The Greatest Is Love

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comWhat’s the most important thing you can do as a Christian? What is it that sets followers of Jesus apart from the rest of the world? Is it baptism? professing Christ as their savior? doing “the work of God”? keeping the Sabbath? While these are all important, they are not what Christ described as the greatest commandments.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

In Mark’s account, Christ says, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). Both these commandments begin with the instruction, “You shall love.” In Greek, the word is agapao (G25), and it “indicates a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something” (all dictionary quotes from Zodhiates). I also find it interesting that, even though the lawyer only asked about the most important commandment, Jesus told him about the second as well. It was important to Christ that His hearers knew they had to love each other as well as God.

How Important is Love?

We’ve already seen Jesus describe “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor” as the two most important commandments. On His last Passover, He added another layer.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We are to love other people the way we love ourselves, and we are also to love our brethren the way Jesus loves us. Love among the believers is how Christ said “all men” would recognize His true church. It’s the key to how we should treat one another, as we talked about last week. We need to actively care for one another, to sacrificially love others as Christ did when He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:12-14). This sort of love isn’t just a feeling — it involves a choice to find our joy in our fellow believers and in our relationship with God. It is absolutely necessary for our personal growth and for peace in the church.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1)

Paul had just been talking about spiritual gifts and unity in the church body. Now, he says that those gifts are useless without love.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)

All these things that we find so impressive — inspired speaking, understanding the mysteries of God, knowing everything about the Bible, mountain-moving faith — they are all nothing without love. I know of a man who is convinced he’s close to having full knowledge of God, and he’s so caught up in this that he’s almost impossible to talk with. He’d probably scoff at the idea that love is more important than his pet Bible theories. Yet it was the person who knew that to love God “with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” to whom Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:32-34).

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)

Now Paul tells us that we can go through all the motions that look like sacrificial love, and still not have genuine love. Unless our actions are motivated by true agape, they don’t do us any good. Our good actions will benefit others, but if our hearts are not right we will not reap the benefits of practicing the kind of love that Jesus Christ models.

What is Love?

The Greek word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape (G26), a derivative of agapao. Zodhiates says this “word [is] not found in class Gr. but only in revealed religion.” He goes on to say that agape means benevolent love, which is “not shown by doing what the person loved desires but what the one who loves deems as needed by the one loved.” Think of God sending Jesus as the sacrifice for sins to a people who thought they didn’t want Him, or of Casting Crowns’ song Love You With The Truth. But this definition still isn’t a full picture of agape. For that, we need to read on in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love suffers long (1 Cor. 13:4)

“Suffers long” is from the Greek word makrothumeo (G3134). It means to be long-suffering and have endurance rather than giving up and losing faith or becoming angry. Specifically, “makrothumeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward persons” (there’s another word for patience with things and circumstances). It is used to describe God’s attitude toward us (2 Pet. 3:9), and is an attitude we should have toward every person (1 Thes. 5:14).

 and is kind (1 Cor. 13:4)

This verse is the only time the word chresteuomai (G5541) apears in scripture. It is, however, related to the word chrestos (G5543), which means “profitable, fit, good for any use.” Kindness is a willingness to be useful, a readiness to assist others. God is kind toward all (Luke 6:35; Eph. 2:7), and as with other attributes of God it is something we must also learn (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12).

love does not envy (1 Cor. 13:4)

The words translated “envy” is closely related to zeal, and can actually be used in a good or bad sense. Paul uses it both ways in Galatians 4:17-18, where zeloo (G2206) is translated  “zealous.” In 1 Corinthians 13, it means having a wrong kind of zeal that manifests itself in jealousy and envy (Acts 17:5-9).

love does not parade itself, is not puffed up (1 Cor. 13:4)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThese two attributes of love are similar. One involves not bragging about the things you have. The other involves avoiding pride and self-conceit. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that pride is an abomination to God. Humility is what He looks for in people who have His love inside them (1 Pet. 5:5-7).

does not behave rudely (1 Cor. 13:5)

To “behave rudely” is the Greek word aschemoneo (G807). It means to “behave in an ugly, indecent, unseemly, or unbecoming manner” that brings disgrace and reproach. Zodhiates says its use in 1 Corinthians 13 “succinctly means that love in its speech and action seeks to contain no evil, but seeks to change the evildoer.”

does not seek its own (1 Cor. 13:5)

Love isn’t concerned with accumulating wealth or glory for the self. Rather, those who love “esteem others better than himself” and look out “not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

is not provoked (1 Cor. 13:5)

The basic meaning of the word parozuno (G3947) is to sharpen, but in the New Testament it is used “metaphorically, to sharpen the mind, tempter or courage of someone, to incite, to impel … to provoke or rouse to anger.” This reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:9).

thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:5)

Here again, looking at the Greek adds layers of meaning. The word “think” is logizomai (G3049), and it means “to put together with one’s mind, to count, to occupy oneself with reckonings or calculations.” This is telling us that love does not devote mental energy to wicked, evil, or corrupt schemes. Our minds must be occupied with good (Phil. 4:8).

does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)

Iniquity, translated from adikia (G93), is “not conformable with justice” and exists in opposition to truth. Truth, aletheia (G225), is “unveiled reality,” often referring to divine truth in the New Testament. It exposes iniquity, which is what Christ is alluding to in John 15:22 when He says His words have left people with “no excuse for their sin.”

