Love–A Vain Pursuit?

“Write out 1 Corinthians 13 and insert your own name every time it says ‘love’.”

The instructions are scrawled across the top of a sheet of notebook paper in my journal. I don’t remember who gave them to me, but the point was obviously to impress upon me (and those in the Bible study or sermon with me) the stringent requirements of Christ-like love.

It’s disheartening isn’t it? Do you wonder what is the point of even trying?

For starters, I know that I haven’t always been patient or kind; I’ve certainly been selfish, and will be again. I’ve been rude before and looked out for my own interest. I’ve given up, refused to shoulder someone’s burden and I’ve felt hopeless. My guilt over failures to be perfectly loving is assuaged somewhat when I realize that every single human being out there is routinely unloving. We’ve all been on the receiving end, too, which then starts the vicious cycle of being easily angered or recording wrongs.

Face it, love is simply, humanly, impossible.

Now, before you assume that I’ve lowered the bar and I’m willing to walk away sighing, “Nobody’s perfect,” recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:48, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We also know, from Philippians 4:13, that we can do all things through Christ. So, somehow, someway, this loving thing—in all of its nuances is possible.

I am sure that whoever gave me those instructions to replace the word, “love” with my own name, had the best of intentions. However, I think they were categorically wrong. My name, your name, doesn’t belong there. God’s does.

1 John 4:8 says, “ … God is love.”

Try rewriting the Love Chapter now:

“God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Your Father does not demand His own way. He is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Jesus never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Now, not only do we have a more accurate rendering of this chapter, but we also have a clear view of how God’s grace really works, how on earth He could sacrifice His Son, why in the world He cared about humanity instead of just wiping out the whole, wretched lot of us. Now we know why He can say that all of our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. We see how Jesus stayed on the cross. We understand how Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, won every verbal spar with the religious rulers of His day.

It is His nature.

Love is not your nature. It is not my nature. That is why 1 Corinthians 13 is not a to do list for us. It is a list of God’s characteristics and His behavior toward us. Here is what we are supposed to do with love:

“Pursue love … “ 1 Corinthians 14:1

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14

God does not command, nor expect us to conjure up loving behavior and attitudes. Rather, we are to pursue love—in other words, replacing the word love with God—pursue God. We are to clothe ourselves with Christ and with love. As we close in on love; when we are clothed in it and experience the warm, gentleness of God’s love soothing our own souls, we become miraculously able to display love as well.

We are indeed called to be perfect and to love, but not as our human selves—as our Heavenly Father. The closer we are to Him, like a natural child spending time with his parents, we assume His character.

How are you doing in your own efforts to love others? What might happen if you refocus your energy on pursuing God (love) rather than good behavior?

Names Have Been Changed to Identify the Righteous

“I love everything about her life!”

The barista’s comment startled me as I left Starbucks. I knew she was talking about me. We had just been giggling together, discussing our dogs and exchanging first names.

I almost turned around said, “No you don’t! You don’t know anything about my life!” But instead, I just smiled to myself and walked into the sunshine. I think I know what she loves about my life, it’s what she can see. I pray she can see that God has blessed me with joy and a peace beyond understanding.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to spot a girl across the room and wish to trade her places. I used to pray each night that God would just kill me because I didn’t want to do my life anymore. In the midst of a 15 year battle with anorexia and a troubled marriage, it seemed as if my life couldn’t get any worse. I even feared that my loved ones had given up on me after pouring thousands of dollars into my treatment, only to still see a starving, depressed woman.

Looking into my heart, I hated what I saw. I perceived my identity as intrinsically linked to my long list of failures.

Maybe Jacob did, too. The Biblical character of Genesis lived up to his given name, “Deceiver”. In fact, when God asked him in chapter 32, “What is your name?” Jacob was forced to reply, “I am Deceiver.”

At that point in Jacob’s life, he believed the end was near. In mere hours, he would be face-to-face with a man who once wanted to kill him. Already, Jacob had a long list of mistakes to feel guilty for. I wonder if Jacob hated who he had become.

But God is in the business of changing identities. Over and over throughout the Bible, when God did a massive work in someone’s life, He also changed their name, giving them a new identity, a new way to refer to themselves, a new way to see themselves and a new way to present themselves to the world.

For Jacob, God told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.”

Another definition of the name Israel is, “Prince of God”.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, our identity changes too, when we accept Jesus as our salvation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Isaiah 62 tells us that God changes our name to reflect the new identity that we receive when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for us and the gift of His righteousness to us.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

As I sank into a chair on the patio at Starbucks, the sun’s afternoon rays painted my feet a soft yellow, then shadows encroached and swept me into the early evening hours. I smiled again. I love who I am. I love the one who gave me His identity in Christ, and I dearly love the name, Jesus.