“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1 NIV).
Once I knew a man named Philip, who lived the most extraordinary Christian life. He was one of the most Christ-like persons I have ever known. His endeavours for the gospel stretched across continents, but it was his humility and love that set him – and his wife Muriel – apart from others. He preached the gospel with so much power and wisdom that many who were privileged to know him would remark how like the apostle Paul he was. He had endured suffering and rejection, but love lifted him above all those things. I asked him what his secret was, and this is what he had to say: “I asked the Lord to shape my heart according to 1 Corinthians 13”. It is in this chapter that Paul shows us the most excellent way.
The greatest gift of God is His love. Few religious scriptures dwell on the love of God in the way the Christian scriptures, and particularly the books of the NT, do. Here, the all-consuming love of God is revealed to us in great detail from the first to last. Jesus, the divine staircase that links us with heaven, was sent down to our sinful planet to demonstrate the infinite depths of His Father’s love for us.
The whole object of our existence is to know God, worship and serve God; yet until we begin to perceive something of His love, we cannot know or understand Him, and what we worship or serve is a caricature of God, an idol set up in our own minds. For God is love. Just as the nature of God is beyond human comprehension, our finite minds will never fully grasp His love. The old hymn captures perfectly this vast chasm in our understanding of God’s love – “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell…”
All around us, we see glimpses of God’s love reflected in human relationships – but these only weakly reflect divine love. Even the love of a mother for her baby is feeble compared to God’s love. Since we cannot know the depths of His love, it must seem impossible to obey God’s command to walk in it; yet God intends for us to receive as much as we need of His love on this earth, to enrich and empower every area of our lives. As we receive God’s love by faith, and willingly impart it to others, our understanding as well as our capacity to receive His overflowing love within our hearts, and to move in it, will increase. As we begin to taste God’s love, received by faith, and share it with other souls, we begin to understand Him better.
So faith is the funnel, which delivers love into our souls. We are taught that without faith it is impossible to please God, and also that love surpasses faith. The apostle Paul makes it clear that “the greatest is love”, and without love, even faith that can move mountains is meaningless, for it would have failed in its very purpose. The true work of faith is to reveal and impart love, and all the exploits of faith, if devoid of love, will be empty works. As we live and work for the kingdom of God, if the motive behind everything we do is love, then our works, whether small and seemingly insignificant, or great, will endure for all eternity, for we are building on foundations of gold. Otherwise, our works which may seem great in the eyes of our fellow human beings, will be burned up by fire on that final day.
Trials come to show us the dearth of love in our hearts – how little we have yet known or absorbed of God’s love into our beings. In trials we retrace our steps to God, the fount of all love, and receive fresh supplies of grace for ourselves. Through grace we learn to love those we previously saw as unlovely or unloveable. The way to overcoming trials is to find the key of love, which opens doors, deepens our insight into issues and delivers into our hands, much needed miracles.
All human relationships move smoothly, when the oil of love is poured between the wheels. Love is, however, not just the key to finding solutions to problematic relationships – rather love is the goal. Our struggle is not to change a difficult person, but to love him or her. By faith, we must choose, indeed firmly resolve, to stand in love towards people who have, by their behaviour, darkened the skies for us. Love sets us free because it releases us from the pressure to judge others, leaving all judgment in the hands of the perfect Judge. Never having to judge is truly a wonderful freedom. As we continue to love, never judging or keeping an account of people’s wrongs, the freedom within our hearts is imparted to those who receive our love, so that they are also set free from the many faults, which might have lowered them in our esteem or caused us to see them as a trial. How beautiful is love!
Love brings sunshine into our days. As the Shepherd, in Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet in High Places, said, “It is so happy to love”. When we love, the joy of Jesus is poured into our hearts, making our days, and our time here on earth, richer beyond our wildest imaginations. So, let us pray for more love and seek this beyond all other virtues. Let us ask God to shape our hearts according to 1 Corinthians 13.
Father, fill our hearts with Your love. Grant us the grace too overlook people’s shortcomings and to love them with the love You showed us on Calvary. In Jesus’ name.