Parameters of Love

The Right Way vs The Bosses Way

I remember listening to an old southern Baptist preacher that told the story of a time his daddy was driving him to his first job at the age of 7 years old. His father gave him this advice: “Son, there are three ways to do things in this life: The right way, the wrong way, and the bosses way. Now which way are you going to do things?”

That’s a great question, especially today – what with truth being a relative term these days. What’s your answer? Most people, I think, would say “the right way.” At the time that was my answer too, and it turns out to be the wrong answer. If you’ve had a job where you’ve had to work under a superior for any length of time, you eventually realize that even though you want to do things “the right way”, it usually only causes trouble. The right answer is “the bosses way”.

When your boss says to go do something, and to do it this way, deciding to do it “the right way” usually means that you think that you know better than the boss, better than the training, better than the other employees around you. You decide to do it differently than the boss expects, and that’s where the trouble comes.

I know… in a world where everyone is told they are unique, special, snowflakes that can think outside the box and achieve anything they dream… it seems counter-intuitive. But the truth is that they jobs where you get treated like a unique, special, snowflake are very few and far between. Most jobs still expect you to do it “the bosses way”. He’s the one that hired you, trained you, and who signs your pay cheque. He’s the one that sees the big picture. Theoretically, that’s why he’s the boss.

The Trinity

That’s how it works in the Christian faith too. God is the boss. In the words of Isaiah 45:18:

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

And God made Jesus the Boss. Philippians 2:9-11:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus is the foundation upon which our life is built, the “founder and perfecter of our faith”, and is the one “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) He is the one “who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim 4:1). He is the Immanuel, God with Us, our Saviour, Redeemer, Friend and King. He’s the boss.

In the mystery that we call the “Trinity” we see three persons with one nature. They have the same substance, but unique identities. One God, three persons. We baptize in the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. In verses like Romans 8:9-11 we read about the distinctions and unity of the Trinity:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

They are one authority in three Persons.

The Authority of Scripture

Why am I telling you this? Because this Supreme Authority took the time to write a book.

Paul spoke of the Scriptures this way:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim 3:16)

Peter said it this way:

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

Zechariah said that God “spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” (Luke 1:70) King David said, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken…” (2 Sam 23:2-3) Jesus said to His Apostles:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

He had already confirmed the authority of the Old Testament – which was the Bible of the early church, and here He was talking about the writing of the New Testament.

The Bible that we read every week (hopefully every day) is so much more than an historical document, a moral guide, a list of suggestions to help our lives. It is a book written by our King and our Saviour, in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, carried through faithful servants, to tell us everything we need to know about everything that truly matters.

And one thing that truly matters to God (and to all humanity) is Love. So God told us how to get it right.

What is Love?

There’s a lot of talk about “love” – but how many people really know what love is? We all seem to know what love is, and even agree that love is important. Almost every movie, book, or song ever written has had some kind of reference to love in it. But what are we talking about? Let’s use Valentine’s Day as an example.

Say you go out for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner and a movie. You’re driving your car the restaurant and your significant other is sitting next to you. At the next stoplight look them deeply in the eye and say “I love you so much.” To set the romantic mood you turn on the radio and on comes your favourite song on the radio. “Wow, I love this song!”, you say. As you’re pulling into the restaurant parking your date says, “I can’t believe we got reservations here: I love this restaurant!”

You get to your table, order your food, and they bring out some bread sticks to munch on before the meal. “Wow”, you say, “I love these bread sticks.” You’re date gets up to use the washroom and you take a minute to look at your phone. You notice a text from your mom inviting you over for Easter dinner. You text her back: “Thanks Mom! I love you!”

Finally your food comes, you bow your head to say grace and begin “Dear God, thank you for this food and the hands that prepared it… God, we love you so much Amen.”

Wow! I love my wife, and bread sticks. I love God and the Hobbit movie. I love my mom and my iPhone. Really? Is that even possible? No one would argue with me, and we use the exact same word all the time – but they obviously have different meanings.  How can we get so much mileage out of this one word?

I think part of the reason is that we are lazy and grab onto the easiest word in our vocabulary. If we were trying to be more accurate, we’d probably saw we love our moms, but that we enjoy our iPhone and delight in the song. It’s like the word “awesome” today: it’s defined as “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear”, and people use it to describe everything from Niagara Falls to the whip-cream on their Frappuccino.

Another reason, I think because most of us don’t know what we’re talking about. Love, for many people, is primarily a feeling, something difficult to define, hard to pin down. That’s why a lot of sins are committed in the name of love. “I can’t help how I feel” is the ultimate excuse for doing something selfish or immoral. “How dare you tell me that my feelings are wrong!

“I felt it needed to be done” is a way of saying, “I knew it was wrong, or unkind, or none of my business, but my feelings told me to do something – so I went along with that.”

