Christian Love is Not Ice-Cream Love
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Part 1-This is Part 1 of a three-part series on 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13 contains the defining verses when it comes to Christian love. It makes the point that love is a verb, not just an emotion or a feeling. The world talks about “falling in love” and “falling out of love.” Love you can fall into or out of is not Christian love. It’s what I call ice-cream love. People claim to “love” ice cream, but they really don’t. Rather, they love what ice cream does for them: the way it looks, tastes, and makes them feel. They love the way it satisfies their urge for something sweet, creamy, and cold. But the minute they’ve had enough ice cream, at least for the moment, they no longer love it. This is what the world calls “falling out of love.”
What the world calls love is better referred to as infatuation. Infatuation is a feeling of intense interest that is often temporary. This is why there are so many couples who once promised to love and cherish each other until “death do we part” who are now divorced yet very much alive. They were temporarily infatuated with each other, but they were not in love. Christian love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 is not something you fall into or fall out of. It is something you do. The kind of love God expects of us is a verb. Further, Christian love is about “you” not “me.” When you love someone, your chief concern is for their best interests not what they can do for you or how they make you feel.
Love is demonstrated by doing certain things that are prescribed in Scripture and not doing other things that are proscribed. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 explains as follows what love is and is not as well as what it does and does not do:
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not envious
Love is not boastful
Love is not arrogant
Love is not rude
Love does not insist on getting its own way
Love is not irritable
Love is not resentful
Love does not enjoy indulging in wrong doing
Love is truthful
In Part 1, I speak to the first four characteristics of love on this list (patient, kind, not envious, and not boastful). Like most things that please God, showing Christian love requires us to put others ahead of ourselves; never an easy thing to do for fallen people in a fallen world. But, on the other hand, anyone who consistently demonstrates these various characteristics of Christian love is well on the way to living a life of significance. Personifying these characteristics of Christian love will, no doubt, please the recipients of your love, but more importantly it will please God. Let’s look at the first four of these characteristics and how to apply them in our daily lives.
LOVE IS PATIENT
Patience is a willingness to endure the exigencies of life without fretting, fuming, or becoming angry, and without thinking ill of others whose actions or behavior inconvenience you. Patience is not about biting your tongue while doing a slow burn over circumstances or situations that bother you. Further, patience is not something one has or does not have. Patience is a choice. It is like will power. We all have it, but some of us choose to apply it and some of us don’t. Patience is also a Scriptural imperative. It is mentioned many times throughout Scripture. For example, Ephesians 4:2 admonishes us to show our love for others by being patient. Proverbs 15:18 tells us that patience calms anger and brings peace.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must make an embarrassing admission. Patience comes hard for me—I really have to work at it. In fact, I often tell counseling clients that asking me for advice about patience is like asking Hagar the Horrible for advice about table manners. When standing in line, my tendency is to fidget. When the red light turns green, I am apt to fume if the driver in front of me is slow to respond. When people who are talking to me beat around the bush rather than getting to the point, I have to bite my tongue to keep from completing their sentences. What all of this says about me is not good.
If there is anything positive in all of this it’s that I recognize my tendency to be impatient and am intentional in trying to overcome it. When it comes to impatience, I am like the alcoholic who is never cured but must deal with his addiction one day at a time. If my impatience sounds familiar to you, don’t despair. You can learn to be patient if you are willing to heed the guidance God provides in Scripture. I know this to be true because if I—the poster boy for impatience—can learn a better way, you can too. There are several reasons why we should learn to be patient with others.
The first reason is that patience is a Scriptural imperative. In Ephesians 4:1, the Apostle Paul admonishes the members of the church at Ephesus to be patient. In Colossians 3:12, Paul told the church at Colossae that patience was a virtue. In 1 Corinthians 13, patience is the first characteristic of Christian love listed. The second reason is that patience requires us to acknowledge that God is in charge and we are not. If God is in charge—and He is—then the little inconveniences in life are part of his plan. Therefore, to be impatient with people or circumstances is to be impatient with God; never a good idea.
