Love Above All

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, ESV)

While the Bible has many different passages that emphasize the importance of love as a goal of our spiritual growth, none is more explicit than 1 Corinthians 13 regarding love’s value and eternal impact. I have to reread this passage, at times, to reorient my thinking and priorities, and remember again the ultimate goal of my teaching.

In this passage, love is contrasted with several other good and valuable things. Speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, the ability to understand mysteries, having great knowledge, and having a strong faith may all be good and useful in some ways, but compared with love they are nothing. Even a life of sacrifice and martyrdom gains us nothing without love. Love is the critical feature that enhances these other good things and ensures they can be used well for the sake of God and others. It’s not that these other things are bad, but their power for good is intricately tied in with the heart attitude (love) behind them.

As I think about leading my Bible study group, this passage challenges me in three important ways. The first has to do with my motivation for leading my study group. Am I pursuing this ministry out of a love for God or for some other reason? Am I just trying to please others? Am I trying to bolster my sense of importance? Or, am I doing this because I love God and I know God is calling me to feed His sheep (see John 21:15-19)? More than anything else, leading my group needs to be a love offering to God.

Second, this passage reminds me that I am called to love those I teach and lead my group because I care deeply for them and desire to see them grow spiritually. Simply passing on my knowledge of the Bible is not enough; it must be done as an act of love and care for them. In many ways, the quality of my love for those I teach directly impacts how they receive what I share. An athlete who believes that her coach loves her and desires to see her do her best in her sport, listens to the coach’s instruction. A student who knows that his teacher loves him and wants to see him succeed, receives correction and instruction well, knowing it is for his good. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves—something true in all of our relationships, and it is critically important for those of us who teach.

Finally, this passage helps me think about ultimate goals for my teaching. It reminds me that prophesies, tongues, and knowledge may be useful for the short term, but in the end, they aren’t the most important things. For now, our knowledge is always partial at best, but someday we will know all we need to know, even as God knows us so well. But what has value now and will never fade in importance is love. In our teaching, what really counts is how what we learn shapes us as people who love God and to love others better. On its own, knowledge can easily lead to pride and arrogance, and in a Bible study experience could cause some people to feel superior, because they now comprehend something others may not. Without love, knowledge can become a weapon we use against others to make ourselves feel better. Knowledge, framed by love, is a means by which we build one another up and grow together toward Christlikeness.

When studying and preparing to lead your Bible study group, take time in prayer, asking God to help you live out more fully the kind of love Paul describes here, and to make this the ultimate goal of your teaching. Is your teaching a love offering to God? If so, that’s great. Or, is something else driving you? If so, ask God to help you refocus on teaching as an act of love for Him. Are you loving those God has called you to teach? Do they experience your love in a way that is meaningful for them? Ask God to help you love in ways that are meaningful and unmistakable. As you teach, are you reinforcing in your group the priority of growing in the ways you love God and others? Ask God to help you find ways to bring all that your group is learning back to the Great Commandment of loving God and neighbor. Love is the greatest learning outcome there is!

Father, I am so thankful for Your steadfast love. It overwhelms me to think about Your mercy and grace in Christ that flow out of your love for me. As I lead my Bible study group, help it be a sincere love offering to You. Help me love those I teach the way you do, sacrificially and patiently. As I teach, may love be the guiding force in how we use what we learn together. May we be known as people marked by love, more than just having head knowledge of your Word. You deserve this of us, and we long to do it well! Amen.

Join the Mailing List

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Purchase the Book

Buy Now