“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT).
The apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth, a city that prided itself on being the love capital. They had temples to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. They had prostitutes. They were a very sex-saturated city, and to them, sex equaled love.
But it wasn’t just the non-Christians who were clueless about love. The people who were trying to live out their faith in Jesus Christ were also missing the mark. In fact, this whole intro to what is commonly called the “love chapter” says that no matter how spiritual you think you are, no matter how much you do all the right religious things, if you don’t love people properly, then you’re wasting your time.
This passage of Scripture really calls us all out on how we love others. We may throw the word love around a lot, but we don’t always do such a great job at really loving other people. Paul reminds us that no matter how spiritual or religious we are, if we don’t really love other people, we’re not really following Jesus. Following Him means loving the things He loves, and one of the things Jesus loves the most is people (John 3:16).
There are three kinds of love described in the Bible—agape (God’s unconditional love), eros (passion, desire), and philia (friendship love, affection). The type of love Paul is talking about here is God’s love. But before you start disconnecting and thinking, “Oh, this is that ‘I have to’ kind of love,” think again. This chapter really covers every kind of “love.” The ultimate example of 1 Corinthians 13 is Jesus Christ. Paul challenged Christians to love others in the ways that Jesus loves us. This kind of love applies to all the people in our lives—family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and complete strangers. Yes, the romantic side of love applies too. First Corinthians 13 gives us some very vivid examples of just how Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. And it shows that we should genuinely love everyone—not just the people we choose to love.
Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other (Romans 12:9-10 NLT).