Impatience means wanting others to do things your way or on your schedule so as to avoid causing you inconvenience. Impatience is all about self. When we are impatient, we put ourselves ahead of others and expect the rest of the world to cater to our wants, needs, and demands. In other words, we set ourselves up as little gods. This, of course, is just the opposite of what the one true and living God expects. If we truly love our neighbors as commanded by God, we put them ahead of ourselves. Being impatient with others is just the opposite of putting them ahead of self.
The third reason is that impatience militates against humility, another Scriptural imperative (Colossians 3:12 and Ephesians 4:1-3). While humility requires that we put others ahead of self, impatience is about putting self ahead of others. Impatience grows out of self-centeredness. Humility grows out of a desire to please God by adopting an outward focus. Finally, impatience is evidence of an unhealthy fixation on the here and now. As Christians our ultimate focus should be on the hereafter. Knowing what we can look forward to in the hereafter should make us more patience with the exigencies of life in the here and now. This phenomenon is like reading a mystery novel a second time. Why get all worked up about the various plot twists when you already know the outcome?
LOVE IS KIND
Have you ever been the recipient of an act of kindness? If you have, how did it make you feel toward the person who was kind to you? I was once standing in line at the grocery store behind an elderly man who was grumbling about the “kid” ahead of him in line. The young man was covered in tattoos, had pierced lips, eyebrows, and ear lobes, and was scruffily dressed. The age and cultural gap between the elderly man and the “kid” was vast. I know the young man could hear what the older man was saying about him and it wasn’t complimentary.
The elderly man was driving one of those scooters grocery stores now provide for people who have trouble walking. The basket on his scooter was full to overflowing with groceries and he had another shopping cart full being pushed by an attendant. Once the older man was checked out, the attendant informed the clerk she needed to leave the bagged groceries inside while she helped the elderly man to his car. Then she would come back to get the groceries. The store was crowded and the clerk did not appear pleased about having to keep her eye on a full shopping cart.
Just as I was about to offer to help, the scruffily dressed young man stepped forward and said, “Sir, I would be honored to help. Let me bring the groceries while you go to your car.” I was struck by how articulate and polished the young man’s speech was. He might have looked scruffy, but he didn’t sound scruffy. He was obviously intelligent. He was also kind. In spite of what the older man had said about him, this young man was willing to help.
I stayed nearby and watched to see how this situation would unfold. The young man rolled the grocery cart out to the older man’s car, unloaded his groceries, and wished him a good day. Hesitantly at first, but then with conviction the old man stuck out his hand to shake. The young man took it in both of his and said, “God bless you sir.” As the older man watched the scruffy-looking “kid” walk away, a tear rolled down his wrinkled cheek. One simple act of kindness bridged a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon between two generations.
Kindness may be the most powerful aspect of Christian love. Showing kindness to others involves being considerate and generous. Simple acts of kindness can move people deeply, as was the case with the elderly man at the grocery store. When it comes to kindness, the worst circumstances often bring out the best in people. I am from Florida. We see this contention borne out in the aftermath of every hurricane we have to endure. For example, it is not uncommon for those whose homes are still standing in the aftermath of a hurricane to take in those who have lost theirs. People share the little food and fresh water they have with complete strangers. Before the government agencies can even get organized, good Samaritans from other communities and even other states are already on site helping the victims restore their lives.
A moving example of how powerful kindness can be occurred in the midst of shock, tragedy, and grief in another setting. It came in the aftermath of one of the most coldhearted and callous acts imaginable. It was October, 2006 when Charles Roberts IV walked into an Amish schoolhouse and brutally murdered five little girls, wounding five others. He specifically targeted girls and his clear intent was to kill all of them. Roberts was not Amish, nor are his parents. But his parents did live near the scene of the murders in that Amish community.
