Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and the whole world seems to be focused on love.  If you have been in a toxic relationship, you may be feeling a bit confused about what love is, what it looks like, and how you can be sure it’s the real thing, not a cheap imitation. After all, people in your life claimed to “love” you, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

Fortunately, Paul took the time to describe what godly love looks like in his letter to the church at Corinth.  Let’s take a look at what he said love looks like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.” 1 Cor. 13:4-7.

In other words, love is a verb. It always wants and does what is in the other person’s best interest. God’s kind of love is a generous, extravagant kind of love. Love waits – it doesn’t push its selfish desires on others. It gives others the time they need.  Love is full of kindness – not just good manners and smooth talking, but truly caring about the other person.  Love isn’t jealous or envious of someone else’s good fortune – in fact, it celebrates all the wins of others with as much enthusiasm as if it were its own.  Love doesn’t boast – there is no need to. A person with love is content knowing the Creator made him just as he is, and others just as they are, each of us with unique gifts and talents that are to be treasured.  Love doesn’t need to put others down to make itself look better, and it doesn’t need to brag.  It is comfortable as is.

Love is not arrogant, but rather, it is humble, just like Jesus.  Love recognizes that all good things come from God – from our intellect and talents to our successes and opportunities. Love is full of gratitude for God’s gifts – and that keeps love humble.  Love honors and treasures those people that God has put in our lives.  Love encourages others and affirms the wonderful ways that God has made them. Love recognizes that that those people are gifts from above, and cherishes them. It would never dishonor or disrespect a beautiful gift made in God’s image. Love looks out for the best interests of others – it is not selfish. It doesn’t use others for its own gain, rather, it cherishes others.  Love is not easily angered because it realizes that our life here on earth is not about serving ourselves, but serving others. When we become angry, it is usually for selfish reasons because we did not get our way. Love doesn’t do that. If love is angered, it is a righteous anger for the mistreatment of God’s creatures, creations, and those made in His image. And it goes to work to right a wrong.

Love doesn’t keep score; it doesn’t hold grudges; it doesn’t seek revenge – love forgives. Love always wants what is best for others and it honors others by being truthful. Love seeks righteousness over evil, and truth over lies. Love always protects others – it never harms or oppresses. Love trusts others – it is not constantly controlling or stalking others or looking to catch others in a fault.  And because it trusts, there is a freedom to be who God designed us to be. Love looks for the best in people, and hopes for the best, and expects the best – because love knows God is who He says He is, and God will do what He has promised to do.  Love has grit – it is in it for the long haul. It is not just a fleeting emotion that evaporates after an initial stage of euphoria.  Loves does what is in the other person’s best interests. Love is a verb that says, “I am committed to you, I am for you, I am with you.”

This is what God’s love for us looks like.  This is how we are called to love others.

Far too often, women in abuse have mistaken something masquerading as love for the real thing.  They think it’s “love” because a partner has told her that, but his actions don’t match up to his words.  Women often spend years in a relationship giving love, but getting abuse or neglect in return, hoping that he will change.

Here’s the test: if you can put your partner’s name in for the word “love” in the above passage, and the passage is true about him, then you have real love that is based upon godly principles.  If not, regardless of what he says, it’s not love.

It’s a gut-wrenching day when a woman realizes that the person she has been with has never really loved her, and their life together has been a sham.  But, it is an important day, because it is the day she can make a decision to get out and find peace, healing and wholeness.

God’s very nature is love. He made us to love and to be loved. He made us to be in healthy relationships with people who encourage us and affirm the good things in us, as we do in them. God is head-over-heels in love with us.  He is an amazing God, who wants us to have an amazing life with amazing people who love us, as we love them.  He is not a mediocre God who wants us to have a mediocre life or mediocre relationships.

As we celebrate love this month, I encourage you to consider the extravagant love that God has for you, and wants you to have in your life.  He loves his kids!  He’s crazy about you!