1 Corinthians 13 is unquestionably my favorite passage of scripture. In it the Apostle Paul encourages us to develop the greatest of divine attributes – love.
The word that is translated as charity in the King James Version of the Bible is the Greek word agape. The Greeks wisely have four different words for love:
- Agape: The love that God has for us.
- Phileo: This is best translated as emotional love. It is composed of things like respect, admiration, brotherhood, and so forth.
- Eros: Romantic love.
- Stergo: The love between parents and children.
The fact that we have only one word for love has caused all kinds of problems in our culture, but that’s not a subject for this blog. Instead, let’s examine what Paul says about agape.
Agape is sincerity. Paul illustrates lack of sincerity by comparing it to a gong (sounding brass) or a cymbal. In organ terms, it’s like a few chords played at full organ. It makes an impression, but there’s nothing behind it to back it up. When the sound fades, there’s nothing left.
Agape is greater than any spiritual gift. It’s greater than prophecy, knowledge or mighty miracles. Once again, these, while marvelous and useful, fade away. Agape perseveres.
Agape means more than an act of personal largesse. Things like dying for a cause or giving away a vast fortune don’t mean much unless the motivations behind them are pure.
Agape is patient. People make mistakes, but agape tolerates them and encourages them to do better. Agape is kind and actively looks for ways to help others. At the same time, agape doesn’t go around bragging about what it has done. Pride is the opposite of agape.
Agape is proper behavior. It isn’t rude or crude. Instead, it respects others. It is tolerant in that it doesn’t demand that it gets its own way. Agape doesn’t get angry easily.
The King James Version translates part of verse 1 Cor 13:5 as “thinketh no evil”. The word “thinketh” is the the Greek word logizomai. This word has the connotation of calculation or recording. Agape doesn’t keep a list of wrongs around for later reference or hold grudges. Agape forgives quickly.
Agape isn’t happy with unrighteousness. It takes every opportunity to promote good and diminish evil. It isn’t concerned about whether or not its actions are popular. It just does what is right.
Agape bears all things. It never gives up and looks hopefully to the future. Agape endures. It does these things not to manipulate others, but to sincerely help them. Agape is willing to suffer wrongs committed by others.
The time will come when most things will pass away or become useless. That includes many spiritual gifts, as they may not be needed in our divine future. Agape, however, lasts forever. As we become more like our Heavenly Father, agape becomes our sole motivation for doing things.
We don’t know everything today, and even those things we learn by prophecy only reveal a small part of what is ahead. When we are perfected in Christ, however, we will fully understand. It’s like the process of changing from a child to an adult: As we learn, we put away from ourselves the things that are not agape, as these things are, quite frankly, childish.
We mortals are hindered by lack of vision. We tend to see only the here and now and do not understand the larger picture. The day will come, however, when we do understand.
The greatest thing that we can develop in our own lives is agape – charity. As organists, we need to develop the kind of love that allows us to forgive others, serve gladly, teach with the Spirit, and do all other things necessary to build up the kingdom of God. After all, it’s not about us, it’s about Him!