The Agora
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Love one another

In 1Co 12 Paul speaks of spiritual gifts -- that is, the gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on some in the first-century ecclesias. These gifts were given with one goal in mind, and no other: the edification of the saints.

In Corinth, apparently, the possessors of these various gifts were flaunting them before their brethren in a disgusting show of pride. The other members of the ecclesia, not so favored, were showing just as much ignorance of the proper use of the gifts, because they coveted them for their own elevation.

To counteract this jealousy and factionalism Paul emphasizes the essential unity of the ecclesia. The ecclesia consists of many members, but they are all parts of the one body of Christ. The individual members possess many gifts (teaching, healing, tongues), but they are all from the one Spirit, and should be used for the benefit of every member equally.

Rather than rivalry, and antagonism, and presumption, the brethren must show love, and care, and modesty, and forbearance toward one another, All are equally partakers of God's greatest gift: grace and mercy and peace through Christ. Some brethren may have special talents, which of necessity set them apart from their fellows, but these talents must be exercised for the mutual benefit of all.

"There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable..." (1Co 12:20-22).

It is a sad but common mistake that we nearly all are guilty of. We Chink first of the prominent among us, or the well-educated, or the socially forward, and we rush to greet them, to talk with them, to keep them company. But the ones perhaps who most need a warm greeting or a kind word are the ones we thoughtlessly bypass.

Imitate Jesus

It is the natural tendency at meetings to gather around the leading brethren, the outgoing personalities, or the visiting speakers -- while ignoring those shy, quiet ones "around the edges". But one of the divine characteristics which Christ showed (to the amazement of the proud Pharisees) was his obvious interest in the lower ranks of society, the poor and ill and discouraged. Can we do any better than to imitate our Master?

Paul enumerates the "gifts" of the Spirit (1Co 12:28-30) and agrees that the higher ones, at least, are desirable (v 31). But great gifts (or even talents and abilities bestowed providentially upon some of us today) are not an end in themselves. They are, or should be, the means to an end.

The end is, as we have said already, the upbuilding of the Body of Christ. The means to that end is the "still more excellent way" (v 31) -- the way of love. This is the catalyst without which all of our "gifts" or abilities would be useless. Thus Paul continues:

"If I speak in the tongues of men, and (even) of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1Co 13:1,2).
This is the question: Does a man live for himself or for others?

A man may think of his "service" in the Truth as a series of good works, which take a relatively short time, interspersed with a lot of time to care for his own wants. A few dollars in the collection (to be disbursed in some worthy cause by the properly delegated party, with the least amount of fuss and bother). A practiced "Sunday morning" smile for the struggling widowed sister. A Bible class talk hastily prepared and casually given. Several indifferent daily readings sessions. All this set on the scales over against 40 or 50 or 60 hours of secular work, many hours of "entertainment" or "recreation", twenty-one meals... Another week in the life of an average "saint"? Is this the proper use of our "talents" in the more excellent way of love?

How best to serve God

God has given us all that we have: the air we breathe, the food we eat, the homes we live in. Is any amount of devotion too much when this is considered? Shouldn't we, at every waking moment, think how best to serve God?

God is a jealous God. He demands all our love and attention. But because we love God the more, do we love our brethren less? Sometimes it seems that we think so. We stand strong and proud on the principles of obedience to God, and the "purity of the Truth". And we use these concepts to exalt ourselves above our brethren, while remaining indifferent to their spiritual needs.

Our love for God is different, in this respect, than our love for another person. If we truly love God, we will show our love for Him in practical expressions of love for others. True divine love does not exclude human love; it enhances it.

Verses 4-7 contain a dozen or so characteristics of Scriptural "love":

"Love is patient"

We have the example of Christ, who patiently taught his disciples and time after time helped them when they stumbled and lost faith. Undoubtedly there were times when he wanted to throw up his hands and abandon the effort altogether, for they were so slow to learn and so bent on maintaining their own natural affections. But he loved them dearly; he loved them despite their inadequacies; he prayed for them; and he persisted until his efforts began to bear fruit. Can we do any less for our brethren?

"Love is kind"

This English word "kind" is one of those pale, sentimental words that just does no justice to the original. We should say, instead, that love is consideration -- active, involved concern for the needs of others, even to the detriment of one's own comfort. I am sure that we all think of ourselves as being "kind", for we certainly are never (seldom?) "unkind", are we? Are we?

"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:15,16).
There are times when a "kind word" is no more than hypocrisy, because it masks a failure to help in any practical way. Have we ever been guilty of such an act, in a benign, "friendly" indifference to the circumstances of others? Then we may have been courteous and civil and pleasant, but we have not been kind, and we have not been loving.

"Love is not jealous"

The divergence of gifts among the Corinthian brethren was a cause of jealousy. Likewise, envy can result today from comparisons between brethren: "Who is the better speaker?" "Why was elected Arranging Brother?" "So-and-so wants to run everything. Who he put him in charge?" The person who can ask such questions does not have at heart the best interests of the whole body.

Jealousy is a terrible disease, and often fatal. It destroys its originator much more quickly than the one at whom it is directed.

