By J.R. Miller
1 Corinthians 13
Paul was speaking of the spiritual gifts, which were conferred upon Christians, and there flashed upon his mind a vision of something far better, than any power of healing or miracle working or speaking with tongues. This more excellent way is the way of love.
Love is better than eloquence. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels--but have not love I am become sounding brass." One who can talk in a number of languages is regarded as an accomplished man. But one may be a good linguist and a good orator--and yet not be a good Christian. To be a Christian is to have love.
Love is better than great learning. "If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge... but have not love, I am nothing." We live in an age when education is highly extolled. The training of the mind is considered of the highest importance. But there is something better than knowledge. One may be a learned scientist, a profound philosopher, may even be a brilliant theologian knowing the Bible and all sacred literature and Christian doctrine--and yet be nothing as God rates men. We are measured before God by the love that is in our character. In every foot of cordage used in the British navy, there is a red thread so intertwined that it cannot be taken out without the unraveling of the rope or cable. Just so, in every true character, there is a red cord of love. Christian loving-kindness, which spreads warmth all about it, like the soft light or the sweet fragrance of flowers, is more excellent than the most brilliant learning.
Love is better than benevolence. "If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,... but have not love, it profits me nothing." It is not the gift that God blesses--but the love, which bestows the gift. It is not the service rendered--but the spirit, which prompts the service. There is a story of a king who built a great temple, paying all the cost himself. It was built for his own glory. When the time of dedication came, it was seen that someone had rubbed off the king's name and put in its place that of a poor widow. The king was greatly amazed, not knowing that anyone but himself had done anything in the building of this temple. Inquiry was made, and the woman bearing the name came tremblingly into the king's presence. When he demanded of her what she had done in the building of the temple, she could think of nothing. When pressed still further, she remembered that one hot day, as the oxen were drawing stones past her door, she had in pity gathered some handfuls of grass and given them to the panting beasts. Pity for the dumb animals weighed more in heaven's sight--than all the king's vast outlay of treasure.
In a few striking sentences the qualities of love are sketched. "Love is patient, and is kind," The first touch of the pencil, presents love as patience. Love always costs. One of the first things to be learned in a Christian life is endurance, sometimes of wrong, ofttimes of injustice--not enduring merely--but patient endurance. It is not enough to bear wrong for a day or two, "Love is patient." Not seven times--but seventy times seven must the insult or injury be patiently borne with. Nor is it enough to endure in cold silence the injuries. "Love is patient, and is kind,"--love keeps a gentle heart, continues to do good for evil, to bathe with fragrance the hand that smites.
"Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude." Here is a whole cluster of bright jewels shining on the bosom of love. It does not ENVY. Far more than we are willing to confess does the poison of envy lurk in our hearts. Nothing can be more unloving than this spirit. Love rejoices in the success of others. We should train ourselves to be glad even when others surpass us.
Love is HUMBLE. It does not pose for admiration or praise, nor blow its own trumpet, not put on airs of any kind. It does not try to get into places it is not fitted to fill.
"Love is not RUDE." This seems to refer to one's manners. Love is refined, gentle, thoughtful, considerate. If anyone makes religion unlovely, he is presenting only a caricature of it. Love is always courteous.
"Love is not easily angered." Hasty temper is so common, that most people have come to think of it as only a kind of harmless weakness, a mere infirmity. Men apologize for their friends who are bad tempered, as if it were a small matter. But really it is a sad blemish on character. We have no right ever to say a harsh or unkind thing anywhere, especially in our own home. There is too much sulking and sullenness in many homes. When we feel such moods coming upon us we would better go away by ourselves, and, getting down on our knees before God, fight the battle out, not leaving our refuge until we can come back with sweet spirit and gentle, kindly speech.
Love is the most enduring thing in the world. It "never fails." Textbooks that are a few years old are not of any use any more. Old machinery is constantly being replaced by new machinery.
"For we know in part and we prophesy in part--but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." We may be thankful for the little revealed now, for it serves us well on the way. The morning dawn is very welcome to the early traveler--but it is only partial day, not the best. When the full day comes, the dim twilight passes. Lamps in our homes and on our streets are good at night, when darkness covers the earth. But their light is not perfect, and when the sun rises, we care no longer for them and put them out. The knowledge we have on the earth serves well when it is the best we can have; but it will not be prized when heaven's perfect knowledge comes. The things we know here are but the scaffolding, which men set up when they are erecting a great building. It serves a good purpose for the time. Without it, the walls never could be built. But when the work is finished, men do not prize the scaffolding... They tear it down and take it away, for there is no longer any use for it. So the gifts and graces and all the experiences of earth, which serve well enough now--will be discarded and left behind when we reach the fullness of God.
Of all things in the world, love is that which will endure as the most imperishable. "Now abides faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." We should gather treasure, which we can carry with us to heaven. We should paint pictures, which will not fade out as we pass through the valley. We should do things, which will live in the other world when this world has vanished. Three things are names, which will abide--faith, hope, love. There will always be faith, for we shall never cease to trust God and believe in His love. There will always be hope, for we shall never reach the end of growth in blessing. But greater than either faith or hope is love. Whatever else we strive for I this world, we should put love always first in our request. The one great lesson to be learned in all life is--love.