If I asked you, “do you have any records?” Would you know how to answer me? Probably not without asking for clarification or knowing the context of the question. Such is the case for many of our English words like “record”, which can have multiple meanings. How about, “is your Bible “red”?” You can answer that because you can see the word, but if you only heard the question you might think I was asking about your devotional life. Our word “love” is a problem word because we use it to express different things. Many of the world’s languages have specific words for the various meanings we English speakers attribute to that one word.
The ancient Greek language, the language of the Bible, had four specific words for the different things we now translate by using the one word “love”. None of the words were “religious” in nature. The word in question before us in our passage today, 1 Corinthians 13, is the Greek word “agape”. Generally it’s meaning for the Greek people was that of relationship based on unconditional commitment; behavior that required sacrifice for a person without thought of any benefit in return. In 1610, when the translators of the Bible we know as the King James Version came to this section of Scripture, they used the English word “charity” for “agape”. It fit perfectly with the meaning of the word in its time, but for us the meaning of that word has changed through the years to simply be understood as a handout to a needy person. So, what word can we use instead? Well, if we have to use one word, love comes closest but we have to make sure we define it as the Bible intends: the kind of relationship based on a commitment to always act in the best interest of another.
Paul gives us a picture of what that is like. The Corinthians needed it then just like we do today for about the same reasons. Our relationships with people are suspect. Our lips use the word “love”, but our lives demonstrate we define the meaning as it suits us at the time. More often than not, it is based on “what is in it for me? Or “what do I get in return?” Paul says the God-kind of love is a giving love that is not self-seeking. It seeks the best for others. It is a commitment more than an emotion. We act because we know it is the best even though we might not feel like it. Children have to learn this and adults have to model it for them. It is the ultimate sign of maturity.
John recorded in 13:35 of his gospel account the words of Jesus: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How are we doing?
Today’s author: Randy Babin