I have to admit that thinking about writing this next blog in our character series has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I even debated leaving this trait until last. Why? Because I’m writing about love. It should be simple right? Love has got to be one of the most written about, sung about, talked about, drawn about, dreamed about, debated and discussed concepts in our world. It’s something that we are all likely to experience in many different forms over the course of our lives, so it should be easy to write about, yet it is something that is so hard to capture into a simple definition. If I asked 10 different people to write a definition of love, I would likely get 10 different answers. Yet looking back at the character traits we found listed under the Fruit of the Spirit last week, love is the first one mentioned. It is the starting point, the foundation for the others.
In chapter 13 of the Biblical book of Corinthians the author starts by saying “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” In other words, not matter what we do, if we’re not doing it with love then it will not have the impact that it could. Love is what gives value and meaning to our actions. Love is what elevates our actions from simply a physical act to a meaningful interaction. Without love our actions can become forced or fake, we do them because we feel we should or we have to. But when we act in love our actions are real and genuine because there is a desire to help or encourage the other person. Our actions come from a place of compassion not compulsion.
Following on from the above verses is a passage which defines love really well. Even if you’ve never set foot in a church service you’ve probably heard it at a wedding or somewhere else along the way. It comes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a and says “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 perseveres. Love never fails.” This definition isn’t just relevant to the romantic love it is so often applied to, but serves as a template which we can use to guide our understanding of love as a character trait. It tells us that love isn’t just about feelings and emotion, but about our actions and how we interact with those around us. The qualities of love which are listed here are practical behaviours which we can seek to put into action in our lives. Love takes the focus from ourselves and puts it onto others. When we choose to act in love we choose to be patient by putting aside our rush to invest in others. We choose not to be self-seeking which means putting our own needs aside to preference the needs of others. We choose to persevere which means refusing to give up when times get tough. These are things we choose to do not just when it feels good, but each and every day. When we choose to act in love, we choose to accept that there is likely to be a cost involved in making a difference and that we are willing to pay it.
When we look at the character traits needed to make a difference in our world, love tops the list. Love serves as both the foundation for our actions and the fuel that keeps us going. Love isn’t always easy, but it will always bear fruit. When Jesus was asked which of all the commandments given to the Jewish nation was the most important, he came back to love: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” It wasn’t about money, or talents, or power, or influence, it was about love. Without love none of the other things matter, they have no substance or meaning. But when love is the centre of our character we can truly make an impact on the world around us.
Looking to the week ahead, what can you do differently when it comes to living out love in your life? How can you be more patient or kind? How can you put the needs of others before your own? Where do you need to continue trusting, hoping and persevering in order to see positive change happen? We all have things we do well and areas we can grow in, so make some time today to reflect on what you do well in having love as part of your character and where you can improve, and then make a plan to take on your areas for growth. The more we all grow in this area, the more positive change we will see in the world around us.