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The Love Test


The Love Test 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:6 niv

Isn’t it good to know that even when we don’t love

with a perfect love, he does?

A jog wasn’t on my mind when we checked into the hotel. It was dark. Waco, Texas, was windy and cold. The book tour was fun but tiring—third city in three days. I was just happy to get to bed. A good night’s rest changed things, however. So did the bright sun and warm morning. I laced up my shoes, waved good-bye to the desk clerk, and took off through the neighborhood.

Running through unfamiliar towns can be tricky. I once spent three hours seeing parts of Fresno that most citizens of Fresno have never seen. So, to keep my bearings, I stay on one road. Run out. Run back.

The run back to the hotel seemed longer, but I chalked it up to poor conditioning. Upon entering the lobby, I noticed a breakfast buffet. One of those free ones where you toast your own toast and heat your own oatmeal. Fine by me, I thought, wondering why I hadn’t noticed the food when I left.

I filled a tray, ate the meal, and was going back for seconds when I heard a couple of Brazilians speaking. For five years Brazil was home to our family. I couldn’t resist a good conversation. “Bom dia,” I greeted. We talked about the country, the economy. I shared the only Portuguese joke I remembered. They invited me to take a seat. “Let me refill my coffee cup first,” I replied. I returned and took a seat, not just with coffee, but more toast.

As I left to clean up, I passed the food bar again and, believe it or not, was still hungry. No harm, I reasoned. Calculating in the jog, I figured I’d break even. So I filled a bowl with oatmeal and decided to eat it in my room.

I walked straight through the lobby, turned right at the first hallway, past the indoor pool (h’m, I didn’t notice a pool last night), and came to the first door on the right. But something was wrong. My key card wouldn’t open the door. Tried a second time. No luck. I looked up at the room number. Wait a minute, this isn’t my room!

I retraced my steps. Back down the hall. Past the pool. (How could I not notice that pool?) Back into the lobby. Past the breakfast bar. Smile at the manager. Surely she wonders where I’m headed with the food. Out the front door. Into the parking lot. I looked up at the sign over the entrance. This isn’t my hotel! Where is my hotel? I looked to the right. Then to the left. There it was! Next door. Well, what do you know? I’d jogged past my place and into this one. Duh! What else to do but shrug and walk across the lot and to my room? (I took the oatmeal with me. They wouldn’t have wanted it back.)

I’d spent an hour in the wrong hotel. Visiting in the lobby. Chatting with the guests. Eating the food. Drinking the coffee. I even complimented the manager on the decorations. For an hour I was in the wrong hotel. And you know what?

I felt as though I was in the right place. Had you asked me what I was doing eating a free meal in the wrong hotel, I would have looked at you as if you were wearing hockey clothes in the Amazon. “You’re crazy.”

Not once did I lift my head and furrow my brow and think, This place feels funny. It didn’t. It felt fine. But my feelings were wrong. My key card proved them wrong. The room number proved them wrong. The manager, had she been asked, could have proved them wrong. No matter how much I felt as though I was in the right place, I was not. And no mountain of feelings could change that.

I wonder if you’ve ever made the same mistake. Not with a hotel, but with love. Have you ever made decisions about your relationships based on your feelings instead of the facts? When it comes to love, feelings rule the day. Emotions guide the ship. Goose bumps call the shots. But should they? Can feelings be trusted? Can a relationship feel right but be wrong? Heads are nodding.

A single mom is nodding.

A college kid with a broken heart is nodding.

The fellow who fell in love with a figure that could cause a twelve-car pileup is nodding.

Feelings can fool you. Yesterday I spoke with a teenage girl who is puzzled by the lack of feelings she has for a guy. Before they started dating, she was wild about him. The minute he showed interest in her, however, she lost interest.

I’m thinking also of a young mom. Being a parent isn’t as romantic as she anticipated. Diapers and midnight feedings aren’t any fun, and she’s feeling guilty because they aren’t. Am I low on love? she wonders.

How do you answer such questions? Ever wish you had a way to assess the quality of your affection? A DNA test for love? Paul offers us one: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6 NIV). In this verse lies a test for love.

Want to separate the fake from the factual, the counterfeit from the real thing? Want to know if what you feel is genuine love? Ask yourself this:

Do I encourage this person to do what is right? For true love “takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6 JB).

For instance, one lady calls another and says, “We’re friends, right?” “Yeah, we’re friends.”

“If my husband asks, you tell him we were together at the movies last night.” “But we weren’t.”

“I know, but I was, well, I was with another guy and—hey, you’ll do this for me, won’t you? We’re friends, right? Tighter than sisters, right?”

Does this person pass the test? No way. The room key doesn’t work. Love doesn’t ask someone to do what is wrong. How do we know? “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6 NIV).

If you find yourself prompting evil in others, heed the alarm. This is not love. And if others prompt evil in you, be alert. Check the room key.

Here’s an example. A classic one. A young couple are on a date. His affection goes beyond her comfort zone. She resists. But he tries to persuade her with the oldest line in the book: “But I love you. I just want to be near you. If you loved me . . .”

That siren you hear? It’s the phony-love detector. This guy doesn’t love her. He may love having sex with her. He may love her body. He may love boasting to his buddies about his conquest. But he doesn’t love her. True love will never ask the “beloved” to do what he or she thinks is wrong.

Love doesn’t tear down the convictions of others. Quite the contrary.

“Love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1).

“Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light and will not cause anyone to stumble” (1 John 2:10).

“You are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong” (1 Cor. 8:12 NLT).

Do you want to know if your love for someone is true? If your friendship is genuine? Check the room key. Ask yourself: Do I influence this person to do what is right?

If you answered yes, have some coffee. You’re in the right hotel. If you want to be doubly sure, however, ask the next question.

