We humans are social beings. We need love, appreciation, and we need to be in relationship with others. Humans are incapable of living without relationships which is why people who are in solitude tend to go insane. We were created to live in a society and depend on one another.
There are five important aspects to our relationships, all of which were designed to work together in harmony and synergy:
- The physical aspect
- The emotional aspect
- The mental aspect
- The social aspect
- The spiritual aspect
The delusion of the physical quick-fix
In Western culture, we’ve grown accustomed to expecting quick and immediate satisfaction, even from our relationships. Where do we find quick and immediate solutions? In the physical aspect, of course. It’s easier to be physically intimate with someone for a few minutes than to be intimate in the other four aspects that make us who we are. However, we quickly discover that sex can only briefly and partially satisfy our need for love and relationship; a deep and concealed desire which does not easily find satisfaction.
The problem is that we base our understanding of what love is and what relationships are on Hollywood movies and TV commercials. These depict shallow relationships. An example of this is the term “intimacy,” which has developed a sexual connotation. However, intimacy is much more than sex. Intimacy embodies all the various aspects of our lives. Yes, the sexual aspect is included as well. But more important are the social, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.
Hollywood movies tend to paint a picture of a love which feels like butterflies in our stomachs. Of young, sexy, good looking and vibrant couples. A fake love which barely lasts for the better part of an hour. But what happens when we grow old, wrinkled and sick? Can such a love last? Of course not.
Love is so much more than feeling butterflies in your stomach or having sex. True love is made up of decisions and actions – even when we can barely feel the butterflies. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to someone, the greater our chances of getting hurt, since both of us in the relationship are far from perfect. That is why any person you ask will testify to having been hurt by one relationship or another. As a result, many of us build walls around our hearts in order to protect ourselves from any outsiders who may end up hurting us. But that same wall, which keeps people out, is also the wall imprisoning us within. And as a result, feelings of loneliness and bitterness enter our hearts and take over.
There is no such thing as love or a relationship without pain
Last year, in a discussion with a friend who is a psychologist, she said it’s impossible for a human being to change without first feeling pain. Before we build new, she said, we must destroy the old.
As humans, we are incapable of having perfect relationships. We must look for a definition, an example and a role model for perfect love, outside of human relationships.
Let’s take a look at the definition Paul the apostle wrote in the New Testament to describe what perfect love is:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 [b]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of [c]prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I [d]became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror [e]dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13)
The Corinthians were very talented and very skilled on so many levels. They were very proud of it. Like New Yorkers or our Tel Avivians. They also had great spiritual gifts such as prophecy, meaning we can be the best preachers, the best evangelists, the best leaders, have successful ministries – but without love as the motive.
Today, most of us will connect good deeds with good people: if someone is doing something good, we automatically think they are good. But Paul says that without love, we are like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. In the Greek theater, that was the noise that the ‘gods’ would make. And in the Greek temples, that was the way the priests would worship their gods, just as we see nowadays in the far east. These noises might sound exciting and impressive, but actually, it’s just empty noise; it’s external and superficial, it’s fake.
Some of the Corinthians’ lives were like that, and my life was also like that.
You can be a talented and gifted pastor, but also cranky, rude and impatient.
You can be a talented and gifted evangelist, but also hurt people’s feelings and get into fights all the time.
In our society today, what really counts is if you are smart, wise, creative, knowledgeable, if you produce. Your character? That’s only secondary – as long as you get the job done. Right?
That was the problem with the Corinthians – they were producing so much, but half of the church was not talking to the other half, gossiping, judging, being critical, boasting and self-absorbed, basically hating one another.
Society teaches us to do good deeds with the threat of FEAR and the temptation of PRIDE.
FEAR: The police will catch you! God will punish you!
PRIDE: People will like you if you do good things,besides, you are better than liars and thieves.
Either way, the motive is not love.
Paul is challenging us, saying that it’s actually the other way around!
You can give everything you own to charity, but if you do just to boast and get “likes” on Facebook, then…
You can be performing what you think is perfect morality, just like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But, if your heart is filled with envy, anger and pride, then…
You can be super religious, like the scribes and Pharisees…
But Jesus said you need to go much deeper than what can be seen outwardly
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
All of your religious fanaticism or all your “good deeds” are worth nothing before God if your motive deep inside is not love.
