Randal, plain and simple

Love: H. Fulford

We Americans use the word “love” in a wide variety of ways and sometimes quite loosely. We love hamburgers, french fries, barbecue, apple pie, banana pudding, coffee, and sweet tea (in Alabama, “sweet tea” is one word with two syllables). We love our country, the town we live in, summertime, the beach, and the mountains. Teenagers love their girlfriend or boyfriend, though there may be a different girlfriend or boyfriend they are “in love” with next month. We love to golf, hunt, fish, the Tennessee Vols, the Atlanta Braves, vacations, our dog, our truck, our husband, our wife, our children, and our grandchildren. We love the Lord, the church, the Bible, and our neighbors. Yet I hope that none of us seriously believes that “love” has the same significance and depth of meaning in all of the ways in which we conveniently use it. If a man loves his wife only in the same sense in which he loves his dog, his truck, or banana pudding, his marriage is in serious trouble!

The Greeks had several words that reflected various concepts of “love.” (The New Testament was originally written in the common Greek of the first century A.D.). Forms of three of those words are found in the New Testament, each with a different shade of meaning.

Storge (pronounced stor-gay) refers to family love, love between parents and children, brothers and sisters, etc. Phileo (fi-lay-o) refers to the love of friends, affectionate love. (Think Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love”). Agape (uh-gop-a) refers to selfless love, the highest form of the word. Agape is the kind of love God had for us and the kind of love that we are to have for Him, as well as for others. (A fourth word, eros, refers to romantic, sexual love, the word from which we get erotic, etc.). (Note: If I am wrong in any of the preceding, I will gladly accept correction from the Greek students among my readers).

Paul affirmed: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). We have written of faith and hope; this week we write of love, especially of agape love.

God's love for us is well documented in scripture. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is this very same kind of agape love that we are to have for God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).

But that is not all! Jesus went on to say, “And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' ” (Matthew 22:39). Paul urged, “Owe no one anything but to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). We are to love our enemies and do them good instead of evil (Matthew 5:43-48). We are to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord (John 13:34). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it (Ephesians 5:25). And if Christ loved the church, should we not love it? How can we love Christ and not love what He loved? We are to love the truth because a failure to do so will result in one being eternally lost (II Thessalonians 2:10). Only the truth can make us free (John 8:32). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

But how does agape love behave? The greatest explanation of such love is found in I Corinthians 13:1-8a). As Wayne Jackson noted, “The best lexicon of agape is found in 1 Corinthians 13” (Bible Words and Theological Terms Made Easy, 114). Note the following fifteen traits of genuine love.

  1. Suffers long. It is patient.

  2. Kind. It is good-natured, gentle, affectionate, and tenderhearted.

  3. Does not envy. It is not jealous and does not have negative feelings toward the good fortune of others.

  4. Does not parade itself. It does not brag or boast of make a “show” of itself. A person of love is not a “show off.”

  5. Is not puffed up. It is not arrogant or prideful. It does not have an inflated opinion of itself.

  6. Does not behave rudely. It is not ill-mannered. It does not act unbecomingly. As my late wife often said, “It is not rude, crude, or lewd.”

  7. Does not seek its own. It is not self-centered, concerned with its own selfish desires, but seeks the good and happiness of others.

  8. Is not provoked. It does not easily take offense or become easily angered.

  9. Thinks no evil. It “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (NASB). “It keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV).

  10. Does not rejoice in iniquity. Unlike those who approve of the wicked deeds of others (Romans 1:32), the person of love does not find joy in wrong doing, whether in word or deed.

  11. Rejoices in the truth. It is happy at the triumph of truth, loves seeing the truth of the gospel advanced, and rejoices to see people “walking in truth” (II John 4), rather than in wickedness.

  12. Bears all things. It “always protects” (NIV).

  13. Believes all things. This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it is slow to believe the worst. It strives to believe the best about others.

  14. Hopes all things. It looks for and optimistically expects the best in people and situations.

  15. Endures all things. It perseveres. It is not driven from the path of right regardless of the actions of others.

Paul concludes his divine description of love by saying, “Love never fails.” Unlike the supernatural and miraculous gifts of the apostolic age which served a special purpose, were temporary, and then passed away (verses 8-10), faith, hope, and love continue to abide, with the greatest of these being love (verse 13).

Now for a challenge. Go back and read I Corinthians 13:4-7 again, and everywhere the word “love” (or its pronoun) appears put your name there and see if it is true that (your name/Hugh Fulford) suffers long and is kind, does not envy, does not parade himself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely...and so on through all fifteen of the qualities of agape love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).

Hugh Fulford May 14, 2024

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