There’s something wonderful, righteous, beautiful and winsome when followers of Jesus genuinely love each other and freely extend their love to others. We know, of course, that all people are broken and because of that relationships are messy. However, people need to be loved. We long to be loved and we desperately need to express love for others. In fact, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 14:35)
Consider the ancient church in the city of Corinth (in present day Greece). This was a dysfunctional church family. The church at Corinth was a bickering church. It was fraught with jealousies, quarrels, and divisions (1 Corinthians 1:11; 3:1-4; 11:18). It was proud and boastful (1 Corinthians 5:2 & 6). The members’ disputes with each other were so venomous that they even took each other to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-6)!
The people in this church valued knowledge over character. They wielded their knowledge in a way that heartlessly wounded weaker brothers and sisters in Christ in order to build themselves up (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Paul denounced their church services and programs as doing more harm than good. In their assemblies they argued, humiliated each other, and even degraded the Lord’s Supper with drunkenness and gluttony (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).
Finally, the church in Corinth even perverted their use of spiritual gifts using them to draw attention to themselves, belittle other’s gifts and behave in a disorderly way (1 Corinthians 14:1-40). Truly this church was in a sorry condition in terms of its church family relationships!
But in the middle of his letter, Paul introduced love as “the most excellent way” to cultivate and build up the family of Christ and to conduct one’s life as a follower of Jesus. And to avoid any misconception about what love is, the Lord provides us with specific relational characteristics of love. These traits of love are healthy relational skills and attitudes for functioning well as a family, church, small group, and as a good neighbor and witness to others. Here they are from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love does not envy
- Love does not boast
- Love is not proud
- Love is not rude
- Love is not self-seeking
- Love is not easily angered
- Love keeps no record of wrongs (in other words, love forgives)
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
- Love always protects
- Love always trusts
- Love always hopes
- Love always perseveres
- Love never fails
Let’s be honest, we find these characteristics of love endearing, quaint, beautiful and poetic. But to put them into action as practical skills for building and maintaining relationships with others is another matter entirely!
Take the first relational skill, “love is patient.” We don’t like to think about this, but the reason love must be patient is because others behave obnoxiously or annoyingly toward us sometimes. Perhaps they’re chronically late, or they talk too much, or… (fill in the blank.) Love requires that we practice patience with them. But don’t we also annoy others with our own particular antics?
Let’s look at another trait, “love is not easily angered.” We need this relational skill specifically because we will encounter situations with others who behave rudely or in a self-centered way. We get angry when we feel that our rights are being violated, but we need to restrain ourselves. (I’m preaching to myself here!)
And the reason love should “keep no record of wrongs” is precisely because others will wrong us and sometimes they’ll do so cruelly, frequently and purposefully! Paul put it like this in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” These words practically guarantee that in our relationships we will be wronged. We will have conflict. There will be offenses!
The Bible tells us about a Pharisee who came to Jesus and tested him with the question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Without hesitation Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
When Jesus paired these two commandments, He clearly tells us how to relate with God and others. Jesus demonstrates that these two commandments are inseparable. If we want to please God, we must love Him and love others. We simply don’t have the option to love God and not love others, or vice-versa.
Christ’s redemptive, reconciling work on the cross was both vertical (toward God) and horizontal (toward others). Christ died for us, both to reconcile us with the Father and with each other. In the culture of the Bible, no greater relational rift existed among people than between the Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). And yet Christ put to death on the cross all the hostility harbored between these two groups making them one (Ephesians 2:11-22).
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)