“Love looks like something.”
Richie Seltzer (from Imagine Church, Calgary) said this at a conference I went to earlier this year, and last week it came back to me and was bouncing around in my head a bit. As I thought about it more this passage from 1 Corinthians came to mind.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.1 Corinthians 13:13–14:1 (NIV)
NIV has been my main “go to” Bible version for many years but in more recent times I’ve been looking to other translations to help dig a bit deeper. Here is the same passage in wording of the Amplified Bible:
And so faith, hope, love abide [faith—conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope—joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love—true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).
Faith, hope and love abide. I kind of like the Amplified use of the word abide instead of remain, even though it’s an old word not commonly used nowadays, as it speaks more about the constant availability of faith, hope and love. As much as you reach out for them, they are there for you. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts may come and go at various times and situations. Not so with faith, hope and love which are always here with us, and are woven into the inner daily life of every believer!
Have you ever wondered why Paul wrote that love is the greatest of these three? Why does love have a higher potency than faith or hope when it comes to how we should live as followers of Jesus?
For many people faith, hope and love are abstract concepts. It can be difficult to really explain these things in a way that makes sense to someone who has not experienced them. Even though you may try to explain faith or hope to someone from your perspective, but it’s just not possible to transplant the faith you have into someone else. You may carry a very great hope in God, that gives you strength in even the most difficult of times, but it’s not so easy to pass that on to someone else who is battling despair. For the Christian, faith and hope most definitely have an impact on how we go through life, but they are essentially internal qualities.
Galatians 5:6 talks about “faith expressing itself through love.” I believe that is the key to understanding why love is “the greatest of these”. It is love that makes faith and hope visible; turning something intangible into something they can experience.
You can love someone who doesn’t have faith. You can show love
The great quest for love
The second of these two verses implores us to “Follow the way of love…”, which is often translated as “Pursue love…”. Neither of these really conveys the full intensity of what Paul meant. The Amplified Bible unpacks it as “Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]…”
We are to chase after this love, like a hunter that will starve unless he catches his prey. Being dedicated to the goal of acquiring this love! The love Paul is talking about is “agape”, that is, God’s unconditional and selfless love that is not an abstract concept or just a feeling, but a way of life – to live for the benefit of others. This kind of love has an impact on the receiver as well as the giver.
It can be difficult for someone to understand how God loves them when they’ve never experienced it. Perhaps their idea of love has even been distorted or trashed by misuse. “Love” is one of the most misused and abused words in the English language. Seeing God’s love at work through his people can be instrumental in redefining who God is and what His love means to all of us. To be shown real love can radically change someone’s worldview! Love creates the “fertile ground” in which faith and hope can arise, the “good soil” in which the message of God’s Kingdom can take root.
Growing in confidence to share our faith in Jesus must be a journey into God’s love – it’s a journey into God’s heart and His love for people.
How keen are you for spiritual gifts?
In this passage of scripture the place and importance of love comes after perhaps the most in-depth teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit’s power through the people of the church. To get the complete picture we should read 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 together with continuity. It becomes obvious that Paul wants to tie the two things together and powerfully highlights through chapter 13 that power without love is (at best) empty. But here as we roll over into chapter 14 he reminds us that ministry without power falls short of God’s design. It’s not “either-or” but “both-and”!
We are strongly encouraged to “earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy.”
The Greek word zēloute translated “earnestly desire” is from the same root word as “zealot” and was used to describe such things as a boiling pot. It is an image of boiling hot passion and a deep commitment to something. Zealots were known for their willingness to die for a cause they believed in. Paul tells us to “Be boiling hot with passion for spiritual things”, followed by “…especially that you may prophesy.”
It is about DOING rather than HAVING.
Some translations say something like, “especially the gift of prophecy.” The Amplified gets a better rendering again in that it says “that you may prophesy.” It is something you do, not something you have.
I have a bunch of surfboards in my garage. If I never get out in the surf with a surfboard what benefit is there to having them? Am I waiting for the “perfect swell” before I pull out a board? The person who is boiling hot passionate about surfing gets out there anyway, even if conditions look poor. They look for any opportunity to use what they’ve got. That’s the calling we have – to eagerly desire the Holy Spirit to work supernaturally through us, especially to prophesy, not to have a gift that “sits in the garage”.
To prophesy is to express what is on God’s heart right now, in the situation you’re in, to the people you’re with. Paul speaks to the church about how vital this gift is for our encouragement in the faith. My purpose here is not to rigidly define what prophecy is or is not (or distinctions between this and other “spoken” gifts). The bottom line is that God is always speaking to us about all kinds of things, and His voice is full of love and encouragement. I want to speak from God’s heart to those who need to hear His voice. We are all encouraged to be passionate for that!
Love that is visible, and letting God speak through you
1 John 4:12-13 says, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.”
First base for all of us is just to love each other – that is to love God’s family. Take the small opportunities God gives you to put that love into action. What a great promise we have that His love will be brought to a full expression in us as we do this!
Don’t say “not now” to the little things you CAN do. Distraction and busyness can be the enemy of love.
Learn to ask God what are His thoughts for a person, and then share what He gives you. Don’t censor too quickly what pops into your head. God gave you imagination for a reason. It sometimes connects to our spirit more readily than the conscious mind (just think of how easily music touches the soul). Do a quick test – Is it kind and loving? Will it encouraging the person and draw them nearer to God? Does it disagree with the Bible?
In God’s Kingdom, He rewards faithfulness in small things with greater opportunities! As we practice stepping out in love and the power of the Holy Spirit, faith and hope will be the result.
Further reading about love and spiritual gifts:
1 John 4:7-19, 1 Corinthians 12-14