I also find it interesting that the word for rejoicing in iniquity is a general word for being glad (chario, G5463), but the word for rejoicing in the truth is sugchario G4796), which involves rejoicing together with others. The rejoicing that love does it not isolated — it is shared joy.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7)

“Bears” means “to cover over in silence.” Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 13, stego (G4722) means that “love hides the faults of others and covers them up.” The word “Believe” is from pisteuo (G4100), and it means to have faith or trust in something. In particular, “to be firmly persuaded as to something,” especially of belief in God. The Greek word elpizo (G1679) means to hope or “expect with desire.” It can also refer to putting hope or trust in God.

When we talked about the phrase “love suffers long,” I said that word referred to people and another word was for patience with circumstances. Hupomeno (G5278), translated “endures,” is that word. It means “to persevere, endure, sustain, bear-up under, suffer as a load of miseries, adversaries, persecutions, or provocations with faith.”

Things That Last

It is worth keeping in mind that, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), this definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is also a description of God. As we grow to have these characteristics of love, we are also becoming more like Him.

as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:3-4)

God has given us all the tools we need to partake in His “divine nature.” His process of building a family involves making us like Him and like His Son by changing our minds and actions now, and our bodies in the future.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere are many things that we can’t take into the next life, including our physical possessions and physical bodies. There are also attitudes and beliefs that God won’t allow in because they are incompatible with His nature. But there are other things — things we can “lay up” as “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20) — which we can take with us. That is why those who have hope of becoming like Jesus purify themselves “as He is pure,” because only the parts of ourselves that look like Him will endure.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. … And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13)

Even some of the good things we have now — like knowledge, certain gifts, and prophecy — eventually won’t be relevant in their current form because they will be superseded “when that which is perfect has come.” Our understanding of these things now is limited and child-like, and will be replaced by something deeper (1 Cor. 13:11-12).

This is not the case with love. Love transfers to the next world. It is not put away and it never fails. That is because God is sharing His very nature with us, right now. It is a gift so great that it doesn’t need to be replaced with something better. Indeed, it cannot be.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. … If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. …

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:7, 12, 16-17)

God has shared His love with us, and intends to perfect that aspect of Himself in us right now. He wants us to be “as He is” even while we are in the world. We started out talking about how important it is that we love all our brethren, and we see it again here in 1 John. Loving one another proves that we are born of God, and it is a prerequisite for God dwelling in us. In fact, John tells us that if we don’t learn to love our brethren, we cannot claim to love God (1 John 4:20-21). It is vital to understand this, dear readers, because if we don’t have God’s love in us we are missing the greatest attribute designed to carry over into God’s kingdom. If we don’t have love, will there even be any point in God having us there?

Dreaming With God

Earlier this year, when I was at a youth retreat over President’s Day weekend, something was said in a seminar that has been floating around the back of my mind ever since. He was talking about goals, and said that we should write out goals so big that if we attain them we’ll know we couldn’t have done it on our own. In other words, we should make our dreams so big that when they come true, we’ll know God must have been involved.

Dreaming With God

I was reminded of this when listening to Casting Crown’s new album “Thrive” yesterday. One of my new favorite songs, “Dream For You,” includes these lines.

So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you

Isn’t this a beautiful idea? to think that God has dreams, and hopes, and plans for you that are bigger and better than anything you can imagine, and that He wants to dream with you?

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

This is especially encouraging for me right now, two years out of college and still struggling to decide what my next move should be. For as long as I can remember, my dreams have involved doing something creative to earn money while staying at home to raise a family. It might not seem like a very big dream, but it’s important to me and, while I can get excited about an idea that would move in a different direction (such as returning to grad school and focusing on my  research about Christianity and gender roles in 18th century literature), I can’t seem to feel at peace with that decision for more than, oh, 36 hours. That’s why I’ll be launching an Etsy store shortly to supplement income from my copywriting and, hopefully, fiction writing. Stay tuned for more news about that in the next couple weeks! As far as I can tell, the marriage and family part of my dream is still quite some way from being realized, but I can work on this working-from-home part of my dream now and trust God for the rest — or trust that He’ll come up with an even more amazing dream for me.

In Sure And Certain Hope

A good friend of mine, named Kimberly, was in a fatal car accident Thursday morning. I know only a few details. She wasn’t feeling well, but drove to work any way — she wouldn’t have wanted to let her employer down by calling in sick unless she was too ill to stand. There was ice on the road, and she swerved. Someone in an oncoming car hit her (he was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover). She was killed instantly.

