Love is the greatest gift. It is even more important than the variety of spiritual gifts mentioned in the previous chapter (as important as they are!). Paul lifts up his voice past all the foolish divisions and controversies to remind believers about what really matters. Love!
Within the Greco-Roman world there were many different words for love. The Apostle Paul uses a very distinct word, agape, to remind us about God’s selfless, self-emptying love. This is in contrast to the concepts of love we get from the media, internet, and false advertisings. God’s love is different. It does not matter how eloquent you are, or what spiritual gifts you may have (vs. 1, 2), if you do not have love, “I am nothing” (vs. 2b). One can feed the poor or become a martyr, but that can be done for the wrong reason and not make much difference! (vs. 3).
Then Paul describes this special kind of agape love (vs. 4-8). While this is a passage many pastors, including myself, use for weddings, it is a passage of Scripture we would do well to measure ourselves by as we continue to grow in our Christian experience. We have to ask ourselves: is everything that we do leading us to become a more “loving and lovable Christian?” (Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, pg. 470). As a pastor, I sometimes had to question the theology or lifestyle practices of church members, even though they might be right, if it made them disagreeable individuals. One of the toughest experiences I had was solving a church conflict that ended up in a church business meeting in which the couple had their church membership removed. Although they kept pointing out that they were theologically right, the reason they were voted out of membership by their fellow church members was their mean spirit in constantly pointing out the mistakes of others. In other words, they did not show God’s love, but instead brought deep pain to fellow believers and potential new members. The important test of true Christian belief and practice is a desire to exhibit God’s love.
The closer we get to Jesus, the more we see our need of Jesus. This is why Paul reminds us about Christian maturity. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (vs. 11). Or, to use another example: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” (vs. 12). In both instances, we are reminded that none of us have all the love we should have, but as we grow daily closer to Jesus we become more like Him.
Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Historical/Theological Studies
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies.