“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” (Luke 17:10)
If a janitor could win an award for scrubbing the floor extra hard, then writers should receive a medal for scribbling two more words than they did yesterday and hairdressers should receive a plaque for cutting an extra pound of hair. At that rate, we should be awarded for getting up in the morning. A boss will rarely applaud his workers because they did what he told them to do, but he will chew them out if they don't.
Sometimes we forget that we are God's slaves as well as His children. Whether we spread the gospel, give money to the needy, or encourage a suffering soul, it is what we ought to have done. We might think something we did was particularly stupendous until we remember our greatest feats are mere crumbs on the Master’s table. It's the very least we can do to live for Him since He died for us. We deserve no praise for cleaning off the table; it is the job our Master gave us and let us do it with all our might. And even if our daily duties were something to boast about, all our faults, sins, and stupidity would smear the gold on our trophy. If God hired us according to our past record, I think a five-year-old would have a better chance of getting a job constructing atomic bombs than we could getting a job as God's servants. Supposing He would overlook our inexperience and hire us anyway, we'd flub so much on the job that any normal boss would fire us in two seconds.
But God is not a normal boss—He hires the most unlikely candidates and turns them into artisans. He still praises us, even though what we do is not praiseworthy, and He pays us a salary more than we deserve.
“Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” ( 1 Corinthians 13:7)
Nothing can break love, it might crack, but it will never break. Paul did not merely say love bears many things, he said it “bears all things.” We often tend to bind love with limits. “My friend cast me away; I cannot love,” we say. “My father died; I cannot love,” we think. “My house burned down; I cannot love,” we resolve. There are many events we think we can't bear—and we won't if we chain ourselves with hate. But wrap your arms in the Father's love and you can bear anything, even the tragedies you don't think you can.
Saying love “believes all things” makes love sound gullible. Does it literally mean love believes all things, or that believes all good things? I'm inclined to believe the latter since love wouldn't believe lies since it rejoices in the truth (c.f. 13:6). However, love will believe all things God tells it. God says the world was created in six days. We believe it. Why? Because it's verified by scientific facts? Yes, but also simply because our Father says so. Having experienced His love and goodness, we know He would never lie to us.
Love’s light never dwindles even when the world grows dark. How can we smile when tears stain our cheeks? If we have love, we have salvation, and if we have salvation, we can smile at the hope of a better tomorrow. God's love can do anything, so we can hope for everything. We can hope for the salvation of the wickedest, peace in war, and life in the stench of death.
Many homes cannot stand the force of a tornado but love can withstand a hurricane. Whatever the weather, it endures, and if it doesn't, then it's not love. When we are weary, we eat to keep up our strength. So when your heart is tired, feed it with love. Study the accounts of enduring love. Job endured, David endured, Paul endured, why can't we?
“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
The reason love is greater than all other attributes is because all those other attributes flow from it. You can faith without love and you can have hope without love, but if you have love, you will undoubtedly have hope and faith. After all, does not love fulfill every commandment (Matthew 22:36-40)? Solomon exhorted his pupils to seek wisdom, but it would have been wiser for them to seek love. Once you have love, you will naturally seek out wisdom because love adores learning about the Wise One. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but the love of the Lord is the beginning of truth, faith, hope, mercy, humility, forgiveness, righteousness, and all wonderful things.
“Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Sadly, error has often been shielded in the name of love. Although love forgives the greatest sins, it does not condone them. “Do not judge!” a person cries as a strange looking sheep enters the congregation. I beg their pardon, but neither I nor anyone else wishes to be torn to shreds by a wolf. Christ told us not to judge according to the appearance but judge with righteous judgement (John 7:24). That is how love judges. Overlooking a friend’s sin is like ignoring a leak in their boat; you are helping them drown.
Also, love is thrives in an environment of truth and will wither in error. Some have gotten the notion that it is loving to accept all who profess Christ as genuine, regardless of what they believe. But that is being unloving, to that person and to God. Would you want your friend to give their life savings to conman? It is unloving to let a person think they're headed to heaven if their lives show they are headed for hell. Wouldn't it be kinder to warn them before it's too late? And we're being unloving to God when we accept a doctrine that dishonors or misrepresents Him. Would you like it if someone called your mother a liar? Then don't let others call God one!
