First Corinthians 13 has been called the chapter of love. It contains beautiful and poetic language regarding the nature of love. As I have read it this week, I found myself struck by the opening verses of that passage. There is something in the way that Paul instructs the Corinthian church that deeds without proper motive are vacuous and utterly worthless efforts.
At first it is difficult to understand why Paul takes such a hard stance on our need to love in all we do. Sure, it makes sense that we should be kind and generous to others. We should not see to do harm to those who have wronged us. But, there is something else at work in Paul’s examples. He reminds us that we must take care not to get lost in our own spiritual endeavors that we forget our companions on the way.
Paul highlights that the possession and exercise of spiritual gifts does not give us license to do as we wish. The examples Paul uses are spectacular. These are not small or insignificant gifts. She are big, visible, in-your-face gifts, but if it’s about the individual then it is nothing more than a charade. It seems that the temptation to take advantage of spiritual gifts was something that had become common place in that church. The struggle to remain humble had given way to personal gain and influence.
Paul ends the chapter by telling us that of all the gifts that will abide faith, hope, and love will remain forever. These three are given prominence among all of God’s gifts to the saints because they are different from the all the others. All the spiritual gifts discussed in chapter 12 are to be used by the believer for the benefit of those in the church. Faith, hope, and love are not like this. These three are given to the believer as a means of confirming the presence of God within us. The fact that faith, hope, and love will abide forever, is an indication that what God has done was intended to produce these three things from the start.
The question that rolls around in my mind is why love is the greatest. What is it about the nature of love that make it rise above the other two? I think it is greatest because it is a reflection of God’s own character. Love, while it resides within us, must be expressed sacrificially. I can speak in tongues, move mountains, and give everything away and it not really be a burden or a struggle to do so. It makes us feel good to do those thing most of the time. But, when the task required is costly; when it calls for a deeper level of commitment; when there is no inherent benefit to me, love must be present for me to act.
Love is sacrificial. When we love the way God does, it forces us to not consider the ramifications to ourselves. We see the one in need and we are compelled to act. Love is more than just an emotion. A true act of love engages us to the very core of our being.
I think Paul understood this better than most. After all he had done, God loved him and taught him how to love others. As I read this famous chapter, I read it as an acknowledgement by Paul of what he experienced when God loved him and saved him. This is Paul’s description of God’s love toward him, the chief of sinners. A magnificent one at that.