By Lynda Lees.
I asked the Lord for a word for today and opened my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13. I was immediately struck by the last verse of chapter 12, ‘And now I will show you the most excellent way.’
The author, the apostle Paul, then goes on to describe a love that is so radical and self-sacrificing, that it seems impossible for mere humans to achieve. Here is my take on it:
Spiritual gifts are great, but…
In the previous chapter, Paul had been explaining that while the gifts of the Holy Spirit were quite varied, their main purpose is for the common good of the whole church (the people) and even though some gifts might seem to be more important than others, the fact is, every gift and every person is equally important in God’s Kingdom.
He ends chapter 12 with an encouragement to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, but… there is a much better way, something much more important than having great spiritual gifts – loving one another.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 13, Paul goes on to explain that we while might have the most amazing spiritual gifts in the whole world, if we aren’t living a life that manifests love, we gain nothing at all! Scary, yet sobering…
- If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but don’t have love – I’m just making empty noise.
- If have prophesy, fathom great mysteries & knowledge; if I have faith to move mountains, but don’t have love – I am nothing.
- If I give all I possess to the poor & even surrender my body to be burned for the sake of the kingdom, but don’t have love – I gain nothing.
The kind of love Paul tells us we must have here, is ‘agape’ love. Kenneth Wuest’s expanded translation describes the Greek word for love in this chapter – agape – as God’s love produced in the heart of the yielded saint by the Holy Spirit, a love that impels us him/her to deny themselves for the sake of others. That gives me hope that I don’t have to try to live this kind of love by myself – the Holy Spirit can work this out in me as I yield my life.
Agape love is not a superficial love; it is not simply a warm feeling toward others – it is a love that is self-sacrificing, a love that puts others before ourselves, a love that would rather suffer wrong than wrong others, a love that is not quick to anger and keeps no accounts of wrongs, etc.
It is an extreme love. I’ve heard a lot over the years about living lives of extreme faith, but very little about living lives of extreme love – the type of love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13.
Sometimes, I wonder how we (mere humans) so often manage to get things the wrong way around. Paul concludes this chapter on living extreme love, by putting the order of faith, hope and love in perspective:
1 Corinthians 13:13, ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
Surprisingly, faith isn’t the greatest – the greatest is love. Love is the most important.
Jesus placed great importance on love, not only through his death on the cross to bring us back into right relationship with Father God, but he also tells us in the Gospel of John 13:35, that ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another (agape)‘.
The apostle Peter encourages us to lives of love in our fellowship with one another in 1 Peter 4:8, for the following reason: ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.‘ Seems that living love has great benefits.
Live love & eagerly desire spiritual gifts
In conclusion, Paul encourages the church (you & me) to do both: live extreme love and passionately desire spiritual gifts. In that order, because love is greater.
My Prayer: God help me to understand how to live this kind of love – in my family, with my friends, in my workplace and out in the community. Help me to better understand the depth of your great love toward us in giving your only Son, so that whosoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. And let your love for people grow in my heart, so that I can see them as you see them and so love them. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.