A rather clunky but literal translation of this phrase from Paul’s famous definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 would be, “love does not seek her own things.” This month I want to invite you to break the ice and dive deep. It is an easy thing to merely skate across the surface of this scripture and suppose that, “Yeah, yeah, loving people aren’t self-centered…” It is more difficult to comprehend and imply the revolutionary statement the Holy Spirit gives us in these few words.
In the first place consider the subject. A few definitions into this well-known love passage we start thinking that the subject is the person. For example, we read “It is not rude” and understand that “the loving person is not rude.” In point of fact, this scripture is primarily telling us what “love” is – not what loving people are like. Yes, loving people will more or less be qualified by all of these same terms. But it is love itself that is in view here. And this scripture teaches us that love does not seek her own things.
Then in the second place, consider what qualifies love as being a biblical sort of love: what does it mean that this kind of love seeks not its own? Well, for one thing, this truest kind of love does not have as its object itself. In other words, love does not concern itself with itself. Love does not look to, ask after, or seek ways to perpetuate its own interests or being. Love looks outward. This leads us to another thing. Because love does not concern itself with her own things, it concerns herself with other things: love seeks the things that are not her own!
Let me illustrate this. When we are struggling to love another person, typically we find that the cause, or at least one of the causes, is that that person is doing something that we experience negatively or is failing to do something that we would experience positively: “I can’t love my spouse because he/she keeps doing x, y, and z or never does a, b, or c.” Whenever we find our feelings reflect this thought, the problem is not that we are struggling to love them. The problem is that we have forgotten what love is! Love DOES NOT look to its own things. Love in no way, shape or form depends upon the actions of others for it to either exist or thrive. While it may be easier for us to love someone who treats us exactly how we would like to be treated, this is no better a form of love than the most secular humanist can muster up! Jesus taught us and commanded us to love even our enemies. Enemies is a strong word in the scriptures. We can only do this if we embrace the radical idea that love does not look to her own things.
Love looks outward and cherishes and pursues what is best for another – whether they love us or hate; however they feel about us or treat us. This love can still be “tough” and still be love. But it cannot be vindictive, or petty, calculating, or judgmental in any way. In fact, love’s ultimate concerns are the agenda of its object. Love occupies itself with what has the best effect upon another. Love is not concerned with what has been done for it lately, but always wakes up wondering what it can do for the other today. This is, after all, precisely how God in Christ has loved you.
Who do you need to love better this month? Who do you need to release from your judgment and love for their own sake? How can you love your spouse in this way more intentionally? We all reflexively know how we can be loved better. Do we also know how others can be better loved by us? Are we willing to unilaterally commit ourselves to loving on God’s terms?