Aspects Of Love
A conference address
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, talked about the gifts, or the talents, that most of us have been given through the Holy Spirit. Then, at the beginning of the next chapter, that deals with Love, he goes into what he feels is most important, even if we do have any of these gifts.
If I might paraphrase his words, he says; "Even if I were to be given the ability to speak in any language on earth, or in Heaven for that matter, unless I show love to others, all I would be doing would be making a useless noise like a clanging cymbal. Or just suppose I was given the gift of being able to know all about the future and could tell everyone all they wanted to know about it. If I didn't show love to others, what good would I be? Then just suppose I was given so great a faith that just by saying the word I could move a mountain. Unless I have love for others I am no use to anybody. Perhaps, if I gave all my money to the poor or even allowed myself to be killed I could boast about how good I'd been. Yes, I could brag about what I'd done, but unless I did it with love for others in my heart, and with no thought of my own benefit, the whole exercise would be a waste of time."
In the previous chapter Paul has been talking about the various talents or gifts, that God has seen fit to give us. The whole point of his argument seems to be that it is less important how well we use whatever the talent is that has been bestowed on us through the Holy Spirit ‑ and we've all been given a talent of some kind ‑ however small it may be ‑ unless we show love to everyone, whether we like them or not, then we're wasting what we've been given.
Remember the parable of the talents? Think for a moment about the one who hid his talent in the ground until he could hand back everything that had been left in his charge, because he was afraid of the repercussions if he lost it all. The man wasn't condemned because he hadn't made a profit for his master. True the master did say that if he'd put the money on deposit somewhere he would at least have gained some interest on it, but that was merely the master pointing out how the money could have been put to use without fear of loss. The man was condemned because he hadn't made any effort to use the talent with which he'd been entrusted. He'd just left it idle, and any gift we have and which we don't use will eventually waste away from disuse until we reach a point when we no longer have the gift. Paul goes on to illustrate the nature of love and makes it quite clear that he's talking about our behaviour towards our fellow humans.
Those who remember school days will know that if you pass a beam of light through a prism, the light is broken up into its component colours. Here, Paul, so to speak, passes the characteristic of love through a prism, to show all its component parts, by telling us in verses 4-8 that, "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear. He says that love is patient. The Greek word is makrothumein and carries the thought of patience with people, rather than with circumstances. It means that we will be slow to show anger in our dealings with others, no matter how difficult, unkind and hurtful they may be. In fact it's the kind of patience that our Heavenly Father shows towards us. It means the personality that can bear with provocation and insults for a long time without hitting back.
Love is kind. It wishes ill on no one but is good-natured, gentle, tender and affectionate. The person who truly loves his fellowman will wish him only good. As Peter says; "All of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it."
Love knows no envy. There are basically two kinds of envy. There's the envy that covets the possessions of others, whether it's money, position or fame. This is very difficult to overcome because we're human and most of us would like to be better off, in some way, than we are. The other kind is much worse, because it's the kind that begrudges others what they have, not so much because people want it for themselves but because they don't want the others to have it.
Love isn't boastful or proud. True love will always mean that we'll be much more concerned about our own unworthiness to be loved, than in thinking about our own merits.
We will not go through Paul's whole list, but we can see what the composition of true love is and how love should make us behave towards our fellows. This description of love is a portrait of our Heavenly Father, a revelation of His character and so is a revelation of the character of Jesus, and ultimately it's a revelation of what OUR character must be in Him.
In his first letter, John tells us that "God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them."(1 John 4:13)
GOD IS LOVE. He doesn't say that God has love, or that God possesses love, or even that sometimes God is loving. He says that GOD IS LOVE. Love is a part of His very nature; so that everything that He does springs from the fact that HE IS LOVE. If we, so to speak, pass God through a prism, in the same way that we passed love, we see that God is patient and kind; He is never jealous or boastful. He is never arrogant or rude and never insists on His own way. He is never irritable or resentful. He never rejoices at wrong, but always rejoices at right. There's no fading of our hope in Him, God outlasts everything because God never fails.
We can also pass our Lord Jesus through the prism with the same result because since He is the only begotten Son of God, He also is LOVE and everything He did for us and everything He does for us, springs from that divine love.
Then at the end of chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, "There are three things that will endure — faith, hope and love — and the greatest of these is love." We are used to various religious leaders telling us that the most important thing for us is to have faith, but what is the object of having faith? It's to enable us to come into a proper relationship with the Heavenly Father. And why should we try to obtain that relationship? It is because we want to become one of His children and be like our Lord Jesus; so that in the same way that Jesus is like God, we will be like Him. But, as we've just seen, GOD IS LOVE. Therefore love is much greater than faith.
The Authorised Version translates the Greek word agape as charity which in later translations is rendered love. Now charity is only a part of love and sometimes it is given without love in any sense of the word. Charity can be given with a grudging reluctance or with a lecture on the subject of thrift, or perhaps, laziness, which makes the giver feel superior and the recipient feel even worse than he already does at the need of charity.
Our Lord had much to say on the subject of charity, in all its forms. For instance, on the subject of giving help, and that is what charity is or should be, he tells us that if someone asks us for our coat, we shouldn't stop at that, but that we should give them our shirt as well. Or if someone asks our help in carrying something for a mile, we should willingly and happily help them for two miles. In other words, if someone asks for a little help we should happily and lovingly do more than they ask.
Our Lord looked on Himself as a doctor who had come to heal men of the disease of sin. Mark tells us that the Pharisees were questioning Him about why He was eating with "sinners" and tax collectors, a group whom the Pharisees looked on as outcasts of society and beyond salvation, people who should be avoided at all costs. He told them, "They don't need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough." (Mark 2:17)
He had come to seek the lost who according to the Pharisees, were condemned to eternal destruction. He came to find those who were heading away from God, to turn them around so that they would go back towards the circle of the Divine Love. He was well aware of the inherent sin that was in everyone, but it wasn't what we are that interested Him as much as what we can be, if we would only accept the offer He was making.
