The Greatest of these is love!
In the midst of this passage is our Lord, shinning forth, giving us a glimpse into His bright, full character-a vibrant display that we can pass on. Each of these aspects of Love in the whole of this passage is not just a call for us to know and do, it is also His character. It is Jesus; it is His way and Truth and we can substitute each of these aspects of love with the name, Jesus, for they are His essence, makeup, and virtue. They are what is missing and what we need, what others need, and what we can not only emulate but also impart. When God tells us that love is the greatest thing, He means that real love points to Jesus, for He is the Greatest! Because God loves us so much, He will allow His great love to move in and through us with hope to further our faith. Why is this the greatest? Because God is love and He loves you and accepts you; you are forgiven and secure in Him! He created you for a reason and has given you a purpose greater than you could ever imagine. He wants you to pursue Him and His principles so He can empower you even more. Because you are of deep value, He died for you to give you salvation so you are unique and complete in Him! When you have faith in Christ, you are pleasing and glorying Him, which is the main mission for your life. With faith, you will be able to move forward this great love and all of its dimensions to impact the Kingdom!
Authentic Love is indeed the greatest thing we could ever have or do!
Contexts and Background:
The conclusion of this passage is about the crescendo of love's primacy, perfection, and permanence. That love is supreme enough to solve this or any other church's problems. The Corinthian problem was that love was lethargic, even lifeless so that pride, abuse, misapplying what God had given, and the sin of personal agendas and the escalations of hurt ran amuck, stagnating and even dissolving this once great church. All they needed was gratitude to our Lord; and then faith, hope, and love could flow from God through them to those around them. This would have filled in the wounds of hurt and reconciled the damages to relationships. The problem was not about who had what gifts and positions or whose ideas were best, but that love was absent and other things were distorting and distracting them from God's plan and precepts so that the result was disorder. For the first century Greek, wisdom was found in mere knowledge; for a pious Jew, faith and hope were the essences of what true wealth from God meant. Paul's point was that the more you know, the better you are in His sight, but better yet is that particle of godly knowledge. For knowledge alone could produce arrogance and the lack of desire to apply His truth. The more we learn about Christ, the better we can know Him so we can model, teach, and worship Him-as long as our pride does not get in the way. If we just remove the arrogance, then the indifference starts to disappear; hope appears, and faith, works, and love abound to replace those hurts and fears with the "greatest" of these (1 Cor. 14; 1 Thess. 5:19-20).
Commentary-Word and Phrase Meanings:
· And now. Meaning what is necessary and logical and what will go into eternity and be forever. Love cannot be reduced to a feeling or to an action for it to be real; it has to be more.
· Remain. Means to abide, to be steadfast and sure of the preeminence and eternal nature of Love that gives and builds intimacy. The application is that we have a binding relationship with Christ that transcends our comprehension; we have a relationship with God that we do not deserve by means we cannot fully understand. For by love, we can know our Lord and who He is, and who we are in Him. Then, we can take hold and trust what we have from our Lord now; what we learn and grow through will remain with us, past our leaving of this life and echoing into the next. What we have in Christ is eternal. This is also about how God's will and His glory will be carried out, and His second coming will come about in His perfect timing (Psalm 96:10; John 15:1-8; Rom. 8:24-25; Gal. 2:20-21; Eph. 1:3-14; Heb. 2:7; Rev. 22:3-5).
· Faith, Hope, and Love. All of these together are central and crucial aspects of the character and gifts of God. They are the showcase of Christian excellence here on earth and point to the total perfection in heaven. They make up the resulting new life we have in Christ, who is the source of these virtues. It is called a "trilogy of virtue" because it helps create our joy as we see, internalize, and live out our faith in Christ. This was also a favorite expression of Paul and Peter (Rom. 5:2-5; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Gal. 5:5-6; Eph. 1:4; 2:8; Col. 1:1-8; 1 Thess. 1:3, 7-8; 5:8; Heb. 10:22-24; 11:6; 1 Peter 1:3-5, 22).
