What’s love got to do with it?


“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12,13

Agape love, often translated ‘charity’, is the kind of love that has no conditions; it is the kind of love God has for us.  Paul’s most eloquent use of the word agape in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 [popular at weddings] is rather challenging. When Paul finishes giving the examples of what Agape does not do, he goes on to tell his readers that this kind of love will outlast all else. There just won’t be some things around. But this love will last for ever. It is important to note here that the Apostle Paul is not suggesting that ‘love is all there is’ — e.g. that the notion of justice has no eternal significance. If this were the case, then a significant portion of the Bible would have to be cast aside as irrelevant. What is of the upmost importance is that we remember that the letter  was written specifically to the gathered church in Corinth; so it is in this context that it [Firstly] has to be interpreted. This is exactly what Gordon Fee (Fee, 1987) does in his commentary on 1st Corinthians. With regards to their use of the ‘Grace Gifts’, Fee argues that the apostle sets out to put their (The Corinthian Christians) zeal for tongues within what he refers to as ‘a broader ethical context’ — a context that will ultimately disallow the use of ‘uninterpreted  tongues’ in the assembly/ gathering/ church  — the context being love for others against self-interest. Fee:

“At the same time, however, much of the language suggests that Paul is picking up on some of the differences between himself and them that have emerged throughout the letter. Thus the structure of the argument, lyrical as it is, also reflects his continuing argument with them. At issue have been opposing views of ‘spirituality’. They speak in tongues, to be sure, which Paul will not question as a legitimate activity of the Spirit. But at the same time they tolerate, or endorse,  illicit sexuality, greed, and idolatry: illustrated throughout the first letter to the Corinthians. They spout ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’; but in the former they stand boldly against Paul and his gospel of a crucified Messiah, and in the latter they are willing to ‘build up’ a brother by destroying him (8:10-11). In short, they have a spirituality that has religious trappings (asceticism, knowledge, tongues) but has abandoned rather totally genuinely Christian ethics, with its supremacy of love.” (Fee, p. 627)

It is important to note that the Apostle Paul  is not ‘framing’ his argument around a legal requirement that has a ‘pass’ or ’fail’ factor — so that salvation depends on whether or not one has ‘loved’ enough or conversely — failed to love enough — so that, as in the religion of Islam, at the judgement the scales are weighed against us. The apostle Paul is clearly not suggesting anything like this—neither is he advocating that there need be no ‘sacrificial atonement’ offered to fallen human beings. Should anyone think like this they would have missed the point or at least not understood the very nature of God’s love, which is Gratia Solo [Grace alone] — or indeed understood the true nature of humanity. There are no conditions with this kind of love though — should we receive of it. Its very nature cries out for an R.S.V.P. Dallas Willard[1] said: “When we enter the life of friendship with the Jesus who is now at work in our universe, we stand in a new reality where condemnation is simply irrelevant.” (Willard, 1997) There is before God, Paul says ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ [Romans 8:1].” The preposition ‘in’ makes it sounds as if there is some exclusivity. The question arises: Does agape love have no choice but to love all and sundry, as if there could be some kind of ‘human rights legislation’ that legislates against universal justice — God’s right to judge even?

[1] We presume Willard deliberately uses the defining relative clause here. We should think so because it adds to the meaning. What he’s saying [we think] is that—though there may be many versions of Jesus, it is though this Jesus who is ‘now at work’. not another variety.

Fee, Gordon D, 1987 The First Letter To the Corinthians (Commentary)

Willard, D., 1997. The Divine Conspiracy:Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God

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