Love is Not Alone (Click to see PDF illustrated version)
Love is Not Alone
“Love is patient, love is kind, . . . rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth” (1 Corinthians 13)
How often I read and quote 1 Corinthians 13, but overlook in thought and application the little section that says “rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth.” It is surely a word of love for us today.
Love is the bond of perfect (complete / mature) unity (Col 3:14). It brings people and even virtues together, and is a harmonious thing. But love is not a trump card that ignores realities or obliterates moral obligations. It is for binding together a life full of truth and light. As the 1 Corinthian 13 Love Passage reveals, “Love rejoices NOT in UNrighteousnes, but Rejoices in Truth.”
Can “truth talk” mean anything to us today? We have imbibed years of enchanting spells spun by the high priests of flat-thinking worldliness who mock (yet mimic) the Christ born truths that have transformed western civilization over the past 2000 years. Say the word “truth,” and our reflexes are conditioned to raise suspicion about truth, in direct proportion to how much worldly thinking controls our thoughts and imaginations. And for some of us, suspicion is so natural that we aren’t even conscious of it. Like living in Asia during the monsoon season, if I unthinkingly drink the water without purifying it first, I will get very sick very soon. I may even contact microbes that plague me the rest of my life. So yes, we are pilgrims in a strange land and if we unwittingly “gulp down the water,” our stay here will be vexing indeed.
So how does the 1 Corinthians 13 positive connection between love, righteousness, and truth bless us? It keeps us from the disordered and distorted loves that inevitably arise as even a rebellious, fallen humanity continues to enjoy being made in the image of God. Love is lots of things. But we learn here that love is not the acid that melts away other truths and other concerns. It is rather something that pulls the many goods in our lives together in right proportion and manner. Love is not all we need because it needs other things to bring together. As revealed in the commonly used wedding Scripture: “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). So for instance, love does not obliterate the commands of Jesus, nor does it melt away obligations to pursue justice, or speak truthfully to our neighbor.
When Paul said, “The greatest of these is love,” he was not thereby saying love is the only thing. Yet love is such a bond of perfect unity, that when present, doing Jesus’ will can be said to be love (“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments” 2 John 1:6; 1 John 5:3). Jesus lived and taught his full view of love, saying, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me,” and “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 14:21; John 15:10).
Jesus’ clear teaching on love and commandments tends to confuse us to no end, to the degree that we are drinking the water of a godless culture. But doesn’t love fulfill and sum up the law and great commandments? Yes indeed. This is taught in Romans 13:8 – 10:
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
So great is love that it sums up and fulfills the law. So what do we conclude from this? That the commands are no longer helpful, needed, insightful, or binding? No small number think this way, not with much reflection, for this is the “natural” worldly answer. But it is not Jesus’ answer. He taught love and keeping His commands, while consciously keeping His Father’s commands in love. I want to be a Jesus person; I hope we all do, but what does it say when I skip over the word “command” in Jesus’ last teaching for His disciples when He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples, . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20)? “ALL that I have commanded.” Jesus has no trouble with commandments, with keeping them in love, and teaching us to teach the same. But we, who have recently repented of a tradition that made as doctrine the commandments of men—overreact in fear of even the good, holy and true commands Jesus actually does teach and uphold. Is it true that we have become so enlightened and spiritual that we no longer need commandments to inform our love? This is not of Jesus. It is its own bondage, and it keeps us from enjoying the life of faith.
But what do I do with the commands of Jesus, and the commands of Scripture that Jesus sees as from His Father? We let love use the commands as instruction to keep us away from death and moving in the way of life. As has been well said, “The commandment of love and the particular commandments are interdependent. We learn from the commandment of love the point of the particular commandments and the spirit in which they should be practiced; but we learn from the particular commandments what genuine love actually requires. Adultery is of such a nature that it cannot be committed lovingly; love is of such a nature that it loathes the very thought of adultery” (J. Budd.)
But isn’t love still the greatest thing? Yes indeed. But it is not the only thing. Love is the bond of complete unity—bringing together not simply people but also other things like the commandments of God. Love puts us in a place that we may even anticipate the will of the Father, doing naturally and even ahead of time what is otherwise commanded.
Is there a good illustration of this? One that works for me is the nature of light. As we learn in high school physics, light is not simply one thing. It is both a particle and a wave. The wave behavior of light can be seen as the higher, controlling aspect. But light is not light without its particles of energy. The particles and the wave work together. So it is with love. Love is like the wave aspect of light; it is higher and controlling, yet like the wave, love is not without its particles—particular commands that make love what it fully is. Those who insist that love is all you need, are like waves without particles. And that means lacking the form and particularity that makes light (and love) the standard in our physical (and spiritual) universe.
Truly, the best illustration of this is the life and teaching of Jesus Himself. Love bonds together all the Christ-like virtues, and like Christ Himself, “rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth.”
Lord, help us hear your teaching in this age that despises so much righteousness and sneers at truth. Receive, we ask, our repentance from half truths, half measures, and friendship with the world. Remove our fear of walking in your full love that embraces truth and righteousness. Heal us Lord that we may believe your truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. Let us discover the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. Let love and truth and righteousness join hands together as we hold the hands of Love and Truth in Person—Jesus our Lord. Amen.