“The greatest of these is love…” (I Cor. 13:13)

Why do so many of us fail to love as well, or as often, as we could?  One reason is because we have developed attitudes and/or actions which inhibit our ability to love.  Like plaque that builds up in the arteries and inhibits the flow of blood through our system, “plaque” can build up in our lives and inhibit the flow of God’s love to those around us.

What are these obstacles that keep us from loving?  We can find many of them hidden in the Apostle Paul’s classic treatise on love. Here we can find both the qualities of love and the obstacles:

Love’s Ideal: “Love is patient
Love’s Obstacle — Impatience

Impatience describes a person whose own agenda is more important than anyone else’s.  He/she has little time or concern for other’s concerns. An impatient person must constantly be entertained, and quickly loses interest in people if they are not filling a need in his/her own life. The Greek word Paul uses for “patience” describes a person who has been wronged and has the power to avenge himself, but chooses not to. Impatience seeks revenge. Patience does not.

Rate yourself on the scales following each of love’s obstacles:

“Most of the time, I am…”

Impatient |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Patient

Love’s Ideal: “Love is kind
Love’s Obstacle — Unkindness

Some people think kindness is synonymous with weakness. Therefore, these people reason, strength and power cannot be obtained through kindness. Those who constantly see themselves in competition with others tend to be unkind. A latent sense of inferiority is another cause for unkindness.  In contrast, love is the readiness to enhance the life of another person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Unkind |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Kind

Love’s Ideal: “Love is trusting
Love’s Obstacle — Jealousy

Love naturally means concern. As love grows, concern for the person also grows. But often, without one realizing it, this concern can become possessive. Jealousy is normal concern that has grown out of control, just as a cancer cell is only a normal cell grown out of control. Jealousy requires total possession—it must have exclusive rights to another person. This emotion has the power to overwhelm and destroy the most seemingly sound and secure relationship, and the most rational person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Jealous |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Trusting

Love’s Ideal: “Love is humble
Love’s Obstacle — Arrogance

Various Bible translations use different words for this love-obstacle: “boastful,” “rudeness,” “proud,” “anxious to impress,” “braggart,” “cherishes the idea of its own importance.” Arrogant people give their “love” away as though it were a tremendous favor. Their real purpose, however, is to put others down while trying to lift themselves up.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Arrogant |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Humble

Love’s Ideal: “Love is generous
Love’s Obstacle — Selfishness

If there is one quality that creates an insurmountable barrier to love, it is selfishness. Actions motivated by selfishness are exactly the opposite to actions motivated by love. Christ knew about the problem of selfishness when he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to into the ground and dies, it remains only a single-seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Selfishness seeks its own way, and in the process loses it. Love seeks the way of others, and in the process finds its own.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Selfish |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Generous

Love’s Ideal: “Love is slow to anger
Love’s Obstacle — Irritability/touchiness

Christ had strong words for those who are quick to anger: “But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought before the judge; whoever calls his brother ‘you good-for-nothing’ will be brought before the Council; and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fire of hell” (Mt. 5:22). “Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” said James, “let everyman be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (Ja. 1:19).

“Most of the time, I am…”

Irritable/touchy |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Slow to anger

Love’s Ideal: “Love is forgiving
Love’s Obstacle — Resentfulness

Resentfulness is the accumulation of irritations suffered in the past, recalled in the present. The word Paul used for resentfulness was an accountant’s word for entering an item in a ledger so it would not be forgotten. This is exactly what many people do…and it is a great obstacle to love. “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” mocks the true meaning of forgiveness. Resentfulness looks to the past rather than the future. Love releases memory’s grip on a wrong suffered or a hurt inflicted.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Resentful |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Forgiving

Love’s Ideal: “Love hates evil
Love’s Obstacle — Loving evil

What did Paul mean when he said, “love hates evil”? Lewis Smedes (Love Within Limits) says that loving evil is not so much finding pleasure in doing wrong, as it is the spiteful satisfaction in hearing or saying something derogatory about another. Surprisingly, people who work the hardest at their high moral standards often love evil the most! As they struggle to live a life of abstinence from worldly things, they condemn those who do not. They gloat at the stumbling of those who “compromise with the world,” and look forward to the judgment when these hypocrites will get their dues. Their message of the Gospel begins with condemnation. It centers on judgment. It ends in separation. Love seems nowhere to be found.

“Most of the time, I…”

Love evil |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Hate evil

Love’s Ideal: “Love is always there
Love’s Obstacle — Inconsistency

False love has limits on its endurance. It doesn’t last when things get tough. Inconsistency is like a faulty bond of a poorly made dam that begins to lose strength at its weakest point. A few drops of water begin to seep through the crack. The inconsistency grows to a stream, and then a torrent, and soon the entire dam gives way. Real love never fails. It is like the strong dam standing against the tremendous pressure of the water behind it. Love will bear any insult, any injury and disappointment…and still stand strong.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Inconsistent |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Consistent

When we identify our personal obstacles to love, we have taken a giant step toward dealing with them and becoming the loving person God wants us to be. “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” (I Cor. 14:1 Message)