Love as a Choice and a Feeling

I want to push back on that idea. I believe love can be defined, because scripture – the Word of God – defines it for us. But first, let me say this: the idea that love is not at all an emotion or feeling is wrong too. The popular saying, “Love is a choice, not a feeling”, is admirable and well meaning – because it’s mean to take us away from merely acting on feeling alone, but it’s not quite true. Feelings certainly play a part in our definition of Love. Love is both a feeling and a choice.

For example, when God saved us from sin, it wasn’t merely a clinical choice based on the strict definition of love. He felt for us. He didn’t begrudgingly say, “Well, since I am a loving God, then I guess I have to do something about this…” Scripture says, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). He feels love for us, and acted on that feeling. It was the right, loving, perfect action… but it was also motivated by feeling.

The Old Testament describes the love of God the way a parent loves their child:

“The Lᴏʀᴅ will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

I’ve done all that with my kids. I’ve rejoiced over them, held them when they need comfort, and been excited for them. My choice to do that came from my feelings of love for them. God’s love is also described in the way a husband loves his bride:

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

That’s much more than a choice – that’s heart-felt emotion.

Even when disciplining his people God has amazingly sentimental, emotional outpourings for his people. In Hosea 11:8 He says:

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…. My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”

I know this feeling. The child needs to be disciplined, but you don’t want to, even though you know it’s the right thing. In that case, the feelings are in conflict, and a choice has to be made – which action shows the most love. God loves us with a passionate, emotional love..

Even our love for God is meant to be expressed through both feelings and choice.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…” (Matthew 22:37)

That incorporates our whole being. More than just our “mind” agreeing to love God, our Creator and our Saviour, because He deserves it… but also with our heart and our soul, the seats of our emotion. Sometimes we feel like showing our love for God and the decision to worship Him comes easily. Sometimes we don’t feel like it, so we have to decide to pray, read His word and worship Him. That’s normal.

Feelings and choice work together. Just like in marriage or friendship. Sometimes it comes easily because we feel love for the person, other times we don’t feel like it, but we choose to anyway. Or, sometimes we feel like we’re starting to love someone else… and we choose not to act on that feeling because we have made a previous choice of commitment to another. Feelings and choice.

When Peter writes to the church he says, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart…” (1 Peter 1:22) and “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) That describes a community that is held together by much more than the mere choice to love one another. That’s a heart-felt, emotion. Something that we are meant to be given by God, but also that we need to cultivate through the choices we make to be with each other and carry one another’s burdens.

For example, when we meet the practical needs of others, and tithe to God, it says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) In that we see not only the decision to love, but also the feeling of love expressed towards others. It’s both a choice and a feeling.

Perhaps the greatest example of this dichotomy is when Jesus tells us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). We certainly won’t feel like loving our enemies … but as we choose to love them… put ourselves in their shoes, see their sin and rebellion in the light of the revelation of our own sin and rebellion, and as God changes our heart from hard to soft, selfish to compassionate, we will begin to feel a love for our enemies.

Some love starts as a feeling and guides our choices… other love starts as a choice and guides our feelings.

The Parameters of Love

But God has spent time in scripture defining the parameters of love – the boundaries – the rules of love. Now, even saying that would cause some people to recoil.

Parameters and rules” on “Love”? How can there be boundaries on love? Well, there has to be. If love is a Choice and a Feeling, then we all have to agree that there is great potential for us to mess it up. We all make bad choices, right? And our feelings are often a mess, right? We’re all selfish, messed up, sinful people, who need divine guidance to learn how to love. As Jeremiah 17:9 says:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

We read of the Apostle Paul’s own internal war between his feelings, his knowledge of God, and his choices:

“…I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25)

Outside of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are hopelessly unable to control our feelings and our choices. So God sets parameters on love in the Bible.

The greatest example of the parameters of love is in 1 Corinthians 13:

“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. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

This isn’t the only place where love is defined – for example, sacrificial love isn’t explicitly mentioned in here, yet Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). There’s lots of other places in scripture that teach us about how we are to love, but 1 Corinthians 13 is a great example of the kids of boundaries that God has put on the feelings we have and choices we make based on Love. And so, to close today, I want to go through what God says about love:

Love Is Greater Than

In the first group of verses, from 1-3, we see that God has said that Love has a high priority. In verse 1 we see that the feeling and actions of love are greater than any amount of spiritual experience or prophetic speech. It says, it doesn’t matter how ecstatically spiritual we feel, or how many godly words or songs come out of our mouth, if we are not full of love for God and others, then we’re just making noise. God rejects worship and words that are not spoken in love – maybe only by the choice to love at first… but eventually also by feeling. They go hand in hand – faith and love, truth and love, worship and love, prayer and love, evangelism and love – or they don’t go at all.

