Love is an incredibly powerful force. It causes a mother to sacrifice her sleep, time, and personal ambitions for the sake of her children. A job takes on a grander purpose when a man is working to provide for the family he loves. People have even willingly gone to their deaths in order to rescue someone they love. And that’s exactly what Jesus—out of love—did for humanity.
Although we delight in Christ’s love for us, did you know that as His followers we’re told to have this same kind of sacrificial love for others? Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Loving like this sometimes seems impossible in our own human effort. However, whenever God gives us a command, He also provides the resources we need to obey Him.
To understand how important this command is, we need look no further than Paul’s famous “love chapter.” In the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, he speaks about the pre-eminence of love. It transcends all the spiritual gifts—the ability to communicate, biblical knowledge and understanding, great faith, sacrificial generosity, and even martyrdom. Without love, all these great things are worthless in God’s eyes.
Although we delight in Christ’s love for us, did you know that as His followers we’re told to have this same kind of sacrificial love for others?
The kind of love Paul is speaking about is agape. In the Greek language there are three different words that are translated “love” in English. Eros refers to the sexual attraction between a man and a woman, phileo is used for friendly affection, and agape is unselfish, sacrificial love. It’s being committed to another person’s well-being, security, and best interest, and is not dependent upon that person’s lovability or favorable responses.
The only way to love as Christ commands us is to have God’s love flow through us to others. Fortunately, believers have the Holy Spirit who dwells within them and gives them an extra capacity to love. However, having the capacity doesn’t mean that it automatically flows from us. If we aren’t increasing in spiritual maturity, submission to the Spirit, and obedience to God’s Word, the Spirit’s fruit of love will not grow in us. We’ll simply revert to what usually comes naturally—self-interest.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul uses character traits and actions to describe love. He’s not saying we must feel love for everyone but that we are to live in such a way that God’s love fills us and overflows to others. What does this love look like?
First of all, love is considerate. It’s patient and kind (1 Cor. 13:4). We are imperfect persons who live among imperfect people, and sometimes the result is frustration, irritation, impatience, and anger. But when we display agape love, we’re willing to bear with the annoying traits and behaviors of others and treat them kindly even if they mistreat us.
Second, Christlike love is unselfish. In verses 4-5, Paul lists attitudes and actions that flow from selfishness and are not compatible with genuine love—jealousy, arrogance, unbecoming or crude behavior, seeking one’s own rights, being easily provoked to anger, holding grudges, and being unforgiving. All these are rooted in selfish interest and a sense of self-importance. The offenses, injuries, and injustices of others become cause for outbursts of anger, acts of retaliation, and sinful words and actions. Such behavior demonstrates that the person is controlled by selfish passions and desires, not by the Holy Spirit.
Third, genuine love is discerning. It "does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Our world has redefined love as showing acceptance and support for others’ choice of behavior, but that is not at all how God’s Word describes love. Paul prayed for the Philippians that their “love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). To affirm someone’s sinful lifestyle and choices is not doing what is best for them, and is therefore not an act of love. Truth and love are not in opposition but in perfect unity.
Fourth, godly love endures. In a day when people are quick to give up on relationships if they become difficult, biblical love stands firm. It bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Suffering, hardships, and trouble can’t overpower love when it’s flowing from God. It bears up under injustice and refuses to delight in or gossip about the sins of others (1 Pet. 4:8). No matter how bad circumstances may look, agape love is grounded by faith and rooted in hope.
Can you see how difficult it is to love like this in your own strength? What Paul is really describing is a person whose life is totally surrendered to Christ. For people like this, their hope is not in getting what they want but in being who God wants them to be.Sometimes we get the process turned around. We try so hard to love others but keep failing because love is a fruit of the Spirit. As we surrender to Him in obedience, He produces the love, and like branches bearing fruit, we simply put it on display as His life flows through us.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all mothers a happy Mother’s Day. Through you, God has demonstrated what selfless love looks like. A mother’s love is one of God’s greatest gifts, and we are so grateful for each and every one of you.