The Way of Love Never Fails
“Keep zealously seeking the greater gifts. And yet I show you a surpassing way.”—1 CORINTHIANS 12:31.
1-3. (a) How is learning to express love much like learning a new language? (b) What factors can make learning to express love a challenge?
HAVE you ever attempted to learn a new language? It is challenging, to say the least! Of course, a young child can learn a language just by being exposed to it. His brain fairly soaks up the sounds and meanings of words, so that before long the tot is expressing himself quite adeptly, perhaps incessantly. Not so with adults. We search a foreign-language dictionary repeatedly, just to master a few basic phrases in a foreign tongue. In time and with enough exposure, though, we start to think in the new language and speaking it becomes easier.
2 Learning to express love is much like learning a new language. True, a measure of this divine quality is inherent in humans. (Genesis 1:27; compare 1 John 4:8.) Still, learning to express love takes extraordinary effort—especially today, when natural affection is in such short supply. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) This is sometimes the case right in the family. Yes, many grow up in a harsh environment where loving words are hardly ever expressed—if at all. (Ephesians 4:29-31; 6:4) How, then, can we learn to express love—even if we have rarely experienced it?
3 The Bible can help. At 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul provides, not a mechanical definition of what love is, but a vivid description of how this highest form of love acts. A consideration of these verses will help us grasp the nature of this divine quality and better equip us to express it. Let us consider some facets of love as described by Paul. We will group them broadly according to three categories: our conduct in general; then, more specifically, our relationships with others; and, finally, our endurance.
Love Helps Us Conquer Pride
4. The Bible provides what insight into jealousy?
4 After his initial comments about love, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Love is not jealous.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) Jealousy can manifest itself in envious discontent at the good fortune or attainments of others. Such jealousy is destructive—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.—Proverbs 14:30; Romans 13:13; James 3:14-16.
5. How can love help us to conquer jealousy when we are seemingly passed over for some theocratic privilege?
5 In view of this, ask yourself, ‘Do I become envious when I am seemingly passed over for some theocratic privilege?’ If the answer is yes, do not despair. The Bible writer James reminds us that “a tendency to envy” is present in all imperfect humans. (James 4:5) Love for your brother can help you to restore your balance. It can enable you to rejoice with those who rejoice and not to view it as a personal affront when someone else receives a blessing or a compliment.—Compare 1 Samuel 18:7-9.
6. What severe situation developed in the first-century Corinthian congregation?
6 Paul adds that love “does not brag, does not get puffed up.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) If we have some talent or ability, there is no need to flaunt it. Evidently, this was a problem with some ambitious men who had slipped into the ancient Corinthian congregation. It may be that they had superior abilities in expounding ideas or a more efficient way of doing things. Their calling attention to themselves may have contributed to splitting the congregation into factions. (1 Corinthians 3:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 12:20) The situation became so severe that Paul later had to chastise the Corinthians for ‘putting up with unreasonable persons,’ whom Paul critically described as “superfine apostles.”—2 Corinthians 11:5, 19, 20.
7, 8. Show from the Bible how we can use any inherent talents we possess to promote unity.
7 A similar situation can develop today. For example, some might have a tendency to boast about their accomplishments in the ministry or their privileges in God’s organization. Even if we do have a particular skill or ability that others in the congregation lack, would that give us license to become puffed up? After all, we should use any inherent talents we possess to promote unity—not ourselves.—Matthew 23:12; 1 Peter 5:6.
8 Paul wrote that although a congregation has many members, “God compounded the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:19-26) The Greek word translated “compounded” signifies harmonious blending, as in the mixing of colors. So no individual in a congregation should feel puffed up about his abilities and try to dominate over others. Pride and ambition have no place in God’s organization.—Proverbs 16:19; 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Peter 5:2, 3.