Verse 2 says that no matter how connected we are to God, no matter how much Bible we know, no matter how intelligent or wise or godly we think we are, if it’s not guided by love, then it’s absolutely pointless. Some people choose to live in the head and not the heart. They’ve been hurt or let down when they’ve loved someone, or they’re not mature enough to know how to deal with their feelings, so they shut them off and live in their head. They do all the right things, make the “loving choice”, but are not guided by feelings of love. They have all the right answers, but no idea how to convey them in a loving way. They have all the faith, but no idea how to walk alongside people who are struggling with theirs. They spout platitudes and solutions, but without a heart for the person. And God says that they are “nothing”.

Verse 3 says that the inward feelings and choice to love is even greater than the outward expression of it. We can reject consumerism, corporatism, elitism, and join the 99% movement, but it can be motivated by fear or anger or jealousy. We can give away everything we have, live like Mother Theresa or Ghandi, and it is meaningless unless it is motivated by love. We can walk into the fires like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan 3), but even that amazingly faithful action loses its meaning if it is not motivated by love. Love cannot be measured by actions alone.

Love is…

And then, in verse 4, we see a rapid succession of things that describe of love is – and it forms the parameters of Love. Each one is an attribute of God – as is each of these descriptors. Jesus embodies all of these qualities, both now and when He walked the earth. And through the help of His Holy Spirit we can do the same. When we give our hearts to God, he changes them so we can have new feelings and make better

Love is “patient and kind”, it is “is not irritable or resentful”. Another word used is “long-suffering”, slow to anger, and “gentle”, “considerate”. I think of how Jesus, for three straight years kept explaining the same things over and over to His disciples. A person will try to excuse their short-temper and the verbal abuse they bring upon their family because they’re tired or sore. A parent will try to excuse the critical, hurtful words they bring on their children, saying that they are just trying to “toughen them up” because they love them. Or trying to hurry someone up so that you can get to the thing you want to do more. “C’mon! I’ve got places to be! I want to watch my show! You’re too slow!” they shout at the one they “love”. But Love is “patient and kind.”

“Love does not envy, it does not boast; it is not proud.” These are all tied to the opposite of love, which is selfishness. Jesus was the embodiment of humility and self-sacrifice. He avoided those who would try to put him on a pedestal and always pointed back to God.

“Envy” is more than just wanting what someone else has, but actually believes that the other person shouldn’t have it. “It should be mine, not theirs.” Love prioritizes others and is happy because of the other person’s happiness. “Boasting” is building ourselves up, love gives praise away. “Pride” makes us put ourselves first, love puts others first.

How we view and share our possessions can be an act of love, or an act of sin. When we come to someone’s house and constantly mention how much more comfortable and rich and better-off they are than we, we are being unloving to them. When we invite people over to brag about our new stuff, or get it so that we can look better than others – we are being unloving.

Love “is not rude” and “does not insist on its own way” seems pretty straightforward. Love doesn’t act disgracefully, shamefully or crudely. The only other time this word is used when men are told not to publicly disgrace young women by treating them like objects (1 Cor 7:36). This certainly eliminates every form of sexual exploitation. And it also eliminates parents begin overbearing in their children’s marriages – which they say is “done out of love”, or trying to get into a friends personal, private affairs with the excuse that you are “doing it in love”. Love isn’t shameful, and doesn’t butt its way in.

Love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” certainly points us to the parameters, the boundary markers, of Love. Helping people follow God’s standards of right and wrong, and live within His declaration of Truth, is loving. To allow someone to stumble into evil, and then rejoice in their folly, is not loving. It reminds me of Galatians 6:1 which says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” or, Proverbs 9:8, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” or Psalm 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness…” or Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

The loving thing to do is to keep people from wrongdoing and to rejoice with them when they live in truth. The unloving thing to do is to allow them to break God’s law and then mock them their folly. Remembering that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to whack a person back into the arms of God.

Let’s close with the final group of words: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love protects others when the bullets are flying. Love defends someone’s honour. Love steps in and helps where the hurt is – that’s what it means to “bear all things” – to willingly take upon ourselves someone else’s burden.

Love isn’t naïve, but it does assume the best of others. It gives people the benefit of the doubt, and doesn’t judge without knowing the situation first. Love isn’t racist or sexist or chauvinist or feminist. Love seeks the best for all, knowing that it means making ourselves less, even servants, of others.

And love looks forward, not backwards. They know the mistakes of the past, but are willing to trust that God can do amazing things in the future. Sure, we learn from our mistakes, and we don’t have to keep making the same ones in some kind of a naïve, idiotic, dreamland, but we always leave the door open for reconciliation, renewal, and resolution.

Love never ends because Jesus’ love never ends.