And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Though Jesus identifies love as the Greatest Commandment, love is also the greatest characteristic as seen in 1 Corinthians 13. Effectiveness in ministry hinges on love, not honed skills, the latest technology, excellence in programming, and the like.
This chapter is sandwiched between a teaching on body life and the use of spiritual gifts. Consequently, if we keep it in that context we must conclude that love is critical to body life and must govern how we do ministry through the use of spiritual gifts.
Personalization of love (vs. 1-3)
The clanging noise, insignificance, and ineffectiveness described in these verses do not refer to ministry being done without love. Rather, they depict the person doing the ministry.
“I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” – If you want plausibility in ministry, you need to love.
“I am nothing.” – If you want purpose in ministry, you need to love.
“I gain nothing.” If you want a productive ministry, you need to love.
Bottom line: Be the kind of person who makes a difference by being a person motivated and characterized by love.
Potential of love (vs. 4-8a)
No matter how you serve, you will find many situations calling for patience and kindness. You will be tempted to boast about what you are doing right or envy others in their successes. You will tend to think your agenda is the one to follow. Your gut reaction to those who do you wrong or stand in your way could easily be rudeness, anger, or revenge. You might find it hard to forgive. As much as you try not to say “I told you so,” you might not be able to help but think people got what they had coming to them. You will sometimes find it very hard to see the potential in people. And, there will be times you just feel like giving up.
What’s the solution? — Love. Only God’s love will enable you to keep the best interests of others at heart.
Bottom line: Measure your ministry against the right standard, the love of God as described in 1 Corinthians 13.
If you serve as a Bible teacher, the worksheet, “Does your heart beat with the love of God for your students?” will help you do that.
Perspective of love (vs. 8-13)
How quick we can be in ministry to focus on certain doctrines or practices to the neglect of that which can be agreed upon and profit everyone. We can get mixed up on that which is negotiable and that which is not. We can settle for the temporal, imperfect, and incomplete when God wants our attention on that which is lasting, perfect, and complete. In the end only faith, hope, and love will remain with love being the greatest.
How interesting that though this chapter has elevated love, the last verse throws in some “runner ups” — faith and hope — without expounding on them. Even though faith and hope are essential to the Christian life and community, the greatest is love. The next two posts will look at how faith and hope stand next to love. You can subscribe to be notified by e-mail of new posts.
Bottom line: Focus on what really matters.