The greatest of all things is LOVE.
The greatest, says the Apostle Paul, agreed upon by the world’s greatest thinkers, artists and poets is:
Love is best.
The Bible book 1 Corinthians 13 is Paul’s finest expression of love by far. Read and read again those marvelous apostolic definitions of love. One of the meanings of this powerful force is spiritual devotion, a reasoning, intentional spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us. To really know what love is, says Paul, can only occur as a result of a meaningful (loving) relationship with God Almighty. The longer, the deeper the relationship, the more the meaning of love becomes clear.
Love is good. In fact, good is defined by love. For no mere mortal can do good without love. One may intend to live right, perhaps following the Ten Commandments and other great moral precepts. But mere intention, the act of the will is not enough for it lacks the energy, the conviction, the power of LOVE.
There really is no definition of love, no simple one. Words like affection, attachment, emotion, even ultimate feelings are inadequate. So, Paul says let’s begin by defining love as PATIENT. Love is longsuffering because love is eternal. We live in a world fundamentally impatient, Type A, a world of pressure and intensity. Life as it is in the 20th Century and the people who live that life cause us to be impatient, frustrated, even angry. But if one loves and lives by the power of love, one says Paul is PATIENT. That is, no matter the circumstances, one is patient because patience is inherent, a spiritual genetic component of one who loves.
Love is kind, says the open-hearted Apostle Paul. Love is gentle, easy. It avoids meaningless confrontation and struggle. Love thinks on those things which are good in gentle ways, avoids strife and is slow to anger. Our world is hard, feisty and confrontational, so often without love. But love at work is the antidote to harsh things in life. That easy love soothes. It strokes. It forces its way into the heart and opens it. Love replaces the harsh with hugs. It cares about others first and about the things of God even more. There is no gentle or kind without love.
Love, God’s love in us, does not insist on its own rights or its own way. Love is not self-seeking. The natural man without love is selfish, self-centered, and egotistical. A loving person is giving, open, and caring. These standards are extremely high, and virtually impossible for any human being to accomplish without, says Paul, the love of God.
Love even allows us not to take account of the wrongs or evil done to us by others. Love allows us to forgive and forget. Love allows us to love an enemy rather than to seek vengeance. Love allows us to move past righting wrongs. We can lovingly forgive even as a loving God forgave us.
Love rejoices when right and truth prevail. Real love is straight, a kind of tough love structured by what is right and true. Love deals with problems in the present, and deals with them straightforwardly as truth would have it. Love can discipline and correct in truth without hurting. True love never compromises. How wonderful and joyful it is to lovingly live in truth at all times. For to know the truth of love is to be set free and allows us to live a life rejoicing and praising.
Love protects and defends. It guards the hearts and minds of the young. It trains up children in the way in which they should go. It shows them the way of the Lord, the path of righteousness. Love protects and defends home and family. Love guards against false prophets and the lie. Love tolerates no evil, only the good.
Love is loyal, says Paul. Love is trustworthy and trusting. Love makes character predictable, reliable, steady, and dependable. Love produces bonds unbroken, full trust unto death.
Real love, says Paul, always hopes for the best, especially the best in others. No matter the evil or inconsistencies in others, or the uncertainties in life, hope for the good is always love’s objective. Love, real love is contagious. In the presence of love, real love, others participate and share and begin to feel that real love themselves. Love at work creates the belief that all things will work together for good for those who love each other, and especially those who love God. That, says Paul, is an absolute truth for:
LOVE NEVER FAILS
It endures now and for all eternity. It overcomes the greatest evils in this world which combined, can never destroy love.
But the Apostle Paul in his great treatise 1 Corinthians 13 also tells us what love is NOT.
Paul tells us that love is not talk no matter how eloquent. Words are not love and may even have difficulty communicating or defining love. No matter how eloquent the tongue, even the language of angels, words are like sounding brass and tinkling symbols, hollow and meaningless. Even, says Paul, if words are those of the angels themselves, they are worthless without love.
And Paul says that even the gift of prophecy, knowing the future, discerning the divine will and purpose without love means nothing. Even moving mountains with all power and energy means nothing without love.
One can not even give to the poor without love. One can not even be willing to die, offer a body to be burned, or lay down a life for another without love, for all such acts no matter how charitable are meaningless without love.
Love is not envious. Love is not jealous of others, what they are or what they have. Love desires the best for everyone. Love rejoices when the best things happen to other people. Love never craves or lusts. It is content no matter the circumstances.
Love is not controlling, says Paul. It lets go. It never holds on. Love never demands and always reasons with an open heart. Love is never possessive. Love is always ready to share, give and understand.
And love never boasts or brags. Love is not proud or puffed up. Love has no ego. Love cares little for power, fame or possessions. Love is in the doing for by their loving fruits we shall know them. Love wishes to be known and loved by God and not man. Love reminds that it is not about me but about HIM.
Love does not behave unseemly. Love allows one to live modestly, humbly and joyfully. Love builds and sustains character. Love has its own rules and standards, instinctive even genetic, which controls and directs behavior instinctively. By their fruits, by their actions, it is easy to know one who loves.
Love is not easily angered says Paul. Not that one never gets angry, but that anger is slow to wrath. No tempers, no rages. Life can not be lived on the defense. Love calls for rational and reasonable responses and reactions, for a fiery tongue does nothing but damage. When one is possessed, and consumed by love, that loving person can not be easily provoked. Anger, even righteous anger does very little good.
Perhaps so very importantly Paul reminds us that love does not keep any record of wrongs. We, the humans, have such long memories when things go wrong, when we are wronged. We may in some sense forgive, but it is so very difficult to forget. But love, says Paul, keeps no record of these wrongs, love has no balance sheet, no list of spiritual assets and liabilities. Love is owed nothing for all it gives, even for major acts of forgiveness. It requires no payback or retribution for any harm done, no matter the wrong. Love truly forgets and presses on for only the good things in life. Love holds no grudges, none whatsoever. There is no get-even, no aggression, nothing defensive about real love at work. Real love allows anyone to love an enemy, the worst of them no matter the wrongs, so says Paul. Love allows us to do good to those who persecute us, defame us, slander and abuse us. That is real love. Easy it is to throw up one’s hands and say impossible, all of it just plain impossible. And perhaps all such things are impossible at the human level only, that is without the love of God at work in any life. We are told that God is love and the more of the love of God in our lives and hearts, the more we can live by love and in love. We now see imperfectly, we now understand love imperfectly, as Paul says, but we will know when we see the source of all love FACE TO FACE. Then we shall know that perfect love which passes all understanding. To stand in the HOLY PRESENCE, the source of all love is to know completely. Love is a process as is learning to love, here and now. But love will be fully completed in the dawn of that eternal day.
And finally, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that there are three great things, the very best of all things in this life, namely:
No matter how important faith is, and it surely is, that is the conviction and belief with respect to man’s relationship to God and divine things, love is greater. And no matter how strong the force of hope, the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation, as important as that is, love is greater.
The greatest of all things is LOVE, that is, true affection for God and man, affection growing out of God’s love for and in us.
The greatest of all things is love because LOVE NEVER FAILS!