Love Is A Verb
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Several weeks ago we began a series titled 3 on 3, inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:13; "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love." I told you then we'd spend three weeks talking about each of those powerful internal concepts.
Today, we begin our final three week look at an internal reality that can change your life forever. Paul said that faith and hope were two powerful concepts that would stand the test of eternity. But the greatest force of all, he wrote, is love.
Nothing motivates like love. I remember when Trista and I were dating in college. I came back to the dorm room one night and said to my roommate, "I think I'm in love."
He said, "How do you know?" I said, "Well, we were out driving with the windows down, just listening to the music, and we came to this romantic little spot near an old church on the outskirts of town. She said, Jeremy, if you'll put the top down on the car, I'll give you a little kiss.'"
I told my roommate, "Man, I had the top on that car down in five minutes. "
"Five minutes?" he said. "I can put the top down on my car in thirty seconds. "
"Yeah," I said, "But you have a convertible. "
Love will motivate you. The problem is, though, that we're confused about what love really is. We have a strong, positive passion about something or someone and we just call it love.
So the first thing we need to be clear about is what love is and isn't. Our text this morning is 1 Corinthians 13, it’s the text that we always go to when we want to talk about what love is. But it will also help us by dispelling some myths about love as well.
First, we need to understand that Love isn't a spiritual gift, but rather a fruit of the Spirit.
In chapter 12, Paul began addressing some questions the Corinthian church had about spiritual gifts. In verses 7 - 11 he mentions the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and languages. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In other parts of the book and in other books he mentions many more spiritual gifts.
But a common mistake is to assume that since Paul has been talking about gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, love is just another in the list. But love is not a gift. You can't excuse unloving words, behaviors or attitudes by saying, "Well, love just isn't my gift."
In Galatians 5 Paul discusses the fruit of the Spirit; that is the behaviors and character traits that are produced by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Love is the first thing he mentions. So what's the difference between a spiritual gift and a fruit of the Spirit?
A gift of the Spirit enables a believer to be effective in some ministry of the church. You can have the gift of encouragement, or the gift of teaching, or the gift of administration.
A fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the Spirit living in your life. If you are a spirit filled believer it will be shown by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in your life.
In John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." He didn't say, "They'll know you are my disciples if you have the gift of administration or the gift of compassion or even the gift of ministry." He said, "They'll know you are my disciples if you show evidence of the number one fruit of the Spirit, love." If you want to follow Jesus, then love must be in your repertoire.
Now the good news here should be obvious; if love is a spiritual gift, there isn't anything you can do to get more of it or grow better at it. You either have it or you don't. But if love is a fruit of the Spirit, then it can be cultivated.
In Philippians 1:9 Paul wrote, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight."
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9 he said that we had been taught to love by God. Love can grow. Love can be learned. Love isn't a spiritual gift. It is a fruit of the Spirit.
Next we notice that, Love isn't a fuzzy feeling, but rather a focused action.
My mentor, Jerrie Barber is fond of saying that “Love’s not a felling you get when you feel a feeling that you have never felt before.” We all know how powerful our emotions are.
God wired us up to be emotional creatures. From burning anger and cold hatred to warm affection and delirious delight, our emotions can create enormous problems for us or spur us to heroic action and sacrifice. Even with the problems they sometimes cause, though, I wouldn't want to live a day without my emotions.
OK, is there anyone here that used to watch the original Star Trek Series? My old college roommate was a fan so I have probably watched a few episodes in my life and I picked up on some things. Do you remember Mr. Spock? He was from the planet Vulcan, and Vulcan’s didn't have emotions. Right now some of you ladies are thinking, "Well of course he was a man!"
But can you imagine living like that? I can't, never experiencing the joy that comes from a pleasant surprise or the sadness that comes from a crushing disappointment. Some things are worth being sad about.
To tell you the truth, I can’t think of a single emotion that I would be willing to give up. I wouldn't even want to live without anger. We need anger. Sometimes it's the only thing that gives us the courage to stand up to injustice or oppression.
As necessary as they are, however, our emotions, even the positive ones, are not the same thing as love. You can't command emotions. If I had all the authority in the world, even if you recognized and agreed to abide by my authority, I couldn't command you to experience an emotion.
I could order you to be sad and you could fake it, perhaps, but there's no way you can force yourself to truly experience the emotion of sadness. Which is one way you can tell parents are at the end of their ropes with their kids. Ever hear a frustrated parent say to a child, "Stop your crying and Get happy"? That never works because you can't command an emotion.
Yet all through the Bible, love is a commandment. Look with me in Mark 12:28 - 31. (Read Text)
If love for God is the first and greatest commandment and love for others the second, then love is not an emotion. You can't command emotions.
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus even told us to love our enemies. He doesn't expect us to have warm, fuzzy feelings for that guy at work who routinely undermines you to the boss or that kid at school who spread a vicious rumor about you. He isn't telling us how to feel. He's telling us how to act.
Now go back to our original text for the morning; 1 Corinthians 13. Start in vs. 4. Love is patient. Patience is the opposite of emotion. Lyman Abbot said patience is "passion tamed."
