When one of three preeminent precepts is called the greatest, we find another of the most important principles in scripture: love. Paul begins I Corinthians 13 (NIV) with hyperbole designed to highlight this principle’s depth: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries…if I have a faith that can move mountains…If I give all that I possess to the poor, but do not have love…” I’m nothing.
Love fulfills the law. (Romans 13:10) Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. (John13:35) Love binds together all Christian virtues. (Colossians 3:14; II Peter 1:5-7) In Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul prays that we may find the love of God in Christ: “And I pray that you…may…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
The end of I Corinthians 13 is as thrilling as the beginning: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We might be inclined to say that a key article of our faith is love. But no. Love stands alone.
Paul tries mightily to aid our comprehension of love’s meaning: It is patient; kind; doesn’t envy, boast, dishonor others, or delight in evil; isn’t proud, self-seeking, or easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs; rejoices with the truth; always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:4-8) Our own experiences tell us, though, that love’s essence is so enormous, a definition withers.
For now, we must concede with Paul that “we see in a mirror, darkly.” (I Corinthians 13:12, ASV) Until we see face to face, we do our best to love — God, neighbor, everyone.