By Dr. Harold Sala
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy… 1 Corinthians 13:4
“One picture is worth a thousand words,” we are told, and often that is true; however, word pictures can be equally powerful. They are descriptive landscapes which add color and feeling. If you were to select one picture which conveyed the meaning of love, what would it be? A mother holding a sleeping child in her arms? A couple warmly embracing by the sea as the setting sun paints the clouds? An elderly couple arm in arm, their eyes locked in a mystic moment of communion? For me, it would be a certain look in the eyes of my wife, a gleam that is intended only for me which makes me smile within my heart, and pages of writing could not quite describe that certain something.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and stressed the importance of love, he chose not to use either a picture or a smile. He never said, “Love is like this…” He made fifteen statements where he said, “Love is–“ and then he described love in action. Frankly, when you synthesize those statements and put them together, you come up with something vastly different from the cultural concept of love which surrounds us. Paul’s love is tough and sinewy, sensitive but powerful, durable yet fragile. You will find what he wrote in one of the most beloved chapters of the Bible, often quoted in weddings, 1 Corinthians 13.
First, says, Paul, Love is patient! I am thinking of a young couple in their teens who came to me, hoping that I would disagree with their parents, who told them they were too young to marry. Clutching the hand of the girl as though she might escape from him, he told me he just couldn’t wait. “I’ve got to have her,” he said, becoming angry when I told him that I agreed with the parents.
Lust must be served immediately; but real love can wait. The patience of love before you marry is needed even more after you marry. Patience helps you cope with the humanness and imperfections of the one you love, one who is wholly human just as you, who forgets to write down checks so you are overdrawn at the bank, who leaves the cap off the toothpaste, who forgets to pay the phone bill, which means your service is disconnected.
Then, says Paul, love is kind. Whoa! Kindness is often interpreted as weakness, and the macho, tough masculine image which we strive to attain leaves little room for kindness. The rule of the street is “do it to the other guy before he does it to you.” But the kindness of love is tempered by the rule of treating the other person as you would like him to treat you.
Kindness breaks the “eye for an eye” mentality of our day that lives for vengeance and retaliation, that allows you to love your enemies and to do good to those who mistreat you. “Do random acts of kindness” says the message on a bumper sticker, but the agape love which Paul talks about does deliberate and purposeful acts of kindness, calculated to touch another’s life without love.
The third picture of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is Paul’s statement that love does not envy or is not jealous. Envy in the heart of Cain led to the first murder as he looked with scorn at the offering Abel brought to God and was jealous of the fact God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. “Jealousy is as cruel as the grave,” wrote Solomon, referring to that green-eyed monster that causes a woman to scorn another’s beauty or a man to resent the physique of his competitor. Agape love is power that makes friends out of enemies. Think about it.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 13.