If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Analyzing those words is like taking a beautiful flower and tearing it apart. But some analysis is necessary to fully grasp what Paul is saying here. We should remember that this chapter on love fits beautifully with what the apostle has been talking about in the previous section. In Chapter 12 Paul talked about the gifts of the Spirit. Here in Chapter 13 we come to the fruit of the Spirit. Paul has introduced it with a hint already that the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit. That we become loving people is far more important than whether we are active, busy people. Both are necessary, but one is greater than the other. Paul has said so:
I will show you a still more excellent way. That is the way of love.
I call this the
fruit of the Spirit because in the letter to the Galatians Paul details for us what the fruit of the Spirit is. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All of those qualities really are manifestations of love. This chapter is setting forth that quality of love which is the work of the Spirit of God within us reproducing the character of Christ. Once you have love all these other qualities that are part of the fruit of the Spirit are possible to you. If we have the love of God in our hearts, then we can be patient; we can be peaceful; we can be good, loving, faithful, gentle and kind.
love is not the Greek word eros. That word is used to describe erotic love. And the word here is not philia, which means affection or friendship. Paul is talking about agape, which is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. This is the word that is used to describe the love of God. It is a word addressed to the will. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is, and this is what Paul is talking about.
This kind of love is possible only to those who first love God. Any attempt to try to exercise love like this without having first loved God is to present a fleshly kind of love. There are two great commandments. The first is to love the Lord with all your heart. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). We try to turn that around. Many of us are trying to love our neighbor without having loved God, and it is impossible to do that. It is
the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as Paul puts it in Romans 5:5, that fulfills the definition that is given in this chapter. You cannot love other people until you first love God.
Love for God is not difficult, because all you need to do is be aware of how he has loved you. Above all else he has loved you in having given his Son for you, having redeemed you and forgiven you. Your guilt is taken away. By these means God has called you to himself and given you a standing before him as a son. To remember all that is to be stirred with love for God. When you love God you awaken your capacity to love people. Love is a supernatural quality. God alone can give this kind of love. God alone can lead you to make a choice to love somebody who does not appeal to you. Yet that is what God's love is. That is what is so desperately needed and so beautifully described in this passage. It can only come as we love God and love is awakened within us by the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I pray that the gift of love may be manifest in my life.
Are we long on good works, and good intentions -- but short on love? What does this infer about our intimacy with our God, who Is Love? Are we looking for something less than genuine love, in all the wrong places?