“Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8a) says the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in his letter to the Corinthians. I was reminded of how true this short but powerful sentence is as it came to my rescue the other night in my conversation with my daughter. As the father of a teenager, I cherish the moments where she navigates the conversation in a spiritual direction. While studying for her world history exam, she wondered aloud and told me that all religions including the Christian Faith sounds the same in their language and confessions. Jumping at the opportunity to dispel a very common misconception, one that we recently covered at our Cornerstone meetings, I started naming different ways in which our faith was different. She was not thoroughly convinced until I came to the concept of “love” as we see in the God of the Bible. And then I heard the response that can be as rare as snow in Texas, “you are right, Dad”. Love had triumphed again in a very small but significant way!!
It will be hard to find another word or topic that is used – and abused – as often as Love. Famous song lyrics such as “love makes the world go round” and “what the world needs now is love, sweet love” shows the way we feel about the importance and indispensable nature of love in our lives as human beings. All kinds of heroic and villainous actions are undertaken even in real lives mimicking often what is seen in movies and shows in the name of love. The abuse and misgivings about love are seen all around us and Satan, as he often does, has done a masterful job of distorting love and using it for his evil purposes. The world has perverted love and often use the concept of love for selfish goals. The universal love of God for His creation is abused when one lives under the guise of “God loves me and therefore He will not condemn me” and therefore refuses to reconcile with Him. Sin is often rationalized and justified with statements such as “but we are in love”. Even Christian discipline and godly counsel is rejected in the name of “love” and a false understanding of it.
In the midst of these confusing times when love is misunderstood and caricatured into something it is not, isn’t it wonderful to be able to turn to God’s timeless truths? The Greek New Testament uses the word agape for love more than one hundred times. This word agape seems to be virtually a Christian invention, finding its origin and true meaning in the love of God by which He sent His Son into this world to die for us. We find this word almost non-existent in the ancient writings other than the around twenty times it is found in the Greek Old Testament. As we return to 1 Corinthians 13, we see this chapter sandwiched between a chapter about spiritual gifts in the body of Christ and another chapter about its proper practice. The placement of this chapter about love is strategic and teeming with wisdom as it shows to us the supremacy of love over every spiritual gift held in high regard by the church. As one reads though the descriptive qualities of agape love, we see that it is defined by what it does than what it is. Agape love is primarily not a feeling but rather a commitment to sacrifice one’s self for the object of love. It is driven by humility and holds the object of love in the highest regard in spite of any shortcomings or imperfections. As F.E. Marsh beautifully states, “Love has not an irritating thorn in its hand, nor a jealous look in its eye, nor depreciating words on its lips, nor sore feelings in its heart. Love sees the best in others, and the worst in itself. Love will wash another’s feet, and think it is honored by so doing”. It is not dependent on circumstances and is not based on emotion but rather on the disposition of the heart for the welfare and needs of others.
The kind of humility and lack of regard for self, demanded by agape love, was considered to be weak by the Greek culture of that day. But the Bible reminds us that “God demonstrated His own [agape] love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God, the most powerful Person in the universe, is telling us by His actions that agape love is not weak but powerful. Moreover, knowing how difficult it is to practice this love in our lives, He chose to pour it into our lives. Romans 5:5 tells us that “God’s [agape] love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. And graciously, God produces the fruit of love in us when we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Apart from Him and His work in us, we cannot expect to cultivate and grow in our Christ like love for others.
Love is immortal and will remain forever says the Apostle as he comes to the end of 1 Corinthians 13. Love will be just as powerful in eternity as it is now as we live in the presence of our God. Eternity will always remind us of God’s sacrificial love for us and His earnest desire for our lives is to reflect His love on this earth. Yes, it is true. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love” more than ever before. But not just any ordinary love created in the mind of a fallen man. What we need is more of the agape love that comes from God above who himself is love. May we strive and resolve to love like Him in the days ahead.