By Sam E. Stone
Consistency of Love
Hebrews 13:1-3, 6
Although brotherly love was not a common virtue in the first century, the early Christians were already practicing it (see Hebrews 6:10 and 10:33, 34). For this, the writer commends them. Showing love to other members of the church family is essential. Two specific examples are cited.
Showing kindness to strangers is the first. This was taught in the law of Moses as well (Leviticus 19:34). Believers were to love all men (2 Peter 1:7). Showing hospitality set God’s children apart from others in a “dog-eat-dog world.” Some who have done this have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. This suggests the experience of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18 and 19). Jesus himself commended such hospitality when teaching about the judgment (Matthew 25:44, 45).
In addition they were to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison. Else-where the apostle Paul explains that if one member of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26). In obeying this directive the Christian can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Necessity of Love
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with a number of problems that existed in the church. While the chapter we are studying today is about love, it is sandwiched between warnings about the abuse of spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, and worship. Love is essential. One teacher observed, “The most important thing is not what a person is able to do, but why he does it.”
Paul notes the limitations of gifts such as language and of faith apart from love (compare James 2:26). Everything begins in the heart. Dying for Jesus is not a substitute for obeying him. If I . . . do not have love, I gain nothing. True love is built on the kind of faith described in the book of Hebrews.
Quality of Love
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Next Paul contrasts what love will do and what it won’t do. All of the qualities can be “beautifully exemplified” in the life of our Lord. Love is patient, never getting in a hurry (see James 1:4). Love is kind, always caring for others. Love can also be defined by what does not characterize it. It is not proud, does not boast, is not self-seeking or easily angered. Unselfish service to others is the Christian’s duty. Love is the essential. Ernest Evans explains, “It is that something without which anything, that we may do or suffer, becomes nothing.”
Tom Friskney summed it up well: “(Love) is the attitude of God toward Christ (John 3:35; 17:26), of God toward all people (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), of God toward believers (John 14:21), of believers toward believers (John 13:34), of believers toward all people (1 Thessalonians 3:12), of believers to express the essential nature of God (1 John 4:8).”
Eternality of Love
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Love endures. Other important things do not, but love never fails. Literally, it will never “fall down.” The very actions that were most highly valued by the church in Corinth (prophecies, tongues, and knowledge) are temporary and transitory. While they are important, even these impressive acts have limited duration.
William Barclay concludes, “In verses 8-13 Paul has three final things to say of this Christian Love. He stresses its absolute permanency
. . . its absolute completeness . . . and its absolute supremacy. Great as faith and hope are, love is still greater. Faith without love is cold, and hope without love is grim. Love is the fire which kindles faith and love is the light which turns hope into certainty.” True love is based on God’s nature (1 John 4:7, 16).
Our best efforts are imperfect. One day the limitations of this life will be forgotten and all that God has promised will be realized. Faith, hope, and love are often linked together in the New Testament (see Romans 5:2-5; Colossians 1:4). Love occupies the supreme place, however. As J. W. McGarvey put it, “Faith shall be lost in sight, and hope in fruition” (Romans 8:24, 25). The greatest of these is love.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.