The Greatest is Love
By Mary Kroeger
I woke up one morning with the words, "Faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love," resonating in my heart! Do I strive for the greatest? Have I, have you, heard of a body of believers whose greatest desire is to love one another? Have we heard of one that is known for its great love? In Rev. 3:7-13 we read that the church in Philadelphia was known for its love. Does a church like this exist today?
What is love? Love is invisible to our eyes, and therefore can only be known by the way it is manifested in the seen realm. How does it manifest itself? In great sermons, prophetic utterances, charismatic personalities, beautiful words, a hug and a kiss? The true essence of love is described in 1 Cor. 13, so let's check it out. Here it is:
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5. does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6. does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7. bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10. but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (NASB )
The beginning of this chapter tells us that good actions may not be motivated by God's love. Since God IS love, true love has to have God as its source. The good deeds that flow out of self-importance and self-promotion are rooted in self - not in God. Even the actions that flow out of our own human compassion and love rather than God's love and His direction are not acceptable. Peter's loving desire for Jesus to avoid the cross was unacceptable to Jesus because it interfered with God's plan for Jesus and humanity.
There are many counterfeits of God's love-centered deeds, and good counterfeits are often hard to detect. Their outward appearance can deceive us, but counterfeits break down when tested. Beautiful words and good deeds are not a proof of love, for they can be done to obtain control over others, or honour and glory for oneself. Deeds that are done for righteousness, or have self-enhancement and approval from others as their goal, do not flow out of love. These deeds have no eternal value for they have served their purpose.
Since the very essence of God is love, everything that He does has to flow out of love. However, when His love is manifested in the form of difficult circumstances that are needed for our spiritual growth, His love is not obvious to us. Only in the knowledge and inward conviction that they are prompted by God's love, can we by faith embrace these challenges with joy!
The world does not know God. The only way it can learn to know God is through the demonstration of His love in and through us who are believers! God is our example of love! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" for our salvation! He gave His most cherished possession so we can be resurrected out of our death in Adam, and into the life of Christ! When God's love flows out through us, we too will be willing to sacrifice our comforts for the good of others!
In this chapter we see how love manifests itself by the things it does not do, as well as by the things it does. Its activity is rooted in the thoughts that come from the mind of Christ - and we have the mind of Christ! (1 Cor. 2:16) These thoughts contain love and life, and will therefore produce words and actions that are life-giving. When our thought life is filled with love, our words and actions will reflect love. Love opens the door for the Christ in us to shine forth and become obvious to a hurting world.
It is not difficult to build an organization consisting of members who believe in certain creeds, doctrines, and statements of faith. People willingly sign their names in affirmation and are happy to belong! It is another thing to have a body of believers who operate in the love of God!
The members of a body do not sign their names in order to belong to it. They are members because of their birth! Can we picture a body of believers where everyone is manifesting the love that is described in these verses? If we can, we will see a body of believers who are being transformed into the image of Christ! These believers do not all live in one geographic area; the body of Christ consists of all believers in every generation, but we only see them in the part realm. A healthy body grows to maturity. As we grow spiritually and mature in love, we will display the very essence of God to the world!
It is not my intention to discuss in detail every aspect of love. This article would become too long if I did. But it's important to recognize that in the understanding of love, we learn to know our Father God! This chapter is all about how the love of God is manifested to us and in us. So let's turn our attention especially to verses 4-8, and see what love does not do, and what it does!
What does love not do? It is not jealous! Jealousy is a feeling of unhappiness due to someone else's good fortune. It may be an emotion emanating from thoughts and feelings of insecurity and fear over anticipating a loss of status. It is an unhappy emotion because it stems from a desire to have what is not ours. It may also stem from greed. It is something that looks advantageous to us, and therefore of great worth to us, so we deeply desire it. But it is being withheld from us because it belongs to someone else, and we don't know how to obtain it. This unhappy feeling often erupts in anger and other unhealthy thoughts and actions. It wants the best of everything for itself! Love does not produce these emotions. It does not breed jealousy, but rejoices with those who have more than they have!
"Love does not brag." To brag means to speak boastfully of what you have done, or what you own. It is very boring to listen to constant bragging! Love does not focus on self but on others.
Love "is not arrogant." Arrogance can be defined as having an attitude of superiority and being full of self or having an extreme form of pride. It is often manifested in an overbearing personality that makes it hard for others to be around. Those who are arrogant usually have an inflated ego and sense of importance. They want others to know their importance and superiority. Love does not do that. It upholds the worth of others!
Love "does not act unbecomingly." That is, it is not rude or impolite in speech and actions. Neither does it fail to do the normally expected polite thing. When Jesus was on earth, the expected thing was for a servant or someone in the household to wash the feet of the guest. It was impolite to omit this favour. To disregard the welfare of others, when it is in your power and ability to care for them, is acting unbecomingly. Love seeks the comfort, dignity and welfare of others!
Love "does not seek its own."
