This Sunday, I finished up a series in my Sunday school class on spiritual gifts. The final lesson was on I Corinthians 13 and I John 3 and 4. The topic was love.
You may wonder what love has to do with spiritual gifts, but the answer to that is quite a lot. So much, in fact, that Paul sandwiched "the love chapter" between I Corinthians 12 which is an entire chapter on spiritual gifts and I Corinthians 14 which talks about tongues and prophecy. As I've studied the Bible over the years, I've learned not to skip over the significance of the placement of verses. They aren't just in random order.
Paul says that even if you speak with the tongues of angels, or prophesy great things or give all your food to the poor or are martyred, if you do it without love it means nothing.
Martyrdom means nothing if it is not done with love? Giving up all your possessions to feed the poor means nothing without love?
Those are some pretty strong statements. There is nothing wishy-washy or vague about them - we really can't miss Paul's meaning.
When I went over to I John 3 and 4, it was like God hit me with a 2x4 of conviction. The word love is mentioned 39 times in just those two chapters alone.
However, it was verses in chapter 3 that struck me with the most force. "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death." I John 3:10-15 (emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? Other people can tell who you belong to - God or the devil - by two things: whether you practice righteousness and if you love your fellow believers.
It's natural for the world to hate us. We are aliens here and the things of God seem foolish to the unbeliever. They are lost and don't understand.
But with believers it's a whole different story. It's not just a suggestion - we are commanded to love and beyond that it is supposed to be our calling card. It is how others know we belong to God.
I don't know about you, but this convicted me deeply. I had to know more so I dug out my Greek word dictionary (I know I'm a nerd!) and took a deeper look at I Corinthians 13 which lists all the things love is and isn't.
Just so you don't have to crack open your Greek dictionary, I'll list what I found out. It's pretty interesting - at least it was to me!
First of all, the word love in this chapter is the word agape. I'm sure a lot of you have heard of this type of love and it is often described as "unconditional love." But it is more than that! This it the same word used to describe the character of who God is. It is manifested in the gift of Jesus' death on the cross.
So, now that we have that info out of the way, here is a list of what love is and isn't with a brief definition.
patient - to persevere, to be slow in avenging, to not lose heart
kind - to show oneself useful, to be obliging and willing to help
not jealous - to not be envious or moved with envy
not brag - to not extol yourself excessively
not arrogant - or not be puffed up with pride
not act unbecomingly - to not behave in an ugly, indecent or unseemly manner
not seek it's own - talks about a habitual action; seek means to demand or require something of someone
not provoked - not be irritated or angry, to not be exasperated
not take into account wrong suffered - in the phrase "take into account" take and account are the same Greek word and it means to compute, calculate, count over
not rejoice in unrighteousness - not celebrate wrongfulness
rejoice in truth - to sympathize in gladness or congratulate in wahtever is true in any matter under consideration
bears all things - to roof over or cover in silence
believes all things - trusts the motives of action are pure
hopes all things - expect with desire
endures all things - remain, bear, persevere, not fleeing
never fails - fall to one's ruin
I can't do that by myself but with the Holy Spirit's help, I can love my brothers and sisters in Christ and so can you. It's a lofty goal, I'll admit, but imagine what the unbelieving world would say if we showed each other true love?
~ Blessings, Bronte