What Is Love? (Baby, Don’t Hurt Me.)

What is love? Is it …

A feeling?

An action?

An invention by Hallmark for yet another holiday?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul shows us an in-depth, 15-part description of love. These parts are applicable to any relationship, but specifically, Paul’s thinking about relationships within the church, between brothers and sisters in Christ. Here’s what he had to say:

Love is patient and kind …

Patience means you expect others not to be perfect. And you’re OK with that. Kind here really means “considerate,” considering others’ needs instinctively. Kindness means I’m not just happy when things go my way; I’m also concerned about things going your way, too. 

… love does not envy or boast …

To not envy means that you rejoice in someone else’s blessings, even when you aren’t experiencing that blessing (and you want to!). This isn’t to say you can’t be sad about not getting something you desire, but are you envious also? Do you despise others for having what you don’t?

… [love] is not arrogant or rude.

Arrogant means you’re always thinking of yourself preeminently; you’re always focused on your rights and entitlements. You believe you deserve blessings and are irritated when you’re not given them. 

Some scholars translate “rude” as “dishonoring.” I think that’s what Paul had in mind. Love doesn’t dishonor a person by treating them like a commodity for the fulfillment of your needs. When you love someone, you don’t evaluate them based on how they fit into your scheme of what you need in life. 

[Love] does not insist on its own way …

It’s not the job of others to fulfill your needs, and it’s not your job to get angry when they fail to bring you happiness. How many times have you been upset at a friend for not understanding what you needed in the moment and giving that to you? They were needy when you needed them to be strong. They were down when you wanted them to be up. They were blind to some things you really needed. Selfishness says, “I better reevaluate this friendship; I’m not getting much out of it.” Love says, “I’m not here to insist on getting my way.” Ultimately, I’m here to serve, not to be served. 

… [love] is not irritable … 

Irritable means “easily triggered.” Because self-centeredness sees the world primarily through the lens of what someone needs and wants, it’s easy for us to get angry when someone doesn’t fulfill our desires. But love doesn’t think through that filter; it’s patient when others frustrate or disappoint us.

… or resentful …

This means we “keep no record of wrongs” (v. 5 NIV). When someone hurts or disappoints us, do we drag up all the previous ways they’ve let us down? Past wrongs should be like spent ammunition, bullets that can’t be fired again.

… [love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

Love never delights when someone else struggles, and it cares enough to speak up when a friend is doing something that will hurt them. Fake friendship doesn’t even care enough to confront, because it loves its own comfort more than it loves the well-being of the other person. 

Love bears all things …

When you love someone, you patiently endure the wounds of their selfishness and immaturity. You know that real change takes time, that it’s the result of someone faithfully sowing seeds of truth in the soil of unconditional love, and you’re here for it. Love bears all things, and it’s used to feeling under-appreciated. 

… [love] believes all things, hopes all things …

Love never gives up hope for, never stops believing in who someone could be, who God created them to be. Paul’s not talking about a silly, naive optimism, where you refuse to see someone’s faults. Love says, “What I most want you to say about me is that I believed in you; I never gave up hope for you.” Sometimes love asks the hard questions and presses down to expose what someone’s hiding. We serve a Savior who prayed for forgiveness of the ones nailing him to a cross—and then raised from the dead. There’s nothing he can’t fix, redeem, or heal. Love believes those things for them.


… [love] endures all things. 

Again, love never gives up; it can’t. It’s bound its heart to yours and can’t be happy until you’ve been completed.

A love like this has to be received before it’s shown, and Jesus displayed this love for us. 

Jesus is patient, and Jesus is kind (Jesus considered our needs higher than his own and bore in his own body our sins on the cross); Jesus does not envy or boast (he did not consider equality with God something to be clung to, but emptied himself of glory and made himself a servant to serve and save us); Jesus was not arrogant or rude. Jesus did not insist on his own way (In fact, he prayed, ‘not my will but yours be done!); Jesus was not irritable or resentful (he was the friend of sinners, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief); Jesus did not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoiced with the truth. (Of all those the Father gave him, he said, I haven’t lost a single one!) Jesus bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things. (His love would not let go until he could declare boldly from the cross, “It is finished!”)

Friend, it’s only through Jesus’ love for us that we are free to love others like this.