Most people do not realize that Paul’s chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, is a continuation of his thoughts on spiritual gifts (Chapter 12). As excellent as these gifts are, having been bestowed on the Church by God for its edification and the furtherance of Christianity, Paul, in encouraging the brethren to “earnestly desire the greater gifts,” also exhorted them to a “more excellent way” (12:31, KJV). What could be more excellent than the pursuit and use of spiritual gifts? Listen to his argument: “All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever. Someday prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge—these gifts will disappear” (13:8, TLB). The gifts were temporary, but love, in this case, agape love, that “divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love” would never cease. It is for this gift, above all other spiritual gifts, for which we should strive.
Interestingly, when Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34), it was the same Greek word, transliterated agape, that was used. In other words, love one another freely, actively, unconditionally, and self-sacrificially. Actively suggests the demonstration of our love to one another in tangible ways! Paul expanded on this thought when he gave a description of love’s properties and its fruits: “Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him. . . . love goes on forever” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a, TLB). We could include far more characteristics, but we do get the idea. It is hard, just about impossible, to love another person that way without the help and power of the Holy Spirit. Yet it is this love that we who have accepted the call to be disciples of Christ are called upon to show.
How important is loving one another in God’s way of thinking? John captures His heart when he writes, “Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God, and that they are getting to know Him better. But if a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that he doesn’t know God—for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into this wicked world to bring to us eternal life through His death. In this act we see what real love is: it is not our love for God but His love for us when He sent His Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us as much as that, we surely ought to love each other too” (1 John 4:7-11, TLB).
Have you noticed what I’ve noticed? He started and ended with the same admonition – love (agape) one another. How are you doing in that regard? Can you think of anyone you need to love like that?