Summary: Love is the quality of Christian maturity.
Here are some children’s ideas about love.
-Glenn, age 7 - If falling love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long. (loving people takes a long time. It should take a lifetime. We should love people all our lives.)
- Tom, age 5 - Once I’m in kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife.
- Kenny, age 7 - It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble.
- Regina, age 10 - I’m not rushing into love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.
- Angie, age 10 - Most men are brainless, so you might have to try more than once to find a live one.
- Dave, age 8 - Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I’ve been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.
- Ava, age 8 - One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills.
- Manuel, age 8 - I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be painful.
I tend to think we adults are much more childish when it comes to love than are our children. Certainly the Corinthian Christians had not mastered the idea of love from a biblical perspective, else Paul would not be addressing the issue in this letter. We are not far removed from our Corinthian brothers and sisters I think.
Paul wrote this letter to the Christians because there was division among them. These believers seemed to be divided over who was the more prominent apostle—whether it was Paul or Apollos. Some took pride in the fact they were of Apollos and some took pride they were followers of Paul. There was also this whole issue of who should marry, or who should remarry, or who should marry a believer or not marry a believer, or stay married to a believer. It was enough to make a person’s head spin. Then there was this whole issue of whether a good Christian should eat meat that had been offered to idols. And who can forget that they even argued over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and who should partake it. And finally, they argued about the spiritual gifts, and it is as Paul addresses this division that he writes some of the most often quoted (and I might say mis-applied) words of Scripture:
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13—
Paul says, “Wait a minute. You’re forgetting the most important things. You’re focusing on the wrong things.” Paul reminds the Corinthians in a gentle way that they are majoring on the minors. Sure, tongues is great, but without love, you’re just making noise. And prophecy, too. Wonderful. Knowledge? Fantastic! But without love for others, I’m no good. And even if I could make a mountain move, if I didn’t have love what good would it do to move the mountain? Sure, I could be generous and give all my worldly possessions away, but I would be doing it for prideful purposes if I didn’t love those to whom it was given. All those gifts will be gone. There will come a day when those gifts will no longer be necessary because we will be perfected, and when we are perfected we will be perfected in love. Love, Paul says, is the mark of spiritual maturity—love is the more excellent way.
I remind us that the word Paul uses here is the Greek word agape. J. I. Packer tells us this word seems to have been virtually a Christian invention—a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike -- Matt. 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness, and it goes beyond our modern understanding of love in the emotional or romantic sense.
Toyohiko Kagawa, the Japanese Christian leader, distinguished three levels of love. The first of which is physical love, which holds people together in families. Above this level is a plane which Kagawa calls psychic love. Psychic love includes our association in friendships, in professional and social groups, and in all those relationships which rest on community of mental tastes. Kagawa then designates a still higher level of love based upon conscience. He says, “If one is walking along the road with an enemy on his right hand, and a sinner on his left, and if he can walk with them without accusing them, or if he can halt his progress to help them, then he has risen to the plane of conscientious love. Such was the love which Jesus manifested, and to which He summoned his followers, bidding them to do good to those who hated them.