The Greatest of These…

As Valentine’s Day approached this this year, I was thinking back that Gloria and I shared 49 Valentine’s Days. But what struck me was that I do not recall a single gift she ever gave me in celebration of our love on this day. That is not to say she didn’t give me anything, I just don’t remember any specifics. Likewise, I am hard-pressed to remember any specific gift I gave her. I do know that we tended not to go out for dinner on this day, as we wanted to avoid the huge crowds at most restaurants. At first, I felt bad about this lapse of memory but then it dawned on me that the gifts we gave each other were not dependent on our love for each other. Certainly, I would have given her a new Mercedes or other extravagant gift if I could have afforded it. But our love for each other was deep, real, and genuine and did not have to be affirmed through the giving of gifts. We lived out our love on a daily basis

As I pondered on this, I Corinthians 13 came to mind. Particularly the last verse “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This chapter is very familiar to most of us. In fact, we may not have really taken a close look at what this chapter is saying. So I took a look.

In the first three verses, Paul basically says that even if we do great things – have a strong faith, be gifted with prophecy, be generous in giving, or even suffer hardship for the cause of Christ – they are meaningless if they are not done out of love. I am by no means perfect, but after Gloria passed away, numerous people came to me and told me what a “hero” I was for staying with Gloria and caring for her while she suffered with rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t feel like a hero. I didn’t feel like I did anything special. When we wed, I promised to love her in sickness and in health. My caring for her was done, not out of any obligation, but because I loved her.

Then, in verses 4-7, Paul gives us a list of the characteristics of love:

1. Love is patient.

2. Love is kind.

3. It does not envy.

4. It does not boast.

5. It is not proud.

6. It does not dishonor others.

7. It is not self-seeking.

8. It is not easily angered.

9. It keeps no record of wrongs.

10. Love does not delight in evil.

11. But rejoices in the truth.

12. It always protects.

13. Always trusts.

14. Always hopes.

15. Always perseveres.

I am certainly not going to tell you that I always succeeded in meeting these rigorous qualities of love. I am human. I often failed. This standard of love is a reflection of God’s love. It is something we should strive for even though we will not always measure up.

I have always thought that the second stanza of the song “The Love of God” is one of the greatest expressions of God’s love. I always am filled with awe and wonder when I hear these words. Such love.

Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

In verses 8-12 Paul mentions several spiritual gifts – prophecy, tongues, knowledge. But they are only temporary. They will pass. Verse 13 tells us that In the end only Faith, Hope, and Love remain. And the greatest of these is love. Paul does not say this, but I think he implies that faith and hope will also become unnecessary. Once we are in the presence of God there is no need for faith. Our faith has been confirmed as we are now in the presence of God. Our hope of eternal life has been fulfilled. All that remains is love – the greatest of these.

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