· Faith. Here we see an expression of the trusting love we have for our Lord and the empowerment to carry His love forward. As told in Hebrews, it is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Faith is our response to God's provision that He has given us! It is our focal point, as Christ is what we hope for; Christ is what is to be seen! Faith is the promise of God that gives us the hope and confidence so we can receive, act on, obey, and trust God's promises because God is sovereign and trustworthy. We can trust God for the future because we can see what He has done in the past-from creation, from testimonies, and from His infallible Word. Faith is not just an academic subject; it must spring from our growth and intimacy in Christ. We are given faith and we are to build on it. It trusts, rests in, and looks to God for what He has done, and then fuels our gratitude for being in a special, spiritual union with Christ as Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:1-14; 5:5-6; Eph 1:3; Heb. 2:4; 11: 1-6; 12:2; James 1:2-4; 2:14-26).
· Hope. Here is a manifestation of love that places our confidence in our Lord, that He is holding and molding us, and the expectation that we have more and better things to come throughout all eternity. Hope is not just our forward outlook to be in Christ forever, or that produces Joy for today. When we keep focused on our own circumstances, we will see little to no hope. We can only attain hope by being in Christ, with our eyes focused upon Him as our anchor. Hope calls us to patience and confidence for service in adversity, to endure suffering, and to continue in His call. It does not indicate wishing or thinking positively; rather, it refers to the confidence and conviction we have that our living God keeps His promises and secures us in Him. This leads to greater trust and faith and deeper love. Hope is a prime reason for us to be grateful. It also anticipates and looks forward to the future. It is the assurance-and fact-that God has redeemed us, will bless us, and will care for us. Here, it also alludes to God and His sovereignty. It is our security, as we have the great loving and creating God in us. Why would we prefer our own limited, feeble ways and thinking (Rom. 5:1-5; 8: 18; 25; 1 Cor. 2:9; 12:31; 14:1; Gal. 5:5; Eph. 1:4; 2:8; Tit. 1:2; 1 Peter 1:3, 13, 21; 3:15)?
· Love. God's love is amazing when we consider how we are and who He is! We do not deserve His love, yet we receive it anyway. We do not earn it or achieve it or merit it in any way whatsoever, yet it is there for our taking because of what Christ has done on our behalf. It is a fruit of faith and shows our authenticity, which allows us to serve. It lives in the present as it looks outward to others. Love comes from the self-sacrifice of our Lord, who paved the way for our relationships, especially to God; we must respond gratefully to our fellow believers (John 3:16; 6:37, 44, 65;13:1; 15:16; Rom. 5:1-8; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 1:4-5; Phil. 1:6; Col. 1:1-8, 21-22; 2:10; James 2:14; 1 John 3:14; 4:9-11)!
· The greatest. God is not faith; God is not hope. Love is the greatest because God is love; it is His character and the aspect of His being! Love is also the greatest virtue, character, and fruit that points to our Lord's grace and identifies us as His ambassadors; it shows how we as His children must be to one another. It is the foundation and structure upon which all that is good leans and is united upon. (John 13:34-35; Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 John 4:8-19)
· A love that is great means that we have a love from God that in turn must be our pattern and plan for all we are and do. If love is to be great in us, as it is by what Christ has given us, it must take us beyond our self-interests. If not, all that remained in us would be lust or envy and not real love! Then, as the passage starts off with, all we are would be just an annoying noise that had no reason or purpose. Love is the greatest because out of true love, God the Father gave us His Son, and the Son gave us His life as a replacement for ours. The Son sent the Spirit to us, and we should be literally overwhelmed and consumed with extreme joy and gratitude by what God has done for us. Then in turn, we can pass this love on to others.
· God did not call us just to a creed or a denomination; He called us to a way of life that includes thinking, faith, reason, and action. It is not just about right thinking or right doing; it is the synergy of the two. In this way, we can look after His sheep and be His hands and feet in the world; we can be what we are to Him and then be the instruments He uses to show Himself to others. Faith, hope, and love are that synergy (John 21:16; 1 John 4:10).
