There is nothing I need more in my life than more of the love of Jesus. I need more of His love for my wife—the woman God has called me to serve until death. I need more of His love for my children and the rest of my extended family. I need more of His love for the church, including the spiritual brothers and sisters it is sometimes hard for me to love. I need more of His love for my neighbors who still need to hear the gospel, and for all the lost and the lonely people who are close to the heart of God even when they are far from my thoughts.
Everywhere I go, and in every relationship I have in life, I need more of the love of Jesus. The place where I need it the most is in my relationship with God Himself, the Lover of my soul. What about you? Are you loving the way Jesus loves? Or do you need more of His love in your life—more love for God and for other people?
The Love Chapter
One of the first places people look for love in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It is one of the most famous passages in Scripture, mainly because it is read so often at weddings. Some people call it "the Love Chapter," which is appropriate because it mentions love (agape) explicitly and implicitly more than a dozen times.
First Corinthians 13 is the Bible's most complete portrait of love. A literature professor would call it an encomium, which is "a formal or high-flown expression of praise." The Love Chapter is a love song for love, in which the apostle Paul establishes the necessity of love (verses 1-3), sketches the character of love (verses 4-7), and celebrates the permanence of love (verses 8-13) as the greatest of all God's gifts.
As familiar as it is, this chapter is not understood nearly as well as it ought to be. For one thing, people usually read it out of context. Admittedly, they do sometimes begin reading at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:31, where Paul says, "I will show you a still more excellent way." This is a good place to begin, because chapter 13 is "the more excellent way" that the apostle had in mind. But there is a wider context to consider—a context that many readers miss. As Gordon Fee writes in his commentary, [The First Epistle to the Corinthians, © 1987], "The love affair with this love chapter has also allowed it to be read regularly apart from its context, which does not make it less true but causes on to miss too much."
One way to make sure we do not miss what God has for us in 1 Corinthians 13 is to remember who the Corinthians were and what God said to them in this letter. If there was one thing the Corinthians needed, it was more of the love of Jesus. The church was sharply divided over theology, practice, social class, and spiritual gifts. Some said they followed Paul. Others followed Peter or Apollos—"my apostle is better than your apostle!" Then there were those—and this was the ultimate form of spiritual one-upmanship—who claimed to follow Christ. There were similar conflicts about ministry, with various Corinthians claiming that their charismatic gifts were the be-all and end-all of Christianity—"my ministry is more important than your ministry!" This was the issue in chapter 12, where the apostle reminded them that although the church is made of many parts, we all belong to one body.
So when Paul wrote about love in chapter 13, he was not trying to give people something nice to read at weddings. After all, the love he writes about here is not eros (the romantic love of desire), but agape (the selfless love of brothers and sisters in Christ). Instead of preparing people for marriage, then, the apostle was trying desperately to show a church full of self-centered Christians that there is a better way to live—not just on your wedding day but every day for the rest of your life. The Love Chapter is not for lovers, primarily, but for all the loveless people in the church who think that their way of talking about God, or worshiping God, or serving God, or giving to God is better than everyone else's.
Here is another mistake that many people make: We tend to read 1 Corinthians 13 as an encouraging, feel-good Bible passage full of happy thoughts about love. Instead, I find the passage to be almost terrifying, because it sets a standard for love I know I could never meet.
None of us lives with this kind of love, and there is an easy way to prove it: Start reading with verse four and insert your own name into the passage every time you see the word "love." For example: "Phil is patient and kind; Phil does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Phil bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Phil never fails." Do the same thing for yourself and you will know how I feel: not very loving at all.
It reads very differently, though, when we put Jesus in the picture. If 1 Corinthians 13 is a portrait of love, then it is really a sketch of the Savior we meet in the Gospels: "Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails."
Paul encourages us to read the Love Chapter in a Christ-centered way by the dramatic shift he makes between verses one to three, where he speaks in the first person, and verses four to eight, where love is personified. First the apostle tells us what he cannot do without love; then [as Pastor Josh Moody said in a sermon], he tells us what only love can do. And the reason love can do all these things is that it has become incarnate in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is everything that I am not. He alone has "love divine, all loves excelling." This realization does not crush me; it liberates me, because the love of Jesus is so big that He loves even me. And because He loves me, He has promised to save me, to forgive me and change me. We are nothing without love. But when we know Jesus, who does nothing without love, He will help us love the way that He loves.
In a subsequent letter to the Corinthians, Paul testified to the life-transforming love of Jesus, which turns our affections inside-out by compelling us to stop loving ourselves and start loving others: "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)—the Savior who died and rose again so that you could live with His love.
I invite you to welcome His love into your life. Confess that you are not the lover you ought to be and ask Jesus to change your heart. Say something like this: "Jesus, you are everything that I am not. You are pure love, and I am only the loveless sinner that you always knew I would be. But in your perfect love, I pray that you would forgive my hateful sins and teach my loveless heart to love the way that you love."
Content modified from Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Phil Ryken, Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
You can hear Phil Ryken talk more about his book on a recent FamilyLife Today® interview.
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