“1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” —1 Corinthians 13
We either have love or nothing.
Think about what He is saying in this passage. There are many exciting things that can be done–even things that most of us would call good or even great for all creation to experience. However, God, through Paul, says that without love, all of those things are nothing! How can this be? How can we see big things happen, exciting things happen, or even miracles, but do them out of duty, conceit, or even just “self,” and it be nothing? Surely there has to be something good about it.
Currently in my life, God has allowed me to take a bird’s eye view of my life and allow me to examine my life with the Word as my litmus test. Whether the things I have done were simply out of duty, of the “do do do” mentality, or test and see if love was my motivator. Some people, now that I look back on it, were treated more out of duty, instead of loving them completely.
God completely reminds us in His word how important this one thing is. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Later in the book of 1 John we see that love is what we examine our lives by. We are to look in the mirror of the Word and compare our motivations by this test.
“7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” –1 John 4:7-21
Wow! You can’t really make it simpler than this. GOD = LOVE. They are the same! Then he reminds us—if you don’t have love, you don’t have God.
This is huge! Unless we have experienced true love (God), then we will never be able to really love the people in this world and display the power of the gospel. The world will know who God is when His people display Him—love.
I think sometimes, even for those of us that have been in church a long time, we still view God sometimes as a “concept” or an “it,” not necessarily a person to be experienced or have a relationship with. I don’t believe we can fully embrace God until we grasp this. Now we say that all the time, especially in church settings—that God is not a concept, but that He is a person, and that His heart is for a relationship and not religion—however, by our language, the way we address Him, the way we act toward Him and others, our role in church, and our role in society, does not scream that we understand Him more than a concept.
The message we try to promote and convey is that of a “concept mentality.”
Most of the time we view God as the big guy upstairs looking down on us. All the while, hoping we don’t mess up, because He can’t wait to punish us when we make the wrong move.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” —1 John 4:18
If we don’t have a correct view of love and God’s love for us, that has some depth, some root, some establishment to it—then when we talk about God’s love, we can’t frame it up in our minds or our hearts. It won’t feel as spectacular as it actually is. We will feel like we don’t measure up, or we think we need to perform a certain way for God to love us.
But God, wanting us to know how personal and how intimate this relationship is, sends his son, who is God in Flesh, so that we may see this love in action. That we can see love in human form. That this is what love really looks like. Not just what it does but what it is. That is the one of the greatest reasons He sends His son—so that we may know what the father is like.
What about all that stuff in the Old Testament? What about the destruction we see? How can He really be loving? When we actually look at the whole Old Testament through the lenses of real love we see a different story.
Failure after failure, betrayal after betrayal, Israel always finds God still mercifully searching for her everywhere.
Even in Hosea—one of the most judgment-heavy books of the Bible—God raises His hand to rain destruction from the heavens and stops Himself at the thought of His beloved children:
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
We should never have our view of God distorted because we don’t understand. Sometimes we think that God is wrath and Jesus came calmed God down for us. No, He has always loved you…before the foundations of the world, He knew you and loved you.
God has done nothing but endlessly pursue you. He wants you!
The God we see in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is One who loves despite: despite our sin, our waywardness, our piety, our efforts, our failures, despite everything.
From the complaining under Moses to the rejection of God as King, from idolatry under the monarchs to the compromise under the Romans, God across thousands of years has pursued a stubborn people.
When all else fails, He appears in the flesh to knock on their doors, to sleep in their gardens, to eat at their tables, to call them back to Him. God will not let them go.
Neither should we.