The Eternal Question: What Is Love?
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Paul has just insisted that love is the most excellent way, the most important thing for any Jesus-follower to have at work in their lives. For those of us who grew up in the United States, this choice of love being the most important thing seems obvious.
But in the first century Greco-Roman world, there were other traits that were ranked higher than love: honor, duty, loyalty were all higher on the pecking order than love was. The reason why western culture presumes that love is the most important thing is because of the influence of Jesus.
But the first century was almost as confused or uncertain about what love looked like as we are today. There were several words for love in the Greek language: romantic love, brotherly love, but none of those quite worked for what the New Testament writers wanted to convey.
So they looked around and found a seldom-used word for love that they could infuse with fresh meanings and robust Christ-centered definitions: agape (ah-gah-pay). Agape wasn’t used too terribly much, so that gave the early Christians lots of room to carve out this word to their liking.
And here is one of the most sweeping definitions of agape offered in the New Testament. It has become in many parts of the world the standard definition of what genuine love looks like, period.
If love is at the core of the most excellent way, what do we mean by love? We mean this kind of love. What kind of love does God pour out on us? This kind of love. What does it mean to live a life of love? It means these kinds of actions, these kinds of steps, these kinds of motives and intentions animating our activities.
Re-read this description of love three times through, slowly. Let this masterful song of love capture you with its beauty and compel you with its goodness. What images or words or phrases stand out to you? What’s one step you could take to live a life that looked a little more like this?