A Love Unlike Any Other

love1If 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. 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. 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. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13: 17).

 

1 Corinthians 13 maybe one of the better known passages in the Bible. Undoubtably you have heard this passage read at a wedding or maybe even seen it on a Hallmark card. When you read it, you may think about a relationship with a significant other and how to apply the wisdom in these words to that relationship. Thats because this passage provides such a beautiful picture of what the definition of love is, it is completely justified (and encouraged) to be used and studied in the context of a relationship with a significant other. However, would you be surprised if I told you that when Paul wrote these words, the context had nothing to do with a romantic relationship?

Paul is writing this letter to the church at Corinth in response to troubling circumstances the church was facing. There was division in the Corinthian church and one area of debate centered on which spiritual gifts were the most valuable. Paul corrects them and explains that love is the most important aspect and without it, their spiritual gifts cannot produce fruit for the Kingdom.

Whats even more interesting is the word Paul uses for the term love. In Greek, there are several words which could be translated love. Philia is a word that would normally be used to express a friendship/brotherly type of love (i.e. Philadelphia). However this is not the word that Paul uses; he use the word agapē. Agapē is used 116 times in the New Testament and the majority of those references are tied to the love of God for us. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes that, “Agapē means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment and rejection.”[1] That is a powerful type of love, and a powerful instruction from Paul.

Applying the message Paul had for the Corinthians, we as Christians need to have an agapē type of love for people. A love that transcends a conventional understanding of what it means to love. Furthermore, this love of people should not end at the church. We need to love all people the same way that God loves us. Jesus tells us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44 using the same root word (agapaō).

So the next time you get angry, or upset, or feel as though you are being unfairly treated, remember our call to love in an agapē way. That does not mean as Christians we are to be pushovers, but that does mean that our actions and reactions should be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) because apart from love, nothing we can say or do, no matter how great our spiritual gifts, will bring maximum glory to God; we are nothing without love (1 Cor. 13:2).

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have [agapē] for one another. (John 13:35)

 

            [1] R.E.O. White, “Love,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1357.