As believers and since it means so vitally much to us we are apt to think that the greatest thing of all is Faith. Well, we are wrong, and it is not an oversight on Pauls part to relegate faith, for he speaks of it just a few verses earlier. He says :-- "If I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing."
So far from overlooking faith, he deliberately contrasts it :-- "Now abideth, Faith, Hope, Love," and without a moments hesitation the decision falls; " The greatest of these is Love."
Any man is apt to be prejudiced and to recommend to others his strong point, but so far as the record goes, love was not Pauls strong point. It is true that one finds a lovely tenderness
growing and ripening all through Pauls character, especially as he comes to be an old man, but this was the work of grace, for the hand which wrote "The greatest of these is Love," is the same hand we first have seen stained with the blood of the innocent. Some people are gifted with loving and lovable dispositions, so that all their lives they pursue lovely ways. Under no circumstances would such people be persecutors, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, as was the Saul who became Paul.
We are apt, in view of the outstanding quality of this Corinthian word, to think that Paul alone is the exponent of this teaching, but such is not the case, for Peter writes "ABOVE ALL THINGS have fervent Love among yourselves" while John goes further and declares that "God IS love," with the Psalmist adding "The Lord is loving unto every man."
With his usual desire to satisfy the intelligence of those to whom he writes, Paul produces an argument to prove the greatness of Love, and he does this by contrasting it with other virtues often extolled. He contrasts it with eloquence, which is a very great gift, the power of playing upon the minds and wills of men and rousing them to lofty purposes and noble deeds. He says:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
We know this is true from our own experience, for we have all felt the brassy quality of words without emotion, and the hollowness of eloquence behind which lies no true feeling. Paul contrasts love with prophecies, he contrasts it with mysteries, he contrasts it with faith, he contrasts it with charity. Love is greater than faith because the end is greater than the means, it is greater than charity because the whole is greater than the part, it is greater than hope (or expectation) because it will outlast it, as it will outlast the unfolding of the ultimate mystery. At present, Love needs the support of both Faith and Expectation, but when the glory of Christ is revealed we shall no longer need either Faith or Expectation, for we shall have realisation, the culmination of all things in Love. It is ours to believe God, as it is ours to glory in expectation, but let us not forget the temporary nature of these activities, nor, in pursuing them, the most important activity of all, that of charging our hearts to love Him and His with a fervency that His love alone can inspire.
But after contrasting love with these other gifts, Paul proceeds to give an analysis of it, and it is to one of the points in that analysis that I want to direct attention. He says, in Verse 5, according to the A.V. that "love thinketh no evil." Now, if that is true without qualification we shall have to admit that Love has only a very small control over our thoughts compared with what it should have. The Revised Version does much better and is supported by the C.V. in its rendering "love taketh not account of evil." The verb "to take into account" occurs altogether forty-one times in the Greek Scriptures, and the A.V. translates it by no fewer than thirteen different English words, but if we want to establish its true meaning and its connection with the passage under review we cannot do better than look at II. Timothy 4, i6, where Paul writes :-- "At my first defence no man took my part, but all forsook me, May it not be counted against them!"
Here we have the identical word, and here we have Pauls love refusing to take account of the evil conduct of his friends. No one stood by him, all forsook him, but he refuses to think upon this aspect of their conduct, he will not brood over this wrong, and he prays that they will never be debited with it!
You will notice that the evil was not imaginary. It was not a case of Love "thinking" or imagining evil. It was real evil, but it shall not be taken into account or laid to the charge of his friends. We have only to put ourselves in his place, and to think how such desertion would have rankled in our minds, to realise the way in which Paul exemplified his hymn of love. It should make us stop to consider the minor offences which we, ourselves, take into account, and accentuates the difference between the A.V.s suggestion that we may think that which possibly might not be, and the true translation which emphasises the truth that even if the evil DOES exist, love covers it, and does not take it into account.
