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What love is …

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 The Way of Love

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 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. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (English Standard Version 2001 by Crossway)

This popular scripture from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth gives a very different view of what love should be. We have just celebrated St. Valentine’s Day. It has morphed into a celebration of romantic love. The Saint Valentinus (his Latin name) who the feast day is named for, was a priest and bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria just north of Rome, Italy. He was known for ministering to the persecuted Christians of Rome. Eventually, he was martyred for his sacrificial ministry of love. He was beaten with clubs and beheaded under Emperor Claudius II for performing marriages against the ban that the emperor’s edict had enacted against engagements and marriages. Plus, his refusal to sacrifice to pagan gods. This edict was enforced because Claudius needed soldiers, and because married men could be exempted from military service.

Valentine’s actions were not for the sake of a woman he loved, but because of his love for his Lord, Jesus Christ. He ministered sacrificially, despite the danger, to give comfort and service to those being persecuted because of their faith. It was a giving love, the kind of love that Paul was describing. In the original Koin Greek language of the New Testament, there are four distinct words that can be translated as “love” into English. The one Paul uses in his letter above is this serving, willing, giving love that is called agape (a-gah-pay). This type of love has nothing to do with sexual attraction or romantic hugs and kisses. It has to do with giving yourself away on behalf of another. This is the love that Christ Jesus gave us when he went to his death on a cross. This is the love of St. Valentine, who, while in prison, wrote a note before his execution. As described in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia: “…Valentine refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. Being imprisoned for this, Valentine gave his testimony in prison and through his prayers healed the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness. On the day of his execution, he left her a note that was signed, ‘Your Valentine.'”

We can see by this legendary example above that the kind of love exemplified by Christ and the saints who followed in his footsteps does not have much to do with the saccharine sweet cards, and candy hearts we share with those we love on Valentine’s Day. True love is a willingness to go to the point of giving one’s life for the sake of another. Yet, even if we never come to that extreme moment of death for someone else, we need to live this agape-style love in daily little sacrifices to show our connection to Christ.

Love lived as Paul describes will have an impact on the other people who will want to know why we show this kind of love. When we show we care about and are concerned about the lives with whom we share our space and our time and with whom we interact daily, we are following the way of love, that was shown to us through Jesus!

That can be the best Valentine gift we could ever give, to show what love is!

The Rev. Randall (Randy) Conley is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Hubbard Lake. He is married to his wife of 21 years, Robbie. He has written articles on faith and theology for several publications in his denomination. He enjoys preaching, teaching and gardening at home.

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