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3 Ways Love Challenges Our Faith

3 Ways Love Challenges Our Faith
Brought to you by Christianity.com

There are few days where we do not confess our love to someone or to something. “Love” is a constant word on our lips. We use the word to describe everything from our favorite treats to the way we feel about our family. We love our spouses, but we also love our favorite movie, a restaurant, a car, or a vacation hotspot. Does the word love mean the same in each instance?

Our use of “love” becomes even trickier when we speak from the point of faith. Do we love God and coffee in the same way? What exactly does it mean to share the love of Christ with others?

Paul’s famous chapter on love helps us answer these questions. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most recognizable passages of all Scripture. Due to Paul’s emphasis on love, however, the passage is most commonly associated with weddings.

Because of this, the message is mistakenly wrapped up in sentimentality and romanticism. In doing so, we lose the original intent of this profound word.

The call to walk in the way of love is not a call to live with doe-eyed affection or school-yard crushes. For the Christian person, the call to love is radical and transformative.

The way of love is inseparable from the way of Jesus. This naturally brings certain challenges into our faith lives. Three challenges are worthy of mention.

1. Love Means We Focus on the Other

To fully understand the force behind the call to love, we must remember the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was destroying itself with divisions. The community ceaselessly judged and criticized one another.

They were filled with jealousy (3:3), pride (5:2), and relentless spiritual ambition (4:8). This meant that God’s love — which is at the heart of the gospel — was a distant reality from their lives. The Corinthian Christians lived more for themselves then for others.

This is not the way of Jesus. The way of love is a call for Christian unity. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1:10).

Christ’s love, accepted into our lives, is not something we claim for our own edification. Love is not a personal possession; it is a way of acting together as the body of Christ.

The very basis of our Christian lives crumbles if we fail to embody the way of love. The refusal to love, writes Paul, nullifies all spiritual gifts:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (13:1-2).

The church is not built on spiritual accomplishments, but on the selfless giving of oneself for another. The Greek word used in this passage is the word Agape. Agape love is the love that is expressed in Jesus, a love in which the greatest expression is “in giving one’s life for one’s friend” (John 15:13). A love, which is focused only on the self is not godly love. Love moves outward.

Love calls Christian people to live in unity. Jesus prayed that his followers “may be one as we are one” (John 17:21). Basing our Christian lives on our own spiritual gifts, our heritage, or our wisdom, limits the flow of love within the community.

We focus too much on ourselves. The love of Jesus calls, however, us to embrace each other, particularly those who are different than us. This is, after all, exactly what Jesus did for us.

2. Love Means We Keep Our Eyes on Jesus

The way of Agape love is not something we claim for ourselves as a spiritual status. Instead, love is revealed in the specific actions of our lives. Love is incarnated. Thus, 1 Corinthians 13 gives practical descriptions of how love is lived out.

Patience, kindness, perseverance, all are tangible expressions of love. Yet, if we really want to get a snapshot of the life this passage describes, we must look to Jesus. Jesus exhibited a life rooted in love. Look at what happens if we replace love, with Jesus.

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus does not envy. Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus is not rude. Jesus is not self seeking. Jesus is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrong. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

This is quite the description! Paul’s description of the way of love pictures how Jesus lived his earthly life. Thus, to walk in love is to walk in the very steps of Jesus. The call to love is to have the way of Jesus at the center of our lives.

Make no mistake, however, this isn’t as quaint and mild as we may first imagine. When Scripture says “Love is patient” this is not just a call to be polite when stuck in traffic. The call is more radical than that.

The call to patience is relationally based; it is about choosing to love another person even when we find them trying. The call to kindness is about having the boldness to bless the very person we are tempted to reject, dismiss, or discard.

The call to “keep no record of wrong” is a call to radical forgiveness and the releasing of all internal grudges. Such actions are easy to talk about but harder to live out. Yet this is the precise call of love. When Christians neglect such actions, they neglect to live like Jesus.

3. Love Transforms Our Lives

To walk in the way of love is to allow the love of Jesus to confront us, and to challenge us. This may not always be the most comfortable experience. To grow in love is to step away from habits, attitudes, or preconceptions that choke out Christ’s love in our lives.

This will be different for each person. Yet, as Christians, we must allow Christ’s love to expose those places where we need growth or healing.

How might love transform you? Well, see what happens when we replace the word love with our own name:

___ is patient, ___ is kind, ___ does not envy. ___ does not boast, ___ is not proud. ___ is not rude. ___ is not self seeking. ___ is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrong. ___ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ___ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

What phrase convicted you? Are you as patient as Christ would like? Do you struggle with boasting or rudeness?  Are you easily angered?

The point is, when we read the passage this way, the love of Jesus exposes our rough edges. We become challenged in the specific place where we need to grow in Christian love.

The truth is all of us need to grow in love. We never climb the ladder of spiritual perfection whereby the way of love is perfected in us.

The good news, however, is that Jesus stands with us, his power and grace extended into our lives. Growing in the way of love is simply another way to say growing deeper in love with Jesus. So, ask yourself, where does love need to do its work in you?

For further reading:

Why Is Love Mentioned in the Bible So Many Times?

'Faith, Hope, and Love' Why Is Love the Greatest in 1 Corinthians 13?

What Does Agape Love Really Mean in the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/red-feniks

SWN authorThe Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.comibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.

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