Love is a very complicated thing (I)

Number 583 • November 15, 2020

1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Romans 13:7-10

INTRODUCTION: “Love is the greatest” – sounds so good, sounds so simple, sounds so easy doesn’t it? We should change our statement to read “love is the best.” It certainly is not simple, and you will come to understand that there’s really nothing easy about it. If you were trying to define or explain “love” to someone who did not know our language, how would you go about it? Chances are you would end up trying to define love in terms of what it does, or how it makes you feel. English is sometimes a poor language, in spite of more than 400,000 words in the vocabulary (how many do you know?). That is especially true with the word LOVE, one of our most ambiguous words, one that resists easy or precise definition. One does not love mate, mother, brother, sister, friend, country and apple pie, or a pet in the same way. And how is “Christian love” different from the other kinds of love?

When you read John 13:34-35 where Jesus says that the identifying characteristic of the Christian is that you love each other, your immediate response and first impulse should be to ask, How? In what ways? And how can one know that it is love? If the Lords’ words were limited to – that you love one another – each one might define love to suit himself. Then it would be easy, right? Not right, because the one to whom you profess love might have a different definition and not see your action as love at all. But neither Jesus nor any other in the New Testament suggests that each one determines his own concept, then loves in his own way. Jesus didn’t say love one another and leave it at that. Notice John 13:34: “Love each other as (in the same way and to the same extent that) I have loved you.” We have the perfect example of love in the person and example of Jesus himself. The New Testament defines love (what it is and is not, what it does and does not) in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. In this lesson we will try to accomplish three things: (1) Clear up some misconceptions, to show what love is not. (2) Show what love is, in terms of attitudes and actions. (3) Encourage everyone to do as the apostle Peter said: “Having purified your souls (when you have purified your souls) by obeying the truth unto unfeigned (unpretended) love of the brethren, see to it that you love each other from the heart, fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22).


Myth 1: love is spontaneous, contagious – it just happens; it “rubs off” on you. Fact: love is contagious. Those who are exposed to love are generally inclined to respond with love. But it is not “caught” like a disease, nor can one be vaccinated against it.

Myth 2: love attacks without warning and there is no effective defense against it. Love is the irresistible force that conquers the immovable object. Cupid supposedly shoots his arrows where he will. “When the love bug bites, all you can do is scratch.” And so it goes.

Myth 3: love is instantly recognized, after it happens. There is no way to explain it before it happens, but you will know it immediately when it happens to you. “Love is a feeling you feel when you feel a feeling like you have never felt before.” But many things are mistaken for love. Infatuation and admiration often pass for love. Physical attraction, “chemistry” or “animal magnetism” are easily mistaken for love. Acts of sympathy and kindness are often mistaken for a different kind of love. Psychiatrist Eric Berne refers to such acts and the resultant ego gratification as “stroking.” Everyone wants to be stroked. But this kind of thing can lead one to say, “You make me feel so good – you are so good for me – surely this must be love.”

Myth 4: love can be identified by physical symptoms. Palpitations of the heart (the source of “heart throb”) , shortness of breath, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, sleeplessness etc? Not to worry! “You aren’t sick, you’re just in love.” Some may actually expect to hear music, bells, pretty words, birds singing, etc. The sky may change color, rain clouds disappear and the sun breaks through the storm, etc. If such things do not happen it probably isn’t “true love.”

Myth 5: love has the right to demand almost anything from the lover. This is blackmail! It commercializes and prostitutes what should be a precious gift. Here’s the way it works: “If you really loved me you would fight for me, buy it for me, do it for me, give it to me…”

Myth 6: love can go as quickly as it comes. People fall in and out of love like it was a bucket of something. Anything so fickle cannot be true love, and probably is not love at all, but just a hormone surge. People ruled by emotions are unstable, not dependable – impossible to build relationships upon or with.

Myth 7: one person can love enough for two. “I know you don’t really love me, but I love you enough for both of us.” What nonsense! This has caused much grief in relationship, especially in marriages. No one can love enough to make up for a lack of love in another.


It is learned by imitating the example of God and of His Christ. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, John 13:34-35). To love as Christ loves means to treat people as He would treat them. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, John 13:34-35). To love as Christ loves means to treat people as He would treat them. It means to treat others the way Christ treats you.

Love is a broadening circle of concern, etc. The several words in the Greek New Testament which are translated by our one English word love prove the point.

EROS – selfish gratification of one’s personal desires. This is very childish and immature, though not completely invalid. Some never outgrow it, or experience any deeper love. “If it feels good to me, or if it ‘turns me on’, I’ll do it. Let’s do it.”

STORGE – family ties. This love should be learned early in life.

PHILEIA – sharing with close friends, people who have something in common, similar tastes, same interests, race, social or economic background, etc. This is not necessarily affection, but affection is usually involved (this is what we mean when we say we “like” someone or something). PHILEIA recognizes the common ground, shared aspects, the likeness shared with others. It is “friendship” love (James 4:4). Note: PHILEIA is often commanded, or strongly urged. Love the brethren (1 Peter 3:8, Heb. 13:1). Wives are to love husbands, children (Titus 2:4). If anyone does not love Christ, let him be anathema (1 Corinthians 16:22). It is sometimes used with reference to God’s feelings for His people. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). But notice the emphasis on likeness, the capacity for sharing characteristics.

AGAPE – general unselfish good will and concern. This is love, with no strings attached, love which does not have to be earned or repaid. This love has a special priority basis: it puts the object of love above the lover himself. The Latin word CARITAS (from which we get our word charity) is sometimes used to translate AGAPE (1 Corinthians 13, in the KJV). CARITAS/charity means of, with, or from the heart. In general, the love which is God’s nature, and which is to be shared and demonstrated by God’s people is AGAPE. God is AGAPE (1 John 4:8). “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have the same AGAPE for each other that I have for you” (John 13:34-35

#geraldcowan #love