Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What is Love?

I am just wrapping up 2014 while wrapping up an in-depth Bible study about 1 Corinthians 13 - the chapter about love. I highly recommend this Bible study guide from the series Bible Studies for Busy Mamas called Thirty Days in 1 Corinthians 13 that walks you through the chapter in 5-15 minutes a day, uncovering gems and digging deeper than I ever had before. Still, in thirty days, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of the depth of this chapter, and in understanding real love.

The timing was impeccable as well. This study guide "just happened" to fall into my lap at a time that I was probably feeling more unloving than I have in my entire life. You know, if we were anywhere near as loving as we sometimes imagine ourselves to be, we wouldn't have so much trouble loving those who are hard to love or at those times that they are hard to love!  The truth is that only Jesus has loved perfectly, and that He loves us perfectly! Only He can fill us with His perfect love and empower us to love the way He does. And even still, we will fall short, but we can continue to grow in Him and grow in love.
The best training camp I can think of to practice what I am learning is in my whirlwind kind of a home, and in the context of marriage. Can I get an Amen?!? A daily challenge! I recently heard,  "The taking up of the cross is no one great action done once and for all, but the continual practice of small duties that are distasteful to you." Don't our homes provide ample supply of such distasteful duties? 

As we came toward the end of this study, after spending quite a few days doing word studies on each word description of love, and in some cases reading some commentaries on the passage, we wrote our own "amplified" paraphrase of verses 4-8 based on the notes we had taken. Here is my paraphrase, which I have read and reread and made my personal prayer.  (You can read the actual chapter here.)

Love suffers long, without losing heart. It perseveres patiently and bravely in bearing the offenses of others, being slow to anger or punish, just as God is long suffering with us.

Love is kind, actively looking for ways to demonstrate kindness by showing oneself useful, pleasant and benevolent. Love eagerly looks for ways to be of service to others, and maintains always a pleasant disposition.

Love does not envy what others have or do, nor does love boil with rage or anger as a result.

Love does not boast, or parade itself in a way that seeks to bring attention to one's self. Love does not vaunt itself in a way that overreacts when slighted. Love is not puffed up with pride, but is willing to admit when wrong, accept correction, listen attentively to others and not pretend to know it all.

Love does not behave rudely or act unbecomingly in ways that hurt or offend others. Love always considers others feelings before speaking or acting.

Love does not seek its own interests or insist on its own way. Love does not strive after or intently pursue one's own desires, projects or purposes in ways that do not allow for interruptions by the needs or desires of others.

Love does not demand what it wants from others, but instead is always willing to give and yield.

Love is not easily provoked, nor does love maintain an irritable disposition of being exasperated and annoyed with those around him.

Love does not keep a record of wrongs, counting up reasons for feeling justified in being offended and meditating on the wrongs done against him.

Love does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things, without speaking of what one has to bear. It endures without divulging personal distress. Love protects those around him by covering over the errors and faults of others, all the while containing himself in silence from giving vent to what selfishness would prompt under personal hardship.

Love unsuspiciously believes the best of others and their intentions. Wisdom also dwells with love, and charity can also be cautious, but still is apt to believe the best of all.

Love hopes all things good of others, even when all others have given up hope. This is only possible when ones hope is based on God's power to work! Love will go into believing ill of another with utmost reluctance. And when, in spite of inclination, it cannot believe well of others, it will yet HOPE well, and continue to hope as long as there is any ground for it.

Love endures all things, remaining steadfast under trials and misfortunes when one's natural inclination is to flee! Love is able to bear up bravely and calmly in the face of ill treatments because one's faith remains fast in Christ, Who gives power to persevere.

What fortitude and firmness fervent love will give the mind! What cannot a lover endure for the beloved and for his sake! How many slights and injuries will he put up with! How many hazards will he run and difficulties encounter!

Love never fails.

One exercise was to take the above paraphrase and put our own name in every time the word "love" came up. Ouch! This *really* made it hit home how short I fall!

Then again, reread it and put the name "Jesus" in the place of every "love". Now THIS is where we really can get a glimpse of perfect love! Only in Jesus can we see love, experience love, and be empowered to love the way He has loved us.  We looked up in Nave's Topical Bible: Jesus Christ, the love of, and read every biblical reference to His love - ways He showed love, people He loved, and the result of His love. Wow! I have never felt so profoundly His love in all my life. Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me?

