By Daniel Bobinski
Note: In March of 2020 I decided to use this space to focus on God’s greatest command. If you’re connecting with this series for the first time and would like to read the earlier columns on this topic, I encourage you to visit Christian Living’s website to read the whole series. Visit https://www.christianlivingmag.com/columns/
I’m so grateful for 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, because without it we might be debating forever about how to love in a godly fashion. When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus said it was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). But if you remember, later on Jesus also said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). If we had only those two statements, the truth about love could be difficult to navigate. It would be like looking up “Rutabaga” in the dictionary and finding it says, “See ‘Turnip,’” then looking up the word “Turnip” and finding it says, “See ‘Rutabaga.’”
Thankfully, with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we have an excellent guide for how to live out God’s version of love.
The Greek phrase we’re looking at this time is “zēteō ou heautou,” and you’ll find there’s not much variance in how it’s translated.
KJV & NASB: does not seek its own
NIV, Amplified, & Berean: is not self-seeking
NLT: does not demand its own way
ESV: does not insist on its own way
ASV: seeks not its own
I should point out that the word, “zēteō” is translated throughout Scripture as “seek for” and “desire.” The word “ou” means an absolute negative, and “heautou” is translated throughout Scripture as “himself, themselves, yourselves, ourselves, his, their, and itself.”
And so, if there were a Bobinski version, I would probably translate this phrase as, “[love] seeks not itself.”
This phrase is smack dab in the middle of Paul’s “love is not” section. The entire passage of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is replete with verbs (action words), which tells us that true agape love is about actions, not feelings. But as I’ve written before, the “love is not” phrases create a bit of a dilemma. In this case, if love means not focusing on oneself or not seeking or demanding or insisting on getting our own way, then what should we do instead?
Personally, I think this is one of the easier passages for identifying an alternative action. Specifically, if you’re not focusing on yourself or seeking to get your way, then you can demonstrate love by focusing on others and/or helping them get their needs met.
As always, God is our example in showing love. Think about it; He doesn’t seek Himself, He seeks us! His attention to each of us is amazing. He is always there, seeking us out, yearning for us to tell Him about our day. He doesn’t brag or boast about all the things He does for others in the world, He simply focuses on us and our needs.
And so, following the command to love the Lord our God, we demonstrate our love for Him by focusing on Him. One of the easiest ways to do this is via worship. By singing songs about God and songs that have lyrics singing directly to God, we have no choice but to focus on Him. And although God does not have needs that we can meet, He certainly desires relationship with us. So, by focusing on God and every aspect of who He is, we are showing love to Him.
After showing love to God, we must also follow the second greatest commandment – to love our neighbors as ourselves. This takes practice because we usually want people to pay attention to our own accomplishments and projects. After all, as the saying goes, everyone’s favorite topic is themselves.
I believe part of our problem is we often forget that our self-esteem comes from accepting the love that God gives us. After all, if we are spending time with God, receiving the love He has for us, our “cup” will be full. If we fail to do that, we often seek validation from others.
If you’re like me, you know people who always turn the conversation toward themselves. They could ask you about something going on in your life, but instead of discussing what you’re going through, they say something like, “That reminds me of when I _____.” They started out with good intentions, but their ability to focus on your thoughts, feelings, or plans is weak – or even non-existent.
Conversely, if someone you know asks questions and listens attentively to what you’re saying without injecting his or her opinion on the matter, you probably feel appreciated. Perhaps even loved.
That’s the behavior we should seek if we’re trying to live out agape love. As one person I know puts it, “It’s not about you.”
With this in mind, I hope you can see that even by focusing on someone you don’t like, you are loving that person. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said we need to love our enemies. I can discuss the interests of other people even if I don’t have warm fuzzies for them, and by doing so, I’m demonstrating God’s love to them.
In summary, the steps for living out this aspect of love are fairly simple. First, get filled with God’s love for you by spending time with Him. Receive the focus (the love) He has for you and let your self-esteem by filled by Him. Then, when interacting with others, you’ll have a well of love from which to draw so you can focus on them. It’s pretty much a guarantee they will feel loved if you do.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.