9. What warning examples does the Bible provide of individuals who were looking out for their own interests?
9 Love “does not look for its own interests.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) A loving person does not manipulate others in order to get his way. The Bible contains warning examples in this matter. To illustrate: We read of Delilah, Jezebel, and Athaliah—women who manipulated others for their own selfish causes. (Judges 16:16; 1 Kings 21:25; 2 Chronicles 22:10-12) There also was King David’s son Absalom. He would approach those who came to Jerusalem for judgment and slyly insinuate that the king’s court lacked genuine interest in their problems. Then he would state outright that what the court really needed was a warmhearted man like him! (2 Samuel 15:2-4) Of course, Absalom was interested, not in the downtrodden, but only in himself. Acting as a self-appointed king, he swayed the hearts of many. But in time, Absalom met a crushing defeat. At his death, he was not even deemed worthy of a decent burial.—2 Samuel 18:6-17.
10. How can we demonstrate that we are keeping an eye on the interests of others?
10 This is a warning to Christians today. Whether male or female, we may by nature have persuasive powers. It may be easy for us to get our way, so to speak, by dominating a conversation or by wearing down those who have a different view. If we are truly loving, however, we will keep an eye on the interests of others. (Philippians 2:2-4) We will not take advantage of others or promote questionable ideas because of our experience or our position in God’s organization, as if our views are the only ones that carry weight. Rather, we will remember the Bible proverb: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”—Proverbs 16:18.
Love Makes for Peaceful Relationships
11. (a) In what ways can we show love that is both kind and decent? (b) How can we show that we do not rejoice over unrighteousness?
11 Paul also wrote that love is “kind” and that it “does not behave indecently.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Yes, love will not allow us to act in a rude, vulgar, or disrespectful manner. Instead, we will take others’ feelings into consideration. For example, a loving person will avoid doing things that would disturb the consciences of others. (Compare 1 Corinthians 8:13.) Love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) If we love Jehovah’s law, we will not wink at immorality or be entertained by things that God hates. (Psalm 119:97) Love will help us find joy in things that build up rather than tear down.—Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24; 14:26.
12, 13. (a) How should we react when someone offends us? (b) Cite Bible examples to show that even justified anger can cause us to act unwisely.
12 Paul writes that love “does not become provoked” (“is not touchy,” Phillips). (1 Corinthians 13:5) Granted, it is only normal for us imperfect humans to become agitated or to feel a degree of wrath when someone offends us. However, it would be wrong to harbor prolonged resentment or to continue in a provoked state. (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26) If left unchecked, even justified anger might cause us to act unwisely, and Jehovah could hold us responsible for this.—Genesis 34:1-31; 49:5-7; Numbers 12:3; 20:10-12; Psalm 106:32, 33.
13 Some have allowed the imperfections of others to affect their decision to attend Christian meetings or to share in the field ministry. Previously, many of these put up a hard fight for the faith, perhaps bearing up under family opposition, ridicule from workmates, and the like. They endured such obstacles because they viewed them as tests of integrity, and rightly so. But what happens when a fellow Christian says or does something unloving? Is this not also a test of integrity? Indeed it is, for if we remain in a provoked state, we could “allow place for the Devil.”—Ephesians 4:27.
14, 15. (a) What does it mean to “keep account of the injury”? (b) How can we imitate Jehovah in being forgiving?
14 With good reason, Paul adds that love “does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) Here he uses an accounting term, evidently to suggest the act of inscribing the offense in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. Is it loving to make a permanent mental record of the hurtful word or deed, as if we will need to refer to it at some future time? How glad we can be that Jehovah does not scrutinize us in such a merciless manner! (Psalm 130:3) Yes, when we are repentant, he blots out our errors.—Acts 3:19.
15 We can imitate Jehovah in this regard. We should not be overly sensitive when someone seems to slight us. If we are quick to take offense, we may be hurting ourselves more deeply than the person who offended us ever could. (Ecclesiastes 7:9, 22) Instead, we need to remember that love “believes all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Of course, none of us want to be gullible, but neither should we be unduly suspicious of our brothers’ motives. Wherever possible, let us give one another the benefit of the doubt.—Colossians 3:13.