Blue Letter Bible offers some audio and video commentaries as well as text commentaries. I saw some audios by Elisabeth Elliot, who has long been one of my favorite authors, and I listened to her message Love Accepts. It was so excellent, I listened to it three times. I'm sure the others are just as good, but I haven't gotten to them yet. But in the end of the message Love Accepts, she shares an entry from her own journal from sometime near the beginning of her third marriage. I decided to type it out, and I have also read and reread it many times as well. It is such an amazing description of how the Lord uses married love to shape us and to mold us into His image.  I personalized this text by putting Fabio's name in the place of her husband's name. ;-)

This marriage has taught me many things. I hope I am prepared for the lessons.

Like discipleship, marriage is an all-out revolution. It attacks me, and I jump to my self defense and I put up my shield and draw my sword.

But it is love that invades my world, a hitherto unknown, strange, unrecognized intruder against which my practiced defenses have no power. The mystery of this man confounds me. Infuriates and defeats me. I am humiliated when I should be humbled. In other words, [Fabio] is God's Trojan horse lured in to capture me in ways least imagined.

Did I pray for humility? Here then, is my opportunity – the revelation of pride.

Did I ask for Calvary love? “Test the quality of your love”, God says, “by the cross.”

Did I imagine I was ready for sacrifice? Ah, yes, but on my terms.

Was I willing to receive the peace the world knows nothing about? Have turmoil, then. The Lord says, “I give you the NEED for my peace”.

I prayed, “Lord, make me holy.” And He said, “Then behold, your abject need. Look at the heart this man has opened to your gaze – your OWN heart so dimly perceived before. Was it really open to my gift”, God said. “He is the instrument of my peace. Not what you thought the instrument would look like. Of course not, my dear child. Holiness demands a heavy, concentrated barrage on all that wars against it. Is there a more relentless barrage on selfishness than daily intimacy with one person, the same person, the one you cannot avoid or control or change or understand. He is my envoy. He bears my message. He is the agent of holiness. Receive him then, and you receive Me.”

So God in His mercy, showed me myself. A revolution that I could hardly stand! And reminded me that in marriage, I consent to be known. I open the safe of my life to scrutiny. Its contents are laid bare, inspected, examined, judged, possessed. Thus my humanness and frailty are revealed almost in their totality to another person – also human and also frail. What a risk! What a danger! I can be hurt. I can be destroyed. What vulnerability! What am I going to do? I didn't bargain for all this! I have made myself powerless in another's hands. The commitment of love shuts off all avenues of escape.

2 Cor 5:15 “The love of Christ leaves us no choice. When once we have reached the conclusion that one man died for all, therefore all mankind has died.His purpose in dying for all is that men while still in life should cease living for themselves and should live for Him who for their sake died.”

Who can bear this danger? We try it once, to defend and to attack. We become both the defense and the prosecution. There is a fine line between love and hate. To love this man is to love God. To hate this man is to hate God. A revelation. (1 John 4:20)

What language? What revolution and what revelation? Invasion, exposure, destruction - marriage in fact will do you in. It will break you. What am I talking about? What exactly does married love destroy?
It should destroy our selfishness. Our ego. It should ruin that. And in that ruination, we will be freed.

Is the language so different from the hard words Christ spoke to those who contemplated following him?

“Give up your rights, forsake, deny, sell everything you have, hate your father and mother, lose your life and follow me.”

Is that what we are hearing nowadays from the world, from the television, from the pulpit?

Love leads us where we did not intend to go. We could not have chosen to go if we had known the whole story ahead of time. Romantic love is soon exhausted and peters out. Sentimentality breaks down completely in the face of reality – moods, feelings, glandular conditions are wholly undependable.

So Christ leads His followers. And what did He promise in exchange? Abundant life. A love that will not let me go. Peace that passes understanding. Joy unspeakable and full of glory. And He promised that those who lose themselves for Him will find their true self. 

I am SO thankful for this man, Fabio, my Trojan horse sent by God Himself, and for how our marriage has revealed to me my own selfish and unloving heart! Lord, make me more like you!

I will close with this quote from the study guide: 
"Don't walk away from this study determined to try harder at loving. We can actually do all kinds of loving things for people, while doing them with a self-serving or self-righteous heart - to earn the approval of others of God - and STILL not have love and STILL be the noisy gong or clanging cymbal that verse one describes. 
Walk away from this study knowing you've had an encounter with love; been confronted with love. Only JESUS has loved like this, and this is the kind of love He shows US. 
We need to finish this study overwhelmed by this amazing love that sought us out, thinking, "If Jesus loved me and continues to love me this perfectly, then because I love HIM, I can love this person I don't care to love..."

1 comment:

MOM said...

Wow, very good, Elizabeth! Very thought provoking!