Some people wonder how a Christian can hate sin but not the sinner. What if you had a loved one who stabbed themselves everyday? Would you love what they were doing to themselves? Wouldn't you do everything in your power to make them stop? Or what if you had a friend that smoked all the time, wouldn't you still love them even though you can't stand the smell of cigarettes? Genuine love cannot tolerate anything that destroys and since sin destroys, love hates sin. “You may depend upon that man who will tell you of your faults in a kind and considerate manner.” *
And if we don't love righteousness, we can't love God because He is righteousness. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” (John 14:15). Since we love God more than all our heart, soul, and mind, we should be willing to sacrifice anything for Him—even our most cherished sins. The desire to please Him should consume our heart and the way to please Him is by practicing godliness. True, our works can never earn our salvation anymore than a few pennies could pay off the national debt. Rather, they are a small token of our gratitude for all He's done for us.
*C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume Three (Hendrickson Publishers, 2016), 16.
“Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
Love never stains its gown by playing in the mud. Love acts like it looks—beautiful. If we are dressed in love, all our outward ugliness will fade in comparison. And just because love is humble, doesn't mean it's not dignified. It can be worn at any occasion, whether it's casual or formal. It doesn't yell, balk, bite or wear a sour expression because that would go against its dress code. When I whine or roll my eyes I've torn love's gown. Too often stressful situations have made me act unbecomingly. The next time you're tempted have a fit, think back to the last time this happened and how it effected others. Did it make you feel any better? Did it give you peace? A calm state may be hard to maintain during a hurricane but an unbecoming attitude will blow you toward the eye of the storm.
Have you ever sacrificed something for someone (however small)? If not, are you sure you have love? We all tend to think of ourselves first, even the best of us. We go to great lengths to make ourselves comfortable and happy with usually little or no thought about someone else. Count how many times you thought of yourself today and how many times you thought of others. You may be shocked at how many times you think of yourself. If our thoughts are consumed with ourselves, how will we follow the command of laying down our life for our friends (c.f. John 15:13)? It's not too likely we'll have the opportunity to risk our lives for another's, but opportunities for sacrifice arise every day. Missing the football game to help out your grandma, cleaning the kitchen for your mom instead of watching your favorite TV show, or staying late to help your boss when you'd rather be resting, are a few examples of the little sacrifices we can make each day. Instead of thinking how to make life easier for yourself, think how you can make your parents, sibling’s, friend’s, or strangers easier too. “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1Corinthians 10:24).
Paul never said love is not easily provoked, but that it's not provoked. I must admit, I'm not easily provoked, but when I am, I am sharper than a porcupine. My quills start spiking every time someone criticizes my writing, cooking, or artwork. I'm being unloving when I do that. I need to remember that I've offended others many times, even if unintentionally (c.f. Ecclesiastes 7:21-22). Christ had much more reason to be angry than us, yet the only time He ever displayed anger was when the temple was defiled (Matt. 21:12-13, John 2:13-17). Anger is permissible when it's for God's honor, as long as it doesn't turn into hatred or violence. I'm not saying we should stand back while other people are harming us or others. But just because we shouldn't hit back, doesn't mean we can't block the opponents punch. “When we are injured, we are bound as Christians to bear it without malice; but we are not to pretend that we do not feel it, for this will but encourage our enemies to kick us again.” *
“God forgive them, for they know not what they do” is the greatest declaration of a loving heart. Christ forgave His tormentors while they were tormenting Him. How can our hearts be hardened over petty offenses when our King bore the ultimate insult? He forgives thousands of sins, why can't we forgive one? He forgives instantly, why must we withhold our forgiveness for months? You don't have to offer a friend who has betrayed you immediate restoration into your heart—you don't even have to be friends again—but you need to let go of hate and wish them the best wherever they go, even if drift farther away from you.
*C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete John Ploughman: Combined Edition of John Ploughman's Talk and John Ploughman's Pictures (Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 34.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Why is patience listed first in God's definition of love? Couldn't He have listed something greater like courageous, faithful, or joyful? Perhaps He did this because He knew we have so little of patience. Love doesn't tap its foot and yell “hurry up!” when their dinner isn't on time. Love is waiting for your family, friends, strangers, and God's timing. If you can't do that, you've missed the first definition of love. Patience may not seem like much, but sometimes the smallest act of patience is the greatest act of love. If God wasn't so patient, the ungodly would have perished long ago.
