It’s Valentine’s Day and people around the world are celebrating their love for each other in a variety of ways …. but what is love?
The messages are confusing. Is it a deep sense of caring? Is it all about lust? Sex? Romantic feelings? Sacrifice for others? Is it emotional or even chemical? Is it a combination of some of these factors? All of them? None of them? What is love? (Of course whenever anyone asks ‘what is love’ there are many of us who immediately respond in our minds, ‘baby don’t hurt me’ in honour of Haddaway’s early nineties song.)
Even if you don’t consider yourself a religious person it’s worth looking at what Paul wrote about love around 2000 years ago. I reckon what he had to say still holds up pretty well when you’re trying to define a word that has attracted so many meanings over the years.
1 Corinthians 13
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.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (New Living Translation)
When I compare the way I love others to those words I realise that I’m a million miles off the mark but it’s a wonderful standard and one worth striving for every day.
When we describe love as simply a feeling, even a very strong or intense feeling, there’s no security that it will last because feelings come and go. When we experience love as a commitment to seeking the best for someone else, knowing that they’re committing to the same for us, there’s a security that continues even though the feelings wax and wane.
On this Valentine’s Day I certainly hope that you’ll be able to share those wonderful, intense, romantic feelings that come with being ‘in love’ but I wish even more for you. I wish for you a commitment that continues through the best and even the worst of times. I wish you love.
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