Love – Part Three

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Being Love

What were you going to be when you were a little kid? Everyone was going to be something when they grew up. Kids, especially little kids, usually have grandiose ideas (president, professional athlete, singer) or what would be considered normal ideas (police officer, fire fighter, teacher). When they play with other kids, they often act out what they think these adult roles would look like based on television, movies, or just their imagination. I imagine all of us at one point or another have chased other kids through the woods imagining ourselves as adult versions of ourselves. 

Something interesting about that, at least I find it interesting, is that we never see our character but our role. We see ourselves in the simplest terms as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. We see ourselves as doing the job, whatever the job happens to be, but rarely do we stop and think, “What kind of police officer/president/athlete/singer am I going to be? How am I going to act in whatever role I find myself?” I think most of us assume we will be good or moral or righteous, but I don’t know that we put much thought into what those things mean. We assume a role in life without considering the kind of character necessary to live into that.

I think there is evidence in the world to back this up. Think about how many people have failed in their duty as public servants. Think about the people who have assumed these roles and did so with the wrong kind of character. This lack of character led them to eventual actions which brought pain and harm to others. We don’t need to name names or point to examples because frankly, unfortunately, there are too many to name. 

I think what is needed, what we might find as the beginning of a remedy, is to investigate this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is writing to a group of fledgling disciples in a major metropolitan city. Corinth was a city of commerce or trade and industry as well as a city of “commercialized pleasures for the well-to-do.”[1] It was a place of wide-ranging religious, political, and philosophical ideas and a rival city to Athens, which may have contributed to a reputation as the Las Vegas of the ancient world, a reputation created by Athenian poets and writers.[2]

A reading of 1 Corinthians shows the problems Paul dealt with: factions and infighting (chapters 1-4), sexual immorality (chapters 5-6), lawsuits against each other (chapter 6), family and relationships issues (chapter 7), and social customs (7-11). But Paul comes to chapter 12 and begins a discourse about spiritual gifts that lasts through chapter 14. In the middle of this discourse, Paul talks about what he considers the greatest of spiritual gifts: love. 

Paul interrupts his discussion about spiritual gifts to focus on love by saying, “I’m going to show you an even better way.”[3] From there, Paul begins to talk about love. The kind of love Paul talks about is the agape type which we defined as a form of love expressing an unconditional bond of affection between the Divine and humanity and vice versa. But I think there is more to that when we look at what Paul writes here. Paul uses the word agape, but he defines it as well. Love is patient, kind, isn’t jealous, doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, isn’t rude, doesn’t seek its own advantage, isn’t irritable, doesn’t keep a record of complaints, isn’t happy with injustice, is happy with the truth, puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things, and never fails. In essence, Paul gives us this list of the character traits for us to know how to love. 

We know now how to love but who should we love? In the letters to Rome and Galatia, Paul tells us who, “The commandments, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law”[4] and “All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”[5] More than this, Jesus makes this statement well before Paul and the gospel writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke mentions this phrase six different times. The writer of James also quotes this, and all of these are referring to the law in Leviticus 19. 

All of this to say, loving neighbor is the greatest work we do. And Jesus answered the question of who my neighbor in Luke 10 with the Good Samaritan story is: your neighbor is anyone around you in need. If they are human and they are in need, they are your neighbor and you have a commandment from God—Old Testament, New Testament, the Law, Jesus, the Apostles, all agree this is a divine commandment, the greatest commandment, perhaps the hardest commandment, and quite often, the most ignored commandment. It takes a lot to love some people. It takes a lot to love people we dislike, disagree with, and are disengaged with. But the commandment stands: love your neighbor.

We now have an idea of what love looks like. We now have an idea of who we should be loving. The question now becomes, what do we do about this? Paul offers this before he defines love, 

If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.[6]

1 Corinthians 13

Essentially, Paul is saying you can act like you care, like you love, but if you don’t feel love, if you don’t act from a place of truly loving others, it is a wasted effort. You must feel love before you can truly show love. You can pretend, but pretenders are almost always found out in time.

With the knowledge of what love is, how to love, and who our love should be directed toward, the question is are we doing it?


Ehrman, B. (2012). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christians Writings.New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[1] (Ehrman, 2012, p. 340)

[2] ibid

[3] 1 Corinthians 12:31

[4] Romans 13:9-10

[5] Galatians 5:14

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3