Greatest Thing in the World

Monday: The Preeminent Christian Virtue

Romans 12:9 In this week’s studies, we see that love is the first virtue mentioned among the characteristics that are to be evident in God’s people.
The Preeminent Christian Virtue

After the first two verses of Romans 12, which establish the principles by which sound doctrine is to be applied to godly living, Paul has begun to write about the church. Yet his words are no abstract theologizing. He is thinking of the people who make up the church, and his words have to do first with the humility that allows each to assess himself or herself with sober judgment, and second with the knowledge that God has given spiritual gifts to all members of the church and that these must be exercised faithfully for the benefit of all. This line of thought continues in what follows, although in verse 9 the apostle moves from his discussion of spiritual gifts, which are of various sorts and appear in various individuals, to virtues which must be seen in all who call themselves Christians. 

“Characteristically,” says Australian professor Leon Morris, “he begins with love.”1 

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, in 1883 to be exact, the Scottish scientist and evangelist Henry Drummond gave a famous inspirational lecture at a mission station in central Africa called “The Greatest Thing in the World.” It was about love, and it was based on 1 Corinthians 13, the great chapter on love— particularly on the last words: “But the greatest of these is love” (v. 13). Drummond was not what we would call an evangelical. I would judge from his writings that he was basically a Christian humanist in that he believed that the Christian virtues could themselves, if sincerely practiced, save the world. There is not much about the cross or the atonement or the work of the Holy Spirit in his work. Still, “The Greatest Thing in the World” is a classic, and no less an evangelical than D. L. Moody, who heard Drummond give this talk in America the following year, said he had never listened to “anything so beautiful.” 

Drummond was right in at least one thing. In terms of the Christian virtues, love is preeminent; and if it is truly felt and practiced, the other requirements will follow. After all, Jesus said that love of God and neighbor sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:34-40). 

Drummond wrote: 

Take any of the commandments. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ If a man love God, you will not have to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. ‘Take not his name in vain.’ Would he ever dream of taking his name in vain if he loved him? ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfill all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal—how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbor. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbors had. He would rather they possessed it than himself. In this way, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.2

At the end of this essay Drummond said that, as he looked back over his life and all the beautiful things he had seen and enjoyed, he was convinced that it was only the small, seemingly insignificant acts of the love of one individual for another that will last forever. 

1Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1988), 443. 

2Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World with other selected essays, ed. William R. Webb (Kansas City, MO: Halmark Editions, 1967), 10-11.

Study Questions
  1. Why is love an essential Christian virtue?
  2. How does loving God and others fulfill all of the Ten Commandments?

Application: Drummond spoke of the small acts of love one individual demonstrates to another person being of lasting value. What small acts of love can you offer to others today? This week, make it your goal to show love through a phone call, note of appreciation, or serving a brother or sister. Practice demonstrating love to the people in your life.

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Love of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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