Love one another
In 1Co 12 Paul speaks of spiritual gifts -- that is, the gifts
of the Holy Spirit bestowed on some in the first-century ecclesias. These gifts
were given with one goal in mind, and no other: the edification of the
In Corinth, apparently, the possessors of these various gifts
were flaunting them before their brethren in a disgusting show of pride. The
other members of the ecclesia, not so favored, were showing just as much
ignorance of the proper use of the gifts, because they coveted them for their
To counteract this jealousy and factionalism Paul emphasizes
the essential unity of the ecclesia. The ecclesia consists of many
members, but they are all parts of the one body of Christ. The
individual members possess many gifts (teaching, healing, tongues), but
they are all from the one Spirit, and should be used for the benefit of
every member equally.
Rather than rivalry, and antagonism, and presumption, the
brethren must show love, and care, and modesty, and forbearance toward one
another, All are equally partakers of God's greatest gift: grace and mercy and
peace through Christ. Some brethren may have special talents, which of necessity
set them apart from their fellows, but these talents must be exercised for the
mutual benefit of all.
"There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the
hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need
of you.' On the contrary the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are
indispensable..." (1Co 12:20-22).
It is a sad but common mistake that we nearly all are guilty
of. We Chink first of the prominent among us, or the well-educated, or the
socially forward, and we rush to greet them, to talk with them, to keep them
company. But the ones perhaps who most need a warm greeting or a kind word are
the ones we thoughtlessly bypass.
It is the natural tendency at meetings to gather around the
leading brethren, the outgoing personalities, or the visiting speakers -- while
ignoring those shy, quiet ones "around the edges". But one of the divine
characteristics which Christ showed (to the amazement of the proud Pharisees)
was his obvious interest in the lower ranks of society, the poor and ill and
discouraged. Can we do any better than to imitate our Master?
Paul enumerates the "gifts" of the Spirit (1Co 12:28-30) and
agrees that the higher ones, at least, are desirable (v 31). But great gifts (or
even talents and abilities bestowed providentially upon some of us today) are
not an end in themselves. They are, or should be, the means to an
The end is, as we have said already, the upbuilding of the
Body of Christ. The means to that end is the "still more excellent way" (v 31)
-- the way of love. This is the catalyst without which all of our "gifts"
or abilities would be useless. Thus Paul continues:
"If I speak in the tongues of men, and (even) of angels, but have not
love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic
powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith,
so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1Co
This is the question: Does a man live for himself or for
A man may think of his "service" in the Truth as a series of
good works, which take a relatively short time, interspersed with a lot of time
to care for his own wants. A few dollars in the collection (to be disbursed in
some worthy cause by the properly delegated party, with the least amount of fuss
and bother). A practiced "Sunday morning" smile for the struggling widowed
sister. A Bible class talk hastily prepared and casually given. Several
indifferent daily readings sessions. All this set on the scales over against 40
or 50 or 60 hours of secular work, many hours of "entertainment" or
"recreation", twenty-one meals... Another week in the life of an average
"saint"? Is this the proper use of our "talents" in the more excellent
way of love?
How best to serve God
God has given us all that we have: the air we breathe, the
food we eat, the homes we live in. Is any amount of devotion too much when this
is considered? Shouldn't we, at every waking moment, think how best to serve
God is a jealous God. He demands all our love and attention.
But because we love God the more, do we love our brethren less? Sometimes it
seems that we think so. We stand strong and proud on the principles of obedience
to God, and the "purity of the Truth". And we use these concepts to exalt
ourselves above our brethren, while remaining indifferent to their spiritual
Our love for God is different, in this respect, than our love
for another person. If we truly love God, we will show our love for Him in
practical expressions of love for others. True divine love does not exclude
human love; it enhances it.
Verses 4-7 contain a dozen or so characteristics of Scriptural
"Love is patient"
We have the example of Christ, who patiently taught his
disciples and time after time helped them when they stumbled and lost faith.
Undoubtedly there were times when he wanted to throw up his hands and abandon
the effort altogether, for they were so slow to learn and so bent on maintaining
their own natural affections. But he loved them dearly; he loved them despite
their inadequacies; he prayed for them; and he persisted until his efforts began
to bear fruit. Can we do any less for our
"Love is kind"
This English word "kind" is one of those pale, sentimental
words that just does no justice to the original. We should say, instead, that
love is consideration -- active, involved concern for the needs of others, even
to the detriment of one's own comfort. I am sure that we all think of ourselves
as being "kind", for we certainly are never (seldom?) "unkind", are we? Are
"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you
says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the
things needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James
There are times when a "kind word" is no more than hypocrisy,
because it masks a failure to help in any practical way. Have we ever been
guilty of such an act, in a benign, "friendly" indifference to the circumstances
of others? Then we may have been courteous and civil and pleasant, but we have
not been kind, and we have not been loving.
"Love is not jealous"
The divergence of gifts among the Corinthian brethren was a
cause of jealousy. Likewise, envy can result today from comparisons between
brethren: "Who is the better speaker?" "Why was elected Arranging Brother?"
"So-and-so wants to run everything. Who he put him in charge?" The person
who can ask such questions does not have at heart the best interests of the
Jealousy is a terrible disease, and often fatal. It destroys
its originator much more quickly than the one at whom it is
"Love is not boastful... not arrogant"
Envy and boasting are quite closely related. They both stem
from the same basic problem: love of self rather than love of others. True love
does not have to be pushy. It does not need attention. It can afford to wait.
