As another Valentine’s Day looms ahead, there’s a simple, but important principle worth considering, and it reminds me of a dear friend back in our home state. She is, in the opinion of many, an authentic aficionado when it comes to soup. A dinner invitation from her and her husband often meant being presented with a veritable “soup buffet”. It wasn’t unusual to find that she had prepared three or four different varieties of delicious soups, which she always served with all the “fixin’s” — and, of course, her genteel southern flair. Upon receiving such an invitation, we came to suspect ahead of time that we’d be having soup, but we’d have no idea what that really meant until we got there, and the lids began to come off the pots to reveal the delectable choices for that day.
A Little Clarification ~
If someone were to ask us later what our hostess had served and our only answer was “soup”, they wouldn’t know much about our dinner. They might conclude that the food was probably served in a bowl, eaten with a spoon, accompanied with some kind of side dish, but they’d be clueless as to what we actually consumed. There’s a lesson in this simple observation that reaches far beyond friendly dinners and bowls of soup.
Whether we happen to be dealing with political promises, class distinctions, or group identifiers, categorical designations, on their own, can lead to unfounded assumptions. Those assumptions are often totally divorced from reality, painfully unfair, misleading, and personally damaging. Fraudulent marketers frequently seek to obscure the vital details of an offer or proposal when those details could jeopardize the deal. The greater the potential for significant personal impact, the greater the need to “take the lid off” and see what’s really in the pot.
The Broader Implications and Applications ~
But enough about soup . . . The importance of knowing the vital details when dealing with significant issues applies to decisions much more important than anything produced in someone’s kitchen. There are few, if any, concepts with greater potential to transform lives and nations than the concept of love that we celebrate this weekend, and few that are more greatly distorted and whose details are more obscured.
On the one hand, love is portrayed as some kind of mysterious, almost magical thing that zaps people unexpectedly and turns their world into a kaleidoscope of epic physical and emotional pleasure. At the same time, broken hearts, shattered dreams, and destroyed lives litter the emotional landscape everywhere we look. An endless parade of poetic and musical accolades of love’s joyful character is countered by tearful testimonials decrying love’s capacity for fraudulent disguises, cruel deception, and ultimate failure. If there was ever an issue or concept that cries out for clarity, it is this one. So, how do we deal with this thing so fraught with potential for heavenly or hellish outcomes? We begin by looking to the One Who created love in the first place and Who embodies and exhibits all that it means.
Demonstrations and Revelations ~
In every age, God revealed examples of love’s basic ingredients. Throughout history, His representatives have displayed aspects of the incredible concoction of attitudes, emotions, and actions that His love represents. But that wasn’t enough. He took a step beyond anything we would have anticipated or imagined. God entered our sin-cursed world, assumed our frail human condition and became one of us. In Jesus, God demonstrated and perfected all that love was intended to be. Jesus lived out what love looks like, feels like, sounds like, and acts like. Then, having done all that, He added one more thing to protect us from those who misrepresent it. He inspired the Apostle Paul to take the “lid off the pot” for us and show us some of love’s primary ingredients.
Uncounted thousands of weddings have included a rendition of all or portions of I Corinthians 13, and some have called it Paul’s greatest literary achievement. For our purposes, let’s just refer to it as an exposition of “love — according to God.” Paul begins by making some sobering, if not shocking, statements expressing the hopelessness and utter futility of accomplishing anything of spiritual value without it. Then he proceeds to unfold a collection of qualities and attributes that describe what love is, and by contrast, what love isn’t. Here’s a portion of that passage:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1–8; 13, NKJV)
A Challenging Exercise ~
None of us can properly touch the hem of the garment regarding all that God is really saying in one brief review of this passage. In light of that, we strongly encourage repeated visits to ponder the incredible implications of these words. Beyond that, it calls for an honest assessment of how we’re handling these profound qualities in our own lives. The challenge is to take what we’re really offering others as “love” and overlay it with the attributes Paul describes. It’s a sobering, but sorely needed, exercise, but it can help to open a window into what it could mean if all of us began to take seriously the potential impact of the incredible capacity God has given us.
