by Lance Taylor
Synopsis: Lance challenges us to think about agape love as a personal choice. Is our behavior patterned according to these exalted principles?
We spend considerable time, energy, and money pursuing more and better things in life—a better job, better house, better vacation, better food, better knowledge, and even a better faith. In all our searching for better things, we are really looking for what is best. By faith, we need to turn to God to find what is best for us. Psalm 118:8 says, "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man."
So, where is our trust? What path are we following? Are we walking in a manner that is pleasing to God, or are we placing confidence in what man says is better for us? Are we falling for the love of the world and the things in it? 1 John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." In asking these questions, my effort is to drive us to think about looking to God for the best way to live.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses spiritual gifts and how we are unified as one body in Christ, although we all are individual members. He compares members of the Lord's body to the various members of our physical body. Our place in the Lord's church and our gifts (i.e., ability) to serve Him are given by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). With these differing abilities comes the struggle among men and women to compare and compete with one another. In our human nature, we tend to rank abilities, skills, and talents in ways that give preference and prominence even to those who have greater gifts. Paul even recognizes that there are "greater gifts" or "the best gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31). He says, "But earnestly desire the best gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31a). All of us would probably like to have more talent and feel more gifted by God, but we know there are limitations and boundaries to such gifts. Do you know what is not limited by our earthly body's God-given gifts or talents? Look at the last part of 1 Corinthians 12:31, "And yet I show you a more excellent way."
A more excellent way. More excellent than any of the gifts? More excellent than being an apostle, prophet, teacher, miracle worker, healer, etc.? Yes, Paul is about to discuss a way that is more excellent than any of the previously mentioned gifts. What is the more excellent way? Love. Charity. Agape in Greek. Read 1 Corinthians 13 as though it started with chapter 12 and verse 31. After all, men have placed the chapter and verses in the text. It would be difficult to find a perfect place to break the text in this section of Scripture, but many times, we read chapter 13 and overlook the last verse of chapter 12. The love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is what God alone has made known to mankind. It is a remarkable gift for us to know the love of God (John 3:16; 1 John 3:1; 4:7-8)!
Reading 1 Corinthians 13, you find in the first three verses that even if we have the greatest gifts, without love we are nothing and it profits nothing. What a statement about the value of love! How do we get this love? How do we add this love to our lives? Is it intuitive? Is it a skill that is developed or learned? Is it something that you can naturally have, but I may never possess?
Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. We discover that love ultimately is a choice. That's right, a choice. It is not a learned or natural ability. It is not a gift or blessing that lies beyond our comprehension. On the contrary, it is truly a choice. To love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, one must choose to take action and the result is a display of Biblical love. The world's view of love is not God's view. The world speaks of "falling in love" and "love at first sight" and how "love is in the air." All of these misconceptions of love are dependent on good feelings, emotions, beauty, compatibility, and attraction. These views on love crumble when something goes wrong. They fail the test of time, the tests of life, and the test of faith.
Beyond 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible teaches us to love by choice. Consider Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:43-48. He commands us to love our enemies, those who curse us, those who hate us, and those who persecute us. Why? Jesus explains in verse 45-48 when He points out that this choice to love makes us "sons of your Father in heaven" and "perfect (complete), just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Understanding this teaching from Jesus makes us realize that Biblical love is essential—not optional; it is complete and not with partiality.
In Romans 5, we also learn that Biblical love is a choice. In particular, look at verses 6-8. Notice that God's love was a demonstration—not an inclination. When worldly factors are involved, love becomes an inclination based on lust, beauty, attraction, emotions, feelings, compatibility, deservedness, etc. Yet, God demonstrated His love toward mankind when we did not deserve it, and when He would have had every right to be inclined not to love us. He loved us even though we were "without strength," counted as "ungodly," and were "still sinners" (Rom. 5:6-8).
Love by choice is without negligence, apathy, alienation, carelessness, isolation, inattention, and indifference. Biblical love does not ignore its responsibility to do the right thing. Consider James 4:17, which says, "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." Let us avoid indifference. While it may be easy to ignore an opportunity to choose to love someone, it is not right for us to do so.
Returning to the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13, we see the actions necessary to love by choice as God has taught us. Suffer long, be kind, do not envy, do not act proud, do not boast, do not be rude, do not be selfish, do not be angry, do not think evil, do not rejoice over evil, rejoice in truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, and never fail!
If we truly practice Biblical love as the first choice in our actions, then we will be walking and living "a more excellent way" by using our greatest gift given by God, the ability to love as He loves us. All of us have the ability to love this way. May we choose to manifest agape love each and every day. "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).
Author Bio: Lance has worked with Mt. Zion church of Christ in Athens, AL for fifteen years and is currently the Director of Operations at Truth Publications, Inc. He and his wife, Moriah, and daughter, Maicy, live in Elkmont, AL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.