"Love is not boastful... not arrogant"

Envy and boasting are quite closely related. They both stem from the same basic problem: love of self rather than love of others. True love does not have to be pushy. It does not need attention. It can afford to wait. Remember what Jesus said of the arrogant Pharisees -- who did their works to be seen of men: "They already have their reward." Let this not be said of us.

"Love is not rude"

There is a right way and a wrong way to do almost anything.

Sometimes a gentle admonition or even a stern rebuke needs to be administered. It is possible to be in the right -- even to say the right thing -- but to say it in absolutely the wrong way. A criticism may be correct in every particular, but if it is delivered with a superior or proud or overbearing manner -- or if it is delivered in front of an audience -- it will not achieve a good result. As always, the principle is consideration for others: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In short... love.

"Love does not insist on its own way"

Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? You may be the fastest runner at the picnic, but you'll wind up sprawled on the grass unless you can adapt yourself to the style of your partner. This principle also holds true in the ecclesia. We are all members of the one body, and we must learn to function as a unit. We are "yoked together" with our brethren in many endeavors; we cannot always choose the way that pleases us most.

Your way of doing things may always be the best, but I can guarantee you that it won't always be the one chosen by the majority. Then what do you do? Go along or "drop out"? There have been cases of members who have left meetings because of absolutely trivial disagreements, in which they failed to get their own way and just could not bend enough to go along with the others. And they, and sometimes their families, have paid for that stubbornness with twenty or thirty years of self-imposed isolation. There is an extremely illuminating passage, the force of which fairly exploded upon me one day. I had read it dozens of times, but never to much purpose until one day it hit me! Just six words, but a world of exhortation and self-examination:

"For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3).

So who are we to think that things should always go our way? Who are we to please ourselves in everything?

"Love is not irritable or resentful"

A person possessing the true love of God has a peace of mind that no other has. In the midst of strife and controversy, he maintains a calm and reasoning mind, and a disposition to peacemaking. He has that same inner serenity that sustained Christ through his great trials.

A person in such a frame of mind cannot be offended by others. He is not provoked to backbiting or vengeance. He relies upon the grace of God, he knows that there is a final judgment that will right all wrongs, and he is not concerned about what man may do to him in the meanwhile. If God is for him, who can be against him?

"Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right"

If ever a thought might be coupled with "Let a man examine himself", surely this is it! Don't we all do this? Don't we all listen to gossip and rumors and evil insinuations? Don't we all -- sometimes -- derive pleasure from the shortcomings of others, especially those who have previously appeared to be models of rectitude?

We judge ourselves by the standards of others, and when we do this we are glad to see them fall. We tend to think we are lifted up in proportion as our brother is cast down. But when we live by this standard we are completely corrupting Paul's teachings of the unity of Christ's body and the dependence of one member upon another. These lofty ideas lose their meaning when cooperation is replaced by competition.

"Love bears all things"

We need go no further than Christ's example. Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree, and more than that he bore our sorrows that he might be a perfect mediator.

The mind lingers on a picture, perhaps well-known to many. One boy with a younger boy on his back. "He ain't heavy. He's my brother!" Strain is obviously there, but he bears his burden gladly. All things are relative, aren't they? Yes, in more ways than one! We are willing to do for our families what seems intolerable if done for others. Do we sit in the meeting on Sunday morning, and feel that those with whom we break bread are really our family? We write salutations like "Dear Sir" to faceless clerks in faraway cities. For all we know, we could be addressing a computer as "dear"! Are our expressions of "Brother Smith" and "Sister Jones" the same sort of formal, stylized address, or do they express a reality? If a reality, then let us live that family relationship with our brethren. Let us rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Let us "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).

"Love hopes all things... endures all things"

The Christian's life of love is a joyful existence. In the midst of sorrows and pains, he rejoices in the great gifts of his Creator.

His eye is firmly set upon the hope that rises as a mountain before him. There may be a valley to traverse before he reaches that distant peak. But he never takes his eye off that glorious future; and all life's little annoyances and Inconveniences are seen for what they are -- stepping-stones in route to the kingdom. Paul says in another place:
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phi 4:12,13).


All that God has given us... riches, talents, intelligence, health... diminish with the passing of time. Man grows old and dies. Only love remains, as a bridge between this life and the life to come, a bridge over the chasm of eternal nothingness. Every other gift or talent will fail, just as the Holy Spirit gifts finally ceased. The only thing that endures is the character of a man, engraved in the infinite mind of God.

"Greater love hath no man than this -- that a man lay down his life for his friends."
The bridge over that chasm is constructed from the two timbers of a cross. On one is written, "Love God". And on the other, "Love your neighbor as yourself." By those two principles he lived and died, and he asks us to do the same -- to fill up in ourselves, as best we can, the measure of the perfect man. We have been children, petulant and selfish and impatient. Let us now be men, and put away childish things. We have seen in our mirrors blurred images of the perfect man who is striving to be "born" in us, but one day we will see the man himself face to face -- and we will know at once by his look whether or not we have made his love our example. For, lest we ever forget, that is the test by which we shall stand or fall:

"So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but..."

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