The Face of Love

“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.”[1]

This is an iconic, timeless description of what love is from the Bible. This passage has been quoted at countless weddings. Most people are familiar with the “love passage”, even if they have no familiarity with the Bible itself.

We know there are different kinds of love. There is the intimate love between couples, erotic love, the love between parent and child and brotherly love among friends. These kinds of love sometimes overlap. For instance, the love between married couples, at its best, incorporates something of all of these types of love.

Perhaps, the most popular notion of love today is the love between two people – the Disney type of love at first sight and love ever after. A mix of erotic thrill and passionate commitment.

Google “love”, and images of young, good-looking men and women goggling each other is what you will find. This love is almost mythical in its ubiquitous celebration in popular culture, and it’s, perhaps, just as mythical in reality. Few, if any of us, really experience the love that we collectively aspire to (as demonstrated by the money we spend on love-themed entertainment ).  And, those of us who have “felt” this kind of love all know how fleeting it is.

This kind of love involves commonality of interest and affection. It’s a two-way street. When the commonality ceases and the affection is lost, the one-way street can only operate so long – especially in a society that emphasizes the emotional value of love. We build in a qualifier to the age-old phase, “til death do us part”: when the affections die, I am outta here!

Other kinds of love include the love of parent and child and brotherly love – the love between friends who have common bonds of experience, interests and friendship. Though the entertainment value is much less than the former, we all instinctively know that this kid of love is good. It is very good.

Friendships, still, can be fragile. Rare is the friendship that survives indefinitely. Even familial love, including the love between parents and children, can die on the rocky shores of turmoil and circumstances that tear it apart and undo it. I see this constantly in my practice of law, representing people in the administration of their estates.

The biblical definition of love is something different altogether.

“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.”[2]

None of these descriptors of love depend on affections. They are timeless in that respect. They describe a love that is not qualified. The very next statement in this passage is that “love never fails” (or never ends).[3] In other words, this kind of love never dies.

Do you know this kind of love?

On the one hand, do you live this kind of love?  On the other hand, do you experience this kind of love?

You don’t have to tell me. I already know the answer, and so do you…. I don’t measure up either.

We all wish to experience this kind of love from others, right? But we don’t. And, if we are being honest, we don’t show others this kind of love either.

Are you always patient? Always kind? Have you never been envious? Or boastful? Have you never insisted on your own way? Never been irritable or resentful?

Sure, when things are going well, and everyone is having a great time, it seems that everyone “loves” each other. But what happens when our good feelings are tested? Would the people in your life always yield to your way instead of insisting on their way? Would you always yield to others, rather than insist on your way?

The Bible contains other statements on love that are not as flowery, but just as poignant. For instance, Jesus said that loving our neighbors means loving them as we love ourselves.  He also said,

“Greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

And, of course, the testimony of the people who wrote the accounts that we call the Gospels, and the Book of Acts, and all the letters (epistles) that make up the compilation we call the New Testament claim that this is just what Jesus did: he laid down his life for us.

The truth is that no person in this world demonstrates the kind of love described in the Bible – the kind of love that never ends, never fails. But there is One who did demonstrate that kind of love to the world.

John famously said, “God is love”[4]: and Jesus said of Himself, “I and the Father are one.”[5] Thus, the followers of Jesus called him “the image of the invisible God”[6]; “the fullness of God”[7] in the flesh; and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”[8]

The love passage quoted above goes on to say:

“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.”[9]

What is Paul talking about there? “Now we see in a mirror dimly”? What do we see in a mirror? We see our own faces.

This confused me when I first read it, because I felt like it should be talking about how we see God and spiritual things. And I think that is partially what this statement means. But the image of staring into a mirror (at our own face) deserves some unpacking. (See Viewing God in the Mirror of Our Lives)

to get to the chase, we see the world through a dark, cloudy image of ourselves. Our perspective is dim; it’s limited; it’s finite.

“But then we shall face to face.” What is Paul talking about? Seeing ourselves face to face? No, he is talking about Love. God. God, the Person who is Love. How do I know that?

Think about it: we don’t stand face to face with ourselves. We stand face to face with another person. What Paul is talking about here (as I intuited initially) is the Person of God. God who is Love. God who demonstrated love for us by emptying Himself, leaving his station of privilege and power, and becoming one of us to live and die for us, laying down his life for us.[10]

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Who knows us fully?

If I am being honest, I don’t fully know myself. But, God knows every hair on my head.[11] God knows when I sit down and rise up; He knows my thoughts; He knows all my ways; He knows what I am going to say even before I say it![12]

This God who knows me, knows all my faults and all the ugliest parts of me, is Love; and He loves me despite everything He knows about me.

How do I know that? Because though we are all sinners, God in Christ died for us![13]

It was His nature to do that, because He is love. No greater love has any person than this, that he lay his life down for others.

Though Christ died, God (Love) never fails, never ends. Over 500 eyewitnesses attested to the fact that Jesus, who laid his life down, rose from the dead and appeared to them (and most of them were still alive when Paul wrote about them).[14]

Do you know love? Do you know God?

You can because He lives!

Jesus stands at the door to your heart and knocks.[15] You might be sensing that right now. If you hear His voice, let Him in. Ask Him in! Jesus said:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Love doesn’t insist on its own way. God won’t insist that you open the door. God invites you to ask, to seek, to know; but He will let you go your own way.

Don’t make that mistake! Invite God into your life today. He is patiently waiting for you. Then you will know Love, and you will know that Love knows you.


Postscript:  We will still only see as in a mirror dimly, as long as we live in these bodies of flesh, but the face that stares back from the dark, cloudy reflection will include the face of Love Himself. We will still only know in part, but we will come to know the One who fully knows and fully knows us. And the one who knows us fully, who knows the song that sings in our hearts, will work within us to become as He is – as He meant us to be – reflections of His love. The process begins with an invitation: will you let Him in?


[1] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:8 – Never “ends” is the ESV translation, and never “fails” is the NIV translation. The Greek word, piptó, literally means to fall. The idea is of something descending from a higher place to a lower one. It can include the idea of decay, death, ceasing to exist.

[4] 1 John 4:8, 16

[5] John 10:33

[6] Colossians 1:15

[7] Colossians 1:19

[8] Hebrews 1:3

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[10] “Christ Jesus, … though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

[11] Luke 12:7

[12] Psalm 139:1-4

[13] Romans 5:8

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[15] Revelation 3:20

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