• Jamie McClanahan

The Supremacy of Love (Part 1)

I Corinthians 13:1-3

The human circulatory system is essential to the health of the body. It is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as follows:

A system that transports nutrients, respiratory gases, and metabolic products throughout a living organism, permitting integration among the various tissues. The process of circulation includes the intake of metabolic materials, the conveyance of these materials throughout the organism, and the return of harmful by-products to the environment.[1]

The description given of this system and a brief glimpse of the image provided emphasizes its direct impact on the sustaining of our body to function and thrive in harmony. A failure of this system to operate can result in sickness and even death.

As the circulatory system is essential to the health of the body, so Christ-like love is to the harmony of the body of Christ. Love, above all else, is key to spiritual vitality in the community of faith. The source of this love is our triune God toward his covenant people. Pastor Warren Wiersbe explains, “God the Father taught us to love by sending His Son (1 John 4:19), and God the Son taught us to love by giving His life and by commanding us to love each other (John 13:34–35). The Holy Spirit teaches us to love one another by pouring out God’s love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5).”[2].

In I Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 the Apostle Paul explains the importance of understanding the relationship of Spiritual gifts to maintain health and harmony in the body of Christ. These gifts are given, according to the Sovereign wisdom of God’s will to be a blessing to the church. Each gift is to be exercised for the benefit of another. Some of these gifts, as revealed in chapter 12 and 14, are as follows: prophecy, tongues, healing, and various forms of leadership gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelist, shepherds, teachers). The point of listing these differing gifts is to show that God is the one who wills them and that not all possess all gifts. Furthermore, Paul explains that there is a more excellent way of living out these gifts. At the end of chapter 12, he writes, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” What way is he referring to that is more excellent? What guides all gifts? The answer is LOVE. Love is the best and most proper use of the gifts mentioned in Chapter 12 and 14. It is the parenthesis and underlying emphasis of all spiritual gifts. [3]Even if a person does not understand gifting or how to apply the gift they have received. Love is the trump card. While spiritual gifts are important to the functioning of the body (12:12–31), they lose their value if love is not behind them. Love is more important than all the spiritual gifts exercised in the church body; love is the “most excellent way” (12:31 NIV) for believers to use their gifts.” [4]

Historically and culturally, I Corinthians 13 has been harnessed by ministers and artists as a general “hymn of love”. It is also often called the “Love Chapter” of the New Testament. Unfortunately, many often removed from its scriptural context of gifts of the Spirit for the church in Chapters 12 and 14. The Corinthians were a troubled church that would only later learn to be triumphant. They were divided on issues of theology, practice, sexuality, and leadership. These behaviors caused division and a lackluster love toward one another. In his book, Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken, writes “The Love Chapter is not for lovers, primarily, but for all the loveless people in the church who think there way of talking about God, or worshiping God, or serving God, or giving to God is better than everyone else’s.”[5] Chapter 13 is also eroded of its power when it is infused with secular ideas of love and worldly notions of romanticism. The theme of love is on every verse in this short chapter, appearing 10 times. However, defining biblical love in the contexts of salvation and our growth in Christ is important. The word used in the texts is the Greek word “Agape.” There were different words for love used in the Greek language. Each word shed light on a certain aspect or quality of love. For example, Phileo love is the word for a brotherly love or friendship love. Agape is a deep form of love that emphasizes self-sacrifice. It has been defined as “a selfless concern for the well-being of others. At the end of I Cor. 13, Agape love is considered the greatest of all Christian virtues. [6] It was this kind of love that God demonstrated when sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for humanity. It was this kind of love that is observed when Jesus obeyed the Father and gave his life on the cross. We are to inhabit the same kind of love for God and one another in the local church. In this way, as Charles Hodge writes, “love is superior to all extraordinary gifts.”[7]

In the first three verses of I Cor. 13 Paul distinguishes the supremacy of love above spoken words, faith, and self-sacrifice. Paul writes:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The discussion in these verse surrounds several expressions of Christian living that are devoid of meaning and effect if Christ-like love is removed. Additionally, in the next few posts we will observe four inadequate substitutes for love in the local church.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/science/circulatory-system [2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 610–611. [3] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 1 Co 13:1–13. [4] Bruce B. Barton and Grant R. Osborne, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 185. [5] Phil Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loves, pg. 18. [6] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 226–227. [7] Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 264.

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