Love in Action
“Love never fails.”—1 Cor. 13:8.
1. Why should we not be surprised by the lack of real love in the world?
IN THIS world, we repeatedly see and hear the word “love.” It appears in songs, books and movies and on posters, placards and buttons. Yet we find ourselves living in a world where self-sacrificing love is indeed rare. This should not be surprising, for many people mistakenly refer to passion and sentimentality as love. They are unacquainted with the love that distinguishes true disciples of Jesus Christ. This love goes beyond a person’s loving his neighbor as himself. It includes, if necessary, a willingness to surrender one’s life for one’s Christian brothers. Thus a person would be imitating Jesus Christ, who voluntarily laid down his life for mankind.—1 John 3:16-18.
2. What is the subject under discussion in First Corinthians chapter 13?
2 Clearly, Christian love is active, manifesting itself in the positive good it does for others. Being a feeling or an emotion, this love is not easily defined. The way in which it expresses itself, however, can be described. And, in First Corinthians chapter 13, we find a truly masterful description of the love that Christians should have. The emphasis in this chapter is not on the expression of God’s love for mankind nor on our love for Jehovah God. But the main import of the material is on how love should be shown toward fellow humans.
3. What were some of the problems that existed in the Corinthian congregation?
3 This is what Christians at Corinth needed, for they were not enjoying the best of relationships with one another. As is evident from an examination of the entire letter of First Corinthians, the congregation there had problems with jealousies, strife, divisions, boasting, immorality, dishonesty and the taking of undue liberties. Some in the Corinthian congregation were desirous of having prestige. They wanted to outshine one another as to abilities and gifts or endowments.—1 Cor. 1:10, 11; 3:2, 3; 4:6, 7; 5:1, 2; 6:7, 8; 8:1, 2, 7-13; 11:18, 19; 12:14-18.
“A SURPASSING WAY”
4. Did all Christians in the first century C.E. have the same gifts?
4 Of course, it was not wrong for a person to view the greater gifts of the spirit as desirable and for a man to want to serve the congregation as an apostle, a prophet or a teacher. But the apostle Paul pointed out: “Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform powerful works, do they? Not all have gifts of healings, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all are translators, are they?” (1 Cor. 12:29, 30) However, there was something that all in the congregation could do. In fact, it was something even more outstanding than the pursuit of the “greater gifts.” This is evident from the apostle’s encouragement: “Keep zealously seeking the greater gifts. And yet I show you a surpassing way.”—1 Cor. 12:31.
5, 6. (a) What did the apostle Paul mean by the expression “a surpassing way”? (b) How did he show that the possession of abilities and gifts was not the thing of greatest importance to true Christians?
5 What is this surpassing way? It is the way of love. Yes, there was a need for Christians at Corinth to make changes in their evaluation of “gifts” and to put love into action. Pointing out how love is of greater value than abilities and gifts or endowments, Paul wrote: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding piece of brass or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesying and am acquainted with all the sacred secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to transplant mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.”—1 Cor. 13:1-3.
6 A Christian’s being able to speak languages other than his native tongue would certainly be a valuable gift. Even greater would be the ability to speak in the language of angels who are a creation higher than man. But if the individual were to use the gift to enhance his prominence or would in some other way be wrongly motivated, he would not be upbuilding to his fellowmen, including his Christian brothers. He would be just like a big noise made by a brass instrument or a cymbal. Moreover, without love, the gifts of prophesying, miraculous knowledge and miraculous faith would not serve for the encouragement of others. These gifts or endowments would not then be used aright. Similarly, the person who gave generously of his possessions to others, simply so that he could brag, would not be benefited. He would receive no reward. What if he chose to undergo suffering or even death, perhaps with the intent of becoming a hero in the eyes of men? Again, if he had no real love for God nor for fellow humans, his willingness to make the supreme sacrifice would not profit him in any lasting way. Apart from the plaudits of mortal men, he would receive absolutely nothing. (Compare Matthew 6:1-4.) Since love is so important, we do well to consider how we are individually measuring up in our display of this fine quality. Are we really pursuing the “surpassing way”?
