You rarely find a place in scripture where there are a series of chapters on a single subject with an entire chapter in the middle describing how that topic is to be carried out. In fact I can't think of one off hand that is as specific as 1 Cor. 12-14. Right in the middle of his explanation of the gifts and how they should be used he plops this chapter about the heart behind using the gifts. The Love chapter. The way Paul does this is making a huge point. The Corinthians were misusing the gifts and being insensitive to each other. Paul is not just instructing them on how to properly use the gifts, but giving them the primary motivation behind them....Love! In essence he's saying character before gifting.
The use of the term love here is referring to the overall nature of a person's character. Not one aspect but the primary and overall disposition of a person’s heart. Jonathan Edwards in his book Charity and It’s Fruits says “love is the very temper and spirit of a Christian. . .it is the sum of Christianity. . . It is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labor of love is the main business of the Christian life.” I dare say we tend to esteem gifts over character. We tend to be impressed with things that are...well...impressive. The underlying attitude of love can be easily overlooked. Not to Paul. It was central. Love was to be the main business. Paul goes on to describe what love actually is or looks like: Love is Patient – long suffering – “meekly bearing injuries from others”. Meekness is not weakness but power under control. A term for a warhorse. Edwards puts it this way, “He will receive all with a calm, undisturbed countenance, and with a soul full of meekness, quietness, and goodness; and this he will manifest in all his behavior to the one that has injured him, whether to his face or behind his back.” Talk about challenging. Love is kind. It's a disposition to do good to someone who has hurt you. When we have been hurt, disappointed, let down, suffered because of someone else’s failure, we tend to have a disposition that wants them to feel what we feel. Love’s response is to do good. Love does not envy. It is not unhappy because you have more than me. "Your gift is better than mine. People like you more, respect you more. I am dissatisfied because I feel like I have less than you". This is not love. Love does not boast. It is not happy because I have more than you. It is not arrogant. It does not have an inflated view of self. "I am sure that I am better than I actually am and I don’t understand why I can’t seem to get anyone else to agree with my perception of myself". I am “puffed up”. Love is not rude. This describes the behavior that comes from envy, boasting, and arrogance. Behavior that is inconsiderate of others, belittling or embarrassing others, or acting inappropriately in ways that insult, embarrass, and degrade others. Love does not insist on its own way. "There will be no peace for anyone until I get my way! Love is not irritable. This is about being easily angered, agitated, and fretful about things only because they cross us or inconvenience us...about the circumstances, the faults and shortcomings of others, not because they displease God in some way but because they displease us. Love is not resentful. It does not keep a record of wrongs. Your past failures and offenses will not shape the way I treat you. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. We will refuse the pleasure and intrigue we feel when we hear about someone’s failure.
But beyond this the text seems to go extremely broad in its terms as if to be saying that love never rejoices when sin wins the day but is always rejoicing when God’s grace and His righteousness wins the day. Now, like a grand finale of fireworks Paul gives us four grand staccato statements about love. "Love bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all, love never fails". The focus in not on the “all things” but on the bigness of love. There is nothing that love cannot bear, nothing that love cannot believe, nothing that love cannot hope in, and nothing that love cannot endure. Wow....how are you doing?
This makes it seem a bit overwhelming. How can we do this? What makes this possible? This is not natural to my human nature! This is the attitude the Corinthians were lacking. They seemed to have the gifts, but as Paul said...they were nothing! This kind of love is not learned from example. It is not commanded. In order for us to be able to live out this kind of love like this we must BE LOVED! When Paul personifies love like this he has something very specific in mind. In fact he has a person in mind. His message has been from the beginning Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). There is no other aspect that displays this list of love quite like Christ does while on the cross. John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this that someone lays down his life for his friends".
We learn love by being loved and we have never been loved to the degree that we were loved by Christ on the cross. Jesus demonstrated and poured out on us all these aspects of love that Paul has listed here. He was patient – He suffered long, meekly bearing the injuries of others. He did not retaliate or even defend himself. It was love that moved him to go to the cross and it was love the kept him there until it was finished. He was kind – being on the cross was his doing good to those who injured him. He did not envy or boast. He had compassion on our low estate and even though he was in the highest place, he set it aside in order to enter into ours to bring us up to his. He was not arrogant or rude, in fact he was making arrangements with John about his mother. He was witnessing to the man being crucified next to him. He was asking the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him. He did not insist on his own way, but was willing to say “not my will but yours be done”. He was not irritable or resentful but he laid down my life willingly. Willing to suffer what he did not deserve. He did not rejoice in wrong but in truth. He was unwilling to leave sinners to get what they deserve. Instead making sure that justice was served with his death so that the gift of life could be offered to others. He was Bearing it all – all of God’s wrath and every believer’s sins. He was believing all things. He believed that to obey the will of the Father is for the best, even at great cost to himself. He hoped all things. He was willing to die, knowing that God raises the dead. He endured all things. There was never a limit to the wrongs he endured. He never said “enough and no more!” He endured until he breathed his last. The Cross of Christ is God’s love to you. This is the love of the Father holding, loving, providing, and caring for us. This is why love must be our main business.
In the end love is eternal. It goes on forever. Not so of the gifts. They will cease. They will not continue into heaven. Love will. It is "the greatest". Love is the main principle for the Christian life. Without it, our gifts are meaningless. What we do counts for nothing. We are nothing without love. Yet with all of this, Paul doesn't tell us to blow the gifts off. He simply tells us to desire the gifts, but make sure we are pursuing love first and foremost. Is love your highest pursuit?
Here are some questions to consider:
1. Why would Paul so emphatically say you are 'nothing' without love?
2. What do we mean when we say love is to be our 'main business'?
3. What is the significance of love being 'in the middle'?
4. Why is Paul's definition of love so challenging to us?
5. How does Christ's death on the cross effect us when it comes to understanding this chapter?