The greatest of these is love. We need the greatest love.
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
And I show you a still more excellent way.
13 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
In today’s text, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 describes what love is, does and doesn’t do saying: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. This is one of the most often quoted, printed and publicly read portions of scripture; it is one of the few acknowledged and accepted, quoted even by unbelievers. What is lost in the out of context familiarity and usage of this passage is the additional knowing what love is and is not. Love is not an emotion. It is not a physical act. Love is not a decision we make. Chapter 13 begins: If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. The love Paul speaks of, just like tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith and service, is a spiritual gift, given by God to people. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 says: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. We don’t just pick and choose; we don’t decide what spiritual gifts we are given. They are distributed by the Holy Spirit, as He wills.
Love is different though. Along with being a spiritual gift, our ability and our capacity to love is also a response to God’s love. 1 John 4:19 says: We love, because He first loved us. For us to fully understand and so, to fully love, we must both know God’s love and receive the gift of His love. Romans 5:6 says: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. To know God’s love is to see Christ on the cross, dying for our sins. John 3:16 says: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. God’s love, demonstrated in the cross of Christ, is different than the other spiritual gifts in that it is given freely and equally to all. It is not distributed according to the will of the Spirit, but rather is offered to all who will receive it. The text says love: bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. God’s love and the finished work of Jesus on the cross is the only love that meets all of the criteria listed. Human love cannot measure up to God’s love. It cannot equal our ability and capacity to love others, because He first loved us. We have all seen and experienced failed human love. Only God’s love, demonstrated in the cross of Christ, never fails.
The text says: But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. The world likes to say that all we need is love. What they say is true, but it is God’s love, not their own description or definition of love that the world needs. It is the free gift given to and for all; that Jesus died for our sins. That’s true love. None of the things that the world tries to substitute for or describe love by measure up to the standard of God’s love described in today’s text. So I will agree with and concede to the world, that all we need is love. I will challenge them all to know and receive true love, not the diminished human love of emotion, physical attraction, mental decision, but rather the gift of God’s love, the love that endures and never fails, the love that enables us to love; the love that is Jesus.
Thank You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ and precious Holy Spirit for all the gifts You give. Most of all, thank You for the greatest gift, the gift of love that was given for us all. May the world come to know the love they desire, the true love demonstrated by Jesus. Amen.