A More Excellent Way

"The one who does not love does not know God," the apostle John had stated, "for God is love" (I John 4:8). This is one of those simple apostle John-type statements that can be overlooked in terms of its depth of meaning. Love is a huge topic, and the idea that "God is love" requires some major contemplation. Love itself is easily misunderstood by the bulk of the human race, and its tenets are twisted and bent by pure human selfishness coupled with the efforts from the forces of darkness. While the apostle Paul, then, is in the midst of talking about the use, misuse, abuse, and non-use of the spiritual gifts inside the church at Corinth, he introduces a discussion about love, introducing the topic through the words, "And I show you a still more excellent way."

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist," superadds James, "there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16). Christianity only works if the great character of God love is the motivator for Christian action. Wherever deeds of the flesh are present, they work against the purpose of God and the purpose of the church. "For since there is jealousy and strife among you," Paul had earlier commented about this congregation, "are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" (I Corinthians 3:3). True peace, true harmony, and true unity only flow from the love of God engendered by the Holy Spirit.

Some Qualities of Love

It is obviously challenging for saints to move from being selfishly motivated to being actuated by love of God and love for others. Satan, the ultimate in selfishness, works his devilish works in the midst of the human mind, and the result is clearly seen as a massive disaster in the race of men. Where love and peace should be, instead there is discord, distrust, and destruction. Among Adam and his first descendants, what should have been a happy family turned into a murderous and tumultuous parade of history. "For we also once were foolish ourselves," Paul reminded Titus and other readers, "disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another" (Titus 3:3). But God wanted to change that for His special people, the true Israel of God as the saints of the Most High, by sending Jesus as love incarnate into the world.

It is comparatively easy to spot character flaws in others. The challenge for the Christian is to be able to work through this list the apostle is laying out for the Corinthians brethren, and to be able to engage in a little honest self-examination. "Am I patient?" "Am I kind?" "Do I exhibit any of the wrong kind of jealousy?" "Am I boastful or arrogant?" "Do I always act becomingly?" If this putting ourselves to the test in these areas results in our making some changes, then "Praise the Lord!"

More About Love

This passage on love from I Corinthians 13 is a well-known passage. It shows up on napkins at wedding receptions, and graces homes on plaques and ornaments. The grand difficulty, of course, is in getting the teachings on love off the napkin and into the lives of the newly married couple. The challenge is in getting the principles of love from the plaques and ornaments into the actual atmosphere and action of the family. The great test is in getting these words about love from the pages of the New Testament into the lives of the saints. Real love is challenging because it requires a reorientation of the individual. As small children, our needs were "all about us." We needed to be fed, we needed to have our diapers changed, and we needed attention. Even as adults, our physical needs must be taken care of, or we simply do not have the ability to be productive in any other area. But that can lead to a truncation of understanding, and a resultant selfishness set in our habits and characters that must change when we become Christians.

There are a lot of negative, destructive actions and attitudes which destroy relationships and create confusion. Christ's love, however, is positive and edifying. This love works through issues calmly rather than escalating the chaos. This love generates a peaceful atmosphere, open communication, and honest concern for the other person. It is worth each Christian's efforts in investing in understanding and deepening in his participation in this great love.

What Love Does

Love is not a mere concept. There is action in love, and love achieves the great and positive accomplishments in this life. Throughout the history of the human race, there have been many dramatic examples of what love does. The tales of what a woman would do for her husband, or a husband for his wife, a parent toward a child or vice-versa the annals of the world tell the story of what love has done. Without that type of love embedded in mankind, the past would have been much more sordid than it was, and living in the present would be much darker than it already is. Jesus' description, for example, of the events connected with the armies of Rome's destroying Jerusalem (and foreshadowing the events at the destruction of the world) is poignant and relevant: "And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). How dark!

"Love never fails" (I Corinthians 13:8). It is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

Transitory Gifts of the Spirit

That downward sucking sound is Satan trying to pull the saints of God under with him. Hence, one of his techniques is to get the brethren to become competitive rather than cooperative. In Corinth, for example, those who had the gift of speaking in a foreign language had tended to elevate themselves above the brethren in general, and even over those who had other gifts of the Spirit. This type of false elevation was fostered and fomented by those who wanted to develop factions within the congregation, and manipulate the situation so that they could be the biggest fish in that particular pond. Paul, then, writes this section on love to point out, as he put it, "a more excellent way." Love abolishes selfish ambition and petty jealousy. Love produces compassion, and an earnest desire for the next brother or sister in Christ to be all that he or she can be. Love wants people to be saved, and for there to be harmony and peace as befits those who are called by the name of the Lord. Those who truly loved would use their gifts properly.

Part of the apostle's motive here was to establish the transitory nature of the manifestations of the Spirit. His general point was that since the gifts were temporary and "childish," there was no reason for any of the possessors of the gifts to get "big headed." That principle, of course, continues to apply today!

In the Looking Glass

God has wrapped His glory in thick darkness. This is to protect the material creation until such time as He is ready for Jesus to appear and vaporize the material realm by the brightness of His coming. In the meantime, He has worked diligently to produce a special people who could see and appreciate His glory by the faith revealed in His written word. But until the New Testament writings were completed and collected, this picture was incomplete and, in a matter of speaking, a little fuzzy. Hence those of us who are blessed to live in the final stages of "these last days" are the most blessed of anyone who has ever lived, because for us the whole picture of what we are to see is clearly and completely presented.

Faith is when we believe what the Bible tells us to believe about the realm we cannot see with physical eyes. There is no other way to have any real knowledge about the spiritual world. Hence, by faith, we see Jesus in glory as revealed in the sacred page, and by faith we are being transformed into His image and being partakers of His nature. In hope we wait for the final transformation of our body into conformity with the body of His glory, groaning in this present house, waiting for our final adoption. At that point our faith will become sight, and faith will be no more. At that point, our hope will be realized, and hope will be no more. "And now," says the apostle, "abide faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). Love is the one that goes on and on and on!