The Non-Transactional Nature of Love

Love is more than something we do for God and others

1 Corinthians 13[1] was the subject of the sermon I watched this morning online. Perhaps, my favorite all-time chapter in the Bible. It’s a popular favorite, too, recited at weddings and funerals and known to people who aren’t particularly religious.

Some things that stand out to me from the sermon are these things: Love isn’t a feeling; it’s something you do. Talent, skills and giftedness are things we value, but they don’t require or demonstrate love. An eloquent and inspirational speaker without love is like a clanging gong or cymbal.

I liked the analogy of the guitar solo vs. a gong solo. Who would do that? No one does a gong solo. A gong solo is like talent without love. Nothing but noise.

Not even prophecy, or knowledge or faith that can move mountains is worth anything if I don’t have love. If I give everything I own away to the poor and give my body up to be burned at the stake (the ultimate religious sacrifice), but I don’t have love, I gain nothing.

As I think about these things, it occurs to me that love isn’t (just) something that we do. It’s certainly true that the love being described isn’t a feeling that comes and goes. Love is more like a commitment than a feeling in that sense, and it is (partly) something that we do; but it’s much more than that.

And love is something that is completely out of our own hands.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”[2]

If love was something we could do, we could boast about it. But love doesn’t boast. Love isn’t just something we do.

It dawns on me that love is something that we are, something that we can desire to be, something that we can become – but not on our own terms, not by our own efforts, not something that we can drum up within ourselves. Otherwise, again, we could boast about it.

I am reminded of these verses:

“God is love.”[3]


“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”[4]

Love comes from God, which means we need to receive it from God before we have it.

The 1st Corinthians 13 passage speaks of giving away all I possess and giving up my body, but it gains me nothing if I don’t have love. Paul is clearly speaking to believers here. Who in their right mind would think that giving everything away to the poor or giving up the body to be abused and killed would be a way to gain anything? Unless, you are a believer already.

But think about that: giving away everything to the poor and giving up your very body for God is the ultimate sacrifice, right? What more can a person give?! Certainly, that would be enough to gain God’s favor and a guaranty a place in heaven with God, right?

Paul says, “No!” It gains you nothing … without love.

The reason is that love is not transactional. Love is relational. God doesn’t need to give us what we are able to earn; God gives only what we can’t obtain ourselves. God desires to give us everything out of the abundance of His generosity (out of love). We can’t earn His love, because it is freely given.

Love is who we are when we receive God. It’s who we should desire to be as we give ourselves in relationship with God. It’s who we become as we allow God to work within us. None of it is our doing; it God’s doing in us.

How do we know what love is? How do we know whether we have love?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”[5]

We all want to be loved, though we may not really have a clear understanding of what it means even to be loved. We might mistake recognition, respect, sex, generosity, and other things that people give us as love. Love is much, much more than all of that.

Love is relational, and we learn love in relation to God (first) and to others (second). Love begets love. God desires not that we be workers in His field, but that we become His children – individual reflectors of His love. As children reflect the DNA they inherit from their parents, each in their own unique ways, we are created to reflect God’s love in our own unique ways.

We don’t need to be highly skilled or gifted  to do this, and those things mean nothing without love. We simply need to submit ourselves in relationship to God, receive His love and allow Him to work in us and through us as we work out what God is working within us.


[1] “If I speak in the tongues [languages] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ” (NIV)

[2] 1 Cor. 13:3

[3] 1 John 4:8

[4] 1 John 4:10 (NLT)

[5] 1 Cor. 13:4-8

3 thoughts on “The Non-Transactional Nature of Love

  1. Another very good article. A challenge for you… how do we apply your insights in our secular world? Let me give you an example. Our society is primarily task-driven… NOT relational-driven. If you see a typical daytimer, you will see a list of tasks. Imagine if instead of tasks, people involved in those tasks were first listed… followed by the task to be accomplished. The emphasis becomes the relationship… the task is merely the enabler. Can you come up with other examples that demonstrate how to apply your great insights?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we can approximate this kind of love on a horizontal plane (between people) with the idea of unconditional, self-sacrificing love. I think a focus on relationships over tasks could be helpful. People would have to buy into the benefits of it, which may not always be evident. We do this with our kids. Most people love their kids even when it is difficult, and our children aren’t reciprocating, but even that gets hard after a while. Agape love of the type described in 1 Corinthians would not cease just because there was no return affection. Frankly, I don’t think we can muster that type of love up on our own. It if is only on the horizontal level (person to person, no vertical relationship with God), I doubt we could sustain it.


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