You can have a morally committed life as a fruit of a supernaturally transformed heart, but it is also possible to have a morally committed life without a supernaturally transformed heart.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Lisa Firestone, wrote in 2014:
“Generosity—the quality of being kind and understanding, the willingness to give to others things that have value—is often defined as an act of selflessness. However, studies have now shown that generosity can actually—selfishly—be in your best interest.”
The famous philosopher from the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes, claimed that with or without understanding it, anything that we do, including “good deeds”, we only do because it serves ourselves.
You may or may not agree with them, but they have a point.
In verses 4 through 6, Paul tells us what love is NOT: jealous or envious, bragging or boastful arrogant or proud, provocative, dishonoring, self-seeking, angry, keeping record of wrong doings, or delighting in evil.
This is not a random list that Paul came up with. If we read about all the Corinthians were doing, it was their lifestyle.
Paul is not saying, ‘don’t envy, be nice! Don’t be proud, be kind!’ Instead, he tells us what LOVE is like.
Let me go over these verses with you once again, but this time, imagine they apply to a personal relationship of yours:
Imagine that your loved one would ALWAYS respond to you in a patient, kind way without any jealousy at all. That this person would not be boastful, arrogant or prideful. Would not be rude, selfish or irritable. Would not humiliate you or remind you of your past mistakes. Would never lie to you, but always tell you nothing but the truth. Would care for you, trust you, hope for the best for you, and stay with you even through your worst of times, when you are sick or dying.
Who among us can fulfill such a love as described in these verses?
When human being grows up without love, they are broken, they cannot function properly, and they can even die. Recent studies have shown that the brains of babies who grew up without anyone loving on them, touching them, and hugging them, actually made their brains grow in a defective way.
So, we learn how to love by first being loved ourselves. The more we experience love, the more we know how to love others. Before we can give love, we need to first receive love.
But none of us is perfect, none of us grow with perfect parents, none of us is capable of a perfect love.
We won’t know what a relationship with someone perfect is like until we ourselves build a relationship with perfection itself: with God.
These verses are, without a doubt, the definition of perfect love. But it is not only an illustration. Paul obviously had someone in mind – Jesus. The one who loved us perfectly.
- Love is patient – patient is to be able to suffer pain for a long time, exactly what Jesus had to go through.
- Love is kind – Jesus asked the father to forgive the people who killed Him.
- Love hopes – Jesus told the man who was crucified next to him, that later that day he will be with Him in heaven.
- A love that is focused on the welfare of others, rather than insisting on its own. A Messiah who humiliated Himself and gave up His life on the cross for human sinners. Only someone who knows God and whose heart is overflowing with God’s love will be able to understand what Yeshua said, when He commanded that we love and pray even for our enemies, forgive those who sin against us and love those who do not love us back.
See how human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, summarized Yeshua’s words from the New Testament:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. That is why Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies. do good to them that hate you’ ” [Dr. Martin Luther King]
God’s love transformed us from enemies to friends.
While human relationships frequently end because the butterflies are gone, or an accident occurred, or simply because we’re just not as “hot” as we were 20 years ago, God’s love is not based on what happens in our lives, on our physical appearance, on how much money we have in the bank, on the color of our skin, on our race, our gender, or on the religion we were born into.
God loves us – BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE.
Those who truly love are capable of sacrificing and giving up what they hold dearest for someone else
Consider the love of a mother willing to give up her own life in order to save her children’s. Or of a man who is willing to sacrifice his life if it means saving that of his lover. History is filled with such moving stories.
The greatest and most famous example of this sacrificial love was predicted by prophets in the Old Testament and realized in the New Testament. God revealed Himself to us as the Messiah and expressed His love for us by taking upon Himself the punishment we deserve for our horrible sins and mistakes. He gave His life for us. That is the perfect love and sacrifice – such that it should make us all be grateful to God, and humble toward our fellow human beings. After all, if a perfect God gave His life for us, imperfect human beings, who are we to show arrogance or pride toward other people?
Let’s finish with the words of John, and consider it to be a prayer over our lives.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)
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Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash
Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.
Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.
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