Remember what Jesus said of the arrogant Pharisees -- who did their works to be
seen of men: "They already have their reward." Let this not be said of
"Love is not rude"
There is a right way and a wrong way to do almost anything.
Sometimes a gentle admonition or even a stern rebuke needs to
be administered. It is possible to be in the right -- even to say the right
thing -- but to say it in absolutely the wrong way. A criticism may be correct
in every particular, but if it is delivered with a superior or proud or
overbearing manner -- or if it is delivered in front of an audience -- it will
not achieve a good result. As always, the principle is consideration for others:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In short...
"Love does not insist on its own way"
Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? You may be
the fastest runner at the picnic, but you'll wind up sprawled on the grass
unless you can adapt yourself to the style of your partner. This principle also
holds true in the ecclesia. We are all members of the one body, and we must
learn to function as a unit. We are "yoked together" with our brethren in many
endeavors; we cannot always choose the way that pleases us most.
Your way of doing things may always be the best, but I can
guarantee you that it won't always be the one chosen by the majority. Then what
do you do? Go along or "drop out"? There have been cases of members who have
left meetings because of absolutely trivial disagreements, in which they failed
to get their own way and just could not bend enough to go along with the others.
And they, and sometimes their families, have paid for that stubbornness with
twenty or thirty years of self-imposed isolation. There is an extremely
illuminating passage, the force of which fairly exploded upon me one day. I had
read it dozens of times, but never to much purpose until one day it hit me! Just
six words, but a world of exhortation and self-examination:
"For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom
So who are we to think that things should always go our
way? Who are we to please ourselves in
"Love is not irritable or resentful"
A person possessing the true love of God has a peace of mind
that no other has. In the midst of strife and controversy, he maintains a calm
and reasoning mind, and a disposition to peacemaking. He has that same inner
serenity that sustained Christ through his great trials.
A person in such a frame of mind cannot be offended by others.
He is not provoked to backbiting or vengeance. He relies upon the grace of God,
he knows that there is a final judgment that will right all wrongs, and he is
not concerned about what man may do to him in the meanwhile. If God is for him,
who can be against him?
"Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the
If ever a thought might be coupled with "Let a man examine
himself", surely this is it! Don't we all do this? Don't we all listen to gossip
and rumors and evil insinuations? Don't we all -- sometimes -- derive pleasure
from the shortcomings of others, especially those who have previously appeared
to be models of rectitude?
We judge ourselves by the standards of others, and when we do
this we are glad to see them fall. We tend to think we are lifted up in
proportion as our brother is cast down. But when we live by this standard we are
completely corrupting Paul's teachings of the unity of Christ's body and the
dependence of one member upon another. These lofty ideas lose their meaning when
cooperation is replaced by competition.
"Love bears all things"
We need go no further than Christ's example. Christ bore our
sins in his body on the tree, and more than that he bore our sorrows that he
might be a perfect mediator.
The mind lingers on a picture, perhaps well-known to many. One
boy with a younger boy on his back. "He ain't heavy. He's my brother!" Strain is
obviously there, but he bears his burden gladly. All things are relative,
aren't they? Yes, in more ways than one! We are willing to do for our families
what seems intolerable if done for others. Do we sit in the meeting on Sunday
morning, and feel that those with whom we break bread are really our family? We
write salutations like "Dear Sir" to faceless clerks in faraway cities. For all
we know, we could be addressing a computer as "dear"! Are our expressions of
"Brother Smith" and "Sister Jones" the same sort of formal, stylized
address, or do they express a reality? If a reality, then let us live
that family relationship with our brethren. Let us rejoice with them that
rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Let us "bear one another's burdens, and
so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).
"Love hopes all things... endures all
The Christian's life of love is a joyful existence. In the
midst of sorrows and pains, he rejoices in the great gifts of his
His eye is firmly set upon the hope that rises as a mountain
before him. There may be a valley to traverse before he reaches that distant
peak. But he never takes his eye off that glorious future; and all life's little
annoyances and Inconveniences are seen for what they are -- stepping-stones in
route to the kingdom. Paul says in another place:
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound;
everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who
strengthens me" (Phi 4:12,13).
All that God has given us... riches, talents, intelligence,
health... diminish with the passing of time. Man grows old and dies. Only love
remains, as a bridge between this life and the life to come, a bridge over the
chasm of eternal nothingness. Every other gift or talent will fail, just as the
Holy Spirit gifts finally ceased. The only thing that endures is the character
of a man, engraved in the infinite mind of God.
"Greater love hath no man than this -- that a man lay down his life for his
The bridge over that chasm is constructed from the two timbers
of a cross. On one is written, "Love God". And on the other, "Love your neighbor
as yourself." By those two principles he lived and died, and he asks us to do
the same -- to fill up in ourselves, as best we can, the measure of the perfect
man. We have been children, petulant and selfish and impatient. Let us now be
men, and put away childish things. We have seen in our mirrors blurred images of
the perfect man who is striving to be "born" in us, but one day we will see the
man himself face to face -- and we will know at once by his look whether or not
we have made his love our example. For, lest we ever forget,
that is the test by which we shall stand or fall:
"So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but..."
"THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE."