The citizens of Corinth thought they knew a lot about love. After all, their city was the center of worship for Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Every evening in the marketplace the “priestesses” of Aphrodite offered divine love for sale, and a sexual encounter with one of them was considered an act of worship and an experience of godly love. This is the kind of love the Corinthians were known for.
But one day a man named Paul came preaching a different kind of love — a love that could not be bought and sold, a love that was not defined by the fleeting feelings of erotic arousal, a love that did not have selfish pleasure for its goal. Paul preached the love of God in Jesus Christ, a supernatural love that has its source only in the one true God. This love can neither be purchased nor earned, only received by faith as a gift of God’s grace. And once it is received it can be given away. God gives His love to you, and He gives it through you to others.
The love of God is certainly something you can feel, for it comforts, encourages, calms, and reassures. But it is more than a feeling; it is an action that is oriented outward toward others, not inward toward ourselves. It is the indispensable quality of the church, the way we relate to each other with the supernatural, unconditional, undeserved kindness and affection that God gives to us.
It is the love of God that gives meaning and authenticity to our words. Without love our teaching, preaching, and singing is just so much noise (v.1). It is God’s love in us that makes our spiritual gifts, our faith, our Bible knowledge, and our sacrifice useful to others — without love our religious activity is “nothing” (v.2-3). But this love does not come naturally. Selfishness, in all its forms (v.4-6), is what comes naturally to us. The love of God enables us to set aside our selfishness so that we can love like He does, with patience, hopefulness, and endurance, expecting nothing in return and requiring nothing up front.
That kind of love mirrors the sacrificial love of Jesus, the demonstration of God’s love “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). And that kind of love marks the difference between the love of the world and the love of the church. As every member surrenders to the lordship of Jesus, allowing His love to flow freely through us, we become a living reflection of the perfect, unfailing, saving love of God. If the world ever needed to see that, it sure does need it now.