Upon hearing about what her son had done, Mrs. Roberts was distraught beyond words. Not only did he kill five innocent little girls, he then killed himself. How could her son have done such a wicked, evil thing? How could she and her husband continue to live in a community where they would always be viewed as the parents of an infamous murderer? How could they live in the midst of grieving parents whose children were brutally murdered by their son? These and other questions were going through the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts when there was a knock on their front door. What happened next changed everything.
When the Roberts opened the door, a man representing the Amish community was standing there, his hat removed in a gesture of respect. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts braced themselves for what they were sure was coming. This man was going to unload his pent-up anger and grief on them, and who could blame him? But that is not what happened. Instead, he offered Mr. and Mrs. Roberts condolences on the loss of their son. He assured them they were not viewed harshly by the grieving parents. Like the Amish parents, they too had lost a child. Though mired in sorrow, the Amish community understood what the Roberts family was going through and wanted to comfort them.
Then, on the day of Charles Roberts funeral, a group of Amish men and women—including the parents of some of the murdered little girls—not only attended his funeral, but offered their condolences to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. The grieving Amish families met with Mr. and Mrs. Roberts and in spite of the personal sorrow they were enduring themselves did their best to console the murderer’s mother and father. Later when Mrs. Roberts had to undergo treatments for cancer, the Amish community came forward to support and assist her.
The kindness of a grieving Amish community did much to bless the Roberts family during a time of mutual sorrow, but it did much more than that. News media outlets from all over the world carried the story of kindness and forgiveness. People in every corner of the globe were deeply moved by the kindness of the Amish community. It demonstrated in a way that transcended language and culture what God means when he tells us that love is “kind.”
LOVE DOES NOT ENVY Envy means coveting what someone else has or has achieved. Closely associated with envy is jealousy, although they are not the same thing. While envy is about coveting something another person has, jealousy is about fearing that something will be taken from you by another person. The Tenth Commandment proscribes coveting (Exodus 20:17). As Christians, we cannot honor God in our lives if we are caught up in the pernicious tentacles of envy. Never forget that envy led to the world’s first murder when Cain killed his own brother, Abel. When God favored Abel’s sacrifice—favor Cain coveted—Cain was filled with malicious envy. That envy drove him to kill his brother (Genesis 4:1-18). This account from Genesis demonstrates how destructive envy can be.
LOVE DOES NOT BOAST
Boasting is bragging. It means trumpeting your own supposed importance, superiority, or achievements, often in an exaggerated manner that is offensive to other people as well as to God. The way of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 proscribes this foolish practice. Boasting is the opposite of humility. Humility is about deference to others. Boasting is about expecting deference for yourself.
People who feel compelled to boast suffer from either over-inflated or fragile egos. Those with over-inflated egos tend to believe what they say when boasting. They are convinced of their own superiority and importance. Those with fragile egos boast to compensate for their poor self-images. Both are misguided responses. As a rule, people don’t like braggarts, but an even more important consideration is that God doesn’t like braggarts. This is why He admonishes us to be humble. For example, in Ephesians 4:2 we are encouraged to be humble and to abide with each other in love. 1 Peter 5:6-7 tells us to humble ourselves before God and to let Him lift us up.
I am sure you have observed people who are braggarts and boasters. How does it make you feel when someone is boasting? Would you rather deal with someone who is humble or someone who is a braggart? I once had a football coach who would not abide boasting. To be caught bragging by him would cost you dearly in extra wind sprints and other “attitude-adjustment activities” after practice. He had an effective way of teaching humility. It’s hard to brag when you are so bone weary from extra PT (physical training), you can hardly walk. He used to tell us, “If you are any good, you don’t need to brag and if you aren’t you have nothing to brag about.” This is good advice for Christians who want to please God.
Part 2 will cover arrogance, rudeness, insisting on getting your won way, and irritability.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com