Devotional Thoughts and Applications:
Paul tells us in Colossians to continue to be faithful for our Lord Jesus Christ so God continues to pour out His grace so we can have peace in abundance. The context is also love and that love is hitched to faith and the hope that produces our joy. The key in all of this is simple: remember who He is and what He has done for us; additionally….be thankful and be appreciative, because when we are ungrateful we stagnant spiritually and regress in our relationships-to God and to others. Love comes about from our growth in Christ and is sprung into action; after all, it is a verb-an action-and the action that brings this about is to always give thanks to Christ, and to have gratitude for who He is and what He has done for you. The problem is that too many Christians do not realize this. We are stuck in our limited perceptions and past hurts; we are captives to the world's ideas of love and we do not understand God's view. We are the ones who must realize what love really is (Phil. 1:6; Col. 1:1-8).
Love also comes about by our trust in Christ that should show up as gratitude and a life well lived out. We can easily do this when we see what He has for us and then we can trust in what lies ahead for us. And of course, what awaits us in the eternity of Heaven is more than a carrot on a stick. We need to realize that what we have is incredible and what we will have is absolutely beyond words! Astonishing! This helps us see that hope fuels our joy because of what He has done and what He has for us to come.
God is kind to us and Love fuels our assurance that He will continue to be so; then, we can be kind to others. When God is patient with us, then we are patient with others and so forth. It is really simple; the perplexing problem is why are we not doing a better job at this in our homes and churches as well as our schools and workplaces and the place where we are in life? We have to be Christ's faithful servants in order to help further the Kingdom and glorify Christ our Lord! Because His great love is in us, we see His wonders at work; then, we can display His love through our lives. Love is the call He has given to us! Further, we are not alone in this; we have His Holy Spirit to enable and empower us! So, what is stopping us?
The Essential Inductive Questions (for more Inductive questions see Inductive Bible Study):
1. What does this passage say?
2. What does this passage mean?
3. What is God telling me?
4. How am I encouraged and strengthened?
5. Is there sin in my life for which confession and repentance is needed?
6. How can I be changed, so I can learn and grow?
7. What is in the way of these precepts affecting me? What is in the way of my listening to God?
8. How does this apply to me? What will I do about it?
9. What can I model and teach?
10. What does God want me to share with someone?
Read these two passages again in different translations (1 Corinthians 13:1-8; 1 John 4: 7-12)
1. Discuss your thoughts on this aspect of love.
2. Give a positive example.
3. Give a negative example.
4. How is this type of love working in you?
5. Why is this love not working in you?
6. What blocks this love from being exhibited in you?
7. What would it take to get this love working in you?
8. What are you willing to do about it?
1. Why is real, authentic Love the greatest thing we could ever have or do?Why is this important?
2. What do faith, hope and love mean to you? How have you seen these displayed by others? How have you shown them?
3. How and why is love the greatest virtue? How does it point to our Lord's grace? How does it identify us as His ambassadors?
4. How does understanding love help you deal with personal relationship problems? What about problems in churches?
5. How have you seen love stagnant-motionless? How do pride, abuse, misapplying what God has given, and personal agendas come into play?
6. How could you use love to fill in the wounds of hurt and to reconcile damage to relationships?
7. A lot of churches place their emphases on spiritual gifts, people's positions, and whose ideas are best. How can this distract people and distort God's plan and precepts?
8. What does it take to get people in your church to learn more about Christ so you all can all know Him more, model, teach about, and worship Him?
9. How have you seen arrogance and indifference erode love and cause hope and faith to disappear?
10. What causes problems in your church? How would a better understanding and practice of love help? What can you and your church do about it?
11. From this study series in love, what have you found that is missing and what do you and others need that you can emulate and impart?
12. Take a look at each of the aspects of Love in this 1 Corinthians 13 passage; now, replace the word "love" with "Jesus!" For example…Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind…; what does this do for you? How does this give you a glimpse into His character? How does this motivate you to be His vibrant display?
© 2010, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/