Follow the Surpassing Way of Love
JEHOVAH GOD is the personification of love. (1 John 4:8) His Son, Jesus Christ, said that we should love God and our neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40) Why, God operates the whole universe on the basis of this quality! So for eternal life anywhere, we must follow the way of love.
God showed love for the nation of Israel but later rejected that organization for unfaithfulness. He then identified the congregation of Jesus’ disciples as His new organization. How? By special manifestations of holy spirit empowering them to speak in tongues and to prophesy. Thus, at Pentecost 33 C.E., 3,000 Jews and proselytes became believers and left the old organization for God’s new one. (Acts 2:1-41) Since the spirit’s gifts were thereafter bestowed through Jesus’ apostles, such manifestations ceased at their death. (Acts 8:5-18; 19:1-6) But by then the gifts had proved that God’s favor was on spiritual Israel.—Galatians 6:16.
Miracles resulting from gifts of the spirit were beneficial. However, displaying love or unselfish concern for others is more important than having the spirit’s gifts. The apostle Paul showed this in his first letter to the Corinthians (c. 55 C.E.). In it he spoke of love as “a surpassing way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) That way is discussed in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.
Without Love, We Are Nothing
Paul reasoned: “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.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Without love, it would mean nothing to speak in a spirit-imparted human language or a heavenly angelic tongue. Paul preferred to speak five edifying words instead of ten thousand in a tongue people did not understand. (1 Corinthians 14:19) A loveless person would be like “a sounding piece of brass”—a noisy, annoying gong—or an unmelodious “clashing cymbal.” Loveless speaking in tongues was not a soothing, spiritually upbuilding way to glorify God and help his people. Today, we show love by using understandable speech in the Christian ministry.
The apostle next said: “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.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Miraculous prophesying, special comprehension of sacred secrets, and spirit-imparted knowledge might benefit others but not those possessing such gifts if the gifted ones were unloving. Paul used special understanding of sacred secrets to help others, and a gift of knowledge enabled him to foretell survival of shipwreck victims. (Acts 27:20-44; 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2) Yet, if he had ‘all knowledge and all faith’ but was unloving, he would be nothing in Jehovah’s sight.
Today, Jehovah’s spirit enables his Witnesses to understand Bible prophecies and sacred secrets and guides them in imparting such knowledge to others. (Joel 2:28, 29) The spirit also produces faith needed to surmount mountainous obstacles. (Matthew 17:20) Since the spirit does these things, it is wrong to seek personal glory from them. We amount to nothing unless we do things for God’s glory and with love for him and fellow humans.—Galatians 5:6.
Not Profited by Loveless Sacrifice
Paul said: “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 Corinthians 13:3) Without love, Paul would not profit if he gave everything he owned to feed others. God rewards us for the love behind our gifts, not for their material value or because we seek glory as givers, like lying Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11) Paul set a fine example by lovingly giving of himself in connection with a relief ministry for believers in Judea.—1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 9:7.
Even loveless martyrdom as a witness to the truth means nothing to God. (Proverbs 25:27) Jesus spoke of his sacrifice but did not boast about it. Instead of boasting he gave himself willingly out of love. (Mark 10:45; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:5-10) His spiritual brothers ‘present their bodies a living sacrifice’ in God’s service not in self-glorifying martyrdom but in unspectacular ways that glorify Jehovah and demonstrate their love for him.—Romans 12:1, 2.
Some Ways That Love Will Make Us Act
Paul wrote: “Love is long-suffering and kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4a) For many, God’s long-suffering since Adam’s sin has meant repentance leading to salvation. (2 Peter 3:9, 15) If we have love, we will patiently teach others the truth. We will avoid emotional outbursts and will be considerate and forgiving. (Matthew 18:21, 22) Love is also kind, and we are drawn to God because of his kindness. His spirit’s fruit of kindness keeps us from being more demanding of others than he is of us. (Ephesians 4:32) Love even makes us kind to unthankful people.—Luke 6:35.
Paul added: “Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up.” (1 Corinthians 13:4b) Jealousy is a work of the flesh that will exclude one from God’s Kingdom. (Galatians 5:19-21) Love keeps us from being jealous of another person’s possessions or favorable circumstances. If he receives a service privilege we desired, love will make us rejoice with him, give him our support, and thank God that he can be used to benefit the congregation.
Since love “does not brag,” it does not move us to boast about what God lets us do in his service. Some Corinthians boasted as if they originated the spirit’s gifts, but these were from God, as are privileges in his modern-day organization. Instead of boasting about our standing in God’s organization, then, let us beware that we do not fall. (1 Corinthians 1:31; 4:7; 10:12) Love “does not get puffed up,” but an unloving person’s mind may be inflated with self-importance. Loving people do not feel superior to others.—1 Corinthians 4:18, 19; Galatians 6:3.
Not Indecent, Selfish, Resentful
Love “does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked.” (1 Corinthians 13:5a) It promotes good manners, godly conduct, respect for authority, and decent behavior at Christian meetings. (Ephesians 5:3-5; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 14:40; compare Jude 4, 8-10.) Since love makes everyone feel needed, like all parts of the human body, a loving congregation is a place of peace and refuge. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25) Instead of selfishly ‘looking for its own interests,’ love causes us to sacrifice our rights at times and show interest in others and in their welfare. (Philippians 2:1-4) Love makes us ‘become all things to all sorts of people, that we might save some’ by our ministry.—1 Corinthians 9:22, 23.
