Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.
I came across this verse in Corinthians this morning. Paul had just devoted an entire chapter to a love in a Christian’s life. Before that he wrote four verses on spiritual gifts. And then he concludes with this verse. Pursue love. Desire spiritual gifts.
Gifts are not something that can be pursued. You cannot work hard to be a prophet. God just gives that. You cannot study up to speak in tongues. You cannot read your Bible a lot and hope to become a worker of miracles as a result. Spiritual gifts just come to you, and all you can do is desire them.
But love is different. It is true that love is a fruit of the Spirit’s indwelling, and as such it is a gift from Him. But it is something more, as well. It is also the result of an individual’s effort. You need not merely desire love; you can pursue it.
Love is a tricky subject; the word means so many different things to different people. It is hard to define and I don’t think I’ll even try to do it in this post. But I think we all have a general idea about what love is and I’m sure that there are some ways we can all, as believers, pursue a spiritual, pure love.
First we need to realize that love is the chief defining characteristic in a healthy spiritual life. It is the first of the fruit of the Spirit. It is the greatest of the three things that abide in a Christian (faith, hope and love). It is the mark that Jesus says will set us apart as his disciples. And it is the core of the first and second commandment. If we do not realize how very important it is that we love, I think it will be difficult to pursue it.
Secondly, we need to look to Christ for help. Apart from him we cannot do anything. And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that it was God himself who taught them how to love one another (1 Thess. 4:9). I do not think we can base our love on anything in any man because any man, no matter how good, will let us down. We will always find unlovable characteristics in anyone we try to love. In very nice people these unlovely things may seem small enough for us to forget them, but what about in the people who are abrasive and cruel or socially inept? How can we love them if we base our love on them? But if we are taught by God how to love, then we will see his love for a screwed-up mankind and realize that our neighbor’s problems are not all that big after all. There is also an element of the supernatural that we should pursue in our love. It is not just the knowledge of God’s love that will cause us to love like him, but an experience of it in our lives that will thaw our frozen hearts to be warm toward God and men. So we run to Christ through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, service, etc.
And I think we also should take steps toward achieving the best for our fellow-man. I think many Christians do not like getting involved in social benefits. We leave that to the humanitarians. But who should be more humanitarian than someone who claims to follow a Man who died for humanity? I think we all need to get involved in something that feeds and clothes and helps the least of these. I am not just talking about giving money; that’s easy. I am suggesting that each of us get involved in some sort of work that meets the basic needs of the poorest of the poor. It is a sick thing for a Christian to walk by a person in need and (at best) give him a tract and a ‘God bless you’ or (at worst) scoff and say that the bum should get a job because God helps those who help themselves.
God does not help those who help themselves. God helps the helpless. We should do the same because otherwise all our preaching and teaching and fasting and praying is useless and profits nothing.