The lead into to the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) comes on the heals of Paul explaining to the church the special gifts they have received as part of the body of Christ. As he finishes explaining these gifts, given by God to accomplish his purposes, he makes a statement that leads right into his explanation of agape love.
And yet I will show you the most excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12:31
It’s as if Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, suddenly realized he needed to remind them that all of these gifts would be useless if they were not seasoned with agape love.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
When I read these verses one word comes to mind. Connections. When I think about the way God loves, he doesn’t do it in some impersonal way. He doesn’t just toss a little good will our way and then move on to the next person on his list. He loves us each individually and cares for us each according to the needs he knows we have. It may be true that we can never know someone the way God knows them, but if we pay attention to others and ask God to help us to see them as he sees them, we will be able to love them with an agape love that will actually get their attention. We will be able to minister to them as God desires us to. We will be able to be “Jesus with skin on”.
God knows our heart. God knows our intentions. He doesn’t want us to just “go through the motions” so that we look like nice Christian people. He wants us to truly love people like he does so that our love motivates our actions. If we are gifted by God with eloquence but we are so busy talking that we don’t even know what someone really needs to hear, then our message is just noise. If God has gifted us with discernment and understanding because he wants someone to know him but we don’t even get to know people, then we’ve accomplished nothing. If God has given us the gift of faith and we believe God for amazing things but we don’t love people enough to pray for them unceasingly, then how is our faith being used for God’s purposes? If we give all that we have – our time, our money, our very life – to a bunch of nameless and faceless people to whom we do not also give love, we actually gain nothing. Nothing! We will stand before God with a long list of completed tasks but a short list of meaningful contacts.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. – 1 John 4:16