Number seven of a seven-part series on virtue
The culmination of this series on virtue is an examination of the chief of virtues, love. There are more words that have been written or spoken concerning love than perhaps any other subject.
It is safe to say that most of these words have to do with a romantic type of love. Love as a virtue is not that kind of love.
The Virtue of Love Comes from Above
The source of virtuous love is God Himself. According to the Apostle John,
1 John 4:7,8 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. [ESV]
Love’s source and identity are found in God. That is why love is the chief of the virtues.
It is the chief in authority over the virtues, and the chief purpose of all virtue. The authority of love comes from the authority of God, and the purpose of love is to know God.
The word translated as “love” throughout John’s letters is agape. That is the love which puts the good of another before oneself.
Agape is epitomized by the Lord Jesus laying down His life for us all. The goal of the virtue of love is to know that love from Christ to each of us.
What Love Is Like
The Apostle Paul gives a beautiful description of what love is really like in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
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. [ESV]
Paul begins with the value of love over all other things that are good. It doesn’t matter how smart or wise one is. It doesn’t matter if my faith is the strongest of all.
It doesn’t even matter if I sacrifice all I have or am to a right cause. None of it matters without virtuous love from God giving it meaning.
Paul then goes on to describe the defining characteristics of godly love. He does so is both positive and negative ways, that is, he tells us both what love is and is not.
What Love Is Not Like
Paul also explains what love is not like. First of all, love is not envious.
Envy is an all too common characteristic in most. Envy can never be a loving emotion.
Envy is the fuel for hatred of either another person or a group of people. Envy seeks the other person or group’s loss simply because they have more.
Love is not arrogant. Arrogance cares only about self, and love always reaches beyond the self.
Love is not rude or without manners. Rudeness doesn’t consider either the feelings of another or the standards of a society.
Love doesn’t insist on getting its own way. A better rendering of this Greek term is found in the NET Bible.
1 Corinthians 13:5 (Love) is not rude, it is not self-serving, …
If my purpose of life is to only ‘look out for number one,’ love will get disregarded. Love requires a larger purpose.
A life of love cannot be filled with resentment. A person with a perpetual chip on their shoulder doesn’t know the virtue of love.
Love is not in favor of wrongdoing. A loving heart is distressed with wrong whether that comes from others or from ourselves.
What Love Does
The last aspect of love from Paul’s letter concerns what love actually does. The first of these he mentions is that love “rejoices” in truth.
Paul states this as a contrast to love ‘not rejoicing’ in wrongdoing. Truth is a potent vaccine and antidote to wrong.
Love desires truth to prevail. Truth increases the joy of virtuous love.
Paul then lists four things love does concerning “all things.” He writes that love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things.
A detailed exposition of this is far too lengthy for this venue. Here is my shorter version.
Love ‘bears’ the burdens of the loved one. Moreover, it believes in the one loved.
Love brings hope to a loved one in need. It also endures even hurt for another.
Most of all, virtuous love does this “in all things.” That is, love does these consistently come what may.
There is one factor about virtuous, agape love which seems overwhelming to any honest person. It is the conclusion that no human could be this loving all the time in all circumstances!
At the least, I know I can’t. Nor can the best people I know, all far better than I at showing Godly love.
There is but one person who ever loved in that complete and perfect way. It is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.
God sent Jesus to both show us the life of perfect love, and to die so we could live in His love. Following Him brings the virtue of perfect love to our lives.
Romans 5:8 But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Sharon Tate Soberon’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Melanie’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Sharon Tate Soberon’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Tim Ellis’ Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Claudio Ungari’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text.
Originally published in TIL Journal