I once had a pastor who used to say, "Love isn't for whimps". I think he hit the nail on the head with that one! Love is tough business - even under the "best" of circumstances. In fact, I think it is one of the toughest things for us to receive and even harder for us to give away - when we do it well! Many times, we "love", but it is definitely not "well". We have strings attached, kind of doing our own thing, but never really investing in another as we should. In the roughest spots, it is put to the test and we sometimes don't come out smelling so pretty, do we? So, in order to love as God tells us to love, we have to remember a few things.
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. (I Corinthians 13:3-7 MSG)
Does it surprise you the list begins with "never giving up"? Well, this is where it begins - with commitment. In fact, anything worth having and keeping in life is based on the commitment we make to it. So, what better place to begin than with our commitment? The other stuff which comes after this is really the evidence of our commitment! Love doesn't hide behind some false facade. It is real, genuine to the core. If we want to understand what love is, we have to get real with ourselves, others, and especially God.
Ever use guilt as a "tactic" to get someone to do something? Yep, I think we have all done it at one time or another. Whenever we "use" guilt as a means of "getting what we want", we are really saying to the other person, "I matter more than you do", or maybe we are saying, "I want to control everything". Either way, WE are at the center of the universe! Guess what? God is the only one who deserves that honor! Commitment begins by being real, getting heart/mind/body in right order, and coming under the authority of Christ in our lives. When that occurs - there is no room for us to be in control or to manipulate to get our own way.
We have all heard it said, "Love is patient". Now, try acting that out in real life! It isn't always easy to be patient when another is being over-demanding, acting ridiculous, or just plain mean, is it? Nope, in fact if we were truthful, we want to beat them silly at times! Guess what? Patience is our problem - not theirs! We get "impatient" whenever we expect another to perform the way we expect. God brings the other person to the place they should be - not me! It has been a tough thing to learn, but once I finally got this straight in my mind, I actually stopped being so impatient with others.
We can add two other traits of love to this laundry list - kindness and a lack of competition. At first, it may seem odd that I paired these two together, but in fact, when we are in competition with another, we seldom operate in the realm of kindness! Thinking back to the last time you were operating in anything less than true kindness, what would you say was at the root of your "unkindness"? In most cases, it is because we didn't "win". All of life is sort of based on some sort of "win" or "lose" competition, isn't it? I giggle at drivers who edge up to my bumper, narrowly squeezing between my car and the one beside me, then zoom to cut in front of me, only to find themselves sitting directly in front of me at the stoplight! All they have to show for their "competition" is being first to stop! Fear and the losing of control leads to a whole lot of competition. Whenever we want to win so badly, we usually move into a position of not caring about another's well-being.
To this list we add traits like not being selfish, arrogant, or rejoicing in the failure of another. This comes as no surprise when we see the development of this "list" of traits, does it? If we get our commitment right - recognizing God is in control of the other person, not us - and then begin to focus on the other person as we should, we find ourselves being a whole lot less "self-attentive". All of these characteristics are really the result of being overly "self-attentive" or "self-focused". Add to this the trait of not being easily angered and you have a full "package deal" of getting your eyes off self and onto another. Anger gets its start in some "right" of ours being "violated". So, if we lay down our "rights" at the feet of Jesus, we find we demand a whole lot less of others and rely upon what it is he will bring into the relationship.
As we close today, let me remind you of two other traits of love - it doesn't quit and it operates in maturity. Isn't not quitting the same as commitment? Not really. Commitment is the starting point - the "sticking" point is when we determine to not be swayed by our emotions, learning to rely upon the maturity Christ gives us through time in his Word and at his feet. Issues will come up anytime there is a relationship between two people - learning to stop focusing on the issues and keeping your focus on Christ is really evidence of the determination to not quit! Just sayin!