In other words, love does not look for something that rightfully belongs to us, but is being withheld or hidden from us, because others don't want us to have it. For example, we do not seek for the honour we deserve because of our good deeds or achievements. It is so easy to look for some kind of recognition for all our hard work! This is especially true when it is due to overcoming our fears, addictions, special challenges, or the display of our special gifts or talents! Love does not seek to be the center of attention or to draw attention to self. Love is willing to forgo and forgive what others are unwilling to give.
Love "is not provoked." To try to provoke someone means to deliberately say or do something that will produce unhappy or angry feelings in him. Love refuses to be provoked! It recognizes that the one trying to do the provoking has a problem. He wants to gain power and control over your feelings. What a sad picture is painted by the love of self! True love will not allow itself to be antagonized.
How does this fit in with what Moses said? Did Moses not blame the Israelites for provoking God while they were in the wilderness for 40 years? And did God not become angry with them? (Deut. 9:7) How does this fit together? Why was God unhappy with Israel? We need to see that God wanted the best for them. He wanted them to trust and obey Him! He was constantly revealing His goodness to them, yet they consistently rebelled and disobeyed Him. God cannot bless disobedience. His wrath (passion) is against all unrighteousness! God is not provoked like we are provoked. He knows who He is, and He does not define Himself by what people say about Him. He wants to bless them by having them turn from their evil ways, and believe in Him! When His people - those who have experienced His love and grace, and have seen all the miracles that He has performed - still remain rebellious, His heart is grieved! The Israelites could not enter the promised land because of their unbelief! (Heb. 3) Their hearts were hardened and they refused to believe God! God was not provoked because He felt threatened, but because the Israelites refused to receive the blessings of faith!
Love "does not take into account a wrong suffered." Love does not function in mathematics. A loving father does not say, "I've had enough of your bungling! This is the sixth time you have failed, and you are no longer my son. Get out of my sight!" Often we keep a little black book in which we record how people have hurt us, betrayed us or treated us unfairly. Sometimes we rehearse these wrongs in our mind or even with others, and decide we can no longer love this person. Christ demonstrated His love in His willingness to be tortured for the salvation of those who had constantly wronged Him and put Him on the cross.
Love does not function in unforgiveness! Without forgiveness, we will take account of the wrongs we have suffered, and may still be enduring! Love understands that love will reach its goal. It will never fail!
Love "does not rejoice in unrighteousness." Those who rejoice when they are able to deceive others to gain what does not rightfully belong to them, function out or the devil's mindset. They are eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the evil is dressed in clothes of knowledge that proclaim, "I am smarter than you." This attitude comes out of the bottomless pit!
What a contrast between the love that rejoices with the truth and the self-love that rejoices with unrighteousness! Yet we need more than just a superficial glance to see how love, truth and rejoicing, fit together. Since God is love, truth, and righteous altogether, these attributes belong together; they cannot be separated for our God is one God! When love - the very essence of God's being - is functioning in us, God rejoices! If the love for truth is not functioning in us, we will remain in the lies that have become our truth.
We will remain in our traditions, creeds and doctrines - just like the Jews did when Jesus walked in Galilee! So they crucified the truth! If we truly love Jesus Christ (the truth) we will be willing to leave whatever is not of Him! Only the love for truth will cause us to leave the lies we thought were truth! Truth works righteousness in us! In fact, Paul writes that Jesus Christ (the truth) is our righteousness! (1 Cor. 1:30) No wonder that the love of God rejoices when His sacrificial love is bearing fruit in His children!
In recognizing what love does NOT do, we also see the virtues that accompany the activity of love. These activities form a beautiful picture. So let's take look at them and see how they are presented in the seen realm!
First of all we see that "Love is patient." (v. 4) God certainly has patience with us! How often He has to remind us that we need to trust Him completely, and function in obedience in the various challenges that we face form day to day! It takes a lot of patience to teach us obedience, for disobedience looks more desirable to us! We are so slow to learn that God has a solution even when things look impossible to us! It took many years for Abraham and Sarah to learn that God's ability is greater than human ability! But God did not give up on them, and the promised son arrived! Like Abraham and Sarah, we often want to help God work out a solution, but that is not operating in faith and trust. God is so patient with us! Abraham made his mistakes, but God was patient. The disciples made their mistakes, but Jesus was patient with them! We too make mistakes but He is so patient with us! When love operates in us, we will also be patient with others when they make mistakes. Love will work patience in us!
"Love is kind." Kindness, unlike jealousy, does not want what others have.
It does not want to hurt others, nor does it infringe on the rights of others in its striving to obtain its desire. It does not lash out at others; it tries to uphold their dignity even in difficult circumstances! Kindness flows out of love, and therefore wants good for others and dissipates jealousy! The two are opposites. Jealousy does not breed kindness, and kindness does not breed jealousy!