Love “does not become provoked.” Fits of anger are works of the sinful flesh, but love makes us “slow about wrath.” (James 1:19; Galatians 5:19, 20) Even if we get justifiably angry, love does not let us remain provoked, thus giving place to the Devil. (Ephesians 4:26, 27) Especially must elders avoid anger if fellow believers fail in carrying out some suggestion.
Paul also said of love: “It does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Corinthians 13:5b) Love does not keep a list of wrongs, like entries in a ledger. It sees good in fellow believers and does not retaliate for real or imagined wrongs. (Proverbs 20:22; 24:29; 25:21, 22) Love helps us to “pursue the things making for peace.” (Romans 14:19) Paul and Barnabas had a dispute and went separate ways in God’s service, but love healed the breach and kept them from holding a grudge.—Leviticus 19:17, 18; Acts 15:36-41.
Disposed to Righteousness and Truth
Regarding love, Paul went on to say: “It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Some take such delight in unrighteousness that “they do not sleep unless they do badness.” (Proverbs 4:16) But in God’s organization we do not contend with one another or rejoice if one is ensnared by sin. (Proverbs 17:5; 24:17, 18) If there had been enough love for God and righteousness in the Corinth congregation, immorality would not have been tolerated there. (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) Among other things, love for righteousness keeps us from enjoying television, motion picture, or theatrical portrayals of unrighteousness.
Love “rejoices with the truth.” Here truth is contrasted with unrighteousness. This evidently means that love causes us to rejoice over the influence for righteousness that the truth has on people. We find joy in things that build people up and that advance the cause of truth and righteousness. Love prevents us from telling lies, gives us joy when the upright are proved innocent, and causes us to rejoice in the triumph of God’s truth.—Psalm 45:4.
How Love Deals With All Things
Continuing his definition of love, Paul wrote: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) ‘Bearing all things,’ love keeps out resentment as a good roof does rain. If anyone offends us but then asks forgiveness, love makes us bear injury, forgiving the offender instead of gossiping about matters. In love we try to ‘gain our brother.’—Matthew 18:15-17; Colossians 3:13.
Love “believes all things” in God’s Word and makes us grateful for spiritual food provided through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) Though we are not gullible, love prevents us from having an unbelieving heart and keeps us from imputing bad motives to fellow believers. (Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22) Love also “hopes all things” recorded in the Scriptures, such as truths regarding God’s Kingdom. Moved by love, we hope and pray for the best outcome in trying situations. Love also moves us to tell others the reason for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) Additionally, love “endures all things,” including sins against us. (Proverbs 10:12) Love for God also helps us to endure persecution and other trials.
Paul added: “Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8a) It can no more end or fail than Jehovah can. Since our eternal God is the epitome of love, this quality will never cease. (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 John 4:16) The universe will always be governed by love. Let us therefore pray that God will help us to overcome selfish traits and display this unfailing fruit of his spirit.—Luke 11:13.
Things Due to Pass Away
Pointing ahead, Paul wrote: “But 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.” (1 Corinthians 13:8b) ‘Gifts of prophesying’ enabled their possessors to utter new prophecies. Though such gifts passed away after the Christian congregation was established as God’s organization, his prophetic power never passes away, and his Word contains all the prophecy we now need. Spirit-imparted ability to speak in tongues also ceased, and special knowledge was “done away with,” as foretold. But Jehovah’s complete Word supplies what we need to know for salvation. (Romans 10:8-10) Moreover, God’s people are filled with his spirit and bring forth its fruitage.
Paul continued: “For we have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially; but when that which is complete arrives, that which is partial will be done away with.” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 10) The gifts of knowledge and prophecy were incomplete. Apparently, such prophecy did not go into detail, and each prophet was partial in disclosing the future, lacking perfect knowledge about what he foretold. Now, however, the understanding of prophecy is gradually becoming complete. For instance, facts fulfilling Bible prophecy confirm that Jesus received kingly authority over mankind in 1914. Since then, we have been in “the time of the end” and are enjoying continual growth in spiritual knowledge and understanding of Bible prophecy. (Daniel 12:4) Hence, we are coming to perfect knowledge and “that which is complete” must be at hand.
The Greatest Quality Remains
Alluding to the congregation’s progress, Paul wrote: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Since a babe acts on the basis of limited knowledge and physical development, it can be swayed to and fro, as though being rocked in a cradle. But a man is much more developed physically, has greater knowledge, and usually is not easily swayed. He has abolished childhood thoughts, attitudes, and methods. Similarly, after God’s earthly organization grew out of its infancy, He judged that it did not need the spirit’s gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. Though present-day members of the congregation, now in its old age, also feel no need for such gifts, they are glad to serve God under the guidance of his spirit.
Paul added: “For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) During the congregation’s infancy, it was not God’s time to reveal certain things. Hence, they were seen in hazy outline, as though Christians were looking into a metal mirror lacking a fine reflecting surface. (Acts 1:6, 7) But we are beyond a hazy view. Fulfillment now stares type and prophecy in the face, for this is God’s time of revelation. (Psalm 97:11; Daniel 2:28) Though Paul himself knew God, the pinnacle of knowledge of Jehovah and the most intimate relationship with Him would come when the apostle would be resurrected to heavenly life, thus receiving the full reward of his Christian course.
Concluding his epitome of love, Paul wrote: “Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Despite the absence of the spirit’s miraculous gifts, the congregation now has more complete knowledge and reason for richer faith, hope, and love. It has faith that everything God has promised is as good as fulfilled. (Hebrews 11:1) Features of faith will end as things foretold in God’s Word are realized. Aspects of hope will cease when we see hoped-for things. But love will remain forever. Hence, let all of Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to follow the surpassing way of love.