Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
The apostle Paul wrote the above passage on love to first century Christians living in the city of Corinth. Reading through the entire letter Paul wrote to his Christian friends, we realize they did not have much love at all. Paul describes some of them as quarrelsome (1 Cor. 1:11-12), carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3), sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:1-2), with some getting drunk and acting selfishly during their time of fellowship (1 Cor. 11:20-22). Their behavior was what we might expect to see at a local bar rather than the local church. Many of the Christians at Corinth were immature and worldly minded, placing an emphasis on spiritual gifts rather than the greater virtue of love. The apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to grow spiritually and to display love in their behavior toward one another, for love is enduring and does not fail.
It is important to realize that Christian love is a reflection of God’s love toward us. The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That’s the order. And what was our state when God first loved us? He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him. Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Paul also says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love. God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). God loves because of who He is and not because of who we are. Mature Christian love is the same. It is a love that is derived from the source of the Christian’s own godly character and freely extended to others. It is a love that seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation. It is a gracious love. Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver. Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35).
God’s Word gives us the standard for love, and mature believers will display it in their lives. But love does not arise automatically in the life of the believer, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict. Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by the Christian who chooses to love others. Love is not easy, and at times it can be risky because we may be hurt. This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may harm us. Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and feelings cannot be instantly manufactured by an act of the will. Emotion follows thought. The mature believer advances to overcome his emotions in some situations and love others according to their needs. J. I. Packer states:
Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).
This kind of love takes time. It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in His Christian walk. Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives. They love because He loves. They are gracious because He is gracious. They are kind because He is kind. They are merciful because He is merciful. Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow.
Steven R. Cook, M.Div.
 J. I. Packer, “Love” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).