As I wrote the character qualities of real love, “true, humble, joyful, and perseverant,” my heart was filled with the sadness of conviction. I thought, “My love often fails to be true.” No, I don’t mean true as contrasted with fake. I’m not thinking here of hypocritical “I’m going to act like I love you even though I don’t” love. True here means “straight,” like the kind of arrow a marksman makes sure to pull out of his quiver. He wants a completely straight arrow so that when it leaves the bow, it won’t veer off in the wrong direction. True here means consistent, reliable, and not apt to go in some unloving direction. Sadly, there is still inconsistency in my love. When someone disagrees with me, when someone gets in the way of my plan, when I am forced into an unexpected wait, or when someone gets what I think I deserve, it is very tempting for me to respond in a less-than-loving way.
The second word, humble, explains why I respond as I do. I still lack humility. I still tend to make life about my plan, my feelings, my desires, and my expectations. I am still tempted to assess the “good” of a day by whether it pleased me versus whether I pleased God and was loving toward others. I still am tempted to live as if I own my life and still fail to remember that I was bought with a price. And all of this causes love to be burdensome rather than joyful, the third descriptive word. It really is true that when you’re living for you, the call to love others is always a burden for you.
The final word points us to the highest and hardest standard of love: perseverant. Love that isn’t faithful is love that has little value. Love that changes with the wind is not really love at all. It is a fickle and momentary put-on that does more damage than it does good. That is why God’s faithful, eternal love is such a huge and motivating comfort.
The question then is, “Where in the world am I going to get this kind of love?” Well, it never comes from picking yourself up and telling yourself that you’re going to do better. If you had the power for this kind of self-reformation, the cross of Jesus Christ would not have been necessary. The only way I can escape the self-focused bondage of my love for me and actually begin to love others is for forgiving, liberating, empowering, and eternal love to be placed in me. The more I am thankful for that love, the more I find joy in giving it to others. God’s love, willingly given, provides the only hope that I can have love in my heart that I joyfully give as well.