I had one of my regular posts all planned out, but I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t just pretend everything is normal. It’s not. This kind of accident could happen to anyone, but it didn’t. It happened to Kimberly.

Kimberly was a peacemaker who loved to help people, and she seemed to attract those who needed her. She often wondered why friends, acquaintances, and people she had never even met would seek her out to share their problems. I think I know at least part of the reason why. They knew she would listen to them. If you needed to talk, you could trust that Kimberly was listening. And once you were one of Kimberly’s friends, she wasn’t just content to listen and not do anything. She could recognize when people started rehashing grievances in an unhealthy way, and she would challenge you to change. If your life was falling apart, Kimberly would help you re-build it.

A picture of us as children. My sister, I, and Kimberly are in back. Kimberly's sister and my brother are in front.
A picture of us as children. My sister, I, and Kimberly are in back. Kimberly’s sister and my brother are in front.

I can’t really remember a time before I knew Kimberly. I know such a time existed because I vaguely remember her family moving to Ohio, but I don’t have distinct memories of a time before she was my friend. As I grew up, I lost touch with most of my childhood friends for various reasons, but not with Kimberly. If you had asked me just a few days ago who I would have as my bridesmaids in a hypothetical future wedding, Kimberly is one of only four girls who would have instantly come to mind.

In the past few years, mainly because of distance and college and work schedules, we did not see each other as much as I wish we had. I have a very fond memory of going to see Tangled with her and my sister, then eating lunch at Applebees. Why didn’t we do the same for Frozen? I’m sure we could have managed to find a day that would have worked, but everyone is so busy and we have all the time in the world, right?

She was 22 years old, and very close to graduating from college. Her degree would have been in computer science engineering. When she and my sister started talking about engineering, math, or science, I couldn’t follow even half the conversation. I’d just sit there wondering how two people could be so enthusiastic about discussing equations that would send most people into a panic if they were asked to solve it. She also wrote poetry, which I could never convince her to let me read.

There’s a phrase that keeps running through my mind: “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection into eternal life.” It’s from the funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer. I think I’ve probably heard it more in films than in real life, but for some reason that’s what keeps popping into my head.

earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

On Thursday night there were three passages of scripture I turned to: “…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…” (2 Cor. 1:3-7); “…even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus…” (1 Thes. 4:13-18); “…now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…”(1 Cor. 15:12-56). Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19, KJV). I would hate to try going through something like this without the hope and peace that God is ready to pour out in us — this is miserable enough as it is. For Kimberly, the next thing she knows will be a glorious resurrected life with God. For us still here, we hurt. And we miss her.

Please pray for Kimberly’s family — her father, mother, and younger sister, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

Creation Will Be At Peace

As you’ll know if you’ve been keeping track of my last few posts, my family and I are currently celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). One of the things I always look forward to at the Feast is singing in the choir. Since 2004 or 2005, I’ve only skipped singing one year. I’ve developed quite a collection of favorite songs, including the one we sang yesterday called “Let Us Join Our Hearts Together,” “King All Glorious” (which I someday hope to sing the solo part for), and “Creation Will Be At Peace.”

“Creation Will Be at Peace” sums up the hope that is an integral part of the Feast of Tabernacles. After the tribulation and after Satan is bound for 1,000 years (which we just pictured while celebrating The Day of Atonement), creation will finally be at peace, as will humanity for the first time since the Garden of Eden. It is such an encouragement to attend the Feast every year and be reminded of the wonderful future God has in mind for the entire world."Creation Will Be At Peace"

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6-9)

Jeremiah 29:11-13

These verses from Jeremiah are some of my favorite encouraging passages in the Bible.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart. (Jer 29:11-13)

I don’t usually quote the NIV, but I do like the way it phrases verse eleven: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Even when we’re not sure what our own plans are for the future, we are assured that God has good things in store for us. He wants to see us succeed.

Since I graduated from college last year, my life hasn’t been going exactly like I planed. I’d intended to apply to several different grad schools and be back in school this fall, but for some reason I decided not to. Or rather, I didn’t decide exactly what to do and so nothing really got done.

I couldn’t (and still can’t) decide if I want to commit the next six years or so to an English Lit PhD program, try to get  a 3-4 year MFA in Creative Writing, or finally pursue my interest in type psychology. I’m not going to commit to or spend money on a program until I know which one I want. If I want any of them …

The other reason I find these verses in Jeremiah so encouraging are because of the promise that God will be there when we call on Him. He doesn’t hide from people who long for a relationship with Him.

For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know Me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto Me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:6-7)

When we give our hearts to God, He promises that He will help us even — especially — when we don’t know what to do on our own. All-knowing, all-powerful, He is the ultimate source of strength and encouragement. And we can rest assured that He will make “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Jeremiah 29:11