There is a great lesson in this chapter that we could benefit from reading and meditating on often. It is on the greatest theological virtue and the greatest commandment, love. It is the reason we were created and in many ways, it is the reason. We were all created by Love itself, God. We were all created for love, to receive Love Himself for all eternity. We were created to receive love here on earth. And we were created to love each other. God has already loved us. We have received love from Love’s (God’s) part. Now it is our duty to give love. In doing so we come more and more to fulfillment. It is the “way that surpasses all others” (v1). No other gift or attribute can even come close to that gift of loving our neighbors.
I can have many gifts like prophecy and have the wisdom and knowledge from God, but not have love for neighbor, and gain nothing (v3). That means I cannot even gain salvation without love for neighbor. We need to love one another as Jesus has loved us (Jn 13:34). This is the second greatest commandment (Mt 22:39). So the charismatic gifts, as they are known to be, is not a sign of salvation that the prophet is guaranteed. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles.’ Then I will say to them plainly, I never knew you. Away with me you evildoers’” (Mt 7:22-23). The gift of prophecy, tongues and those listed in this chapter are for the ones who receive the message, not to glorify the one giving the message. Giving the message is to be an act of love for their neighbor to help guide them to heaven. The charismatic gifts are a means by which a person who may have a gift can love their neighbor. Therefore, taking a gift meant to help others, but turning it into a selfish act of gaining attention can be particularly damaging to one’s salvation. To those who have been given, more is expected (Lk 12:48). Therefore, the life of a person with a legitimate charismatic gift is not easy. Most people cannot understand them. God has them do things that would be contrary to conventional wisdom and so they may seem odd. Yet they have to rely on God’s word daily and constantly be praying.
How to identify real love is what is so sorely missing today. So many people seem to think they can define what love is. When we make things, we can define them. But when we discover things, we need to study them and what defines them. The Holy Spirit guides Paul in defining love right here in sacred scripture. It is particularly love of neighbor that Paul is defining. Not love from neighbor, but love for neighbor. Paul states, “Love is patient, love is kind…” (v4). This is how we are to be and act when we love our neighbor, for Jesus has done so for us. Jesus died on the cross for us. As Jesus was dying on the cross for us, He did not brood over his injuries, nor did He will evil on us or be rude, but was always kind, gentle, patient, and He persevered to the end when He finally died and breathed His last breath in love for us (v4-7). Love didn’t fail (v8). This is the goodness of love that attracts us so much.
This passage is used often in marriages, and fittingly so. But so many people do not pay attention to what it actually says. Today’s society offers something very different as love. Love today is about getting love and feelings, whereas true love gives and is willing to exhaust itself. Most people point the finger out instead of looking at their own responsibility. Couples will nudge each other with the elbow assuming the message to straighten up is for the others, but would never apply it to themselves. This is where abuse comes in. Some people would term marriage as a mere contract, as if it is just an agreement as long as they want to be together. This reduces the “love” they have as a mere contract of mutual use and an act of selfishness rather than a gift of self to the core. This new ideology of “love” is hardly fulfilling. Our selfishness seems to never end and can never be satisfied. We have been loved by Christ. To bring that love to fulfillment, we have only to love one another. Thus, love of neighbor makes us whole, not love from neighbor. Love from neighbor is good, but it ought to inspire us to love for neighbor. Want a fulfilling life? Take heed of this lesson Paul gives us.