Love, the Best Way
1 Corinthians 13[i]
God is love. (1 John 4:8)
John 3:16 tells us God sent his Son into the world to save those who believe in him. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. Rather, he sent his Son into the world to save the world. (John 3:17) However, John 3 ends with these rather ominous words, "And anyone who believes in God's Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn't obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God's angry judgment." (John 3:36)
I hear statements all the time to the effect that if God is a God of love, if God is love, then surely he will save all of humanity. This seems to make sense on the surface. If God can save me, then surely he can save anybody. John 3:36 and other similar Scriptures make it clear that God has not chosen to save everybody. There are many reasons for this. One of them is that love does not coerce or force itself to be reciprocated. In other words, while God loves all humanity, he forces no one to love him in return.
John 1:12 tells us, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God." From this, we understand that salvation is for those who believe. Those who believe become children of God, and are set apart from the rest of the world.
In the New Testament, these people are called the "ecclesia," which is translated "the Church." This word "ecclesia" is an interesting word. It literally means “those who are called out.” It derives the meaning of a gathering from the idea of the summoning of those who are gathered. It is consistent with the idea of God calling out a people for himself. The Church is the gathering of those whom God has called out or set apart for himself.
The Church is also known as his "Body."
As his Body, those called out and set apart, the Church has been given special gifts that set her apart from the rest of the world. These special gifts accompany salvation and are part of the work that God does in the hearts of his children.
1 Corinthians 12:28 lists some of these special gifts as expressed in the people who exercise them. It says, “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.
These gifts show the power of God and his working in and through his people, his children. Because of this, many people desire and seek after these gifts. As a matter of fact, 1 Corinthians 12:31 encourages us to seek after the most helpful gifts. However, these gifts are not the highest value for the Church. While these gifts are part of the tremendous riches we have in Christ Jesus, there is something even more important that we should seek to demonstrate with our lives.
1 Corinthians 12:31 says, "So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all."
What follows in chapter 13 is an explanation of this "way of life that is best of all."
In chapter 13, we see laid out for us the supremacy of love, the conduct of love and the permanence of love.
First, the supremacy of love.
Verses one through three speak of the supremacy of love. These verses speak of languages, prophecy, knowledge, faith and personal sacrifice. These are all important to the ministry and work of the Church. Without languages, we could not spread the gospel. Without prophecy, we could not understand what God is doing. Without knowledge, we would be as directionless as a ship without a rudder. Without faith and personal sacrifice, no work could be accomplished. These gifts listed here in these verses are essential to the life and ministry of the Church. However, these verses stress that without love these gifts are meaningless.
God is love, and we, his children, must seek to be like him.
But, what is love? If we are to live a life of love, what does it look like?
Verses four through seven speak of the conduct of love.
This is how love behaves. It is not so much a metaphysical definition of love; rather it is a demonstration of how love conducts itself. These verses say:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
God's love always seeks the good of the beloved. In other words, even when God hurts us, He hurts us for our good. Like a surgeon, who uses a knife to cut out cancer and hurts us badly in the process, God deals with sin in the lives of his children. However, we are not in the place of God to perform surgery on our fellow Christians. Therefore, as we exercise our gifts of knowledge or prophecy or of tongues we must be patient and kind, not demanding our own way. Because of our humanness, we cannot love perfectly as God loves, but we can seek the good of others, not looking out only for our own interests. We can consider others as more important than ourselves as is the command of Philippians 2:3&4.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge are all exceedingly useful gifts. God gives these gifts for the building up of his body, the Church. In seeking the good of our fellow believers, we desire to exercise our particular gift. However, this presents some challenges.
Verses 8 through 12 addresses the permanence of love.
Verse 8 says, "Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless."
It is necessary to stress that these gifts will become useless because each person can have a tendency to view his or her gift as being most important. Now, we would never say, "My gift is more important than your gift." However, we each have a unique view of the world. A person's particular giftedness shapes that person’s view of the world.
For example, a person with the gift of prophecy will have the tendency to view the world through the eyes of a prophet, while a person with the gift of helping others will have the tendency to view the world through the eyes of mercy. Both are necessary views, and both need each other. An application of the law without mercy may be a temptation for a person with the gift of prophecy. An application of mercy without proper respect for the law may be a temptation for the person with the gift of helping others.
In the church in Corinth, these differences had grown into conflicts. What is more, the believers there had developed pride in the exercise of their gifts. This pride in one's own particular gift can still be a problem today. There are deep divisions in the Church over the exercise and function of spiritual gifts. Some even go as far as to say that all believers should have their particular gift. 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 addresses this problem when it says:
Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not!
The author of Corinthians is working up to his conclusion. 1 Corinthians 14:1 says, "Let love be your highest goal!" In order to make this point, the author wants us to consider the temporary nature of many of the gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:9 says, "Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!" Verses eight through 12 of chapter 13 stress the partial, incomplete and imperfect nature of our knowledge. Verses 10 and 12 are parallel in that they point to a future time when our knowledge will be perfected. This time of perfection will make the gifts of prophecy, languages, special knowledge, healing and other gifts useless. This is clearly talking about when Jesus returns and creates a new heaven and a new earth.
This is the great hope of the believer. Jesus promised that if he went away, he would come again to receive us to himself that we can always be with him where he is. There is great hope in 1 Corinthians 13:12. It says, "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."
There is a constant push and pull in church for resources, for time, for recognition and understanding. Because of the imperfect and incomplete nature of our knowledge and love, churches here on earth are imperfect places. This is why love is so necessary. Let's review again the conduct of love.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This conduct, this power of putting others before ourselves will last forever.
1 Corinthians 13 ends with the statement, "Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love." God is love. Love is part of his character. Love is God's motivation for saving us, for giving us life and for being so patient with us. Since God is love, love will never end. It will always be useful. It will always be important. Special knowledge will not be special when everybody possesses it. It will be common. Prophecy will not be necessary when everybody already knows. However, we will still love each other.
At what cost do we insist on our own way?
At what cost do we lose patience or be unkind?
The "way of life that is best of all" is love.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.