By Fred Volk, Ph.D.
In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes what love is when he states unequivocally that no matter what we have gained in our lives in terms of accomplishments and material wealth, and no matter what we have done in our lives in terms of giving and service, that if we have gained those things and done those things without love, they come to nothing. It is after he stakes this claim that he writes: “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.”
This powerful passage provides, for all of us, a description of what love is and is not. Paul’s words provide for us what love feels like both on reflection and in the present. Essentially, he describes the beauty of what it feels like to be loved and what love looks like when we observe it.
“I am not a smart man, but I know what love is.” – Forrest Gump
For all of Paul’s beautifully penned words, they are much more evaluative than they are instructive. Fortunately, Jesus states simply and clearly that there is no love greater than laying down one’s life for our friends. Jesus’s words imply that greatest love involves agency on the part of the person loving (i.e., willingly choosing), intimate knowledge of the person being loved and giving of one’s life. Jesus personifies for us what love is and how we are to love others. First, he has willingly chosen us to receive his love. At any time, he could have chosen a different path but willingly and obediently followed that path and then has not left us without a helper. Second, he knows everything about us and yet still has chosen to love us from the beginning to the end of time. His love is never ceasing. Finally, he gave us his life, both regarding the time he dedicated to his development and ministry, but in death, he gave us life. It was not a natural impulse that he did unthinkingly. He loved us deliberately, systematically, without fail, from the beginning of time while knowing us completely.
It is a willful choice that we undertake to give some portion of our life to another. For some of us, it may be the rest of our life, but for others, it may simply be spending a Sunday afternoon with someone we care about. Giving our life to strangers would not be a loving act because we do not know a stranger. We do not know their every imperfection. We have never been hurt by strangers; they have not broken our heart, they have not disappointed us, they have never let us down. However, those that we know, our friends, our family, our spouses; we have a pretty good idea of their imperfections. For people who know us, to willingly choose to love us by spending time and energy, their lives on us, is the greatest love of all.
Today, you are going to choose to love someone or something. May you love and be loved well.