Love, the First Thing
Robert Wurtz II
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Our passage makes it clear. There are those that would move in the supernatural, the gifts of the Spirit, works of sacrificial giving and yet still lack the most fundamental fruit of the Spirit, love. Imagine being on the receiving end of any of these things from a believer and then being on the receiving end of their unloving spirit. Would it not be a clanging gong to them? What’s the use? A person would rather be treated lovingly firstthan to receive any of these. Love is protos(πρώτος), that is to say, it must be the first thing. It begs the question, ‘of what spirit would the miracles have been done in?’ It brings understanding to the words of our Lord, Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22, 23 NKJV) Why were they cast out? Because they did not practice love, they practiced lawlessness. Understand that the whole law is boiled down to the two great commandments. If they were lawless, they were not practicing the two great commandments. They were not loving God and their neighbor as they were commanded. This is very simple and straightforward.
A Bad Spirit
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. (Matthew 9:54-56a) Ye know not what manner that the spirit of Christianity is. It is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love. (J. Wesley) This attitude existed in these disciples prior to Pentecost. In fact, Peter would seek to kill a man before his change comes. What changed him from a mean ruffian to a man that could call the church to love unfeigned?
Love of God Poured Out
We are commanded to love; yet God has enabled those that are baptized into Christ by the Spirit to love with God’s love. In other words, love is something we can do as a response to Christ’s commandment and it is also something that God will pour out into us by His Spirit. (Romans 5:5) This is the great evidence of being filled with the Spirit. Initial signs that accompany experiences are only temporary at best. This is why Jesus responded to John the Baptist’s inquiry with the fruits of His ministry and not with the spectacular events that took place at His baptism and anointing. We must keep this clear. Jesus pointed John to evaluate the things that happened after the initial experience as proof that the experience was genuine and He was who He claimed to be. This must be so also for those that claimed to be filled with the Spirit. The life has to demonstrate the initial evidence of the experience or it is invalid. In other words, one cannot possibly claim to be filled with the Spirit and then not walk in love. Why? Love is the first facet of the fruit of the Spirit. It is evidence that God is present and at rest inside of us. (Isaiah 66:1ff)
He that does not love does not know God
We can love with our own natural ability and we can have God love through us supernaturally by the Spirit. John writes, He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8) This is a straightforward statement. It matters not how correct our beliefs, how bold our profession, how many scripture verses we have memorized, how long we spend time in prayer, how we may operate in the gifts of the Spirit, give to the poor, etc.; if we do not have love it is all meaningless. All of this is as a clanging gong without love. As Paul put it, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2) We are called to love one another with a pure heart fervently. This means we have to love each other with a holy passion. This has to be our motivation. To do this we must have been truly born again in the biblical sense. (1 Peter 1:22, 23)
Moreover, we read, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (James 2:8, 9) Notice how we are not to have respect of persons in the distribution of our love. God sends rain even upon the vilest of sinners. We can infer from James 2:8, 9 that the commandment to love is the royal law. Why? Because this is how God loves and is the highest expression of His person. (Matthew 5:47, 48) It is majestic love. James called this commandment the perfect law of liberty. Why? No one is truly free until they love their neighbor as themselves. Anyone can be selective in their love. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
One of the great problems humanity has faced since the beginning is that men and women do not love one another; and perhaps the greatest of man’s failures is that he and she have not rightly loved their Creator. An old-time preacher wept in the pulpit and asked himself, “By what am I moved? What moves me? What prompts my actions? Am I moved with personal ambition or self-seeking?” Jesus Christ was moved with compassion. (Matthew 9:36) He came into this world and gave His life so that we might share in His love.