People like to quote this passage which describes and extolls the virtues of love. However, not many understand what the purpose of this passage is.
This passage compares the true love with false versions of love. There is only one true love. St. Paul calls it "The Love" that is above all other loves.
The purpose of this passage of Scripture is not to see how others are unloving. That would fail to cover up the wrongs of others, which Paul states is one of the things that The Love does. Likewise, the purpose of the passage is not to form gossip networks in order to tell others how unloving so-and-so is. That is to "reckon evil," which The Love does not do.
The purpose of this passage is not to see if you feel that you are loving. The Love is not concerned with boasting, and The Love rejoices in the truth, not in subjective feelings that may have nothing to do with the truth.
The purpose of this passage is not to pat yourself on the back for good works that you have done. If you gave away all and gave up your body to be burned, those would seem to be truly great works. But even these do not count for anything if not done in The Love. So there is no use looking at your works in themselves to see if you are loving.
You see, there is a problem in how we view love. Our sinful minds too easily confuse the real love with merely external works that appear loving. Or, we get confused by the feeling we get towards others that we think is love. It is good to have such loving feelings. But they are not, in themselves, The Love.
An example: We Christians too easily find ourselves feeling bad if we are not recognized as loving people by others. We feel good if people pat us on the back for how loving our outward actions have been. We treasure our loving deeds and feelings as if they prove that we are loving people.
But The Love does not act that way. It does its works of love secretly, and hides them from others. It does not do acts of charity to be seen by men at all. So The Love is often slandered by others, because they do not see or recognize the works that it does. But that does not bother The Love. It was not doing the works to be recognized in the first place.
So The Love is often mistaken for lack of love. This is especially so because The Love concerns itself with the works that God shows us to do, rather than the demands of men or self-made rules.
This kind of love rubs us the wrong way. There is a desire in us to feel that we are loving people. We do not like to be called wicked or unloving. We want to boast of our works and be recognized. We want others to notice the deeds of charity that we think are so spectacular. But that is not The Love.
Surely we should strive to act in loving ways. Surely we should strive to meet the characteristics of love that Paul mentions. But we are not truly able to meet those requirements. We always spoil our love with pride or resentment or any of a hundreds ways that stain our actions.
Even if we could somehow do all the things that Paul says, that still would not make us loving. In the end, whether you have The Love is not determined by whether you have been good enough. If we could somehow forget that we are sinners and think that we could be loving, then we would be lying to ourselves, and calling God a liar. But we should hold to the truth that says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That includes the love that we have failed to perform purely.
But The Love is found in one place, and one place only. There was a Man who was long-suffering and kind. He never envied. He did not parade His own love for others to see. He did not behave rudely, although He was sometimes accused of that. He did not seek His own way, but the way of His Father. He was not provoked to senseless rage. He did not think evil of others unless the evil was plain. Even then, He labored mightily to have every man called "good," while He allowed Himself to be called evil, and the worst sinner of all. For He did not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoiced in the truth. For He is the Truth, who bore upon Himself all sins and insults and slander. So He endured all things to the end, even to death, as He put His hope in His Father who would raise Him from death.
Christ is The Love that never fails. He is The perfect Love that never passes away.
If we are to have The Love, we must have Christ. If He is in us, and we in Him, then we have The Love.
You may fail at loving others, and you do. But in Christ, you still have The Love. For Christ shed His Blood in love for you to erase your lack of love. He died so that your sinful flesh, which shall never learn to truly love, will be put to death, day by day, and finally for all time at the End.
Although you are beginning to learn to love in this life, it is not because you are reforming and getting better. It is because the old you is being put to death, and a new Man is being brought to life in you by the Gospel.
When you are loving others as a Christian, it is counted as true love because of Christ and His Spirit working in you. Your works are still imperfect and spoiled. Yet in Christ, they are absolutely spotless and pure. For the works of love are true and holy, since they are done by The Love, who is Christ. He uses you to do His works, and those works are love.
What a privilege you have, that you have been chosen out of all this sinful, hate-filled world to carry the image of Christ. What an honor, that He chooses you as an instrument to care for your neighbor. What joy, that this is only the beginning, and you shall become nothing but love in the life to come. For there, you will have no need of faith, since you will see God face to face. You will have no need of hope, for all hopes will be realized and fulfilled. But love will shine out forever and ever, as you live in the perfection that has been bought for you by Christ and His Blood.
In His Name alone, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the one God who is love. Amen.
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