Love is kind. How do you feel today? I feel kind, thank you. No one ever says that. Kindness isn't a feeling. It's what we do.
Later on in vs. 5 Paul says that love is not easily angered. Love has a long fuse.
So if love is more about what we do and less about how we feel, then most of our cultural conclusions about love are wrong. You can't fall into it or out of it. You can fall into or out of a feeling, but you can't tumble into or spill out of love. We may choose to start or stop behaving in loving ways, but the choice is entirely within our control.
Apply that knowledge to our relationships and we suddenly discover enormous leverage where we didn't think we had any. Some of us here this morning don't feel like being married any longer. The feelings we once had for our spouses, the desire, the affection, the quickened heart rate, the sexual attraction, have been dulled by passing years and habitual routine and unresolved conflict and lazy inattention.
Since we don't feel any of those positive emotions we've concluded that the marriage might not be worth working on. So some of us are thinking about ending it. "We don't love each other anymore," we say.
Do you know what you're really admitting when you say that? Husbands, when you say, "I just don't love my wife anymore," what you're really saying is, "I've stopped behaving in loving ways toward my wife." Wives, you're saying, "I've stopped behaving in loving ways toward my husband."
Remember the Righteous Brothers song, "You've lost that loving feeling, now it's gone, gone, gone." What if I told you this morning that you could bring it on back? You can. But you have to get this ridiculous idea that love is a feeling out of your head. Love is not a feeling. It is focused action. It is the things we do, not the emotions that drive us.
Here's one way to do it. Look over Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Find the one or two areas you are weakest in. For a long time, mine was the fourth one, "love is not proud." I have spent a lot of time thinking pretty high of myself. But I am doing better and now I've got a new one I need to work on. "Love is not easily angered." I'm trying to be more patient and tolerant with my Trista and the Boys ... and a few of you.
Once you find one you need to work on, then get to work. Pray about it. Learn about it. Find other scriptures that talk about it. I did an exhaustive study of pride. Now I'm doing one on anger. Confess your struggle to a trusted brother or sister. Ask them to pray with you and for you about it. Then practice.
For example, let's pretend that your main struggle is the second one mentioned in vs. 5; love is not self-seeking. You have a hard time putting your spouse’s needs above your own. She's number three on your list; right behind God and you. You've started praying about it. You've looked up scriptures on selfishness. You've confessed to a brother and he's praying for you. Now watch for an opportunity.
Sometime very soon you will be faced with a situation in which her needs compete with yours. When that moment comes, your natural reaction is going to be to look out for number one; you. You've developed a habit of seeking self. But this time, you are going to intentionally put her needs first.
It isn't going to feel good. It isn't going to feel right. But love is not a feeling. It's what you do. So when the moment comes, you actively love her with your behavior by putting her first. Two things will eventually happen if you behave in loving ways. First, the one you are loving will respond back to you in loving ways.
Second, the warm and fuzzy feelings will be rekindled. I'm not going to tell you it will happen over night. It won't. But it will happen. Love is not a warm and fuzzy feeling, but rather a focused action.
Finally, we must understand that Love isn’t a temporary high, but rather a lasting commitment.
In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul used the word "always" four times to describe the perseverance of love. In vs. 8 he said, "Love never fails." In vs. 13, he said that love, along with faith and hope, remains. It lasts. Do you realize how important it is that we have something that remains?
In the last year we've seen buildings collapse, roads crumble, and trees fall. We've seen integrity erode, marriages dissolve, and commitments wane. Friendships have faded. Promises have been forgotten. Vows have been recanted. We are a temporary culture living in a disposable world. We need one thing that will last.
Dr. Albert Palmer was the minister of Central Union Church of Honolulu, Hawaii. While serving there he oversaw a massive building project for their church. Just before it's completion, the architect asked Palmer to provide him with an inscription to be placed high in the chancel above the pulpit and communion table. "I want you to give me a text of no more than twenty letter or spaces to fit in that particular space," he said.
Palmer pondered over what text to use which would have just the right number of letters and yet would be appropriate for all occasions. It would have to be appropriate at weddings and funerals, for worship services and baptisms, for every season of the year. Additionally, since Hawaii is a place where many races meet, the text had to speak to people of all backgrounds; Hawaiian, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese and American.
So with all those varying needs in mind, Palmer chose these twenty letter and spaces; “Love Never Faileth.”
No matter what you are going through, no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you are headed, those words carry weight. They become especially powerful when you remember that before you were ever called to live up to that standard, God set it himself ... on a cross and in an empty tomb. His love for you never fails. It lasts.
Questions To Consider
If you have ever been in love; how would you describe that?
If you have ever fallen out of love, what caused the fall?
Jesus said in John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." If love is a verb, what does that look like?
What are some things that people substitute for loving others?
How can those substitutions cause confusion in our relationship with God?
Since love is listed as a fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, how does it enhance the other fruit of the spirit?
How can you act in loving ways?
Do you have to have warm and fuzzy feelings in order to do loving things?
Why is being committed to loving important?
What does having commitment show to the world in which we live?