The Priority of Love
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
- 1 Corinthians 13:1–3
In his three epistles, the apostle John is especially concerned with emphasizing the Christian virtue of love. This is particularly true of 1 John where the apostle tells us again and again to love the brethren. We must love because God is love, and all those who are born of Him will love His children (1 John 4:7–8).
Even though as Christians we are well aware of the need to love, sometimes it can be difficult to understand what exactly loving one another in a biblical manner may involve.
First Corinthians 13, one of the most convicting passages in the Bible, is a favorite text for many people. Yet we often fail to realize that if we were truly to measure our love by this passage, we would see ourselves falling far short of the ideal contained therein. This is because the love described in this chapter is based on God’s own love, which is perfect in every way. God’s love is perfectly patient, kind, and truthful, and it manifests every other quality described by Paul without defect. Our love, on the other hand, always falls short.
One reason our love falls short of this ideal is that we seldom make love the priority in our lives. We know love is important, but we do not often behave as if love for others is to be the foremost characteristic of the Christian. The Corinthian church had this problem, seeking the power of God but pridefully using it in a destructive manner when exercising their gifts (see chapters 12 and 14).
In today’s passage, Paul reminds the church that if we exercise the gifts and understand a great many things without love, we have gained nothing. If we use the gifts God has given to us but do not love other people, we have forgotten the Giver of these gifts who is Himself love (1 John 4:8), and thus have replaced Him with an idol.
Though we believe speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy ceased with the end of the apostolic age, the many spiritual gifts and offices God still gives His people today can still be used in an unloving manner. One of these is teaching (Eph. 4:11). If we present our doctrine in an unloving manner, we have not made love the priority. As you discuss things like the doctrines of grace with other Christians, be careful to do so lovingly and respectfully.
Passages for Further Study
- Jer. 9:23–24
- Hos. 4:1–3
- Mark 12:28–34
- 1 Cor. 13:13
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