If you’re looking to split a crowd as dramatically as the parting of the Red Sea, might I suggest bringing up Love Island?

We’ve probably all witnessed a colleague innocently ask, Has anyone been watching Love Island?”. Given the pandemonium this causes in workplaces across the country, I’m rather relieved that the longest ever season of Love Island will finally finish on Monday, 30 July. If you’ve never seen it, Love Island is a British reality show set in Majorca where a group of men and women live together for several weeks with the sole aim of finding love (and £50,000). Monday’s grand finale will reveal which couple has successfully convinced the public that they are utterly besotted, winning them a hefty cheque as they jet home.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore a good love story. However predictable, I’m still captivated as Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock, or, unforgettably, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, battle the odds to reach their happily ever after.

But regardless of your views on Love Island or whether Hugh Grant should return to the floppy locks of Notting Hill, none of this is real life, nor, I’d like to suggest, real love. While the New Testament outlines several types of love – from romantic love, to friendship, to the unconditional love of God – what popular culture reveres as the ideal for love isn’t any of these.

The love culture reveres is impatient and unkind. It envies, it boasts, and it’s prideful. It dishonours others in favour of being selfish, easily wronged and quick to hold a grudge. This love delights in evil and rejects truth. It abandons, it mistrusts, it doubts and it gives up. Unlike the love of 1 Corinthians 13, this love fails.

Yet before I dare point a finger, I must fully admit that I’m no better. I daily embody this poor imitation of love because, sadly, my tendency is to slip into the mind-set of an islander; spend five minutes watching Love Island, and you’ll notice that the whole show pivots around competition. It is a nightly fight for affection.

What a joy it is that I have never, nor will ever, need to fight for the affection of God. He knows every time I’ve got it wrong, and all the times I still won’t get it right, yet His banner over me is always-attentive love. I am fully known, fully loved, and fully freed to love others in this way too. That’s the mind-boggling ridiculousness of the gospel.

Real love is about the normal, everyday moments, when we choose to put others before ourselves, and start to look a little bit more like Jesus. If Jesus is our model for love, then it should be no surprise to us that love bears a cost, and that real love involves sacrifice.

Even though it hurts my pride, I appreciate it that my fiancé gently calls me out when I’m being a total moron. If he encouraged me to continue being selfish, arrogant, needy and late to everything, then he wouldn’t help me look more like Jesus, nor equip me to sacrificially love others better tomorrow than I can today.

Real love doesn’t let us stay as we are; it motivates us towards someone better. Paul lays out the blueprint for love in his first letter to the Corinthians, and, when put into action, its hallmarks are sacrifice, unity and sanctification. I don’t work for ITV, but a show where people make sacrifices for the benefit of others and seek to forgive one another in the name of unity is unlikely to make primetime viewing.

Choosing to love like Jesus did on the cross means choosing to love in a way that isn’t about us. It’s a love that sacrificially elevates others, because we know we’re not the Hugh Grant, the Drew Barrymore, the Sandra Bullock, or even the Julia Roberts of this romcom; Jesus is. He’s the main character of this story, and He’s the only way any of us will reach the elusive happily ever after’.

And that’s what the church can offer the world. We can give them what Love Island, Music and Lyrics, Two Weeks Notice, and Notting Hill can’t: a picture of the purest love. When people look at the church, I want them to see a community united around the beauty and peace of a relationship with God, who saves us from our imperfections and gives us the ultimate prize: adoption as children of God.

So, how’s your love looking? Are you motivated by fear to compete for affection? Or do you strive to forgive, celebrate and make sacrifices for others? Do you hold Jesus as the benchmark for love, resting safe in the knowledge that even when we fail, God will never fall out of love with us?