You know what love is, right? If you’ve been in God’s Church for any length of time, you know it is not an emotion, though it can be expressed with emotional content. You might say: love is a decision; love is action. It is living the “give way,” as Herbert W. Armstrong often expressed it.
You are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, which not only gives a detailed description of godly love, it shows that this love is everything—that this love outlasts everything!
You can probably also recite by memory Mr. Armstrong’s four-word definition. But might we be overlooking something in that?
This definition is profound, and a specific verse in 1 Corinthians 13 reinforces it. In The Missing Dimension in Sex, he wrote: “If I had to define love in four words, I would say, ‘Love is an unselfish outgoing concern’ ….” He then elaborates that this concern is “… for the good and welfare of the one loved.”
It may be easy to think of God’s love as the action of give and forget that there is real concern involved—concern for their “good and welfare.”
That is what the remarkably profound verse 3 of this chapter tells us. Read it carefully: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [godly love], it profiteth me nothing.”
This is deep. You can give all your goods, and not have God’s love. You can sacrifice yourself, and not have God’s love. That squares with Mr. Armstrong’s definition—that love is certainly more than emotion, and even certainly more than just action. It is concern, which is an attitude or frame of mind.
That attitude—not just the action—is all-important in whether or not we are expressing God’s love!
Action and concern are not necessarily separate concepts either. God’s love is action-based concern and concern-filled action. A little later, Mr. Armstrong continued: “True love combines the rational aspect of outgoing concern—desire to help, serve, give or share—along with sincere concerned affectionate feeling.”
Consider: You could do “giving” things, yet if you did so with a “get” attitude these wouldn’t yield harmonious relationships or other fruits of God’s love in your life. We all can give, serve, even “cooperate” in the wrong attitude. We can do those things in the spirit of competing and taking, perhaps of self-righteousness.
A way we can gauge this is how tired we get in our service. We all get physically tired and need rest and recharging. But if truly motivated by godly love, we will not get spiritually tired! If we give only because we are supposed to, then we can get spiritually tired. If we do it only because no one else will do it, we can grow weary in well doing. If we serve only because it’s our duty, we get tired. This is because we are working against the force governing all relationships!
If you help someone only because it’s the “right thing to do,” then you can only sustain that for so long. If you date simply because you “have to serve,” then that will wear you down.
However! If you help others because you care for them, if you give your time because you care—that is, you care about it getting done more than caring who gets credit—that is the “outgoing concern.” If you serve or date because you truly care for the one you’re serving, then you are cooperating with the invisible, immutable, inexorable godly force that governs all relationships.
If we are concerned about others, our actions can be truly loving. The next verses in 1 Corinthians 13 define that love in action—how it behaves or doesn’t behave. It also shows the attitudes behind those actions—what it is concerned with, or not concerned about, or what causes it to rejoice.
Verse 8 shows how this is an enduring law in creation: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
So much of what we deal with is “partial.” A prophecy is no longer a prophecy when the event it has forecasted has come to pass. Language (“tongues”) is only a means of representing reality. Even knowledge itself could be just an intellectual form of some reality—not the reality itself. Verse 9 says even what we prophesy and know is partial and limited.
But God’s love is everything. It has always existed because God has always existed, and will continue to exist forever.
God is concerned with our outgoing concern! He must give us His very love, as we don’t have it naturally within us. His purpose for man—to be Spirit-born members of His Family—means we are to become this love.
“But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (verse 10). When God’s plan is fulfilled, so much of what we deal with will cease or become obsolete—but not God’s love. Because that is the force that has forever governed and will govern all relationships.
And the more we express it in our lives, the more we are sharing in something that will last forever, and the closer we become to fulfilling the purpose for which we exist!