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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