In verse 7 we see that love "bears all things." Love perseveres and persists; it does not give up! God has declared that Christ will reign until all things are subject to Him! At present this looks rather impossible to us! We see how the world treats believers with disgust and disdain. We see the evil and immorality! But this does not affect God's ability to keep His promises! He knows that love will win!
Love "believes all things." First, we should understand what this does not mean. It does not mean that a loving person will believe that counterfeits and lies are the reality. Neither does it mean that love is naive, gullible and undiscerning. "The Greek word translated as 'believes' is a form of the verb pisteuo, which means to believe, place faith in, or trust. The word is a common one, used 248 times in the New Testament. Many times, this word is found in contexts in which belief is an expression of love." (Bible Software)
Since God is love and truth, we ask, "What does He believe?" Would He believe a carefully concocted lie? No, we cannot fool God! He only believes the "all things" that flow out from Himself - from all that He is! He knows and believes that He will perform all that He says He will perform! He says that love will overcome man's resistance to being conciliated with God!
The power of love is beyond our comprehension! Love believes all things that it is empowered to achieve! It knows that love never fails! Love will win the victory over every form of antagonism!
Love "hopes all things." Again, the hope that flows out of the love of God has the promises of God as its foundation! It is not an empty hope that is based on a mere wish. In Colossians 1:27 we read, "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'." Here we have a foundation based on what God has made known to us! Since the invisible Christ dwells in us, when He is revealed, the glory that He is, will shine forth from us! This hope rests on the revelation that God has given us! Therefore it believes that all the promises of God that have not yet come into fulfillment, will yet come into being!
Love "endures all things." The word “endures” is the translation of the Greek word hupomeno - hupo, meaning under, and meno, meaning to stay or to abide. It conveys the determination of a person who refuses to give up, regardless of the difficulties, because he knows he is where he should be, and he will stay put. This is the love that Jesus Christ demonstrated when He was crucified! This is the love that God has poured into our hearts in the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit in us will continue to work until He has succeeded to change us into the image of Christ! In the power and love that is ours in the Holy Spirit, we too remain firm and steadfast in all the challenges that come our way!
The love of God never gives up on us, and His love in us will enable us to endure all the hurts, trials and difficulties that come or way! God's love is completely contrary to fleshly love, for it says, I've done all I can do. I'm not wasting any more time on you."
It's wonderful to know that love never quits, never surrenders, and never gives up! Love protects, guards, covers, conceals, and safeguards the dignity of others. It wants the very best for each of us in every situation! Love also hopes for the best in others and for others! This divine river of love has been given us in the Holy Spirit, so let's allow it to flow out from us to others!
In Hebrews 12:6 we see love in action in a way that we do not always appreciate. It states, "For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives." Love disciplines! It is not blind to the areas in which we need to change! Love is more than just a beautiful feeling. It is so desirous that the object of its love will mature in love. that it is willing to discipline to the extent needed to bring about change. Without discipline we will not be changed into the image of Christ Jesus. God disciplines every son whom He receives. His sons need to learn to overcome the desires of the flesh, to trust God to keep His promises, to know that God has a solution for every problem, and to function in the love of God at all times! God's disciplines are always redemptive!
In verse 8 we have an amazing statement! "Love never fails." What a promise! When we function in the of love of God we do not have to fear failure or the future! God has not given us a spirit of fear, for "There is no fear in love." (1 John 4:18) Don't we have to fear the future, a known or unknown disease, old age, persecution, or an eternal torturing hell? If we do, then God's grace and His great sacrificial love for humanity and for our salvation has failed. This statement does not belittle humanity's need to believe God. It simply means that His love will triumph over humanity's unbelief! God's love is a consuming fire that consumes all that does not have its source in Him! God's consuming lake of fire, will eventually consume all unbelief! What a joy to know that love never fails!
In Ephesians 3:17-21 it says, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." We need power to grasp the greatness and depth of the love of Christ! This knowledge has to come to us from someone who knows Christ! This someone is the Holy Spirit! He leads us into all truth!
Paul goes on to say that it is critical for us to know this love in order to be "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." We can have knowledge about God, but that doesn't fill us with Him. We need more; we need a living relationship with Him!
Vs. 20 says, "He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us." We like to think of this power primarily as being there to make our lives easier rather than being needed to grasp His love which will then bring Him glory as we reflect that love! We can pray for the manifestation of God's love in us and in others.
The love of God is eternal! There is nothing perishable in it, nor can it receive anything perishable! This makes it everlasting! It is the greatest because it will overcome every obstacle that comes against it! Since His love never fails, we know that His great sacrificial love will accomplish the purpose for which it was given! Christ is the Saviour of the world! When the perfect comes, the imperfect is cast away.
"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." Faith is wonderful! It takes the promises of God and brings the unseen realm into visibility! "Anything that is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23b). Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness! We have already mentioned how great a living hope is! This is the hope that is founded on the promises of God! Faith and hope are great! But the GREATEST IS LOVE! IT NEVER FAILS!