Why is it so hard for us to love perfectly?
One answer, of course, is obvious. Although I’ve known the above verses since childhood, I constantly fall short for the simple reason that sin gets in the way. It’s hard not to be self-seeking and easily angered when I am selfish and irritable. It’s hard to be patient, and always hope, when I’m naturally impatient and prone to giving up. My very nature prevents me from showing 1 Corinthians 13 love, without stumbling, every day and all the time.
While I could fill a book with the aspects of sin that hinder us from faithfully applying Paul’s prescription for godly love, I would like to propose, instead, that my initial question has another answer — one we often overlook.
Love comes from the heart.
As Christians, many of us tend to balk at such statements. We know Jeremiah 17:9, which tells us that the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” We know better than to trust our feelings. We’ve heard and read repeatedly that love is a verb.
The thing is, all of that rings true (especially the part from Jeremiah). Our hearts ARE corrupted by sin, which means those who use “follow your heart” as a guiding principle will soon stray far from God. After all, in that context, “heart” is essentially synonymous with “feelings,” and our feelings are surely the most fickle of counselors. Because of these truths, numerous teachers and counselors emphasize the importance of showing love through our words and actions, regardless of how we feel. Love, they say, is a verb; in fact, look at all the verbs in First Corinthians 13.
On one hand, they are absolutely correct.
On the other hand…real biblical love is so much more.
Reading Paul’s letters provides an eye-opening glimpse into the heartfelt love that motivated him to spread the Gospel throughout the world. He says of his brothers and sisters in the Philippian church: “I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:7-8). To the Thessalonians, he writes: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 1:7-8).
These are beautiful examples of loving from the heart; however, the Bible gives us more than just examples to indicate the kind of love that should mark us as Christians. First Peter 4:8 leaves no room for ambiguity about whether we really need to pursue deep, genuine love: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (emphasis mine).
The trouble, of course, is that this is so much more easily said than done. How can we manufacture a feeling? Especially towards people who — let’s be honest — are pretty darn difficult? If we turn again to Philippians, we find that looking to Jesus provides the perspective that will enable us to do so.
Simply put: If I look at others from my own perspective, I will love very, very few people. Sadly, I can always point to one reason or another that a given person is not worthy of my love. Each one of us stumbles every day, and if I so choose, I can easily turn a blind eye to my own shortcomings while ferreting out the failings and foibles of those around me.
But if I look at people through the eyes of Christ, all of that is turned upside down.
Despite being in the form of God, Jesus took the form of a servant. He knew that our world was broken by sin, and saw into the heart of every person He encountered. Instead of being disgusted by what He saw, however — instead of comparing His sinless perfection with the sin-stained mess inside each human being — He saw the image of God. He saw people and “felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). He was moved, not to revulsion or a sense of smug superiority, but to pity and compassion.
Imagine if we did the same.
Imagine encountering a difficult person and remembering that Jesus feels compassion for him or her. That this person battles the same illness that you and I do — sin — though the symptoms differ from one person to another. That we are called to think even of unpleasant people as “more significant than [our]selves,” and to remember that they are — like you and I — in desperate need of grace.
Being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) isn’t just about having our behavior transformed. It’s about letting the Holy Spirit change us from the inside out; becoming more and more like our Savior every day; and about following Him so closely that, when we see our fellow human beings, we see them, not through our fleshly eyes, but through His grace-filled ones.
And the more we allow Him to transform our perception of others, the more we will find that we truly do love them from the heart.