HOW LOVE SHOULD BE MANIFEST IN ACTION
7. How do we show love when undergoing trialsome experiences?
7 First Corinthians 13:4 states: “Love is long-suffering and kind.” What does this require of us? When provoked, oppressed, irritated or misrepresented, how should we react? The long-suffering person avoids hasty action or emotional outbursts. He will patiently bear up under trying circumstances, doing so in the hope that those responsible for the unpleasantness will be helped thereby to change their ways. For the same reason, we should be kind, not rough, harsh or hateful, but tender, mild, friendly and helpful. (Compare Romans 12:20, 21; 1 Peter 2:18-23.) Because of genuine concern for fellow believers, we should gladly put up with their idiosyncrasies and any weaknesses of conscience that they might have. We should not insist on our rights but refrain from using our Christian freedom to the full. Thus we will not stumble others, giving them an excuse to forsake true worship.—Rom. 14:1-4, 19-21.
8. Why are bragging, boasting and jealousy unloving?
8 We are told further: “Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up.” (1 Cor. 13:4) If we really love our Christian brothers, how could we possibly be jealous or envious of their accomplishments, blessings or abilities? Rather, we would rejoice with them and be happy for the part that they are able to play in building up the congregation. (Rom. 12:15, 16) Similarly, how could we constantly put ourselves forward and highlight our own accomplishments and experiences? This could be discouraging to those listening to us. They might begin to feel that they have done very little in comparison. Our bragging and boasting would only tear others down and distract from the glory that should be given to Jehovah God. How unloving that would be! It would be far better to minimize our own role. We are merely slaves of God, and to him should go all the credit and praise for growth in the Christian congregation. (1 Cor. 3:5-9) Humility will prevent us from having an inflated opinion of ourselves and will restrain us from trying to impress others with supposed importance.
9. Because love “does not behave indecently,” what does this require of us?
9 Furthermore, love “does not behave indecently.” (1 Cor. 13:5) When we have genuine love, we hate all forms of badness. But more is involved. The expression ‘not behaving indecently’ can also mean ‘not being rude.’ (See The New English Bible.) In all relations, love produces right conduct. The loving person does not look down on the poor and needy, shunning their company. He does not restrict his association to just a certain select few. (Compare James 2:1-9.) Decent behavior also involves showing regard for proper authority. If we have true love, we will respect the person and possessions of others. That would certainly include our meeting places. How inappropriate it is for children to write on chairs or to run about, perhaps even knocking people over! Such indecent behavior has no place in the Christian congregation. It reflects unfavorably on the parents’ manner of presiding over their children.
10. How can we show that we are not looking for our own interests?
10 Continuing his description of love, the apostle Paul writes: “[Love] does not look for its own interests.” (1 Cor. 13:5) Yes, it takes an active interest in all members of the congregation—young and old, the sick and infirm, those working hard in teaching, preaching and disciple-making. Love is alert to the needs of fellow believers and is quick to respond, to be accommodating. It does not insist on its own way. (1 Cor. 10:23, 24) This fine quality has nothing in common with the “me first” philosophy. It is wholly unselfish.
11. Since love “does not become provoked,” what should we avoid?
11 Since love “does not become provoked,” it would certainly be wrong for us to find excuses to flare up in anger. (1 Cor. 13:5) We should be “slow about wrath,” avoiding fits of rage. (Jas. 1:19) In the family, this requires that all strive to be patient with one another’s shortcomings. And in the congregation, elders especially must set an example in patience when brothers and sisters seem to be forgetful and negligent or fail to take Christian responsibilities seriously.
12. What would prove that we are not keeping “account of the injury” done to us?
12 Moreover, in harmony with the Bible’s description of love, we should “not keep account of the injury” done to us. (1 Cor. 13:5) It would be unloving to harbor grudges and to review just how certain ones have wronged us, as if we were keeping a scorecard. The past should be pushed aside, and kindness should not be withheld from those who may have done us injury.—Prov. 20:22; 24:29; 25:21, 22.
