I guess I should clarify, love isn’t just nice. Nice can be a part of love, but that’s like saying flour is a part of cake. Flour, by itself, is not good eats.
So what on earth do I mean and why write this post? It occurred to me the other day that much of our current world, our current western, American, culture, defines love in such a limited and fruitless way. Follow me for a moment, will you?
Love, if it’s reduced to the idea of being nice, isn’t love anymore. It’s just flour without sugar, eggs, vanilla, etc. And sure, every analogy breaks down at some point, but the big deal here is that if your view of love begins and ends with people being nice to you, you will miss out on the depth and breadth and power of real love. You’ll starve to death at a buffet because all you think is there is the free water.
So anyone who has ever been to a Christian wedding has likely heard the following segment wherein Paul the Apostle describes love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)
So right out of the gate, love gets a descriptor that goes far beyond just being nice. I can be as nice as anyone without being patient, at all. I have walked away from having my name on a restaurant waiting list because it was going to take more than 15 minutes. I wasn’t mean about it, and neither were they, but it wasn’t patient at all. Love takes a while. It needs roots. It needs sun. It needs to grow.
And then we jump right on nice. Or, as Paul says, kindness. Love is definitely kind. You can’t love someone by being mean to them. You may take actions they perceive as mean, but maybe a better word here would be malicious. You can’t love someone with malice. Those two things don’t go together. Which is exactly how he expounds on the next two: envying or boasting. Love doesn’t take an inventory of what someone else has or doesn’t have in order to create a hierarchy. I can envy someone and still be nice. It’s harder to boast, while being nice, but I believe it’s possible. And then he switches back to it not being arrogant or rude. So again, nice fits into this place, but it doesn’t rule it.
Love doesn’t insist on its own way. This is an important one. I have had people, in the past in my life, who I really thought loved me, but who insisted that in order to love them back, it had to be as they wanted it and no other way. That’s toxic. And often when someone insists on their way, not God’s way, and they don’t get it? They become irritable and/or resentful. They pout. They push their lips out or sneer and tell you that you’re the one who isn’t being loving.
And now here is a big one: love doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. So if someone loves you? They don’t ever encourage you towards doing what’s wrong. That’s as plain and simple and straightforward as I can say it or anyone else could. Real love says, “This is wrong, please stop.” Hate, in other words, encourages us towards the darkness. It celebrates the wickedness. And this is a hard one because I have had people encourage me towards the darkness in my own heart before. And they were nice about it. They were sincere. They gave me the looks and the words that said, “It’s okay, go ahead and do this.” That’s not love.
Bears, believes, hopes, endures. I sort of want to say it bears, believes, beets, and Battlestar Galactica, but I won’t. (Or I just did, whatever.) Love allows itself to be hurt. It can carry a burden because it knows from where it springs. Love isn’t quick or fleeting, despite what the world believes. Nicety is superficial and temporal. It can be a smile that isn’t sincere. It can be a handshake or a pat on the shoulder. But love? Love says, “It may take a year, or ten, or twenty, but it’s worth it to do this the right way.”
And I say all this because I realize that I am just as guilty of assuming that love is this tiny little morsel of good feelings when, in reality, love is a fantastic wonder that I am ill-prepared to even understand.
I need to love more. I need to love better. And I only see one way forward.