by John Wang
1 Corinthians 13:13
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The theme of this passage is love. I’m sure, in some shape or form, that we’ve all heard stories over and over again about love, whether it’s “Love Actually” or “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, we’ve all had some experience with what story writers think love is. But how does God’s Word depict love? Love is the key. It’s the main thing. This passage defines the quality and type of love that the Holy Spirit works within us to reproduce the image of Christ. Apostle Paul discusses spiritual and miraculous gifts in the context of love. He implies that love is not simply expressed through a feeling or emotion, but that love manifests in action. This love that Paul talks about is seen, demonstrated, and experienced. IF love is an action and not an emotion, we need to study what God has to say about love. We need to understand what love is, then we can comprehend how it appears among Christian communities and relationships. To do this, this passage gives us three distinctions, three parts, about love. These three parts are 1) Love is foremost over all else, 2) Love is practical, and 3) Love is eternal.
Part 1: Love is foremost over all else
(v. 1-3) As we read these 3 verses, Paul introduces at least 5 gifts of the Holy Spirit; speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and giving. All these things, collectively, are generally good and noble things. Prophecy is the ability to declare God’s truth in powerful, life-changing ways. Knowledge involves the deep understanding of the Word of God. Faith is the ability to trust God for great things and through great trials. Giving to the poor is just a good thing to do. Yet, what happens when these are practiced without love? Speaking in the tongues of earth and heaven simply becomes senseless clanging and banging. If I have the great ability to discern and detect understanding for the Scripture and all its mystery, but do not have love, I have absolutely nothing. The power to know and do is meaningless without a loving spirit. Continually, the value of these things is seen as equivalent to nothing without love as we repeatedly see. That we become loving people is valued much higher than being busy or active people. Though both are good things, a loving person is more important than all of these. Without love, all these things become quite useless. Love is the most important thing. This is what life is about. Quite simply, we were placed here to learn to love. Thus, despite any great achievements or accomplishments we may obtain, living without love is nothing more than having wasted our time and gifts. So we can see is foremost
Part 2: Love is Practical
(v. 4-7) Rather, than an abstract and out there idea or definition of love, Paul informs us clearly on what love in action should look like. If I was your English teacher, I would mention the fact that he uses 15 verbs in the span of just 4 verses to describe love. This would imply that despite our own understanding of falling in love or a feeling of attraction, that love must be practical and manifests in our actions, attitudes, and behavior. Essentially, he is attempting to describe the type of love God bestows on us. As we have learned, this love is described with the Greek word agape, or the commitment of our will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the word that we used to try and describe the love God shows us. Behind this type of love is the decision to treat another person with care, concern, thoughtfulness, and a full desire to work for their interests. We can try and think of this in the context of love as action as this is the love Paul speaks about throughout the passage.
This kind of love is only obtainable to those who love God first. An attempt to express a similar type of love without first loving God presents a poor imitation, an almost fake type of love. What are the greatest commandments in the Bible? Matthew 22:37-39 say, “Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” We often mix that up. A lot of us try our best to love our neighbors, our fellow peers, our family, and our friends without first loving God, but find that it is quite impossible to do. It’s funny. If I consider some of the qualities Paul describes through his many “love is..”, especially “love is patient”, I understand I fall short of this so much. I don’t think any of us can be too comfortable after reading these expressions of love. Just through my relationship with my mother alone, I can see how much I lack in this department. She likes to, frequently, comment that I should work hard to grow taller. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s her hope for me to be as happy and healthy as possible, but I often lash out in anger or impatience to hear the same comments repeatedly and often have no patience or grace in conversation. Neither of us wishes to hurt each other or be negative, but I personally struggle over and over to express my love and gratitude for her in an active way beyond just thinking it or saying it. Instead of understanding my own fault in antagonizing her or other negative acts, I focus in on her shortcomings and mistakes and grow impatient. However, as I said before, this passage truly reveals that love is the key. It is the main thing and it is alive. It is through a quality of love that moves, that is the work of the Holy Spirit within us to reproduce the spirit of Christ in us. If we have this love of God in our hearts, then we can truly be patient, we can truly be kind, we can truly be peaceful, considerate, faithful, gentle, and unlock all these other great qualities. But as Matthew 22:38 says, we must first have a love for God.
