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Love as a Litmus Test

As far as months go, February isn’t the best. (Sorry February Birthday people). It’s especially tough in the midwest where the sky is constantly gray and the sun is more of a myth than reality. People talk about the dog days of summer, but what’s the equivalent of that for winter? It’s that time of year when I feel like winter will never end and I’ll never be warm again.

The only saving grace for February is Valentine’s day. Love it or hate it, the colors alone feel like when Dorothy suddenly steps out of the black and white frame in The Wizard of Oz. I love the sudden burst of red and pink.

I don’t know about you, but all that gray and darkness of winter affects my mood. And although Valentine’s Day is the time to celebrate the people we love, winter often has me wanting some time away from my loved ones. I sound like such a grouch.

If you’re looking for verses in the Bible about love, people tend to go to 1 Corinthians 13. I think of these as the wedding verses because I’ve hardly ever attended a wedding where they weren't read.

“Love is patient. Love is Kind. It does not envy or boast. It’s not proud or self-seeking…”

This definition of love is so admirable, but also so overwhelming. Today, I was reading Galatians 2. Check out verse 21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Follow me here. Sometimes when I read 1 Corinthians 13, I’m like, “I could never be all of those things. I’m not terribly patient. I’m kind as long as I’m not too tired. I tend to be self-seeking (you see the trend here). BUT my righteousness isn’t gained from following the law; it’s gained through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

I’ve never really enjoyed magic shows. And it’s not because I’m no fun. Well, maybe I am. But my problem with magic is I don’t like being tricked. Even if it’s totally amazing, the magician is still pulling a fast one. Like, how did that handkerchief appear in his hand? I know you can’t make something out of nothing.

Love is like that. Love doesn’t just appear from thin air. It comes from the Father. Oh sure, I can love for a bit. I can possess these qualities in little spurts, but prolonged, sustained love isn’t something I’m capable of as a human.

All you have to do is spend a little time with people to see this. Wait long enough and people will let you down. You’ll also let them down. It’s what we do. But we strive for a 1st Corinthians 13 kind of love. And we yearn for it from others. You know what? That’s good. God gave us that yearning because he knows how much we need Him.

Take a minute and read this description of love once more:

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. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

When I look at my life, especially in my February “cabin fever” state, I wouldn't describe it like this. Always hopes? Always perseveres? Nope. Maybe always blames. Always loses temper, sure, but not “hopes and preservers”.

The good news is: we shouldn't think of this list as a set of standards like a school report card. Instead, we should think of them as a litmus test for the presence of the spirit in our lives. When I was a lifeguard, I had to take regular water tests. When I put the drops in the little test tube, it would change color depending on the amount of chlorine was present in the water. If instead of colors, the test came out “patient” or “kind”, then traces of the Spirit have been detected. When I don’t feel the need to keep a record of wrongs, or when I rejoice in the truth, I know the Lord is growing me. I know the Spirit is present.

When I look at this passage as a “to do” list, I’m setting aside the grace of God and remember, “…if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)

This is news I needed to hear right now. Whether it’s the dog days of winter or even a beautiful spring day, I can’t love like this on my own and you can’t either. I hope that relieves some pressure in your life. Not so we have an excuse to treat people like garbage, but so that we can connect with the source of love -to love in a way we could never do on our own.

I don’t like the “slight of hand” of a magic trick. The poof of smoke or fire and then something appears. Jesus didn’t just “poof” and create love. He came to earth and suffered on a cross in order to bring it to us. In this month where we celebrate love, how can we not tell people about that kind of love? Why would we ever keep it to ourselves?




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