When the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus’ words echoed The Shema, the ancient Hebrew prayer found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
I often marvel at how we complicate our life of faith with our own interpretations and rules about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. If I truly focus on loving God, loving my neighbor, and loving myself, I will not have time for arguments and debates.
Perhaps, the reason we get sidetracked with proving our own point of view is because we do not really know what love is. In our social media-driven world, you can “heart” my Instagram post without even really knowing me. Have we devalued the meaning of love with our text emojis or did our lack of understanding of what love is lead us to propagate the easy button?
Maybe the confusion stems from our limited language. In the Greek, there are three words for love – agape meaning unconditional love, phileo meaning brotherly love, and eros meaning romantic love – while in English we only have one word.
So it seems we need to define what love is. The Apostle Paul writes, “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.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).
Here again we need further clarification. Paul uses some words that can seem quite nebulous unless we take the time to unpack them. Patience is waiting without complaining; accepting pain or challenges without complaint. Kindness is treating others the way you want to be treated. Also, the passage indicates that love is humble – not thinking too much or too little of ourselves, love is courteous – thinking of others first, love is persevering – sticking to it; not giving up, love is forgiving – letting go of anger over a wrong; leaving another’s wrongs behind.
My youngest son, 13, was sitting next to me as I was writing this morning. When he read Paul’s passage, he was quick to point out, “Love does fail.”
“What do you mean?”, I inquired.
“Well, what about divorce?”, he responded.
He was speaking from our experience as a family of divorce. I gave him a kiss on the top of his head and said, “You’re a smart kid,” then paused before continuing, “I think divorce happens because we don’t know how to love, not because love fails.”
Learning to love is a lifelong lesson. May this be our quest.