One of the more common known portions of scripture in the Bible is in reference to 1Cor 13:4-8 where Paul portrays love’s tangible characteristics. It’s a verse that has been read at many weddings (including mine), which sets the tone for how to approach a myriad of situations when in doubt. “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 preserves. Love never fails.”
However, if Paul had been a lawyer presenting love in legal terms, the passage would have probably read something closer to this: The terms of love include, and assume varying limits in the following; patient and kind; does not envy, boast, dishonor others, or delight in evil; is not proud, self-seeking, or easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs; rejoices in the truth; always protects, trusts, hopes, preserves; never fails. The underlying aspects of these terms often get dismissed in the sweetness of our “gist” of love. However, love carries a profound responsibility.
While our surface definition of love may be true, it lacks all-inclusive description of love. We typically skim this passage and let the warm fuzzies wash up and around us. But, if we take a deeper look and fully ingest the carefully constructed weight placed upon each descriptive word- simply by the absence or the presence of the term limits; always/never- it becomes clear how we automatically and disproportionally distribute the weight of each characteristic without a second thought. Consider characteristics lacking the term limits of always/never- such as patient and kind. Lest we forget that God is love and God does not confuse kindness with tolerance; “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in who he delights” Proverbs 3:12. Although this verse does not contradict Paul’s description of love, it sheds light and demonstrates a lesser associated attribute of love.
Patient and Kind- A safe and accurate initial response
When it comes to tolerating wrongs, we are usually more adept to show patience and kindness to those we identify with. It is probably no coincidence that the primary definition of the word “kind” depicts it in the noun sense as, “a group of people or things having similar characteristics” (Dictionary.com). The adjective form of kind follows as, “having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature” (Dictionary.com).
However, the average Joe who waits on our table with sub-par service, cuts us off in traffic, or overbooks our flight may not necessarily see or experience the same patience and kindness we grant our friends in similar situations. There are faults with both ends of the spectrum that calls for a response in love.
The truth is, patience and kindness- while aspects of love- do not seem to be indefinite traits of love. In fact, love is more adequately expressed by intentionally engaging the other aspects that Paul assigns to this complex sentiment. It is not without purpose that Paul does not end his all-encompassing description here.
Does Not Envy, Boast, Dishonor, or Delight in Evil
While these emotions stem from passion, Paul is wise to point out that this kind of appetite should not be mistaken for love, and is likely the fruit of selfishness, lingering/unchecked hurt, and jealousy. Lust, narcissism, and greed are the more likely perpetrators of this sort of emotional and social response, which regularly produce maleficent returns.
Is Not Proud or Self-Seeking
While this should seem obvious, I believe Paul sheds light on these limitations because they are responses that easily surface as an automatic response of the flesh (fight or flight response), and are characteristics we are keen to remain mindful of if we are seeking to reflect Christ and desire to disarm perpetual breech of trust. And as we all have likely experienced from both sides of the coin; trust is a product of time, but can be lost in a single act or moment of self-centered indulgence.
Is Not Easily Angered
Here lies the statute of limitations regarding patience- and to a peculiar degree, kindness. Although the love we are commanded to show our neighbor may never become reciprocal, it is also not meant to place us in a position that allows others to routinely take advantage of us. Love will grant patience and kindness through a learning curve. However, Jesus’ patience and kindness reached a clear threshold when it became clear that the moneychangers and synagogue priests persisted in taking advantage of others or used their power for selfish gain (see Mat 21:12-13 and Mark 3: 4-6).
Although the bible does not completely shun anger, we are to remain wise and intentional with how we communicate it. James warns us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Other verses that address anger and are worth noting can be found here.
Keeps No Record of Wrongs
This has to be the case if we are also commanded to forgive just as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). A preserved ledger of other’s wrongs can be (and is commonly) used as justification for the wrongs either we- or those we support, commit. Once we begin to justify wrongdoing, we disregard the standard of love and forgiveness commanded by God, and consequently make an idol of a reduced and counterfeit standard of morality.
Rejoices in the Truth
Truth and evil are like dark and light- one cannot be pure when mixed with the other. The “good news” that Jesus came to share did not shy away from indicating where even well-intentioned people were incorrect in their perception of the truth or moral standard (See Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).
Jesus’ closest friends and disciples could count on Jesus to hold them accountable against moral inadequacies (See Luke 9:37-56). This passage highlights the destructiveness of doubt and pride. At one point, Jesus expresses scorn at the disciples’ unsuccessful attempt to cast out a demon, calling them an unbelieving and perverse generation. At a later point, Jesus rebukes his disciples for attempting to stop another man from driving out demons, reminding them that, “whoever is not against you is for you.”
Confrontation and truth are habitually codependent. We in the church are often resistant to challenge a character flaw or deficit in our own identified groups- especially other Christians. We assume that they should also “know better,” and we tend to fear that we do not carry the proper authority to bring another’s wrong doing’s to light. “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). There is no place for hierarchical propriety in honest confrontation. The Holy Spirit within gives us not only the authority, but also the responsibility to call out evil. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5).
Matthew 18:15-20 offers a clear and distinct pattern to confront a brother or sister who has sinned against us. If that individual refuses to receive correction, they have proven to condone the same status as a non-believer- and are to be viewed by the church as such (v. 17). The same pride that prevents one from receiving righteous correction is the same pride that prevents confronting evil with honest and vulnerable truth. Should we not view both forms of disservice in the same light? Our resistance to confront wrongdoing is just as shameful as refusing to accept when our own discrepancies are brought to light. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
However, we are to remain mindful of our temperament when approaching others with correction- and must not redirect hate of the sin on to the one sinning. Galatians 6:1-5 tells us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”
We are not meant to simply seek truth, but to live it and call out anyone who claims to hold God’s truth as a standard and clearly lacks evidence of said declaration. The ramifications of following Christ include a distain for evil and a desire to shine a light bright enough to cast away the darkness of any remaining evil- in ourselves and in the world.
Always Protects, Trusts, Hopes, and Preserves
The absence of any of these characteristics-protection, trust, hope, preservation- serve as a good indication that love is not present, and that a check of intention is warranted. Love protects the best moral regard of all parties, trusts in a cause and purpose bigger than each of us, never gives up hope, and fights to preserve any trace of the righteous attributes of God’s expression through all of his creation.
This aspect of love serves as a reminder that love can and does conquer evil. It is this truth that serves as a platform of trust and hope- and ultimately, the compensation of our faith. If we fail to project honest love, the perception of mistaking kindness for weakness will no longer be just a perception.~
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds the all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14).
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9-10).
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).