Restoring Love

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about love these days. In the world at large, love is often reduced to a feeling. People fall in and out of love on a whim, it seems. Dating relationships often begin with a flutter of feelings – attraction, affection, connection, desire, lust – and they often end abruptly when the feelings stop or when they are formed elsewhere. Marriages suffer in the same way, though the consequences are more damaging and far reaching. When people get their feelings hurt or don’t get what they want, they often accuse others, “You don’t love me!” or withhold love until they get what they want, and while that is terribly childish, it’s not just children who do it.

Even in the church we have a distorted understanding of what love is. While we might be thoughtful enough to know that love is not merely an emotion – church folk are often quick to say “love is a verb” – our actions and responses that we call love are often driven by emotions. When we say or do something to correct someone else’s sin, even with solidly biblical reasons, our words and actions are far too often harsh and our motivation far too often comes out of our own hurt or anger.

Those who have spent even a small amount of time reading, studying, or meditating on the Scriptures know that the Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In fact, the more we grow in our faith and in our knowledge of God’s Word, we discover that not only is love God defined and demonstrated by who God is and what God does but that God’s love sustains us. John also tells us, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16). We exist because God is love, so when we struggle to understand love and live by love, we’re really struggling with God.

Unfortunately, we relegate love to being only a relationship tool or a standard for evaluating our relationships: in friendships, in marriage, in families, in neighborhoods, even in the church. If we’ve got troubles in our relationships, we know we need to examine our love, so we pull out our go-to passage: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul wrote, in part:

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. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Using these sixteen descriptions of what love is and isn’t, what love does and doesn’t do, we try to diagnose and fix our problems. However, love isn’t merely a 16-in-1 super tool, and using or pursuing each of these attributes isn’t a quick-fix solution. Yes, Paul wrote these words to address the problems of a terribly dysfunctional church body, and we certainly must take note of them ourselves to deal with our own problems, but he wasn’t simply telling them, “This is what you should do,” as much as he was telling them, “This is how you should be” or, better, “This is who you should be.”

If we remember that “God is love,” then Paul’s words are not mere instructions – “You need to be more patient, more kind, etc.” They are reminders, encouragement – “You need to be more like God.” In this current series of messages, I am preaching through 1 Corinthians 13. I’m calling the series “Restoring Love,” as in, we need to get back to love, love that restores us. Ultimately, this is the Gospel, the Good News that God has a plan to restore us to himself, a plan that is motivated and accomplished by God’s love, the plan that has been fulfilled through Jesus. As we focus on love, we’re focusing on God, and he will continue to transform us that we might be more like him.