True Love In The Bible – What Does The Bible Say?

by Ben Cheng

Friends, our second reading for our Sunday mass is taken from the 13th chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, a great hymn of love. Paul loves the Church in Corinth, but the problem that preoccupies him throughout the letter, is the factionalism in the Church. The Church that he found in love was divided into warring groups. This sounds familiar throughout the centuries and present day; the Church is riven by factions. Therefore, Paul has written to the Church in a wonderful reflection on love, which is the key solution to the problem. Love is what God is, and everything else centers around this reality. In the following reflection, I would like to walk through some of the highlights in the text.

What is love? We have a tendency, especially in our culture of romance, to identify love with a feeling or a sentiment. In the Biblical sense though, an authentic love is not related to emotions, rather, Paul refers to this quality as "Agape" (in Greek), which means to will the good of the other. Love is to want what is advantageous to another person and to act concretely on that desire. Real love involves an ecstatic leap outside the narrow confines of one's own preoccupations and needs. This explains why enemy love is the fullest test of love. When we desire the good of someone who is impossible to pay us back, we know that our desire is pure, and absolutely, we know this by loving our enemies.

For the next highlight, Paul tells us, “Love is not envious” (1 Cor 13.4). When we truly desire the good of the other, we do not resent that person's success or joy. The American novelist, Gore Vidal, has beautifully summed up, “When a friend of mine succeeds, something in me dies”. How honest but terrible it is! How often do we remain indifferent to the triumphs of strangers silently, but deeply resent the achievements of our friends! Furthermore, it is a perverse proportionality at work in the dynamics of jealousy: The more closely we relate to the person, the deeper the envy that we awaken. In contrast, Paul tells us that an authentic love, wants the good of the other, delights in the joys and attainments of others. A practitioner of love realizes the truth teaches consistently throughout the Bible, that the being of the lover increases precisely through the good of the beloved, since both are united at the depth of their being.

Let us look at another highlight from Paul’s saying, “Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth” (1 Co. 13.6). If we turn Gore Vidal's observation around, it becomes a German word called “schadenfreude”, which means taking pleasure in another's misfortune. This tendency to rejoice in the pain of the other is precisely opposite of love. How gleefully most of us sinners indulge in it, so thrilled are we at the failure or embarrassment of someone else that we often become evangelists of it, announcing it to anyone who is willing to listen! If we do a serious examination of conscience, most of us would discover much of our day is spent on this “spiritually debilitating” exercise. But real love, as Paul tells us, finds no joy in someone else's pain, and is loath to serve it up through gossip to an eager audience. Love finds joy in the truth of things, and the truth is that we are all connected by the deepest metaphysical bonds, and hence, mocking one another or intensifying their pain by reveling in it is repugnant to real love.

We also hear from Paul that “Love is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury” (1 Cor 13.5). Oh, how much time we spend brooding over injuries, sitting in our own anger, remembering what people have done to us over the years! Some of us may know people that hold grudges for decades, and if we ask them what is behind it, they often do not even remember. In Dante's Divine Comedy [但丁著作的“神曲”], we get that image of souls of wrathful penitents in purgatory, the wrathful forever wonder in a cloud of black smoke, which is a manifestation of the anger that clouded their mind and blinded them when they were alive. It chokes us, our speech becomes sputtering and ineffectual, and our vision is obscured. Anger is licking our wounds, reminding ourselves how deeply we have been hurt, nursing decades with old grudges. It leads us to shrink into a very small space, and our communication with others becomes garbled and distorted. In contrast, to love is to break out of that prison. When we love, we let go of our brooding self-regard and the finally self-destructive patterns of resentment. How wonderful and liberating it is!

Finally, I would like to conclude by sharing with you the “Litany of Humility'' [謙遜禱文], composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry de Val (1865-1930). It is a moving prayer that can bring us closer to Christ. The litany of humility asks for our Lord’s assistance in humbly following His footsteps, the great and abiding act of love. Please enjoy!


This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “What Is Love?”, “The Primacy Of Love”, and “The Strange Path Of Love”. For more information, please visit