“The Greatest of These Is Love”
“Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”—1 CORINTHIANS 13:13.
1. What has an anthropologist said about love?
ONE of the world’s foremost anthropologists once said: “We understand for the first time in the history of our species that the most important of all human basic psychological needs is the need for love. It stands at the center of all human needs just as our sun stands at the center of our solar system with the planets orbiting around it. . . . The child who has not been loved is biochemically, physiologically, and psychologically very different from the one who has been loved. The former even grows differently from the latter. What we now know is that the human being is born to live as if to live and love were one. This is not, of course, new. This is a validation of the Sermon on the Mount.”
2. (a) How did the apostle Paul show the importance of love? (b) What questions now merit consideration?
2 Yes, as this man of worldly learning granted, this truth about the importance of love to human well-being is not something new. It may only now have come to be appreciated by learned men of the world, but it appeared in God’s Word over 19 centuries ago. That is why the apostle Paul could write: “Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Do you know why love is greater than faith and hope? Why may it be said that love is the greatest of God’s attributes and of the fruits of his spirit?
Four Kinds of Love
3. What Scriptural examples are there of romantic love?
3 The human capacity to show love is an expression of God’s wisdom and loving concern for mankind. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks had four words for “love.” One was eʹros, denoting romantic love associated with sex attraction. Writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures had no occasion to use eʹros, though the Septuagint uses forms of it at Proverbs 7:18 and Pr 30:16, and there are other references to romantic love in the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, we read that Isaac “fell in love with” Rebekah. (Genesis 24:67) A truly notable example of this kind of love is found in the case of Jacob, who apparently fell in love with beautiful Rachel at first sight. In fact, “Jacob proceeded to serve seven years for Rachel, but in his eyes they proved to be like some few days because of his love for her.” (Genesis 29:9-11, 17, 20) The Song of Solomon also deals with romantic love between a shepherd and a maiden. But it cannot be emphasized too strongly that this kind of love, which may be a source of much contentment and joy, should be shown only in harmony with God’s righteous standards. The Bible tells us that it is only with the love of a man’s own lawfully wedded wife that he may “be in an ecstasy constantly.”—Proverbs 5:15-20.
4. How is family love exemplified in the Scriptures?
4 Then there is the strong family love, or natural affection, based on blood relationship, for which the Greeks had the word stor·geʹ. It is responsible for the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” We have a fine example of this in the love that the sisters Mary and Martha had for their brother Lazarus. That he meant much to them can be seen by how greatly they mourned his sudden death. And how they rejoiced when Jesus restored their beloved Lazarus to life! (John 11:1-44) The love a mother has for her child is another example of this kind of love. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:7.) Thus, to underscore how great his love was for Zion, Jehovah stated that it was even greater than that of a mother for her child.—Isaiah 49:15.
5. How is lack of natural affection evident today?
5 One indication that we are living in “the last days” with their “critical times hard to deal with” is a lack of “natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) Because family love is lacking, certain youths run away from home, and some grown children neglect their aged parents. (Compare Proverbs 23:22.) The lack of natural affection is also seen in the prevalence of child abuse—some parents beating their children so severely that they require hospitalization. Lack of parental love is evident, too, in the failure of many parents to discipline their children. Letting children have their own way is not an evidence of love but amounts to following the line of least resistance. A father who truly loves his children will discipline them when necessary.—Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:5-11.
6. Give Scriptural examples of affection between friends.
6 Then there is the Greek word phi·liʹa, denoting affection (with no sexual overtones) between friends, as between two mature men or women. We have a fine example of this in the love that David and Jonathan had for each other. When Jonathan was killed in battle, David mourned him, saying: “I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women.” (2 Samuel 1:26) We also learn that Christ had special fondness for the apostle John, known as the disciple “for whom Jesus had affection.”—John 20:2.
7. What is the nature of a·gaʹpe, and how has this love been shown?
7 What Greek word did Paul use at 1 Corinthians 13:13, where he mentioned faith, hope, and love and said that “the greatest of these is love”? Here the word is a·gaʹpe, the same one that the apostle John used when he said: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) This is a love guided or governed by principle. It may or may not include affection and fondness, but it is an unselfish emotion or feeling concerned with doing good to others regardless of the merits of the recipient or of any benefits accruing to the giver. Love of this kind caused God to give the dearest treasure of his heart, his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, “in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) As Paul so well reminds us: “Hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7, 8) Yes, a·gaʹpe does good to others regardless of their status in life or the cost to the one expressing the love.
Why Greater Than Faith and Hope?
8. Why is a·gaʹpe greater than faith?
8 But why did Paul say that this kind of love (a·gaʹpe) was greater than faith? He wrote at 1 Corinthians 13:2: “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.” (Compare Matthew 17:20.) Yes, if our efforts to acquire knowledge and grow in faith were to be undertaken for a selfish purpose, this would bring us no benefit from God. Similarly, Jesus showed that some would ‘prophesy in his name, expel demons in his name, and perform many powerful works in his name’ but would not have his approval.—Matthew 7:22, 23.
9. Why is love greater than hope?
9 Why is the a·gaʹpe form of love also greater than hope? Because hope may be self-centered, a person being chiefly concerned with benefits to himself, whereas love “does not look for its own interests.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Moreover, hope—such as that of living through the “great tribulation” into the new world—ceases when what is hoped for is realized. (Matthew 24:21) As Paul says: “We were saved in this hope; but hope that is seen is not hope, for when a man sees a thing, does he hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, we keep on waiting for it with endurance.” (Romans 8:24, 25) Love itself endures all things, and it never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7, 8) Thus, unselfish love (a·gaʹpe) is greater than either faith or hope.