Paul tells us that "When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, it will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control".(Galatians 5:22) These fruits are the manifestation of the love that our Heavenly Father shows towards us, and are the characteristics by which we, through the Holy Spirit's indwelling in us, should be recognised. Fruit is produced to be eaten: not to be displayed and admired. People around us are starving for love, joy, peace and all the other graces of the Spirit and when they find them in our lives they realise that we have something which they would like to have. We don't bear fruit for our own use, but so that others may be fed and helped, and so that our Heavenly Father may be glorified.
The Christian who behaves like this becomes the salt that silently keeps society from corruption. The light, that shines on the earth with a ray of the Glory of Heaven.
Jesus said that; "You cannot get grapes from a thorn bush,"and "If someone wants good fruit they must go to a good tree." So it's not much good telling someone what Jesus said we must do or how He said we should behave, if we don't give an example to others by our own behaviour all the time. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words when you want to describe something to anyone.
In John's gospel, we're told that our Lord said; "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.
"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father." (John 15:1-8)
The Gardener, our Heavenly Father, only allows those branches which bear fruit to remain on the vine, everything else He cuts off. And what is fruit? The term fruit implies something which requires a long developmental process, and which is therefore lasting and permanent. It's something that the branch bears, not for itself, but for the owner, something that's to be gathered. True the branch draws sap from the vine in order to grow stronger and thicker, but this is only so that the branch can fulfil its purpose of bearing the fruit. This is a process of development in each one of us: and the produce of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is lasting and permanent. Fruit is a visible expression of the power of the Holy Spirit working, invisibly, within us: while the nature of the fruit is evidence of that power at work within us. However, the Gardener is not satisfied to leave the vine just bearing fruit. He prunes all the fruit-bearing branches so that they will produce more fruit, and this is a continuous process throughout our lives because, as the Lord says, "My true disciples bear much fruit." This shows us that as we grow in Him our fruit bearing increases until we bear the nine-fold fruit that Paul wrote about to the Galatians. The fruit bearing that brings great glory to the Father.
As all the pruning in the world cannot make the tree produce good fruit unless it has the right growing conditions, so spiritual fruit can only grow in a climate blessed with an abundance of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. The vine needs good light to produce fruit bearing branches. Dark places produce unfruitful branches: strange weaknesses, distortions, immaturity, indirection, failures in practical life and conduct. If we are to bear all kinds of precious fruit, each in its rightful season, we must trustfully and joyfully lay open our whole being to the full expanse of God's light shining in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to tell us that we should "walk in the Spirit," and it's our privilege to walk in the full light, to have our whole being instructed and illuminated so we should keep in step with the Holy Spirit. We should try not to run ahead, neither should we lag behind, because our Heavenly Father knows what we need for our spiritual development, and He knows how quickly or slowly we can absorb what He supplies for that development.
Now a non-believer judges the quality of our Lord's fruit by the behaviour of those who claim to be Christians, not just their words. So, if we fail to show those fruits of the Spirit, which have been developed in us through the Holy Spirit's working, by not giving understanding, kindness, sympathy, or even just a friendly word, however we may feel ourselves or whatever we may think of the person we're talking to, we are letting down our Lord. And because the Spirit brings forth only good fruit, and this fruit carries the seed for even more fruit, God, who is the gardener, will cut out all those branches which don't give good fruit. Because, as we're told in the first chapter in the Bible; "The seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came" and the gardener only wants good, wholesome fruit.
As we saw earlier, it's the persons who fail to use their talent who are condemned. It's the fig tree which, in spite of every care and attention by the gardener, stubbornly refuses to bear any crop that is in danger of complete destruction. It is the tree that doesn't bring forth good fruit which is to be cut down and cast into the fire.
Jesus said that we should never fail to respond to other people's needs in life. As He told us, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, it's those who do not give kindness, understanding or help when it is needed, that will be condemned. To see someone in need, and remain unmoved by their troubles, to pass by on the other side, because it is more comfortable and more convenient for us than having to put ourselves out or get involved in someone else's problem; if we are so wrapped up in our own lives, so unaware of others that we don't even see their need, we are just as wrong as if we had been urgently called on for help by someone who was desperately in need and we had coldly refused to give that help, even though we were quite able to do what they asked.
So to ensure that we are sent to the right hand with the sheep, and not to the left hand with the goats, our constant prayer must be "Teach me my Lord to be sweet and gentle in all the events of life. In disappointments, in the thoughtlessness of others, in the insincerity of those I trusted, in the unfaithfulness of those on whom I relied. let me put myself aside, to think of the happiness of others, to hide my little pains and heartaches, so that I may be the only one to suffer from them. May no one be less good for having come within my influence, no one less pure, less true, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow traveller in our journey towards eternal life."
So, if our Lord returned today ‑ and He said that no one would know the hour or the day ‑ would we be able to look Him in the eye and say I've done my very best to follow your teaching. Or if He should come today and find our hands so full of future plans, however fair, in which our Saviour had no share, what would He say? If He should come today and find our love so cold, our faith so weak and dim we had not even looked for Him, WHAT WOULD HE SAY? If He should come today ‑ and find we had not told one soul about our heavenly friend whose blessing all our ways attend, WHAT WOULD HE SAY?
Jerome, the Church historian, relates that when the Apostle John became old he used to go among the churches and assemblies everywhere repeating the words, "Little children, love one another." His disciples, wearied by the constant repetition, asked him why he always said this. His answer was, "Because it is the Lord's commandment; and if it only be fulfilled, it is enough." So, "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God — for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. All who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world."