Love for God is not as difficult as it may seem. It is simply being aware of how he has loved you. His love as a part of your creation. His love in guiding you and protecting you. And greatest of all, His scandalous love in sacrificing his one and only Son for the broken sinner in all of us in order to forgive us, heal us, and redeem us. I think of his great mercy rooted in love to not only wipe away my guilt and shame, but also to wipe away all loneliness and all my inner pains. Through this, God calls us to him and welcomes us back as his prodigal children of his family. The hard part is actually taking the time to act upon this love, to prove it in a sense. It may be hard for most of us to do, including me, but I’m beginning to see more and more that when you love God, you awaken your own capacity to love people. The two great commandments are in the order we find them in for a reason. It is quite clear that love is truly a supernatural quality. I can think of countless times this past year alone when I grew resentful or bitter towards other people. Throughout the summer, it’s fair to say that my grudges did not fade and some even grew deeper. I can definitively say I had severe resentment for a number of people who I felt had wronged me for a collection of reasons, whether they were justified or not. Yet, as I began submitting more and more to God in love through daily devotionals, prayer, and service during the CBF conference, I find that I have had so many opportunities to not only forgive and reconcile but to grow in these relationships again. In an almost supernatural way, one by one, all these people would seemingly message me out of the blue and we would move forward beyond what was in the past and have began forging new relationships with each other. Just recently, I was hit with some really late night texts from a person who I had thought we had burned bridges with. It was truly an act of faith to simply open the message and find the strength to support another in love. Despite the rough times they were going through, God moved in a way that is so unbelievable. To ignore a personal grudge and essentially shove, push and kick me to love, god not only asked for my love to be active and practical but essentially demanded it from me. I find that, truly, God’s love is something I cannot begin to understand or fathom. But it is exactly what I so desperately have desired and sought my entire life. Through just one night, I realize how amazing god's love is to draw others to it and work to resolve friendships that had no business being reconciled due to my own selfishness and pride. Again, god's love is something that I can't even begin to understand but it is truly miraculous and moving.
Part 3: Love is Eternal
(v. 8-13) We see that love never fails. It persists through all things. It never falls away and disappears, it never quits, and it never runs out. Instead, love persists. It keeps on coming endlessly. As we use more and more of it, we find more of it. Paul tells us that the gifts of the Spirit will end; prophecies will cease, tongues will be stilled, knowledge will fade away. He talks about children not to diminish the gifts of those blessed by the Spirit, but to acknowledge an eternal perspective where these gifts of the Spirit will find a time when they are no longer necessary. In the end, three things will remain; faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love. Love is the perfect thing, and one day, it will be perfectly ours. No matter where I turn, or how long I turn from love, I find that God’s love is always there. My lowest lows and highest highs, that love continues on and on. The moment I first felt Christ’s love for me has not remained stagnant or stopped in my life. No, it continues to grow deeper and deeper to deep levels I can’t even explain or comprehend.
But the greatest of these is love. For love is foremost over all else, love is practical, and love is eternal. Our love for others and our love for God do not even begin to cover the love God as for us. As seek to love God, we abound in his love. So how will we grow in love, specifically for others? We must pursue it, chase after it. That’s the goal. There is no use in obtaining any other quality if we lack in this one. Before we can love others, we must first be in a love relationship with God who is love himself. The love God continually pours on us is through an understanding of us, for we are fully known by him. It is through our love that the Spirit moves within us it follow his image, then we grow our knowledge of the Lord until we shall know him fully. God calls us to love as the greatest of his commandments. Truly, we are given life so that we might learn to act in love. So I ask, truly, how can you grow in love? Consider the qualities of love. Where do you measure up? Are we the compassionate, patient, kind, truthful person we are called to be? May we earnestly seek to be and clearly hold in our heads an image of this type of person. There is a true reality in these words; “for the greatest of these is love.