I’ve frequently heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 read at a wedding ceremony. Paul’s ode to love is beautiful and appropriate for the occasion. But there is something to notice about Paul’s definitions of love. They are actions and not feelings. This passage contains things we do and don’t do to fulfill love. This kind of love can be commanded. This kind of love is a matter of the choice of will. When we think of romantic love, we often are thinking about an emotional high which we feel towards our loved one. This emotion seems quite involuntary. Paul’s teaching about love is different from this.
Now I am all for romantic love. I suspect that Jacob had romantic love for Rachel, or he wouldn’t have worked another seven years for her. And the Song of Solomon definitely seems to be love poetry. But we need wisdom as we deal with it.
Scientists have even studied romantic love. Researchers from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.
Marriage has its ups and downs: children, illnesses, and stress. The reality of life means our feelings of love for our spouse may also ebb and flow. We need the commanded love of 1 Corinthians to sustain romantic love. Marriage is a covenant—the vows say how you promise to treat one another, not necessarily how you will always feel. These feelings of love may also ebb and flow. The vows call on you to place your actions before feelings—to allow your actions to deepen and at times even rekindle your feelings. That’s why Paul’s teaching on love is so important. He places the emphasis on right actions. This kind of love seeks the best for the beloved.
Love sums up and encompasses every other virtue. To treat with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness is to love. Love boldly acts with the other’s best interest at heart. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love encompasses all the virtues. This kind of love seeks the best for the other. This is the love that can fulfill vows which say for better or for worse until death do us part.