Spirituality is defined by a number of action words. Love is one of these. It’s a response to a command more than an emotion. Another defining word is Paul’s imperative, ‘follow.’ He concludes his teaching about Love’s primacy in 1 Corinthians 13 by urging them to follow the way of Love! (1 Corinthians 14:1)
In the Gospels this word ‘follow’ comes through loud and clear. A disciple of Christ is one who has responded to the call of Jesus to “come, follow.” This is a journey through the experience of accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour. This takes a person into a new lifestyle. The implication of ‘follow’ is that the Lord is always ahead and bids us to catch up.
The word used by Paul to follow the way of love is more aggressive than a simple following. This is no meandering or casual stroll. It means to Pursue. He wanted the Corinthians to be determined, committed and zealous so as to catch up with Love which they had allowed to move on without them.
To pursue something requires a focus and a priority that allows incidentals to the main feature to be put aside. Pursuing Love is unending as it’s always ahead of us. As we follow the most excellent way, we’re shown opportunities to demonstrate, and test, our sincerity. Those occasions will highlight aspects of the sixteen facets of Love Paul had already mentioned in the love poem! Revisit them. An inability to remember the way the Lord wants us to respond, or the resources available to us, is a guarantee of misunderstanding the power and wonder of love.
What was outlined at the beginning of the love poem Paul sums up at the end of the passage! The Christian life is not a mental exercise nor a theory to debate. Christianity isn’t a passive faith. Christ calls men and women to a journey, to follow, to be and to act. In concluding the most excellent way’s impossible demands, the apostle called them to get out of their self-opinionated rut and pursue Christ and His Love.
Paul doesn’t knock the Corinthians desire for God to bestow various gifts of the Spirit. He had written earlier to remind them that such gifts are always and only at God’s prerogative. In the end result it doesn’t matter. When you’re in hot pursuit of the most excellent way, side issues are lost in ‘the dust.’ Let God do what He wants to do is the unconscious attitude of those focused on Christ. Disciples are under instruction to follow their Teacher. In turn, they must love, Love!
As the letter draws to its conclusion Paul wants to encourage his readers. He knows they are in for a hard time in the anti-Christ community and in their endeavours at reconciliation. ‘Be on your guard’, he wrote, ‘stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in Love.’ (1 Cor.16:14)
By the time the letter had been read many of the readers or hearers could well feel like failures. And they were. They may have felt like Peter who had betrayed Jesus and then went and wept. Twice Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you Love (agape) me?” The third time Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me (as a friend, phileo)?” Peter who wasn’t prepared to use the word (agape) for what is termed the most excellent way, replied “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (Phileo) you.” (John 21:15-17). Jesus responded to that and in a sense recommissioned him.
Peter went on from that to live out the highest quality of Love (agape) by the grace of God within relationships and ministry.
Such a ‘Peter’ experience may well have gripped many within the Corinthian fellowship. The acceptance by Jesus of Peter’s reply and subsequent events in his life should have encourage them. It may well be a similar lifeline for us. We know we have failed to live out the high calling of Love. When called to get up and get going again we may fear further failure. The first steps towards pursuing the way of Love (agape) for us may well be our own personal yet timid reply, “Lord You know all things, you know I love (Phileo) you as my Saviour, Lord and friend.
The concluding words in the Corinthian letter tells them that despite of all their immaturity and difficulties, Paul knows them to be in the embrace of Christ. To them he sends his Love. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love (agape) be with you all in Christ Jesus.’ 1 Corinthians 16:23-24. K.J.V.
Christ would have us do that for each other too!
The power to do that is to have our love and affection settled upon Christ Jesus. Most, if not all powerlessness to love from a Christian perspective comes from failure to love Jesus as Lord. We will run out of the power of love if we slacken our faith and gratitude to Him. 1 John 4:19 holds the key: We love, because he first loved us.’
That’s the most excellent way! (1 Corinthians 12:31)