Love's Laundry List

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

Love cannot be reduced to items on a list… but you can use items on a list to test love — to see whether or not it is love indeed. Although lists have limits (and love has none), Paul used these lists to tell us about love. Why? I’m not sure. But reading down this list convicts me with stunning efficiency… and I think that is the beauty of lists: the items are bare by nature; they are not couched in qualifiers or elliptical phrases, and they shoot onto the page as from a gun… Pow! Pow! Pow!... and there stands the truth with little apology.

The translators of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) used the word "charity" to translate the Greek word for love, but the meaning of the word “charity” has drifted over the centuries, and we now understand it more narrowly as the giving of money or goods. But I would encourage the contemporary reader towards a more inclusive view of love. True — love always involves giving… but not necessarily the giving of goods or services... and with that in view, we can analyze love by looking at the gift itself.

But what about feelings? Don’t they define love? No. Love often involves feeling… but feeling is not love, nor can love ultimately be tested by it. In fact, feelings often betray us by masking the rawer truths of love — and many relationships persist under some slavish (and often ambivalent) feelings of affection… but without any real love
at all.

The biblical standard for love involves doing good things for those you do not even like — and yes, that may be uncomfortable… but that’s provable love. By way of contrast, if you only perform good things for the people in your circle of affection, it may indeed be love… but it will be harder to prove it as such (Luke 6:32-33).

Feelings do have their place in all this, though. When we examine the suggested behaviors for love in Paul’s lists, we see a commonality: They all prepare the ground for good feelings in the recipient. For example, look at the items in verse four; I see patience, kindness, purity, humility… when you are in the presence of these, how do you feel? Secure, probably… and security is love’s reflection.

Verse five tells us that loving people are not jerks! They are not selfish or brittle — they are not a chip-on-the-shoulder kind of people, and they keep the best thoughts about others. Verse six tells us that they do not cheer-on sin, but rather love the truth… and since sin is darkness and truth is light, love does not revel in sin — but prefers the company of truth. Verse seven shows that love bears with all things — with the easy and with the difficult; it believes, it hopes… it hangs in! Love’s countenance is bright!

Finally, love never fails. Many other good things shall fail — like prophecy, tongues and knowledge (… which are mere tools for our sojourn here); they shall vanish away. But not love. Love is eternal — and when we shed these corrupted bodies, we shall enjoy love in its purest form forever… and nothing else will suffice. God does love because God is love.

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