In the previous post, I mentioned that, Paul, the guy who wrote about the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, used the Greek word, agape, when he was referring to love. What is unique about agape love?
Paul describes it much more in-depth in 1 Corinthians 13, which is often called “The Bible’s Love Chapter.” I’m going to quote 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 below, and my guess is that you’ll find it quite familiar. It is often used in wedding ceremonies.
What’s so interesting is that the context of 1 Corinthians 13 is not marriage or romantic relationships. That context is made very clear when you examine the chapters of 1 Corinthians before and after chapter 13. I read from 1 Corinthians 11 almost every month before we observe the Christian ritual of communion. Chapter 11 is about worship, and in it Paul includes comments about how to participate in communion. Why? Because the Christians living in the Roman city of Corinth were disunified in the practice of worship. Then in chapter 12 Paul discusses relationships in the church community, famously using the metaphor of the body, explaining how each person has spiritual gifts and that they should be used for unity. Jump ahead to chapter 14 and we see an interesting parallel to chapter 12. Once again he talks about the gifts and about worship, and his point is to urge unity.
Are you starting to see the singular theme in the larger context of 1 Corinthians 11-14? Do you think Paul randomly placed a chapter about love sandwiched in the middle of a big discussion on unity? Random? “I think I’ll just take the love chapter and plunk it down here!”
God gives us gifts to use so that we might have unity with others. There is no place for selfishness, even in the gifts given to us. God’s heart is to show love and care for others through us whom he loves. With that context in mind, we see God’s heart in chapter 13. Love is essential to the unity of the church. Love fuels unity. Love sustains unity. Love should be our passion in the church.
Now we’re ready to read Paul’s description of agape love. Look at how active the description of love is.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
What Paul makes clear is that agape love is not a feeling, but an intentionally selfless choice to treat the other person with dignity, care, kindness, and goodness. As Paul describes it here in 1 Corinthians 13, love is a radically different way to approach relationships that what we normally hear about in our culture. Love is not the flowery emotions of desire, it is the hard work of goodness.
Jesus, on his last night with his disciples before he was taken from them, shared a final meal with them. We call it the Last Supper, and during that meal, John tells us that Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions. One was this, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples that you love one another.”
Jesus talked quite a lot about how he wants us to be his disciples, what that should like, and how we should help other people be disciples. At that last supper he was basically saying, “Here’s a little test that you can use on yourselves and on the people you’re trying to help become disciples: Are you loving one another? You disciples should be known for your love for one another. Is love for one another evident? Is it missing? Is it strong or is it weak?”
I’m not trying to be accusatory or judgmental when I say this, but some of us have a hard time with love. I can say this because I say it about myself as well. Pastors are generally considered to be people who ought to be loving. Especially in a church Faith Church’s size and smaller. But I know I’m far from perfect. I know that some people are harder to love than others. I get it…love doesn’t come easy for everyone.
Check back tomorrow, as we’ll keep talking about how to grow love in our lives.