“Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy; is not boastful; is not conceited; does not act improperly; is not selfish; is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures all things. Love never ends…Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13.
This is by far one of the most well-known verses in the New Testament, and it is by far one of the hardest to understand and live by. These verses, eloquent and beautiful in their simplicity, convey to us a depth of love that we all desire; yet this depth of love is one which we often fail to exhibit in our lives.
In the Greek language, there are several different words for love, and each word conveys a specific type of love. For instance, the word “storge” describes the sense of love one has for members of their family. The word “philia” describes the love or sense of affection that friends may have for one another, sometimes referred to as “brotherly love.” Then there is the word “eros,” which describes the passionate love felt between lovers–this form of love is often explosive and uncontrollable.
Each of these words describes a certain type of love, yet none of them are quite strong enough to describe the love that the apostle Paul wrote of in 1 Corinthians. He spoke of a love that surpasses all of these other forms of love; the love he spoke of is not an emotion, it is a mandate.
The love Paul spoke of was “agape.” There is no adequate English translation for agape, the closest definition is “unconditional love.” To exhibit agape love means to love someone regardless of whether or not they love you back. This is a love that is impossible to practice without God.
We are humans and we are subject to our own whims and emotions. We can be petty, and at times we treat each other terribly. Agape love is a form of love that is completely foreign to our sinful natures. When we are in our sinful states, it is totally impossible for us to have a love that is patient, kind, or without envy. It is impossible for us to love others and not be selfish, quick to anger, or to overlook the mistakes of other people. Everything unconditional love represents is the total opposite of what our sinful nature inclines us to do.
How then are we to exhibit this love? From where do we learn to do it?
The answer is simple:from Christ.
Christ came to Earth and modeled for us the way to exhibit unconditional love, love that surpasses all other forms of love that we know. Christ came and died because He loved the world, in spite of the fact that many in the world will never love Him. Furthermore, Christ embodies everything that Paul described about agape love. Christ is patient and kind, and when we place our faith and trust in Him, He wipes out any trace of our wrongdoings. Christ gives us the strength to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things, and to endure all things. Christ never ends. Without Christ, we would never be able to understand the depth of unconditional love. This is the love that we, as Christ’s followers, are to have for one another. This is the love that we are to exhibit to the world, for this is the love that Christ shows for us.
When we examine our own lives and the various relationships that we have, we realize how far we fall short of this standard of love. Quite often, we find ourselves exhibiting qualities such as impatience, anger, selfishness, envy, and boasting. We realize how often we provoke others, or allow ourselves to be provoked; we see how we hold on to the wrongs and mistakes that other people have made and we see how we hold those things over them so as to be constant reminders of their shortcomings. We also see how quickly we give up hope and belief, and how quickly our endurance fails and we throw in the towel and give up.
We must daily go to Christ and allow Him to show us how to exhibit unconditional love. Without His help or guidance, we will not be able to understand, much less treat those around us, with this love that we are instructed to live with. Above all else, we must remember this–unconditional love is not an emotion, it is a duty. Emotions will come and go, but duty remains constant. We love unconditionally, not because we want to, but because it is our duty, to one another and to the world.