Dear children, let us not love in word or speech, but with actions and in truth. This verse was laid on my heart his past week . And I’m not sure why, but I do know nothing more clearly sums up the gospel than this direct mandate to love with action…not intention, promises, text messages or speeches.
My sister was born when I was four, and we have a home movie where my mom is filming me sitting on my Dad’s knee right before her birth, asking me what I am planning to teach the new baby. Ride a bike, have a tea party, braid hair…there was no wrong answer to this question, really.
I think for a minute – you can see the little wheels turning in my mind. After all, it had to be something good.
Then I look into at camera and say firmly, “I’m going to teach her to love.”
Aww…how sweet. (It’s true folks, we have it on camera.)
But before you think I was a saint, however, let me remind you…I was barely four. I had no idea what love was, much less how to teach someone. If you fast-forward nine months later, we have a video of me lovingly stuffing pine needles down the back of her hoodie.
Love is simple when you are young and gets harder as you grow older. I was thinking the other day about the words used to describe love in the Bible and how plain – even odd they are when compared with words our culture uses to describe love:
Love it patient. Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It is not rude.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love is sincere. It builds up, covers a multitude of sins, and drives out fear.
By contrast, pop culture tells us:
Love is passionate.
Love is impatient.
It is all-consuming.
It is blind, jealous.
Love is hard.
It can be devastating.
It sometimes fades over time.
It’s amazing how deep the world’s version of love is rooted in our brains – even if we’re Christians, even if we know that there is a better version. Because, let’s be honest, love sometimes feels the way the world describes it – blissful, ardent, violent, single-minded, reckless, consuming. Of all the adjectives I can think of to describe love, kind and patient wouldn’t necessarily be at the top of my list.
And now, even as an adult, I realize that I am still refining the process of how to love. I’m still trying to get my thoughts to spring from love, not frustration, anger, bitterness, selfishness or the impulse of the moment. I’m still trying to bend my love in the paths I Corinthians 13 describes, wishing it had originated in those virtues to begin with and that I wasn’t having to correct the trajectory mid-course.
I’m still trying to pull up pity and sympathy by the roots and replace it with love – even if these feelings often produce godly actions on their own.
So, to my sister I guess I should finally say, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I can’t teach you how to love.”
But there is One who can.
And he will show you the most excellent way.