Today is part one of a four part series titled: Love IS. For every part of this series we will be focusing on a familiar set of verses out of the first of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Many people have these verses inscribed on wedding invitations and champagne flutes, but the focus is going to be on living them out in our marriages. My hope is, for you and me, that our love for our spouse (now or in the future if you’re not married) will be described in this way:
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.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)
I’m going to be jumping all around these verses over the next four posts so hang in there with me. I’ve tried to group all of these into four basic themes rather than going through each individual word. The first theme I chose is based on certain emotions that we should and shouldn’t have in love. Love, by itself, is not an emotion (despite what many cultures will say). On the other hand, love does produce many emotions. We’re told of five emotions, four we shouldn’t feel, and only one that we should if we are loving authentically. Let’s start with what not to feel.
Some people will say, “I can’t help the way I feel.” Not true. Not even close. The Cognitive theory states that emotions are not fixed, but flexible. We can actually train our minds to have certain responses. We can also control our responses based on a basic understanding of our chemical responses to emotional onslaughts. Negative emotional responses come from perceived threats. Those can be threats to our time, our bodies, our goals, our preconceived ideas about something, our intelligence, and so much more. That’s why people get so ‘fired up’ about politics and religion. When our minds detect a threat, our bodies react. Those chemical reactions can sometimes create negative emotional outbursts, and worse yet, lead to some people bottling up their emotions so that they erupt like Mount St. Helens later on down the road.
This passage says that to love is to not be arrogant, irritable, envious, or resentful. All of these are emotional responses to something that the person has perceived as a threat. When people are irritable, they are lashing out for a variety of reasons. It could be that things simply aren’t going the way they planned, they aren’t getting to do what they want, or maybe they aren’t being treated the way they hoped. Perhaps pressure at work (threat to money, time, performance, etc…) is causing a person to treat their spouse with shortness or harshness. Maybe you don’t feel good (threat to our health and energy) and you take it out on your spouse. How about resentful? So many marriage crumble because of this nasty little “R” word. People become resentful when things are not how they think they should be, generally over a longer period of time, or their spouse isn’t who they want them to be. This is a harmful dagger that has driven a wedge between so many couples. Lay the dagger down.
The other two come from either a feeling of inferiority or superiority, both of which we create in our own minds. A person is arrogant because they think they are better than their spouse (yes some people actually think that). If you’ve ever thought that your spouse is lucky to have you or that they don’t deserve you, then you’ve been guilty. Or someone can be envious if they think their spouse has something that they should. For example, a spouse becomes envious because their loved one has achieved their dreams and they themselves have not. On the adverse to a previous example, if you’ve ever thought that you don’t deserve your spouse or how could they ever be with you, then you’ve been guilty of this.
It’s obvious that love should never produce these things in a marriage. What all four of the previously mentioned emotions do is simply divide people. Love is meant to be a bond. Love unifies. So, divisive emotions should not exist in a loving marriage, or any relationship for that matter. And when you’ve lost someone who is close to you, it becomes blatantly obvious that these emotions are a complete waste of time and energy.
Now, we are left with one commendation from Paul on emotions. He tells us to be patient. For most of us, that is a constant work-in-progress. Practicing patience is hard enough. Patience places unity above our own perceived rights. Patience is a flexible emotion that can respond well to whatever circumstances arise. One of the synonyms for patience is the word stoic. The picture of a stoic person is one who can endure whatever trials, backlashes, criticisms, and all the previously mentioned negative emotions, and aren’t shaken or riled. They are constant and steady. But the patience that the bible is talking about goes way beyond being stoic. Patience in this sense means loving others from a heart at peace regardless of what is happening to you.
The patient spouse puts the expectations on themselves to treat the other with love and honor instead of demanding that their spouse meets their expectations. The patient spouse is willing to drop their ‘to-do’ list in a heartbeat to meet the needs of the other. The patient spouse always meets their loved one half way, and if needed, will go the rest of the way. The patient spouse slows down, is present, and is calm through the changes in life. Sounds like a pretty high bar doesn’t it? One word carries with it so much. For one, a person needs to be extremely humble in order to be patient. And I’m not talking about outward patience here. I’m talking about the inward, sincere form of patience. Because those who display outward patience only are steaming below the surface and harboring ill feelings. That won’t last, and it’s not fair to either partner. Outward patience is not humble, it’s fake. It’s masking one’s true feelings. I know people who are sweet and gentle on the outside, but underneath are their true feelings which generally come out in gossip sessions or person bashing with a friend. The patient person sees no need to vent because they don’t hold on to ways they’ve been wronged. They can take each situation in stride no matter how hard it may be.
I’m willing to bet that no one reading this fits the description of a truly patient person. I certainly don’t. That’s why this has taken me weeks to write. But the good news is, that it gives us a bar to shoot for. But not on our own. To be sincerely patient, we need more than our own strength, we need Jesus to change our hearts. Then we can love people, no matter how they love us. The effects of that kind of patience in a marriage can be exponential. It can keep a marriage together. It can make a marriage flourish. But this love needs to be present in all of our relationships. That really difficult coworker, the unfair parent, the two-faced friend or relative…we should love them all with the humble patience that should mark a follower of Jesus.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)