“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon, 8:7) The wise king had in his mind, no doubt, the love of his life, the beautiful bride known as the Shunamite woman, but his treatise on love causes any thoughtful heart to pause to ponder the love that surpasses all understanding.
Paul exhausts his mental, verbal and spiritual powers to extol the virtues of love in that majestic 13th chapter of First Corinthians, concluding with the exclamatory finale “Now abideth faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
The greatest of these is love! How towering are the mountain peaks of faith where glimpses of glory shed light on the shadowy paths of our earthly pilgrimage. And, what could be said of hope, the lifeline grasped by humankind swimming in the mire of these temporal miseries; and there is a strand of saving grace that when grasped by the desperate drowning soul yields hope and life and breath for another day. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.”
Greatest because God is love, and the love of which both Solomon and the Apostle spake is divine and distinct from any earthly semblance of that which is often labeled, in common parlance, love.
Agape love, love that has its source and sphere in the heart of God and can only come from Him and then through us to others (I John 4:7-10). It is love that is without deceitful dissimulation. (Romans 12:9) That is, it is genuine, because it is Godly. It is without hypocrisy and without a vanishing veneer. When one who possesses this kind of love says “I love you,” it is not simply a concluding conversational sign-off; it is a heartfelt, holy word of true devotion.
Love is without selfish motivation. Much of what passes under the contemporary banner of love is motivated by personal pursuits and selfish interests. Agape love does not wish another to succeed so that benefits will accrue to anyone other than the one loved. If you love another unselfishly it will be with a true desire that your loved one will experience and enjoy the unimpeded, unparalleled, unmitigated goodness and grace of God just for His love’s sake.
Christlike love is without discrimination. God so loved the world, an arid desert of sin in which there was “none righteous, no not one.” His love is non-discriminatory. He loves people of every tribe and tongue, every color and culture. And, His love, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, will cause us to love those who are at times unlovely and apparently unlovable, without discrimination.
His love, working through us, will also be without qualification. We love our foes and friends, through Christ. “He drew a circle that shut me out; heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; but Love and I had a will to win; we drew a circle that took him in.” (Edwin Markham)
And, love is without temporal termination. “To the last syllable of recorded time.” “To the depth, and breadth, and height my soul can reach.” “Till death do us part.” It is agape love. It has no limitation, nor will it have in time any termination. It cannot fail.
Roy Croft said it well when he wrote: “I love you, not only for what you are but for what I am when I am with you; not only for what you have made of yourself but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out…because you are making of the lumber of my life not a tavern but a temple out of the works of my every day. Not a reproach but a song. You have done it without a touch, without a word, without a sign; you have done it by being yourself….”
That’s what His love, flowing through us, will do to those with whom, in His providences, we have to do.
“But the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13:13)