Love. Just reading the word may spark any range of emotion within you. The love you feel for your significant other that makes your heart race inside your chest. Or the love you feel for a child that gives you the courage and strength to face anything for their sake. Or maybe the warm sensation that fills your soul with joy when you feel loved by another. While all these feelings are good to experience and are very real, love is so much more than an emotion. Emotions, as you probably already know, are fickle. I strive to live out “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) but admittedly, if I’m driving down the highway and I’m cut off, the feeling that is evoked within me is far from loving toward that person. So, what is love exactly? And why is it the “greatest of these”? And just what is it the “greatest” of?
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians and in this particular section of his letter (1 Corinthians 13), he’s closing out the litany of his description of what love truly is with this, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT). Faith and hope are vital to our well-being. Faith in our loving Father helps us hold on through challenging times. Faith keeps us from becoming lost. And when our faith is in an unshakable God, it keeps us rooted. Hope feeds our souls. Hope gives us purpose and helps us to thrive. Hope in Jesus gives us courage to hold on when everything feels as though it’s unraveling. Faith and hope are essential and important, but love…love is even greater than these!
Paul preludes this well-renowned ending of his letter to explain what love truly is and why it is the “greatest of these” with these words, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 (NLT). As I read through this verse, it becomes clear to me that this perfect love that Paul describes is not feeling driven. The mention of the negative emotions and behaviors, jealousy, pride, rudeness, irritability, injustice, are to be conquered by love. Intentionally. It’s a choice. A decision. Easy? No! Worth the effort? Absolutely!
Another “greatest of these” that love fit’s in, is found in Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus explains to us just how important love is: “ Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””
Reminding myself continuously that this type of love is not an emotion or feeling based but rather is an action activated from a decision, helps me to chose to love my neighbor as myself. Love guides us into maintaining faith and holding on to hope, and when we do that, love helps us to see others as precious treasures to be loved. By choice. Not by feelings. Without love, we fan the flame of hatred. Without love, we fuel the fire of intolerance. Without love, we are nothing and gain nothing. Without love, we will struggle to endure through every circumstance.
Love. It can move mountains. It can heal brokenness. It can restore the lost. It is a treasure to be bestowed upon others. Love teaches us to bear with one another. Love enables us to see one another beyond our differences. Love strengthens our resolve to never give up, to hold on to faith and to remain hopeful. Love never fails. Love is the “greatest of these”! And if we strive to walk in love, we will certainly find moments to treasure along the way!
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