Love is the defining characteristic of a Christian.  Love for God and love for others are the two fountains from which all other duties flow, and are the underlying motivations for all true Christian practice.  Several verses attest to this fact, but a few key texts should suffice.

In John 15:12-13, Christ gives His disciples the commandment that they should love one another and that this love should resemble the self-giving, sacrificial kind of love that Christ displayed in both His life and His death, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus explains to the religious leaders that an all-consuming love for God and a sincere love for man are the two summative commandments of the entire Law.  In other words, every other commandment given by God in both testaments can be grouped under one of these two headings.

In I John 3:14 we find that love for Christian brethren is one of the character qualities that assure us that we have “passed from death into life,” while a few verses later, John warns us that those who do not have love residing in their hearts toward others do not know God because “God is love” (I John 4:7-8).

As we turn to I Corinthians 13:1-8, we find that great external acts of service, the exercise of powerful gifts and the possession of much knowledge is worthless without love.  We also find a clear definition of what love actually is, given in seven positive statements (“love is/does”) and eight negative statements (“love is/does not”).  I would like to examine each statement followed by several corresponding questions to help us consider where we find grace and where we encounter deficiecy in our love toward others.  (Perhaps in a future article we will consider our love for God, but for today, we will primarily be focusing on our love for others).

Love is patient
Are you patient with others? Or do you get frustrated and angry quickly? Do you get easily annoyed with people? Or are you slow to anger? Does it take a lot to get you angry? Or does it take a little?

Love is kind
How do you treat others? Do you speak kind words to them to their face? Behind their back? Are you a pleasant person to be around? Are you gentle with others, or are you harsh and mean? Do you make fun of others, or are you courageous enough to stick up for others when they are being made fun of?

Love does not envy
Do you always desire what other people have? Do you get angry when someone does better than you on a test, or in the basketball game, or in the volleyball game? Do you get upset when one or your friends gets a new car or iPod or boyfriend or fiance? Or are you happy when others are blessed? Do you rejoice when others do well? Do you honestly congratulate others when they do something well or get something nice?

Love does not boast
Who do you like to talk about the most? You or God and others? Are you always bragging about how good you are or about how much you own?  What fills your conversations:  self or others?

Love is not rude
How do you act around others? Do you tell dirty jokes? Do you tell people to shut up? Do you use foul language? Do you make people look bad in front of others?

Love does not insist on its own way
Do you have to have your own way, or are you happy to let someone else have their own way?  When choosing a movie to watch, who usually chooses?  You or the person/people you are with?  Is it your way or the high way?  Do you get angry when others don’t agree with your opinions?

Love is not irritable
Do you get angry easily?  Are you a walking ball of frustration?  Do the most trivial of things set you off and make you punch walls?  Do you get frustrated when others need your help?

Love is not resentful
Do you hold grudges?  Do you nurse bitterness in your heart toward others?  Do you keep a long record of wrongs done to you?  Or are you quick to forgive others their sins as God has so mercifully forgiven your sins?

Love does not rejoice at wrong doing
What kinds of things do you laugh at? Do you laugh at dirty, unwholesome things? Or, do you have a pure sense of humor?  Do you compromise your integrity for money, popularity, promotion, or accolades?  Who are your heroes?  Jack Sparrow or Jim Elliot?

Love rejoices in the truth
Do you let others remain in their sin, or are you loving enough to tell them the truth?  Is one of your greatest joys to see others walking in the truth?  Or would you just rather let them walk in disobedience?  Do you seek integrity in even the smallest areas of your life?  Do you rejoice in the truth of the gospel in such a way that unbelievers wake up and take notice?

Love bears all things
Are you humble enough to put up with the idiosyncrasies of your Christian friends and neighbors?  Do you patiently endure wrongs done to you?  Or is retaliation your first inclination?  Are you patient with the sins and shortcomings of others?  Or do you simply want to tell them to get their act together?

Love believes all things
Do you believe the best about others, or the worst?  When there is a situation where someone appears to have sinned, do you believe the best about that person until all the evidence is in, or do you have them condemned to an eternal hell for religious hypocrisy the instant you hear of the situation?  Do you quickly and harshly judge the Christian profession of others?  Or is your first instinct to rejoice over their salvation?

Love hopes all things
When someone is wandering from the faith, do you continue to hope for their return, or do you simply write them off as an apostate?  When you evangelize, do you hope for fruitful results, or do you simply resign yourselft to the reality that no one is going to respond to the gospel because the word of the cross is foolishness?

These are convicting questions, but they are essential.  I fear that many of us mistake sentimental, warm-fuzzy feelings for true, Biblical love.  We need the penetrating power of God’s Word and Spirit to pierce our hearts and our false conceptions of love, and make us into a people who, by our love, demonstrate that we belong to the King.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35)

Photo: Steve Snodgrass

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