Valentine’s day is observed in memory of Saint Valentine who is said to have been executed on February 14th in A.D 470 for performing weddings for Roman soldiers (It was a violation of the Roman Law). Maybe that’s why he is called the Parton Saint of beloveds and people around the world celebrate romantic love on the day of his execution.
Often the sermons preached on this day are drawn from 1 Corinthians 13. Most of which focus on the wedded life or Christ and his love for the Church. It’s not wrong, but is it really what Paul was talking about?
The book of 1st Corinthians was the first of two letters that Paul sent to the church in Corinth. Its purpose was to address several issues which plagued the church. One of the issues was divisions. Paul dedicated the entire 13th chapter to emphasizing the importance of brotherly love because the lack of it is the root cause of divisions.
The fact we have never had a division in this body doesn’t rule out the need for this message. At the end of chapter 12, Paul said love is the most excellent way! Thus we don’t have to wait for a problem to talk about love. So today even as we celebrate another Valentine’s let us see why love is the most excellent way?
1. Love is the rod for measuring spiritual maturity
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-2
In our society people often measure the value of a person by his outward appearance, position, and wealth. One might say that doesn’t happen in the church. Truth be told it does. Have you ever asked someone to name a person he thinks most likely to be a spiritually mature Christian? There’s a good chance they will point to a person who has one or more gifts of the spirit.
I don’t intend to condemn spiritual gifts. I believe in them myself. The point is it’s wrong and unbiblical to say someone is mature because he has the gifts of the spirit. Even if one has all the gifts but not love we can’t call him a mature believer. The Christians in Corinth had the gift of tongues. They spoke in tongues very much. But Paul compared them to spiritual babies because they did not love one another.
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:1 – ASV)
Paul mentions the noisy gong and clanging cymbal to suggest spiritual gifts without love make the Corinthians’ worship no different from the pagans’ (The pagan Corinthians used cymbals to worship Dionysus, the god of wine.) He says as a spiritual gift, prophecy is higher than tongues but still inferior to love.
Also, the fruit of the spirit is the outward sign of spiritual maturity and love is the main fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). These clues indicate spiritual gifts are not the signs of spiritual maturity, but loving behavior is. If a so-called child of God doesn’t have love, it means he is spiritually immature.
Fortunately, we do not have to produce this fruit on our own. We just need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by doing God’s will. When we do the Spirit himself will produce the fruit within us.
2. Without love no one will inherit the eternal life
Read 1 Corinthians 13:3
Paul is not saying self-sacrifice (benevolence and martyrdom) is a fruitless deed. He is saying self-sacrifice is useless if not driven by love. The New English Translation uses two keywords in its translation of this verse which makes the text much more understandable.
“If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.”
The phrase “in order to boast” implies self-sacrifice motivated by reasons other than love. For instance, a businessman can spend a fortune on charitable projects not because he cares for the underprivileged but to be relieved from taxes. A religious fanatic may blow up himself in the name of martyrdom definitely not because of love but to promote a selfish cause.
Paul says such self-centered sacrifices are of no benefit. Then there should be some benefit to us when our sacrifice truly concerns the other person’s welfare. What is that reward? The answer is in Luke 10:25-28. One must love God with all he is and his neighbor as himself. But he can’t inherit the kingdom of God if he hates his neighbor because hating the neighbor is the same as hating God.
We can’t inherit eternal life unless our devotion to God is backed by brotherly love because love is the outer manifestation of inner righteousness, (1 Corinthians 16:1).
3. Love is the noblest of sacrifices we can offer
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
In English, the word “love” is used to describe at least four types of love relationships.
A. The relationship between the members of a family.
B. The relationship between friends.
C. The romantic relationship between a man and woman.
D. The relationship between Christ and his Church.
In the Greek language, however, there’s a different word for each type of these love relationship.
A. Storge: The relationship between the members of a family
B. Philia: The relationship between friends
C. Eros: The romantic relationship between a man and woman
D. Agape: The relationship between Christ and his Church
Paul is talking about the fourth type of love which is “agape”. How does agape be different from storge, philia, and eros? In a nutshell storge, philia and eros are mostly to do with me while agape love is all about you! Paul showed us what this love is like?
