Last week, we talked about how God is love, regardless of the seeming contradictions to that statement in Scripture. The only way to properly put that argument to rest is to define love.
What is love?
- Love/ Charity: benevolence, good will; that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good; candor; liberality in judging of men and their actions; a disposition which inclines men to think and judge favorably, and to put the best construction on words and action which the case will admit.
Note: I have used the dictionary definition of charity instead, because the literal translation of the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 13 is “charity.”
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Love is essential to godliness. We can have “the best gifts” that Paul describes in chapter 12, but if we don’t have love, it profits us nothing in our spiritual walk. Love is not the actions we do in Christ’s name. We can give up all that we have in this world, but without love, it gains us nothing in eternity. Is that to say that we can earn salvation? No! Never! But in faith, repentance, and obedience to Christ, we are promised eternal reward based on our obedience in righteousness (“good deeds”). Here, Paul is saying that our “good deeds” are useless without love. What then is love?
Henry Morris notes in his commentary that, “charity (or agape ‘love,’ if preferred) is defined by verbs rather than adjectives- by what it does, instead of what it is.”
He brings up a good point, one that calls our question and suggests a better one: What then doth love? What does love do if these seemingly loving, charitable deeds can be done without it?
Love is a commitment. A choice. The decision behind the deed. The way we think about God and the way we treat people.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth1 Corinthians 13:4-6
These are the attributes we normally associate with love. Patience, kindness, humility, gratefulness… these are all great things that signify our love. But we must go on in the passage to discover the riches and fullness of God’s love for us and godly love toward each other.
[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.1 Corinthians 13:7-8
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things? Does that mean loving Christians are gullible, dull, suffering people who are easily taken advantage of? No. Hear what Charles Spurgeon says on the matter: “This love has four sweet companions: tenderness that ‘bears all things,’ faith that ‘believes all things,’ hope that ‘hopes all things,’ and patience that ‘endures all things’.”
Again, it is our conscious decision in how we treat people. Love decides to bear (or cover) a brother or sister’s error in kind silence unless it is necessary to kindly and gently aid in its removal. Note that love only speaks of it if it can be done kindly and gently.
Love gives the benefit of the doubt. Many doubts, in fact. Spurgeon states that “this love believes good of others as long as it can, and when it is forced to fear that wrong has been done, love… will give the accused brother or sister the benefit of many doubts.” Because who are we to judge them, regardless of rumors or childish actions? If something is to be dealt with, once again, it should be done kindly and gently.
Love hopes all things and does not despair. Salvation ought to spark the fires of hope in the heart of every believer. Hope for our family in Christ, as well for sinners in need of Him. Love never gives up that hope.
Love endures all things… indefinitely. The hard work of loving with perseverance. In Christ, it is possible for us to have this enduring, never-failing love.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
One day, when we see Jesus face-to-face, we won’t have to hope anymore, because our hope will have come. Our faith will become our sight. But this love that lives in us through Christ? That will remain. Forever and ever. Amen.