Greater Than Wisdom, Justice, and Power?
10. Why can it be said that love is the greatest of God’s four cardinal attributes?
10 Let us now consider the four cardinal attributes of Jehovah God: wisdom, justice, power, and love. Can it also be said that love is the greatest of these? Indeed it can. Why? Because love is the motivating force behind what God does. That is why the apostle John wrote: “God is love.” Yes, Jehovah is the personification of love. (1 John 4:8, 16) Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read that God is wisdom, justice, or power. Rather, we are told that Jehovah possesses these qualities. (Job 12:13; Psalm 147:5; Daniel 4:37) In him these four attributes are perfectly balanced. Motivated by love, Jehovah accomplishes his purposes by using the other three attributes or taking them into account.
11. What motivated Jehovah to create the universe and spirit and human creatures?
11 So, then, what motivated Jehovah to create the universe and intelligent spirit and human creatures? Was it wisdom or power? No, for God merely employed his wisdom and power in creation. For example, we read: “Jehovah himself in wisdom founded the earth.” (Proverbs 3:19) Furthermore, his attribute of justice did not require that he create free moral agents. God’s love prompted him to share the joys of intelligent existence with others. It was love that found a way to remove the condemnation that justice placed upon mankind because of Adam’s transgression. (John 3:16) Yes, and it was love that moved Jehovah to purpose that obedient mankind should live in the coming earthly Paradise.—Luke 23:43.
12. How should we react to God’s power, justice, and love?
12 Because of God’s almighty power, we dare not arouse him to jealousy. Paul asked: “‘Are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?” (1 Corinthians 10:22) Of course, Jehovah is “a jealous God,” not in a bad sense, but in “exacting exclusive devotion.” (Exodus 20:5; King James Version) As Christians, we are awestruck at the many manifestations of God’s unfathomable wisdom. (Romans 11:33-35) Our great respect for his justice should cause us to keep far away from willful sin. (Hebrews 10:26-31) But love unquestionably is the greatest of God’s four principal attributes. And it is Jehovah’s unselfish love that draws us to him and makes us want to please him, to worship him, and to share in the sanctification of his holy name.—Proverbs 27:11.
Greatest of the Fruits of the Spirit
13. Where does love rank among the fruits of God’s spirit?
13 How does love rank among the nine fruits of God’s spirit, mentioned at Galatians 5:22, 23? These are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” With good reason Paul listed love first. Is love greater than joy, the next quality he mentions? Yes, it is, for there can be no enduring joy without love. In fact, the world is so joyless because of selfishness, the lack of love. But Jehovah’s Witnesses have love among themselves, and they have love for their heavenly Father. So we should expect them to be joyful, and it was foretold that they would “cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart.”—Isaiah 65:14.
14. Why can it be said that love is greater than the spirit’s fruit of peace?
14 Love is also greater than the spirit’s fruit of peace. Because of the lack of love, the world is filled with friction and strife. But Jehovah’s people are at peace with one another throughout the earth. True in their case are the psalmist’s words: “Jehovah himself will bless his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11) They have this peace because they have the identifying mark of true Christians, namely, love. (John 13:35) Love alone can overcome all divisive factors, be they racial, national, or cultural. It is “a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.
15. How is love’s superlative role seen in comparison with the spirit’s fruit of long-suffering?
15 Love’s superlative role is also seen when compared with long-suffering, the patient endurance of wrong or provocation. To be long-suffering means to be patient as well as slow to anger. What causes people to be impatient and quick to become angry? Is it not a lack of love? However, our heavenly Father is long-suffering and “slow to anger.” (Exodus 34:6; Luke 18:7) Why? Because he loves us and “does not desire any to be destroyed.”—2 Peter 3:9.
16. How does love compare with kindness, goodness, mildness, and self-control?
16 We have previously seen why love is greater than faith, and the reasons given apply to the remaining fruits of the spirit, that is, kindness, goodness, mildness, and self-control. All of these are necessary qualities, but they will not benefit us without love, even as Paul noted at 1 Corinthians 13:3, where he wrote: “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.” On the other hand, it is love that brings forth such qualities as kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control. Thus, Paul went on to say that love is kind and that “it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Yes, and “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, 8) Well has it been observed that the other fruits of the spirit are manifestations, or various aspects, of love, the one mentioned first. Truly, it follows that of all nine fruits of the spirit, love is indeed the greatest.
17. What Scriptural statements support the conclusion that love is the greatest fruit of the spirit?
17 Supporting the conclusion that love is the greatest of the fruits of God’s spirit are Paul’s words: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another; for he that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. For the law code . . . is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.” (Romans 13:8-10) Most fittingly, the disciple James refers to this law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself as “the kingly law.”—James 2:8.
18. What further evidence is there that love is the greatest quality?
18 Is there still more testimony that love is the greatest quality? Yes, indeed. Consider what happened when a scribe asked Jesus: “Which commandment is first of all?” He may well have expected Jesus to quote one of the Ten Commandments. But Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 and said: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’” Then Jesus added: “The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”—Mark 12:28-31.
19. What are some of the outstanding fruits of a·gaʹpe?
19 Truly, Paul did not exaggerate when he mentioned faith, hope, and love and said: “The greatest of these is love.” The displaying of love results in good relations with our heavenly Father and others, including those in the congregation and members of our families. Love has an upbuilding effect on us. And the next article will show just how rewarding true love can be.
How Would You Respond?
□ How is love greater than faith and hope?
□ What is a·gaʹpe, and how is such love shown?
□ Why is love the greatest of God’s four principal attributes?
□ In what ways is love greater than the other fruits of the spirit?
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Love motivated God to create mankind for life in an earthly paradise. Do you hope to be there?