What is the Purpose of Love?

Shawl of Ocean PearlsThey call it the “Intimates department.” And that’s curious, because the only thing you’ll find there is women’s underwear.

I say that’s curious because here’s how Merriam Webster’s full definition for the word “intimate” reads:

Did you miss the part about women’s underwear?

That’s because it’s not there.

But despite omitting the “satin and lace” aspect of intimacy, something pretty significant is being described here. Many summarize it this way: “intimacy” is the desire to know and be known.

Wonder where that definition originated? It’s in 1 Cor 13, the all-famous “Love Chapter” of the Bible, quoted at most Christian weddings.

Please allow me to break it down real simply (from the 1984 version of the NIV). Paul begins by introducing the preeminence of love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1Cor 13:1-3

He then continues by describing the personality of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1Cor 13:4-7

Then he proceeds to pronounce the permanence and perfection of love:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. – 1Cor 13:8-10

Paul resolves his treatise by reminding us again of the permanence and preeminence of love in verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

However, just before then, at the climax of the passage he declares the purpose of love:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1Cor 13:11-12

There it is: Intimacy! The purpose of love is to bring us to maturity (to put childish ways behind us), so that we might enjoy the fruit of love (knowing as we are fully known).

This definition of love’s purpose is miles away from many of the world’s ideas about the purpose of love:

  • To make us feel drunk without drinking
  • Never having to say, “I’m sorry.”
  • Enabling us to live happily ever after

Growing up may not be as much fun as all that, but it’s a lot more realistic. And when you read the words, “then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” doesn’t your heart cry out, “YES! THAT’S WHAT I WANT!”

No wonder. After all, our loving God created us in His own divine and unique image and He delights to make Himself known in relationship.

How does women’s underwear fit into that picture?

I have a team of trained dolphins working on that.

However the more important question is this: Why would the idea of “knowing and being known” be the ultimate climax of a passage about true love? Clearly our culture would lead us to believe true love has an entirely different climax (one apparently involving women’s undies).

Why is intimacy so important?

For this reason: It is in healthy intimate relationships with the most important people in your life where you will find the answers to the two most important questions of life. Answers every human being must know to enjoy a life of peace and passion.

And we’ll share those next week.

[This is post is part of a series called Relation^ology (it begins with this post) where we identify the greatest relational need of our heart and then ID the counterfeits we seek out or settle for instead. Relation^ology started out as a discussion series and can be booked for your college, youth or young adults group (or singles group, life group, cell group, community group or whatever they’re calling Bible study these days).]

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The LoveEd study guide series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE YOU FALL IN LOVE! It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. Check out the first two 8-lesson study guides in our store. You can walk through it on your own, but it’s more fun with friends, so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study. Even better?  And ask a married couple you respect to lead it!

Categories: Intimacy Impostors, Relation^ology, RELATIONSHIPS