What is Love?

Love. There are millions of songs about it, a day dedicated to it and everybody in the world longs for it and will do anything to find it. But, what is love? That is the question a number of professionals asked a group of children between the ages of 4 and 8. The results came out to be:

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired." love is

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."

(And my personal favourite),

"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones."

God's definition of love however goes beyond French fries, smiles, clothes, perfume and even dog licks. The children's definition puts a smile on your face, but God's definition penetrates people's hearts and transforms their understanding. God's definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13 where He says:

"Love is patient, love is kind..."

I may fall into the same sin day by day but that doesn't shake God's love for me. I try to change and fail and God says, 'Good job, keep going!' I cheat on God, He embraces me with open arms. I hurt Him, He dries my tears. I spit on Him, He listens to my every need. I complain despite all I've received, He promises me better things. You get it - God is the epitome of patience and kindness. He calls me to this standard when He says, 'Be perfect as I am perfect' (Matt 5:48). This means that I should daily aim to grow more into being God's image so that when people look at me they see Him.

The ABC of Christianity is that you treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated yourself. Examine your relationships: if God treated you like you treated them, would you be happy? I think the first step to loving like God is humility. CS Lewis states, "Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all." To be patient and kind with people is to listen to them and recognise their needs. It is to take away any self-love, any desire to be understood, loved and consoled, and instead understand, love and console. The smallest acts we do are magnified in heaven. The smallest gestures of kindness and patience (a smile, an encouraging word) may mean a lot to someone, and if not, you can be sure it does to God.

"...It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud..."

We often underestimate envy and the severity of it. Yet we say every Sunday in the Divine Liturgy, 'The sin that entered the world by the envy of the devil.' That is how serious envy is... it makes us forget how much God loves and gives! God says that someone with true love puts an end to comparison, they are thankful for the many things they have, and instead of being jealous of what other people have achieved, they rejoice because it has been achieved.

Everyone strives for recognition, to be noticed and complimented; here our values are flipped upside down. We should resist drawing attention to ourselves and use that nature to draw attention to God - to boast in Him and His powers. All that we have done and will ever do after all has not been our own power or abilities but has been done from Him, who makes the weak strong for His glory.

There is no pride in love: love puts God first, then others and it puts itself last.

"...It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs..."

The moment Jesus said, 'It is finished', was the moment our sins were wiped away by His blood. No longer does He bring up our past mistakes or the problems we have caused; He has kept no records of them. The Bible says if I cannot forgive the inexcusable, how can I expect the inexcusable to be forgiven in myself? To keep no record of wrongs is not to deny the sin, justify it, or forget the sin existed. To forgive is to ask God to take off the baggage and remove the control the offender has on you, it is to stop being blinded by anger, revenge and self-pity and to be set free. Letting go of wrongs is the most loving thing one can do to both you and your neighbour. It is, as Max Lucado puts it, "Unlocking the door to set someone free and realising you were the prisoner!"

"...Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Love is the most important thing in the world because it is the only thing in this world that is everlasting - our love is the only thing that will continue on until heaven. Despite our failures, despite the circumstances, we are protected by God's love. Like children, we misunderstand what love is, we can immaturely view love as a feeling and that is what can make us doubt how God sees us or seek things outside of His will.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Max Lucado sums it up perfectly : 

"If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning... face it, friend. He is crazy about you."

I pray that in knowing the height and depth of God's crazy limitless love for us, we can learn how to love everyone we encounter with all the characteristics of 1 Corinthians 13.

St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in London is one of the oldest Coptic churches in the lands of the immigration, and one of the first to be supported and cared for by our beloved patriarch, HH the late Pope Shenouda III.

  • St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church
    Allen Street, Kensington
    London W8 6UX