Real love, genuine agape love is unconditional, period. If you doubt this truth, re-read Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He boldly tells the church – a church battling crippling sins – that “love is kind” and “keeps no record of wrongs.”
And in his first letter, John writes:
And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.
John doesn’t write, “The one who remains in God remains in love.” Rather, he turns it on its heels and states emphatically that “the one who remains in love remains in God.” You cannot hate people who you are able to see and touch while you claim to love God. You can not refuse to forgive others while expecting God to forgive you. Frankly love and hate are like oil and water – incompatible in the mix.
You can not be a Christian and hate people.
Love is the greater gift, greater and of considerably more value than speaking in tongues or faith that moves mountains or prophecy that warns of disaster or knowledge that reveals “all secrets and all knowledge.” Without love, Paul claims we are the same as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Our actions, though they be good deeds – even deeds of the martyr, are of no profit to us if we have no love. He warns:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and Angels, and have not love, I am as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I had the gift of prophecy, and knew all secrets and all knowledge, yea, if I had all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and had not love, I were nothing. And though I feed the poor with all my goods, and though I give my body, that I be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
I can’t help but think many of us walk about tinkling and sounding as we perform our ‘good deeds’. I include myself in this group – for love does not come naturally to me. I know this is true because I find myself angry at people more than I should be if I love them. Most of my anger against people springs from my heart when I am in my vehicle, and is directed at total strangers.
I can almost hear the tinkling cymbal as it pings down the road. If only I had love, I’d be somebody.
Paul writes that three remain: “faith, hope, and love.” Then, he writes that “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) “One and the same Spirit is active in all these;” (1 Corinthians 12:11) but the greatest spiritual gift is love.
Recently, I’ve heard Christian love poo-poohed with a resulting twinge in my heart. Yet Jesus clearly teaches us to love one another, that love is required if we are to lay down our lives for one another, and so for Him. Without love, our other gifts bring us to nothing. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
“When the perfect comes, the partial comes to an end. When I am a child, I speak like a child, I think like a child, I reason like a child. When I become [an adult], I put aside childish things. For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:10-12)
In Jesus knowing me is my salvation. Because He loves me, I am able to love myself and therefore to love others. Without love, I am nothing.
“My children,” writes the author of 1 John, “love must not be a matter of words or talk; it must be genuine and show itself in action.”
James writes, “My brothers, what use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it? Can that faith save him? Suppose a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, ‘Good luck to you, keep yourself warm, and have plenty to eat’, but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.” (James 2:14-17) He tells us, “The kind of religion which is without stain or fault in the sight of God is this: to go to the help of orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself untarnished by the world.” (James 1:27)
Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith active in love.” (Galatians 5:6) He warns, “I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
Love is not a lifeless thing. Although kind words are involved, love is primarily action directed for the benefit of our fellow humankind. Love looks for opportunities to show others the same love God shows to us. Therefore, says Paul: “Put love first.” (1 Corinthians 14:1) After all, love is everlasting.
Friday, February 11, 2011 at 8:31pm
Paul tells us emphatically with beautiful language that “if [we] have no love, [we] are none the better.” Other translations render Paul’s statement as “[we] are nothing” if we “do not have love.”
We may have the ability to “speak human or angelic languages;” we may have “the gift of prophecy;” we may “understand all mysteries and all knowledge;” we may “have all faith so that [we] can move mountains;” but without love, none of these abilities are worth much. We are nothing and we gain nothing when we act without love.
Paul even speaks of charity as empty if it is done without love.
“Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NEB)
How many of us can say that we “keep no score of wrongs?” How many of us can say we are “never boastful, nor conceited?” How many of us are slow “to take offence?” How many of us are capable of facing anything with no limit to faith, hope, endurance? If this were so, no one would divorce; no one would strike a child in anger; no one would lie to get ahead or hide a wrongdoing to keep from appearing less capable. No one would do good in order to appear good.
“Love will never come to an end.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)
“Love keeps no score of wrongs,” writes Paul to the church at Corinth. Love “does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.”
How do we love without limit? The father of the prodigal son is a great example of loving without limit. His son demands his inheritance early, then when his father lovingly complies with this request, the son squanders the entire amount of his father’s hard-earned money. Later, during a famine which comes across the entire land, he finds himself wallowing in the mud along with pigs; alone and desperately hungry. No one is willing to help him. He thinks, I’ll go back to my father, the man I’ve disrespected and essentially cheated. Perhaps he’ll let me be as “one of [his] paid servants.” (Luke 15:20) When he returns, his father sees him coming from far off. This man goes out to his son. He takes the first step towards forgiveness, keeping “no score of wrongs.” This father’s love has “no limit to its faith, its hope, [or] its endurance.”
Jesus is, of course, the ultimate example of loving without limit. On the cross, as He is suffering, He looks out at His enemies, at those who have put Him there, and says, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” This is love that has “no limit to its faith, its hope, [or] its endurance.”
Let’s love without limit. How do we accomplish this kind of love? Loving without limit requires the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. He loves through us. Only He is capable of not keeping “a score of wrongs,” of not losing hope, of enduring betrayal, lies, pain, wrongdoings of all sorts from those around us. Only God is capable of loving without limit.
The opportunity for the flesh of which Paul writes is primarily our tendency to “bite and devour one another” and the inevitable consequence of being “consumed by one another.” (Galatains 5: 15) Indulging the sinful nature is the opposite of love, says Paul. “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Galatians 5: 14)
Bitter argument and rivalry are not of the Holy Spirit, but of the sinful nature — the flesh. “Since we [who are in Christ] live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5: 25 – 26)
Instead, love one another. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8)
Therefore, Paul reminds us not to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to consume one another in jealousy, envy, rivalry, and conceit. Let us rejoice in our freedom, loving one another as Christ first loves us.