A. Patient: the quality of constantly being concerned about the other person’s welfare without yielding to weariness. (Galatians 6:9)
B. Kind: the quality of being tender in heart, speech, and actions. (Ephesians 4:32)
C. Doesn’t envy: the quality of not feeling jealous of what others have or become. (Proverbs 14:30)
D. Doesn’t boast: the quality of not telling one’s own achievements, possessions, or abilities with excessive pride. (Philippians 2:3)
E. Not proud: the quality of being approachable, not arrogant, and overbearing. (Romans 12:16)
F. Not rude: the quality of being genuinely courteous and polite in speech. (Proverbs 15:1)
G. Not selfish: the quality of being truly concerned about the welfare of others even if it’s costly. (Galatians 6:2)
H. Slow to anger: the quality of being long tempered or slow to express anger. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
I. Keeps no records of wrongs: the quality of forgiving and not holding a grudge against the offender. (Luke 6:27)
J. Doesn’t rejoice in evil: the quality of not gloating over another person’s failures. (Galatians 6:1)
K. Rejoices with the truth: the quality of rejoicing when the truth is revealed in the lives of others. (Philippians 1:18)
L. Bears all things: the quality of putting up with everything if it’s beneficial to the other person. (Galatians 6:2)
M. Believes all things: the quality of being eager to believe what’s best for everyone and to put the most favorable construction on ambiguous actions. (Romans 5:8)
N. Hopes all things: the quality of being hopeful those who have failed will not fail again rather than concluding that failure is inevitable, (John 21:15-19)
O. Endures all things: the quality of not allowing one’s self to become overwhelmed but persevering steadfastly through difficult trials. (Romans 5:3-4)
This is the kind of love Christ loves us with. All of these characteristics were evident throughout his childhood, public ministry, suffering, and death as well as resurrection.
This list is definitely overwhelming. Well, agape love is not spontaneous. It’s not love at first sight. It was not cheap! We have to make an effort. But we are not alone because Christ gives us grace and the ability to love others even when we feel we feel inadequate, (Philippians 4:3).
4. Love is the greatest of all the eternal virtues
Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Love will never become obsolete or invalid. The Corinthian believers emphasized the gift of tongues as a sign of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But Paul says that the gifts will one day be no longer necessary, but love will always be because love is the true sign of the indwelling Holy Spirit, (John 13:35).
Paul is referring specifically to prophesy, tongues, and knowledge as the spiritual gifts no longer necessary in the age to come. All of these gifts are related to God’s revelation to His people during the present age; thus they will pass away at the end of the age when the kingdom of God is fully inaugurated because on that day God will fully reveal himself to his children. They do not have eternal value compared to love. Paul used two unique analogies to explain further.
The reference to a child about three to four years old: Certain behavior was appropriate for this age, but that behavior “ceased” once the child grew up. Likewise, the spiritual gifts are appropriate for this age, but they will cease when Christ returns.
The reference to a reflection on the mirror: In the Graeco-Roman world, a mirror was a polished metal disc with a handle. The reflection visible in the polished silver or bronze was a much more imperfect and indirect representation than modern mirrors. God’s present revelation of Himself to man is as such. But when Christ returns we will stand before God, see him face to face, and know him in full and our need for the aforesaid gifts will pass away. But love, faith, and hope will last forever. Still love is the greatest of them all.
We often see that human love has an end to it. Marriages can fall apart. Family members can become estranged from one another. Friends can become foes. Such is human love. The lyrics of a famous song go like this.
I’d give it all up but I’m taking back my love
I’m taking back my love, I’m taking back my love
I’ve given you too much but I’m taking back my loveEnrique Iglesias: Takin’ Back My Love
The love of God is not like that. He doesn’t take back his love when we fall short of his expectations but continues to love us, (Jeremiah 31:3). Hence we also must love one another without ceasing. Very often we fail to love endlessly because we are unwilling to forgive. But we can love without ceasing if we forgive without ceasing, (Matthew 18:21-22).
How does your conduct measure up to Paul’s description of love in your dealing with others, whether they be friends or foes? Remember, without love, our labor means nothing! Are you committed to walking in “The More Excellent Way of Love?”
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