Do I applaud what is right? For love “rejoices whenever the truth wins out” (1 Cor. 13:6 NLT).

The summer before my eighth-grade year I made friends with a guy named Larry. He was new to town, so I encouraged him to go out for our school football team. He could meet some guys, and being a stocky fellow, he might even make the squad. He agreed.

The result was a good news–bad news scenario. The good news? He made the cut. The bad news? He won my position. I was demoted to second string. I tried to be happy for him, but it was tough.

A few weeks into the season Larry fell off a motorcycle and broke a finger. I remember the day he stood at my front door holding up his bandaged hand. “Looks like you’re going to have to play.”

I tried to feel sorry for him, but it was hard. The passage was a lot easier for Paul to write than it was for me to practice. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15 NASB).

You want to plumb the depths of your love for someone? How do you feel when that person succeeds? Do you rejoice? Or are you jealous? And when he or she stumbles? Falls to misfortune? Are you really sorry? Or are you secretly pleased?

Love never celebrates misfortune. Never. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates the passage: “Love . . . doesn’t revel when others grovel, [but] takes pleasure in the flowering of truth” (1 Cor. 13:6 MSG). J. B. Phillips is equally descriptive: “Love . . . does not . . . gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it shares the joy of those who live by the truth.”

You know your love is real when you weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. You know your love is real when you feel for others what Catherine Lawes felt for the inmates of Sing Sing prison. When her husband, Lewis, became the warden in 1921, she was a young mother of three daughters. Everybody warned her never to step foot inside the walls. But she didn’t listen to them. When the first prison basketball game was held, in she went, three girls in tow, and took a seat in the bleachers with the inmates.

She once said, “My husband and I are going to take care of these men, and I believe they will take care of me! I don’t have to worry!”

When she heard that one convicted murderer was blind, she taught him Braille so he could read. Upon learning of inmates who were hearing impaired, she studied sign language so they could communicate. For sixteen years Catherine Lawes softened the hard hearts of the men of Sing Sing. In 1937 the world saw the difference real love makes.

The prisoners knew something was wrong when Lewis Lawes didn’t report to work. Quickly the word spread that Catherine had been killed in a car accident. The following day her body was placed in her home, threequarters of a mile from the prison. As the acting warden took his early morning walk, he noticed a large gathering at the main gate. Every prisoner pressed against the fence. 

Eyes awash with tears. Faces solemn. No one spoke or moved. They’d come to stand as close as they could to the woman who’d given them love.

The warden made a remarkable decision. “All right, men, you can go. Just be sure to check in tonight.” These were America’s hardest criminals. Murderers. Robbers. These were men the nation had locked away for life. But the warden unlocked the gate for them, and they walked without escort or guard to the home of Catherine Lawes to pay their last respects. And to a man, each one returned.

Real love changes people.

Didn’t God’s love change you? Weren’t you, like the prisoner, blind? You couldn’t see beyond the grave. You couldn’t see your purpose in life until he showed you. And you couldn’t hear either. Oh, your ears functioned, but your heart didn’t understand. You’d never heard of such love and kindness, and you never would have heard of it, but God spoke in your language. And, most of all, he set you free. You are free! Free to run away. Free to harden your heart. Free to duck down side streets and hide behind trash cans. But you don’t. Or if you do, you come back. Why?

Because you’ve never been loved like this before.

God passes the test of 1 Corinthians 13:7. Does he want the best for you? “God himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Every action of heaven has one aim: that you know God. “He . . . made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him” (Acts

17:26–27 MSG).

And does God rejoice when you do what is right? Certainly. “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Ps. 147:11 NIV). Does he weep when you do? Absolutely! He is the “God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times” (2 Cor. 1:3–4 MSG).

Do you want to know what love is? “This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us in sending his Son to be the way to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God passes the test. Well, he should; he drafted it.

So where does this leave us? Perhaps with a trio of reminders. When it comes to love:

Be careful. Make sure you’re in the right hotel. Before you walk down the aisle, take a good long look around. Make sure this is God’s intended place for you. And, if you suspect it isn’t, get out. Don’t force what is wrong to be right. Suppose I’d done that in the hotel. Suppose I’d demanded that the manager change the lock and the numbers on the door? I still would have been in the wrong place. Be careful.

And, until love is stirred, let God’s love be enough for you. There are seasons when God allows us to feel the frailty of human love so we’ll appreciate the strength of his love. Didn’t he do this with David? Saul turned on him. Michal, his wife, betrayed him. Jonathan and Samuel were David’s friends, but they couldn’t follow him into the wilderness. Betrayal and circumstances left David alone. Alone with God. And, as David discovered, God was enough. David wrote these words in a desert: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. . . . My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps. 63:3, 5 NIV).

Be prayerful. What if it’s too late? Specifically, what if you’re married to someone you don’t love—or who doesn’t love you? Many choose to leave. That may be the step you take. But if it is, take at least a thousand others first. And bathe every one of those steps in prayer. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Ask God to help you love as he loves. “God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love” (Rom. 5:5 CEV). Ask everyone you know to pray for you. Your friends. Your family. Your church leaders. Get your name on every prayer list available. And, most of all, pray for and, if possible, with your spouse. Ask the same God who raised the dead to resurrect the embers of your love.

Be grateful. Be grateful for those who love you. Be grateful for those who have encouraged you to do what is right and applauded when you did. Do you have people like that in your world? If so, you are doubly blessed. Be grateful for them. And be grateful for your Father in heaven. He passes the test with ease.

Isn’t it good to know that even when we don’t love with a perfect love, he does? God always nourishes what is right. He always applauds what is right. He has never done wrong, led one person to do wrong, or rejoiced when anyone did wrong. For he is love, and love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6 NASB).

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