Paul tells us that God Himself acts like this. In Rom. 4: 8 we read :--" Happy is the man whose sin the Lord does not take into account" and in II. Corinthians, 5 " God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself not taking their offences into account." In neither of these cases is the evil imaginary, but dreadfully real, but nevertheless the love of God is seen in Christ not taking it into account. As one writer has beautifully put it :--
"Sin and transgression had to be dealt with at Calvary in keeping with the inflexible rules of righteousness, but offences are a different thing. What necessity was there to deal with them at all at that time? Why not wait until the day of judgement and give each his true deserts according to his personal acts? What claims had Gods creatures which outweighed the request of His Anointed that the cup pass from Him? If God had taken account of the reproaches and scorn and contempt men had heaped upon Him in the person of His Son would He not be highly offended? In such a mood would He have remained firm in the face of Christs request? 0, how gloriously His grace shines even in Gethsemane! Mens SINS and TRANSGRESSIONS He lays upon Christ, but their OFFENCES, which might well turn Him against them ARE ALL IGNORED.
Think you He would have provided such a sacrifice in any other mood? Mens foul and flagrant offences abounded the more He revealed Himself. And now they had reddened their hands in the blood of His Christ. No greater provocation could be offered. But instead of imputing these offensive deeds to them, He retreats within Himself, and refuses to reckon these offences to their account!"
The correct rendering of these passages sets the standard of love higher than does the A.V. translation. It might be possible to stop thinking or imagining evil of another person, but only by the indwelling love of God Himself can anyone attain to the state of taking no account of evil in another when it really does exist. And it is of little avail to urge others to love God if His love has not found a place in our own hearts.
If we seek to evangelise, it should be our aim to elaborate Gods love in the gift of His Son, in the salvation which He has provided, in the grace which attends it, in the future bliss it will provide, and in the present nearness to Himself which it involves. Such a presentation is far more likely to produce a responsive love than could any exhortations or commands.
Our Lord Himself sets forth the spirit which we should imitate :-- "Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father Who is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust."
Measured by this standard, how little of the love of God really dwells in our hearts!
It should be hardly necessary, but to avoid an unbalanced truth it must be said that such an attitude is in no way intended to suggest that evil does not matter. The Cross is Gods protest against such a thought, and no one of us can possess the kind of love which takes no account of evil without treading the way of the Cross. Calvary at once teaches us both Gods hatred of evil and His attitude of love.
There is another passage to which attention should be drawn, in which Paul gives clear evidence that love is not the same thing as sentimental weakness. He writes to these same Corinthians thus "Out of much anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love that I have the more abundantly unto you."
Paul refuses to take any account of evil against himself, but he is sharp to deal with evil in the Corinthian church. Their spiritual welfare is too important for half measures and his love for them too real for him to purchase "peace at any price." His first epistle is a rebuke--He says that he sent them this letter "To make them sorry." He sees an evil amongst them, and he has the moral courage to face the facts. "What I " he says, "shall I come to you with a rod?" And yet, when his letter has the desired effect, see how his heart goes out in love to them in the words quoted above. He takes their evil into account no longer.
On another occasion, when strength of mind and courage of heart were called for, Paul dealt with the matter promptly and thoroughly :--" When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (To the face, you will note, not behind the back). But when the matter was put right did they still take it into account against each other? If they did, why 'does Peter write years afterwards of "our beloved brother Paul" and why does Paul pen the glowing tribute" God wrought mightily in Peter?" There is no spite, no resentment, no ill humour, because Love does not take evil into account--and there we have the difference between the spiritual mind and the carnal mind.
Finally, there is a lovely passage in Philippians 4:8 where we read :--
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, or if there be any praise, think on these things."
Here we have again--" take these things into account" again not an imaginary thinking process but a dwelling upon realities. These are the things which we are to take into account.
This is the mathematics of life, the art of true calculation. In life we all too often "take account" of the evils of life and the evil of men.
We "think on" these things too much and out of all proportion to the good. But love will delight to take account of the lovely, and to lay store by the things that are best. Is there any prayer we need more than the prayer" Lord, evermore give us this love?
Love is the supreme possession because "Love never faileth "--IT LASTS ! Everything else is transient ; prophecies, tongues, knowledge, all great things, are impermanent. As John says of this world, not that it is wrong, but simply that "it passeth away," so does all else but Love "pass as~y." It is certain that love must last, for God is Love.
This is the permanent satisfaction, the ultimate truth, and we can safely assure ourselves, while resting in His love, that He has both the power and the wisdom to carry out all the purposes of His love.
"For Life is ever Lord of death,
And Love can never lose its own."
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