“Do everything in love.” (I Corinthians 16:14).
Comparing my relationships with the description of love in I Corinthians 13:4-8 is a humbling experience. It reminds me that I can’t live this way in my own strength. I need help from the God who is love.
This way of love is super-natural life, not natural. By nature, I prefer self over others. Resisting a self-centered life takes effort. The starting point is to encounter the God who pours out “His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5) We need the Holy Spirit to produce this love in our lives!
Reflect on the emphasis in Romans 13:8-10:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
These three remain:
Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13). Love is the most excellent way (I Corinthians 12:31). “Over all virtues,” Colossians 3:14 reminds us, “put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
- Before discussing spiritual gifts, the apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Look at the first words of I Corinthians 14:1, “Follow the way of love…” This was a needed word for a very privileged, gifted and selfish congregation! Throughout the entire New Testament, there is repeated emphasis on the supremacy of love (Philippians 1:9; II Corinthians 8:8; I Thessalonians 3:12; Hebrews 10:24; 13:1). As I Corinthians 13:1-3 teach, when love is absent it renders all other gifts and service empty—a bunch of clanging noise.
Love is so important that the apostle John wrote:
- I John 4:8 “Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love.”
- I John 3:14 “Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
- I John 4:12 “If we love one another, God lives in us…”
- I John 4:20 “Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
Consider the example of Jesus:
John 13:1b “Having loved His own who were in the world, He showed them the full extent of His love.” “He laid aside His outer garment, girded Himself with a towel, filled the basing with water, washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (John 13:4-5). Then, Jesus said “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). A little later Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
The final apologetic—after all the arguments for faith have been offered, show them authentic Christian community—distinguished by love—the visible display of the gospel (Francis Schaeffer).
What does this love look like?
“Fair enough,” you say. “But what does this love look like?” How can we detect it and display it?” The answer? I Corinthians 13:4-8a. Please notice how these 15 verbs describing love imply the challenges we face in relating to others.
As I have been reflecting deeply on this description of love, it appears to me to be a prescription against rivalry and dissension. Relationships known for rivalry, dissension, comparison, competition, envy, retaliation, gossip, and slander are the exact opposite of love and reflect the destruction of shalom! Yet we find plenty of this everywhere in the world.
The first two descriptions of love imply challenges to peaceful relating.
- Patience—forbearance—implied provocation
- Kindness—acts of care and concern for others (“quick to pay back with kindness what it received in hurt” –D.A. Carson)
We must recognize that all of these qualities or responses of love reflect a powerful transformation of natural relational tendencies. Any relationship or individual who lives this life of love will stand out in a society that is distinguished for its selfishness.
Consider the way love:
- keeps no record of wrongs, (v. 6)
- does not delight in evil, (v. 6)
- always protects or “bears all things/covers all things,” (v. 7)
- does not devise evil against another. (i.e. “it keeps no record of wrongs”/”thinketh no evil” (KJV)
Just as God was “not counting our sins against us” but making “the One Who knew no sin to be sin for us,” so love prays as Stephen did when they were killing him, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59-60)
Make the application:
“It is normal for depravity to want to uncover everybody’s evil. You can illustrate the fact that this is a normal human behavior pattern by just looking at yourself and your own children. There’s no question about it. The newsstands are filled with magazines that do nothing more than expose people’s sin. And all the bookstores are jammed with exposes. You see, depravity is always looking to find the skeleton in somebody else’s closet. Do you know why? Because it gives people a sense of self-righteousness.”
And it starts early in life, doesn’t it?
“Children are a good illustration of this. They come into the world depraved, don’t they? And one of the first manifestations of their depravity is the eagerness with which they want to tattle on their brothers and sisters. Why? Because depravity is always trying to uncover somebody else so it can gain a sense of self-respect and self-righteousness (John MacArthur).
Love absolutely rejects that most pernicious form of rejoicing over evil, gossiping about the misdeeds of others; it is not gladdened when someone else falls.
Do you see why I wanted to give you the surrender flags? This is super-natural living—fruit of the Spirit of God—not the production of our natural tendencies!
Consider the description:
“Love does not envy.” (v. 4) Watch this! Where there is envy, another record is being kept: A record of blessings, not wrongs. Envy notices how others are being blessed and resents them for it.
When we feel resentful toward others because of their prosperity, we violate love. And never minimize how dangerous envy can be. Envy murdered Abel, enslaved Joseph, and motivated the crucifixion of Jesus (Genesis 4:3-8; Genesis 37:11, 28; Matthew 27:18). For more insight see: Tempted to Envy.
Among believers, in I Corinthians 12:26, the apostle wrote, “…if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Of course, when one is honored, love restrains him from:
- boasting (that inordinate desire to draw attention to oneself
- being proud/arrogant
- being rude (behaving unseemly)
- being self-seeking
Get the white flag out!
Again, this tendency to envy makes very early appearances in children. They quickly identify what’s unfair about the way a brother or sister is blessed and resent them rather than rejoice for them. Sometimes parents play into this by trying too hard to make everything fair.
Do you see how this love confronts our tendency toward rivalry? This was a huge problem in the church at Corinth!
Only God’s power will enable us to overcome the obstacles to true love—to overcome rivalry, dissension, comparison, envy, retaliation, gossip, and slander. We must humble ourselves.
Remember Jesus’ humble love as your example:
- The Creator became a creature.
- The King became a servant.
- The Shepherd became a lamb.
- The Sinless One was made sin for us.
- The High Priest became the sacrifice.
(see: Philippians 2:3-10)
Think about it:
“It is often pointed out that in this paragraph Paul seems best to capture the life and ministry of Jesus. So much so that one could substitute His name for the noun “love” and thereby describe love in a more personal way. After doing so, however, one does not want to miss Paul’s point, which ultimately is description for the purpose of exhortation. Perhaps that point could best be captured by putting one’s own name in place of the noun “love,” and not neglecting thereafter to find a proper place for repentance and forgiveness” (Gordon Fee, N.I.C.N.T.; I Corinthians, p.640).