Love Helps Us to Endure
16. In what circumstances can love help us to be long-suffering?
16 Paul then tells us that “love is long-suffering.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) It enables us to put up with trialsome conditions, perhaps for an extended period of time. For example, many Christians have for years lived in a religiously divided household. Others are single, not by choice, but because they have been unable to find a suitable mate “in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14) Then there are those who battle debilitating health problems. (Galatians 4:13, 14; Philippians 2:25-30) Really, in this imperfect system, no one has a situation in life that does not require some type of endurance.—Matthew 10:22; James 1:12.
17. What will help us to endure all things?
17 Paul assures us that love “bears all things, . . . hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Love for Jehovah will enable us to suffer any situation for righteousness’ sake. (Matthew 16:24; 1 Corinthians 10:13) We do not seek martyrdom. On the contrary, our aim is to live peaceable, quiet lives. (Romans 12:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12) Nevertheless, when tests of faith arise, we gladly endure these as part of the cost of Christian discipleship. (Luke 14:28-33) As we endure, we try to maintain a positive outlook, hoping for the best outcome in the midst of trying situations.
18. How is endurance needed even during favorable season?
18 Tribulation is not the only circumstance that calls for endurance. Sometimes, to endure means simply to last, to continue on a set path whether trying situations are present or not. Endurance includes maintaining a good spiritual routine. For example, are you having a meaningful share in the ministry, in accord with your circumstances? Are you reading and meditating on God’s Word and communicating with your heavenly Father through prayer? Are you regularly attending congregation meetings, and do you benefit from an interchange of encouragement with your fellow believers? If so, then whether presently in favorable season or in troublesome season, you are enduring. Do not give up, “for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.”—Galatians 6:9.
Love—“A Surpassing Way”
19. How is love “a surpassing way”?
19 Paul underscored the importance of expressing love by calling this divine quality “a surpassing way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) “Surpassing” in what sense? Well, Paul had just enumerated the gifts of the spirit, which were common among first-century Christians. Some were enabled to prophesy, others were empowered to heal sicknesses, many were given the ability to speak in tongues. Astounding gifts, indeed! Yet, Paul told the Corinthians: “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.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2) Yes, even acts that might otherwise be of value become “dead works” if the motive for them is not love for God and for neighbor.—Hebrews 6:1.
20. Why is continuous effort needed if we are to cultivate love?
20 Jesus gives us another reason why we should cultivate the divine quality of love. “By this all will know that you are my disciples,” he said, “if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) The word “if” leaves it up to each Christian as to whether he or she will learn to express love. After all, merely dwelling in a foreign country would not in itself force us to learn to speak its language. Nor does simply attending meetings at a Kingdom Hall or associating with fellow Christians automatically teach us to express love. Learning this “language” takes continuous effort.
21, 22. (a) How should we react if we do not measure up to some aspect of love discussed by Paul? (b) In what way can it be said that “love never fails”?
21 At times, you will not measure up to some aspect of love discussed by Paul. But do not be discouraged. Patiently apply yourself. Continue to consult the Bible and apply its principles in your dealings with others. Never forget the example that Jehovah himself sets for us. Paul admonished the Ephesians: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”—Ephesians 4:32.
22 Even as learning to express yourself in a new language eventually becomes easier, in time you will likely find that expressing love will become easier. Paul assures us that “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Unlike the miraculous gifts of the spirit, love will never cease to exist. So continue learning to express this divine quality. It is, as Paul calls it, “a surpassing way.”
Can You Explain?
◻ How can love help us to conquer pride?
◻ In what ways can love help us to promote peace in the congregation?
◻ How can love help us to endure?
◻ How is love “a surpassing way”?
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Love will help us to overlook the faults of our fellow believers
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Endurance means maintaining our theocratic routine