Kindness follows patience by the heel. Kindness should not be restricted to the needy but extended to all, whether they're rich, poor, happy, sad, friend, or enemy. Your kindness doesn't have to be grand; it can be as simple as carrying the groceries in for your mom or listening to a friend's troubles. I've found family is the best place to plant kindness before sowing it to the world. If we can't be kind to those we love the most, how can we be kind to outsiders? The next time you're tempted to go off and do your own stuff, stop and think about what you can do to help those around you. You might be surprised how many opportunities you'll find if you look hard enough.
Sometimes the clearest way to describe something is by stating what it's not. White is not black, rocks are not pillows, and love is not jealous. What if you entered a story contest and your friend won instead? Would you pout or would you toss confetti your friend’s way? What if your coworker was always buying new clothes while you could barely afford to pay the electric bill? Would your attitude be grumpy towards them or friendly? God provides each individual with what they need, not with what they've dreamed. Strike jealousy with the rod of contentment and you will be able to be happy for those who have all you've ever wanted, whether it's friends, prestige, or money.
On the flip side, while the poor should not be envious, the rich should not try to compel them to be so. Owning nice things is not wrong, but flaunting them is. You shouldn't go on how much your car cost or how cool your new iPhone is when the person sitting next to you is dressed in rags. Nor should you ram your successes down someone else's throat. That's not to say all boasting is sinful; sharing the good news of a job promotion or celebrating your first book sale with friends is nothing shameful. They're happy to hear of your good fortune just as you are happy to hear about theirs. It's the when, where, who, and how of your boasting that determines whether or not it's sinful.
Ironically, love loves everyone except itself. Arrogant people cannot love others because they are too busy loving themselves. Christ is a brilliant example of humble love. Even though everyone was beneath Him, but He did not treat them so. He didn't play favorites and neither should we. He ate with sinners (Matthew 9:10) as well as rabbis (Luke 7:36). In one chapter, He converses with a respected ruler (John 3:1-21), and in the next with a social outcast (4:7-26). Surely if Jesus stooped to wash His disciples feet, surely we can stoop to wash our fellow man's!
Love has many forms. True love, puppy love, cat love, friendship love—love can be twisted into almost every size, shape, and direction. Love has varying intensities, and rightly so, for it would not do for us to love our mom the same way we love chocolate. Love should characterize Christians as light characterizes the sun; yet anyone can love, even someone as despicable as Judas Iscariot. So then it is not love that distinguishes us from unbelievers, but it's the type of love that sets us apart.
Ten million words couldn't describe this love. Only a god could expound on such love, and He did in only thirteen verses.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Before God could expound on love, He must first lay the foundation of its importance. He never said we'd be less of a Christian if we had no love, but that we are nothing without it. An unloving Christian is not a Christian at all. Love is a Christian’s heart and without it we are just dead robots who have no hope or feelings. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20).
Good works should not be substituted for love any more than baking soda should be substituted for flour. Like baking powder, they are a necessary ingredient in our lives but they should not constitute the base, unless you want others to gag. But is it possible for good works to done apart from love? Yes. Sometimes a person donates just because they see that everyone else is being charitable. Some people go to church just because they always have and their good works become mindless routine. However, usually good deeds are done in love—love of self. If I rescue an infant from a burning house so I can get my face in the newspaper or if I travel to Asia as a missionary only to hear “Isn't she so godly?” my sacrifices become filthy rags.
Sound doctrine is essential to our faith. We'd plunge into sin and temptation without it. It is the string which unites believers together, even if they live miles apart. Yet even the jewels of wisdom can become sharp and destructive if it is not set in the golden ring of love. I think God would probably have more mercy on a hateful criminal than on a hateful pastor. Even demons know the truth (James 2:19). The Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7 taught the truth, exposing error, but they lacked love. God threatened to remove their lampstand if their heart didn't start beating again.
Lovelessness is perhaps the greatest problem of the modern church. They shake your hand and bid you hello but their care rarely extends beyond that. It shouldn't be that way. Love is a blazing fire, not a flickering ember that blows out with the slightest breeze. A fire takes a ton of wood and love requires a ton of work to make it grow. Why is it that no one wants to take the time to gather the sticks? When we are tempted to let the fire die, let us remember that we are worthless ashes without that fire.
Mariposa is a self-taught artist and aspiring children's author who captures the glories of God's creation on paper. She has a Ph.D. in creativity and a master's degree in imagination.
Aberdeen is a book-eating, ink-drinking dinosaur from the createtus period. When he isn't falling into plot holes or taking cover from the volcano of ideas, he's hanging out with Dee-Dee the doodledactyl. Read full bio