When God created us, we weren’t provided with a diminished version of the love He experiences. God has no “Brand X” varieties of love. He doesn’t peddle “knockoffs” with inferior quality at a reduced price. Jesus repeatedly made it clear that the love His followers received, and that He expected us to express to one another, was an exact replica of the love He embodied and continuously demonstrated. As He said to the Father, and to His disciples:
And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26, NKJV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34, NKJV)
Time to Reveal the Contents ~
We’re living in a world where we find fakes and counterfeits everywhere. We have “meat” made out of beans, “wood” made out of plastic, “cloth” made from petroleum, and “diamonds” made from cheap crystals. And the cheap substitutions don’t stop there. I’m reminded of a song from a generation or two ago with a line that declared that the object of the singer’s affection was making love out of nothing at all. It appears that we’re doing a lot of that these days, but what we’re making and what we’re offering isn’t love at all. The world’s brand of love, like everything else it offers, sounds good, but, by God’s standards, it’s a total fraud. When we talk about love, it’s time we move beyond the mystic and often misleading term and start taking the lid off the pot. The world needs to see what an incredible feast “love according to God” can provide.
Our God has invited us to experience and express something unlike anything the world can duplicate. He offers a love that never fails. That means it never quits. It never gives up. It doesn’t grow old, weak, infirm, fragile, frightened, incompetent, or inaccessible. Love isn’t just something God does. It’s who He is. Imagine the impact it would have in our own lives if “love according to God” was more than just something we try to do once in a while for folks we like. Suppose it became an expression of who we are all the time. Making a fresh commitment to love like that could be the best Valentine’s Day present ever, both to the One who loved us first, and to everyone else we know.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY . . . As God Intended It to Be
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “God entered our sin-cursed world, assumed our frail human condition and became one of us. In Jesus, God demonstrated and perfected all that love was intended to be. Jesus lived out what love looks like, feels like, sounds like, and acts like.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When we talk about love, it’s time we move beyond the mystic and often misleading term and start taking the lid off the pot. The world needs to see what an incredible feast love according to God can provide.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “God offers a love that never fails. That means it never quits. It never gives up. It doesn’t grow old, weak, infirm, fragile, frightened, incompetent, or inaccessible. Love isn’t just something God does. It’s who He is.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Love isn’t just something God does. It’s who He is. Imagine the impact it would have in our own lives if “love according to God” was more than just something we try to do once in a while for folks we like. Suppose it became an expression of who we are all the time.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2021 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
Very well done author! When I apply God’s word to my life, I often find myself woefully short; this is not exception. Yet; I recognize I’m a “work in progress” and that work will continue until that day. As for love, I think many practice what I call “Conditional Love”, which is far short of the standard God set for us. “Conditional love” says “I will love you with only the commensurate amount of love shown to me.” Sadly, the world has this backwards. Love is not a reaction to what is received. Instead, God’s love gives, expecting nothing in return. When given freely however, we find God ensures we receive much more than we gave. Love, in its truest form, is so different from the Valentines-laden, good feelings, or carnally driven emotions the world wants us to accept. As you so aptly stated; they’re all fakes, knock-offs, and cheap imitations. I join you in encouraging us to not settle for anything less than the genuine article. And that love has but one source; Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
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As is always the case, J.D. you are so right. There’s an unmistakeable conditional aspect of the world’s kind of “love.” Everything is conducted on a reciprocal, “What’s in it for me?” basis. Decades of counseling and interaction with people going through all kinds of relational chaos and seeing the manipulative garbage passed off as love has led me to a conclusion I’ve shared repeatedly, “Some people discover what God meant love to be–others take hostages and systematically torture them.” You also hit the target dead center about love being focused on giving out, not receiving. Another analogy I’ve used a lot is that love is like light, i.e. it goes outward from a source. You can screw in a light bulb and flood a dark room with light, but there’s no “light sucker-upper bulb” that you can screw in and suck all the light out of a room that is full of it. So many people seem to conduct life like their only purpose is to suck up as much “love” as they can find and only hand out what they need to give in order to get more. Sad, miserable way to live. The love God provides is so much more fun. Shucks, Jesus’ love even lets my wife and me love a couple of folks we never really met running a ranch somewhere in Texas with cows and donkeys and who knows what else? Who could possibly top a deal like that? 🙂
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Oh, if we could all love each other in the way God intended, what an amazingly beautiful world this would be! We should all strive to do so, praying for God’s help along the way.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Ron!
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I look forward to the millennial kingdom, Martha, to see what this world can really be like when love will be the operative motivation behind everything and the world is freed from the awful impact of sin. As you said, it is beyond imaginable what it will be like. What a blessing to know that our place in that world has already been established and nothing can change that. God bless you for your faithful ministry and the love you share along the way to that glorious destination.
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