13. What are some unrighteous things in which love does not rejoice?
13 What else will love not do? “It does not rejoice over unrighteousness.” (1 Cor. 13:6) Therefore, love would not rejoice when others get ensnared by wrongdoing, disgrace themselves and come to ruin. True Christians do not rejoice, saying that the individual deserved to have trouble come upon him. (Prov. 17:5; 24:17, 18) Additionally, we should not rejoice when a person cleverly maneuvers himself out of a situation that is deserving of punishment. (Ps. 50:18) Even our seeing unrighteous things depicted in movies or television programs should bring no pleasure to us. Then, too, it would be improper to side with unruly members of the congregation, finding fault with the reproof that is given to them. This would not help the wrongdoer to take positive steps to recover fully from the spiritual weakness that led to his misconduct.
14. In what does love rejoice?
14 In what should we rejoice? Love “rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6) Because truth is contrasted with unrighteousness in this passage, this evidently means that we should rejoice to see the powerful influence for righteousness that the truth has on people’s lives. We should find pleasure in all things that lead to blessings, that have a wholesome, upbuilding effect on others and that serve to advance the cause of truth and righteousness.
“LOVE NEVER FAILS”
15. What assurance does the Bible give us that true love will never be wanting?
15 Besides being a surpassing way, the way of love will never end or be lacking. This is nicely drawn to our attention by the following words: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Cor. 13:7, 8.
16. How does love ‘bear all things’?
16 In the sense of ‘bearing all things,’ true love is not quickly thrust aside, dampened or abandoned. It is not overly sensitive nor does it quickly conclude that there is no hope of seeing any improvement in others. If we are loving, we will continue to do good toward our fellowmen despite their lack of gratitude.—Matt. 5:44-48.
17. In what sense does love ‘believe all things’?
17 How are we to understand the words, ‘love believes all things’? This certainly does not mean that we will be gullible, failing, for example, to discern what is truly bad. Rather, it means that love is not suspicious. Hence, even though our spiritual brothers might do and say things that hurt us, we will not immediately conclude that they wanted to injure us. When observing the conduct of others, we will not at once think the worst but strive to view it in the best light possible. We will give our Christian brothers the benefit of the doubt, not imputing evil designs or motives to them.—Eccl. 7:21, 22.
18. When it comes to hope and endurance, what will love enable us to do?
18 Similarly, love hopes that things will turn out well. This is not to say that love is naïve. But, rather, it looks for, yes, prays for the best outcome. Love is optimistic. Therefore, when calling on people in unresponsive territory, for example, we can do so with the hope that, in time, some will turn to the truth. (Compare Romans 9:1-3.) Also, a believing mate rightly hopes that the unbeliever will eventually accept the “good news.” (1 Pet. 3:1, 2) While love helps us to hope for the best, it also enables us to endure all kinds of persecutions, trials, abuse and misrepresentation.
19. Why will we never regret doing the loving thing?
19 In any given situation, our being loving will always help. We will never regret that we did the loving thing. Never has love, true self-sacrificing love, made a bad circumstance worse. Do we not have good reason, then, to imitate our heavenly Father whose dominant quality is love?—1 John 4:7, 8.
20. (a) As shown at 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, how long will the way of love be “a surpassing way”? (b) Even though the miraculous gifts of the spirit have ceased, how can Christ’s true disciples still be recognized?
20 Not just in this system of things but for all eternity love will continue to be the surpassing way. It will never “fail” or come to an end. The apostle Paul pointed this out when he said: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with. . . . Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:8-13) The history of the Christian congregation confirms that the miraculous gifts did pass away, evidently by the second century C.E. Nevertheless, true disciples of Jesus Christ can, to this very day, be identified by the love that they have among themselves.
21. In view of the importance of love, what questions might we ask ourselves?
21 What about us individually? Are we widening out in our love for our Christian brothers? Are we making improvement in displaying love in the manner described by the apostle Paul? Surely, this is what we want to do. Since love is a fruit of God’s spirit, do we pray for more of that spirit so that we might let love have a fuller expression in our lives? (Gal. 5:22) May love continue to be in action in our lives so that we may keep on living, yes, keep on loving for all eternity as loyal servants of the God of love, Jehovah.—1 John 4:20–5:3.
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To display true love at Christian meetings we should keep children under control
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Love in action is shown by helping others