What does it mean “the greatest of these is love”? 

Author: BibleAsk Team


Love 

The apostle Paul preached in his first epistle to the Corinthian Church about divine love or charity. The Corinthian church had been greatly disturbed with discord and division (1 Corinthians 1:11, 12). Some of the members boasted of their higher qualities and gifts (1 Corinthians 3:3–5, 8, 18, 19, 21; 4:6, 7). So, the apostle Paul talked about “charity” in chapter 13 to show that having the different gifts of the Spirit means nothing if the believer lacks charity. And he ended his message with the words: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). 

The word agapē is the higher type of charity, which sees value in the man or object that is loved. This is the kind that is founded on truth, not on mere feelings. It increases because of the good qualities of its object. This is the kind that exists between the Father and the Son (John 15:10; 17:26). It is the self-sacrificing principle of the Godhead for fallen humanity (John 15:9; 1 John 3:1; 4:9, 16).  

This kind of charity characterizes the Christian’s relation to God (1 John 2:5; 4:12; 5:3). Christians show their devotion to God by living according to His will. Godliness is the fruit (John 2:4, 5).

Also, this quality is the unique characteristic shown between believers (John 13:34, 35; 15:12–14). This quality must not be confused with that kind that has self in its center. Rather, it focuses on others and leads to right actions. Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43, 44).  

“But the Greatest of These Is Love” 

Charity is the quality of character that describes the very essence of God. The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love…” (1 John 4:7, 8, 16).   

As a way of life, charity is more fruitful, more triumphant, more fulfilling, than having and exercising the different gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:31. Charity for God and man is the highest illustration of living according to His plan (Matthew 22:37–40). It is shown in the life of the Christian as the evidence of the genuineness of his faith (Isaiah 58:6–8; Matthew 25:34–40).  

To be a Christian is to be like Christ, who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Christians, then, are those who, in the spirit of God, go around doing good to all who need them. They do it with no selfishness, but because the spirit of God fills their hearts.   

Charity is the best because its practical illustration is the test that will decide the final destiny of all people. Those whose faith is one of merely external obedience to the law will find out that this is not true religion. Self-sacrificing charity will always lead to unity among Christians and will persuade the world that the Lord loves His children.  

Love cannot find pleasure in iniquity or in the punishment given to the sinner; rather, it finds joy in the deliverance of man from sin, because such freedom brings him in line with truth and prepares him for heaven (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; John 8:32; 17:17; 1 John 4:8).

Finally, charity is God’s way for His children to witness to the truth (John 17:21, 23). For it reveals no wish to satisfy self but is devoted to unselfish service to the needy. It is an argument that unbelievers cannot refute. They see in it something that defeats their arguments. Consequently, their hearts are moved, and their minds respond to the proof of the power of God in the lives of born-again believers. Thus, charity is shown to be the greatest way of witnessing to others and reflecting God’s character. 

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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