The Excellency of Love
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 12:31b, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
The church in Corinth had more than its share of problems–division, partisanship, tolerating gross immorality, engaging in lawsuits (before the unbelieving), disrespecting the Lord’s Supper, etc. But it was their misuse of their spiritual gifts that garnered the most critical and detailed response from the Apostle Paul. Three chapters in First Corinthians (12-14) were devoted to this theme. And right in the middle of that we find the so-called “love chapter.” The believers in Corinth were confused about their spiritual gifts. Some were pridefully vying for attention in what they supposed to be the more important roles, and thereby disregarding others. In the prideful misuse of their gifts there was confusion. The misuse of their gifts–which were to be exercised for the common good in the building up of the body–debilitated the church from the very thing that could work to resolve their problems.
Paul responded by reminding the believers of the nature of Christlike love–the love by which they had been called and the love to which they called. Apart from love, they were nothing. As Phil Ryken has commented, “Paul began by proving that love is absolutely indispensable. Nothing else matters, only love. No matter how gifted we are, or what we do for God, we are nothing without love. Loveless prophecy, loveless theology, loveless faith, loveless social action, even loveless martyrdom are all equally worthless. Nothing can compensate for the absence of love. John Chrysostom would go even further. When he preached on this passage to his congregation in Constantinople sometime during the fourth century, Chrysostom said: ‘If I have no love I am not just useless but a positive nuisance.’”
And so in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a we have this beautiful description of the nature of Christ-like love. The fifteen qualities of love–what love does and doesn’t do–are all perfectly exhibited in the Lord Jesus Himself, In fact, read through the passage replacing the word love with the word Jesus. The passage makes perfect sense that way. Then read through it again, instead replacing the word love with your own name. Kind of humbling, right?
The key terms used in this passage are all verbs. While the love described here might involve our emotions, at the heart of each of these actions is a deliberate act of the will that seeks to prefer and seek the benefit of the one loved. The passage is beautifully poetic, and has adorned plenty of wedding brochures and household walls, but if these truths are to adorn our hearts it will require dramatic changes in the way we think and behave. Changes that will only be possible as we depend on the Spirit and pay careful attention to the Word!
As we’ve seen in previous days, we’ve been incredibly blessed by God’s love, which in fact has been “shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:5, KJV). God calls us to “walk in love,” as channels of that love we ourselves have received (Ephesians 5:2). To walk in love is to love like Jesus. The striving to love like Jesus is what the church is all about. And here in this passage we are challenged to do that!
To Love Like Jesus is The More Excellent Way
Heavenly Father. How easy it is for us to do and say things apart from love. And in so doing we cause ourselves all kinds of troubles. Forgive us our sinful tendencies to engage in such prideful and selfish behaviors. How thankful we are that You are perfect in all Your ways! We never need doubt the integrity or majesty of Your love, which You’ve proven in sending Jesus to die for our sins. By the Spirit You’ve filled up our hearts to overflowing with Your love, but not just so we might soak it up. You’ve designed us to be conduits through which we might love others and according to the same kind of love which has been revealed to us in You. May our ears harken to the glad tidings of a more excellent way, and may our hearts respond accordingly, that we might be a blessing both to ourselves and others! That You might be honored in all! Amen!