Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
On June 5, 1999, my wife and I stood trembling inside a church. We were getting married at the age of 20. Half the people there thought we were crazy for getting married at 20. The other half just thought we were pregnant. But we thought we were in love. Walking down the aisle, she was a vision. We stared into each other’s eyes. We swore before God and everybody that we would love and cherish each other until death do us part. We acted like we knew what we were doing, but we had no idea. We had such a romanticized view of love back then, we could not have known what we were saying when we said, “I love you.”
What we really felt was lust, mostly, a desire to live together and sleep together and grow up before we were ready. And those feelings were real feelings, but we didn’t know what love was. We thought love was a feeling, like in the movies, but 15 years of marriage has taught us that love, more than a feeling, is a choice.
My dad is a pastor, and he was the officiant for our wedding. Just before we were supposed to walk out together to take our places for the ceremony, he turned to me and basically tried to talk me out of it. I thought he was crazy. I thought that, with love, there’s no changing your mind, because love was a feeling. But my dad, who had been married for 24 years, knew better. He knew that loving someone—even that special someone—is a choice you can make or not.
Our challenge as Christians is to reorient our lives around the virtue of love. It’s hard to do, isn’t it? Even when I think about my marriage—the woman I love most—my love can’t measure up to the love Paul talks about in this passage. Love is not irritable or resentful? When you’re married for 18 years, that gets to be a problem. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing? Yeah, except when I insisted on taking a shortcut and we got stuck in traffic for an hour. She should have been upset about the traffic, but she was just so happy she was right…I could feel her over there, rejoicing in my wrongdoing! I can’t love the way Paul says to love, and that’s with my wife; don’t even get me started on how hard it is to love my enemies.
But if you really read 1 Corinthians 13, it’s clear that Paul isn’t just defining love; he’s describing a person. This is not a definition, but a description – a description of Jesus. You could replace every word “love” in this passage with “Jesus,” and it would still make sense. Paul is describing Jesus. And this is the good news we need to hear this Christmas. The choice we have to make isn’t to love like the bible says, or not to. We could make the choice to love like the bible says, and we would fail every time. No one here is up to the task of loving like the bible says to love. We’re incapable, and that’s fine, because that’s not the choice that matters.
The choice that matters is whether or not you let yourself receive God’s love in Jesus. Will you choose to believe that the One who knows you best loves you most? Letting the love of God fill your heart is all that matters. When you do that, what will invariably happen is that the love of God will overwhelm you, because no one’s heart is big enough to contain God’s love, and there will be an overflow in your life, an outpouring of God’s love in your home, with your family, friends, and even your enemies. Because once you make the decision to receive God’s love, there’s no stopping it. And for people who follow Jesus, nothing is more important.