What a powerful bit of scripture this chapter is and a total reminder of what God's love for us looks like. Paul writes about ‘agape' love in this chapter, not to be confused with other kinds of love that we all know and understand – Eros (sexual or romantic), Phileo (friendship or affection) which both require some kind of reciprocation, or that emotion we express as love when we enjoy something, like a good meal or a beautiful day. Agape love is the love that loves no matter what, regardless of the response of the object. It's a totally unconditional love, coming as a free gift, not because the beloved deserves it but because the lover chooses to give it. Jesus demonstrates what agape love is when he gets down on his knees and washes the disciple's feet and ultimately when he sacrifices himself for humankind, who have done nothing to deserve it and in fact in many cases, reject it.
So, the love that God wants us to be showing to others is this kind of love, the love that exhibits patience, kindness, gentleness towards others, including our enemies (gulp!). Do we as God's people exhibit this kind of love? It is quite clear in this passage that nothing else matters if we don't. I found this quote, while researching this passage by Dr Haddon Robinson “Love is that thing which, if a church has it, it doesn't really need much else, and if it doesn't have it, whatever else it has doesn't really matter very much”.
What is our focus? Is it to build our church, our programmes, our worship team, our leadership so that it is the best in town, is admired by others, attracts more people, etc. On a personal level, do we care more about what we look like in church, how we present ourselves, how much we are doing or achieving? Paul makes it so clear here that it is worth NOTHING without love. What a waste of time and energy! I guess however that to love, the way God asks, is the hard path. It goes against our natural instincts to care for others who haven't done anything to deserve our love, who act in ways we don't approve of or even do things that hurt others or ourselves, but this is God's love for us!
Verse 4-7 reads
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Replace the word ‘Love' with the word ‘God' and it works. Does it still work when I replace the word ‘Love' with my name? How do we achieve the kind of love for others that God shows us? By asking God for that supernatural love to come flooding through every cell of our bodies. I know for sure it can't be done in human strength alone, but I can start by ‘doing' love, being kind, patient, hoping and persevering etc, because ‘agape' love is not dependent on feelings, it is action.