Valentine’s Day, hands down, has more expectations about what love should be and how it should be expressed than any other day. The only other day that is so fraught, in my opinion, with unrealistic expectations is a wedding day. I can’t tell you how many weddings parties weren’t even on speaking terms before the ceremony! Unrealistic and conditional notions of love are very stressful!
Yet love is very important and, thankfully, we do have guidance on how to love.
A compassion for people includes loving persons for who they are, not for who we hope they could be. A deep love for someone does not seek to remake them into someone else. When we share this quality of love with a person, there are no legalisms and laws; no conditions or stipulations. This is not a relationship of shoulds, oughts, mandates, and demands. This love is not conditional, but unconditional. This love is a gift.
The great scripture passage on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Corinth was a Roman colony as well as an important Greek seaport. It was vastly cosmopolitan and religious prostitution kept many women employed. The temple of Aphrodite alone had as many as 1,000 religious prostitutes!
It was to this mixed community at Corinth, greedy for power, dedicated to pleasure, fascinated by rhetoric and knowledge, that Paul came and preached the gospel during is second missionary journey in the autumn of 50 A.D. He stayed at Corinth for about eighteen months.
A few years later, Paul heard about the struggles presenting themselves at the Corinthian church. There was gross immorality, divisions over doctrine, worship, lifestyle; you name it, that church struggles with it…sounds like many American churches today.
The Corinthians wrote to Paul about spiritual gifts and their self-importance. He tells them the supreme spiritual gift is love. Because God is love, those who claim to be in touch with God must embody something of God’s character.
Love is the middle term between the gifts of the spirit and service to the world:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Paul is not saying that the alternative to the gifts is love. Instead, he is showing us that the most excellent way to exercise our gifts is in love. If love is our aim, we will not use our gifts for purely personal gratification; we will not flaunt our gifts at inappropriate times; we will not inhibit others from using their gifts by misuse of our own. Whatever we do, unless it is accompanied by love, nothing is gained.
In other words, it is not what we know that matters. It is not how gifted and talented we are that matters. It is not even what we do that matters. It is who we are that is crucial. And, if we believe that, it may cause us to think about some changes in our life.
So why is love so important? Because love is the heart of Jesus. Paul is telling the church at Corinth to reflect the heart of Jesus. If others don’t see love in us, they will not see Jesus. In this passage, Paul quietly sets the love of Jesus over and against the failings so apparent at Corinth. They claimed they were following the “higher” way of spiritual experience. Jesus beckoned them to the “lower” way; the way of the servant, the way of love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (vs. 4-8).
Jesus-love lets go.
I’ve been sharing this with couples for years. Often they ask me for it to remind themselves of how to love each other by letting go:
To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I don’t control another.
To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another; I can only change myself.
To let go not to care for, but to care about.
To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be human.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own outcome.
To let go is not to be protective; it is to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to scold, nag, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.
To let go is to allow the God of love to love us and to love others through us.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (v. 13).