Love, the Most Excellent Way (Thoughts on I Corinthians 13)

We never love enough, and we cannot. We can never contemplate the love of God enough. It is a well too deep for our best thoughts, a mountain too high for our best efforts. Yet, dwell on it we must. The love of God is His perfect freedom in action. God is the only perfectly free being. All others are bound in one way or another. It is God’s perfect freedom to love, to express his being as the one who is love (I John 4:8).

In the Gospel of John the apostolic writer does not refer to himself often. When he does he designates himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” When John spoke this way of himself he certainly was not claiming any superiority over the other apostles, nor was he separating himself from the rest. It is just that he was, like the others, overtaken by the power of a pure love. The resurrection of Christ was definitive in establishing the faith of his disciples, but before there was resurrection there was love. Jesus loved them and they knew this. They knew this in their minds and in their hearts. Love is the power that moves us more than any other.

Love alone explains God’s actions toward the world at the cross. When Moses wanted to explain, or rather God through Moses, why He rescued Israel from Egypt the reason was love and faithfulness to His word (Deut. 7:7-11). When John wanted to explain the incarnation, and the giving of the Son to the world, the reason was love (Jn. 3:16).

Love is essential (vv.1-3)

         With powerful rhetorical skill Paul shows us that love is essential, that it matters more than the other things people prize. The church like the world is made of people who are tempted to seek and maintain pride of position. We all want to be liked and admired.  At the beginning of this Corinthian letter Paul had addressed these matters (see 1:4ff). The ethic of love recasts the fundamental questions of ethics from “what is permissible for me?” to “what benefits others?” Some of these Corinthians were quit proud of their spiritual gifts but Paul, without denigrating the gifts, warns that gifts without love are nothing. In verse 8 he says that even prophecy, the gift Paul prizes above all others (14:1), will come to nothing without love!

(to be continued)