or air conditioning to people who live in the Arctic. A chapter on love could have the same problem. When any writer, preacher, or teacher starts talking about love, most Christians think, “Been there, done that, got it.”
Actually, we believers often do not understand love. Yet, it is probably the most salient attitude Christians can feel and practice in their lives, and certainly in their witness. There is something about love that changes everything. The Scripture says, “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9). What this means is that there is a kind of love that is not genuine. It is so very important that love be the real thing, or the attitude will become just another cliché that nobody understands and therefore nobody experiences. “I love you so much that I don’t want you to miss Christ and be lost for all of eternity” (even if it is sincere and well-intended) can become another manipulative tool in the Christian toolbox….
Jesus taught that Christians are defined by love for one another and that the world would know about him because of their love for one another. Jesus said that it was love that would cause the world to notice and understand about him. Paul wrote the amazing “song of love” in 1 Corinthians 13, and nothing before or since has spoken of love with greater beauty or power.
How can a Christian love other Christians (no mean task but the first step), and then, how can a Christian love those who would rather be left alone? If believers are going to love, it is important that we understand what it really is–and it is not what many Christians have mostly thought it was.
I am not so arrogant or naïve to suggest that this chapter is new revelation, or that I will straighten out the spurious teaching extant in the church for thousands of years. I simply want to point out what has always been there.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul struggles with the idea of love, and while what Paul writes is incredibly beautiful it is not definitive. Paul is not going a definition of love but a description of its essence. Paul says that if people have everything and do not have love, they do not have anything important. Love is kind; love is not envious; and love is not prideful. Love affirms others; love does not often get angry; and love is happy about the good, the true, and the beautiful. Love is protecting, trusting, hopeful, and keeps on keeping on. Then Paul says that when everything else is gone, love will still be around.
That is the essence of love, but it will drive people nuts if they use it as a checklist. Almost everything in 1 Corinthians 13 can be faked, and people are all good at that. Do you (or anybody else you know) live without a degree of anger, never envy, never show pride? Do you (or anybody else you know) always trust, always remain hopeful, never give up? Have you (or anybody else you know) always found great happiness in the good, true and beautiful? Is it not true that people rejoice in what they call justice when someone gets what they deserve? How about kindness, when you are on the receiving end of gossip and slander? The danger of 1 Corinthians 13 (and a great variety of other passages in Scripture about love) is that people can check off the items listed therein and do (at least publicly) what is required, but very often others know when love is fake. People sense when what is on the inside is quite different than what is on the outside. The truth is that love is an inside job, and there is not a thing–not one single thing–you and I can do to fix the inside.
Sometimes it is helpful to understand something by understanding what it is not. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, pp. 72-75.)
Steve writes several more pages in this chapter about what love is not, and you can read them in his new book, “Talk the Walk,” which can be purchased at Key Life and it is also available on Amazon.com at this link. The section titles are: “Love is not just a verb” (pp. 75-76); “Love is not useful” (pp. 76-77); “Love cannot be controlled” (p. 77), “Love cannot be manufactured” (pp. 77-78); “Love is not often recognized” (p. 78), and “Love cannot be earned“ (p. 78). And he ends the chapter with a section titled, “What is Love?” (pp. 79-82).
Here are the first four paragraphs from that last section titled, “What is Love?”:
Love is Jesus. That is it. If people go much further in trying to understand love than Jesus, they will miss it. John says:
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)
C.S. Lewis referred to lust in one of his science fiction books, and he said that if someone reading what he wrote had never experienced an overwhelming sexual lust no description would suffice, but if the reader had experienced it, nothing else needed to be said. That is true of love when it is real. If you have never been loved deeply, without condition, and without requirement, I do not have the words to explain it to you. On the other hand, if you have experienced it, I really do not have to say much more.
A number of years ago, I wrote a book “Three Free Sins.” Its main thrust was that the reason people are so bad is that they are trying so very hard to be good. The trying is often so prideful, ego-centered, and narcissistic that holiness is hardly ever the product. The message of the book was that–because of justification (we’re forgiven), imputation (we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ), and adoption (we now have a cool father)–believers can lighten up and allow God to show them his love when they get better and when they do not. And then, Christians will be surprised with the goodness that often follows. That happens because goodness and failure to be good are no longer the issue. Jesus has taken care of that, and now believers can go out and play.
It is the same way with love, being loved, and loving others. Christians have been trying way too hard to love, and the harder they try, the less they love. The more people chase love, the more it recedes. Try to define, manufacture, control, earn, or use love, and love will not be found. But if people give up trying to look for love in all the wrong places, love finds them. And that love will become the key to their efforts to speak and live the truth we’ve been given. The reason God did not send a book to express his love, but instead sent his Son, was because of the nature of love. Love is not a concept, an action, or a doctrine. Love is an experience, both when it is received and when it is given. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, pp. 79-80).
I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (ESV): Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…
Love . . .
Never . . .
Ends . . . .
YouTube Video: “Love Never Fails” by Brandon Heath: