The Greatest Thing in the World
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
This week’s lessons challenge us to ponder the depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.
In the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul is saying that if we love Christ, we ought to love one another. In dealing with the importance of love, it strikes me that John’s tests correspond to three kinds of Christianity that we find in our present day. The first kind of Christianity puts an emphasis on the supernatural gifts. The second kind of Christianity emphasizes knowledge of the mysteries of God, a doctrinal, theological approach. Finally, the third kind of Christianity emphasizes doing good deeds.
If that is a fair analysis, wouldn’t Paul say to Christians who are divided up among these different factions, “Look, you can be as charismatic, theologically knowledgeable, or social gospel-oriented as you please and go to hell. What you need is the love of Jesus Christ.” If the love of Christ indwells us, should we not be able to have fellowship in a constructive way with those who don’t see things just the way we do?
Paul then goes on to discuss the nature of love. Paul uses the Greek word agape to denote divine love. Agape is the sort of love that has its source in God, and which we are capable of experiencing by God’s grace. There are a number of other words for “love” in the Greek language. The best known are eros, which gives us our word erotic, and refers to sexual love; and phileo, which is an intense love between people, a relational type love. It’s an interesting thing that the only word that the Bible and Greek culture had in common was phileo. Certainly the Bible writers knew the word eros, but the term had taken on illicit sexual connotations in Greek culture. Of course, sexual relationships are described quite explicitly in the Bible. It’s not a question of that. It was that sexuality had become corrupt in the Greek culture.
And then on the other hand, there’s the Bible’s word agape, which was not used in Greek culture. The only shared word was phileo. What we learn from this is that these other loves have their place, and God will bless them in their place. But they will have their proper places only when that first love is established, that relationship between the individual and God. The Bible says that sexual love is important in its place. But you can have great, deep love without sexuality. Above all you can have the love of God, which is received through salvation.
When Paul talks about the nature of love in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, he indicates both negative and positive actions. He begins with two positive things: love is patient, and love is kind. Love, patience, and kindness are included in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit found in the fifth chapter of Galatians. Love expresses itself in patience and kindness. This is fruit of the Spirit.
Paul then mentions eight negatives. Love does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight itself in evil but rejoices in the truth.
Then finally Paul brings forth four means whereby love expresses itself in action. Love protects. Love trusts. Love hopes. And love perseveres.
Love is kind. As I look around the Christian church, I see Christian people who are eminent for their kindness. They show great kindness to other people, especially people who need it. There are also those who don’t envy, those who don’t boast, those who are not proud. But the difficulty is in getting all of these things together. I know people who are patient, but they don’t persevere. There are others who are kind, but they are really not very hopeful. So the problem is getting all of these traits together. From a spiritual standpoint, is there anybody who really has it all together? I think we have to admit that we all fall short, except for one – Jesus Christ.
Name the three kinds of Christianity that are prevalent today.
Describe the differences between the three terms for love: agape, eros, and phileo.
What two positive love actions does Paul give?
How do you react when someone upsets or irritates you? Do you exhibit genuine kindness or ill temper?
Meditate on the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.