What Love Isn’t and What It Is

By Hope Martin | March 3, 2021

By Hope Martin

Love, real love, will never be pain-free. Pain in our relationships comes from lack of or poor communication. It comes from making assumptions about other people’s motives. It comes from broken and delayed promises. It comes from long days and short tempers. It comes from stubbornness, pride, and jealousy. Even our best attempts fall woefully short of loving each other perfectly and painlessly.

“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. Love never ends.” — 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

It does not say that love is painless. Any human being who has ever been in relationship with another human being knows this viscerally. It does not say that love keeps us comfortable. Love that seeks merely to keep the peace, rather than make the peace, is a shallow, self-focused love. It does not say that love keeps us safe. To love is to risk because you cannot determine or control every action, every word that the other person makes. We cannot control God or each other. We cannot even control ourselves, which is one reason why so many people struggle with self-loathing.

Our sinful natures are constantly at war with the Spirit of God; we feel that tension in our souls, and we feel that tension in our relationships. When we love someone, we should not say that we will never cause them pain, but rather that we will strive to cause the right kind of pain. One of the biggest and most solemn duties we are given as followers of Jesus is to hold each other accountable. If we saw a friend heading straight for the edge of a cliff, would it be loving to let them keep going? Absolutely not. We would scream and yell and tackle them to the ground if it came to that. Yet we allow people to continue down the path of their destruction, neglecting to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing or coming across as accusatory or legalistic. Accountability requires, at times: confrontation, exhortation, and admonition. Sometimes it means holding each other to our word, and ultimately it means holding each other to God’s Word. It is possible to confront in love, just as it is possible to support in love—we need to practice both aspects of love. We need to hold each other accountable from a spirit of humility, but we need to do it.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:1

God does not keep from us the fact that we will experience pain in this life. Quite the opposite, in fact. He tells us that we will face persecution, disease, famine, and death. He also tells us that we are blessed when we experience pain because of our devotion to Him.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” — Matthew 5:11-12

Why is it a blessing to be cursed? Why is it a blessing to be persecuted, mocked, rejected, even killed on account of following Christ? How can that be a blessing? It is because He is perfecting us, a skilled potter bringing shape and definition to lumps of clay, making us into His glorious vision. He is refining us, a master goldsmith separating the pure gold from the dross and imperfections that cling so closely, a process that can only happen by using extreme heat.

“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” — Isaiah 48:9

God loves us so much that He will make us into who He designed us to be, even if that can only be accomplished through fire. It is a difficult and painful process, and it is the best thing for us—both things are equally true.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” — Proverbs 3:11-12

So, let us truly love one another, boldly and humbly speaking the truth, even when it hurts. Let us cause the right kind of pain, cracked ribs and bruised knees from a tackle of love that cannot look on from the sideline as those we love head towards destruction and death.