As discussed in the previous chapter, the weightiest matter of all of God’s law is the love of God—denoted by the Greek word agape. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul defines this God-level love that we all need to exhibit and apply in every aspect of our lives.
Let’s take a closer look at these qualities of agape love.
A Look at God’s Love
Love “suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4): It endures patiently. That means we may have to suffer while continuing to be patient. Agape love prevails when things go wrong. It bears up under the pressure when being oppressed or provoked.
How easy it can be for people to lose their temper! When dealing with someone who is self-righteous, for example, it might be easy to be provoked into speaking or acting imprudently or unwisely. It can even provoke you to sin yourself! Outgoing concern (love) for God and others helps us avoid these pitfalls.
Treat others the way you would want to be treated by God. Remember, God is extremely patient with your shortcomings.
Love “is kind” (verse 4): It is good-natured, gentle, tender and affectionate. It responds to other people’s needs. Consider Jesus Christ’s own example. Think about how much time He spent doing good works. He was constantly concerned about the needs of others; He helped them because He was moved with compassion for them (Matthew 9:36).
Love “envies not” (1 Corinthians 13:4): It isn’t jealous of other people’s blessings and opportunities. On the contrary, it rejoices in them: whether stature, reputation, wealth, health, domestic comforts, education or anything else! Love rejoices that others have such blessings without wishing that those blessings were upon ourselves. Never begrudge another man’s blessings.
Agape love is not possessive. Rather, it allows and encourages others to do their best.
Love “vaunts not itself” (verse 4): It does not brag or sing its own praises. It isn’t boastful and doesn’t like to show off. It does not seek to impress others to get noticed. What is your attitude, for example, in how you dress? We should dress nicely to glorify God and to uphold His standards, just as we should strive to do in all aspects of our lives. We should not be trying to draw undue attention to ourselves, such as causing the opposite sex to lust. Extremes in fashion can be motivated by vanity, rebellion or lust. These are grave sins and are the opposite of God’s love. God’s love does not parade itself above others, thinking it is somehow superior.
Love “is not puffed up” (verse 4): It is not arrogant, proud, haughty or vain. It doesn’t harbor inflated ideas of its own self-importance. This can happen to anyone, but especially to someone who is in a position of authority. It is easy to begin thinking you are entitled to special treatment. We must all guard against such deceit because agape love is humble, modest and unobtrusive. It does not overemphasize the self.
Love “does not behave itself unseemly” (verse 5): It is not rude or lacking in manners and does not act in an unbecoming way. It is polite, courteous, discreet and modest. It avoids profane, indecent, vulgar, improper and unseemly language.
Agape love seeks to do and say that which is proper and becoming under the circumstances. It strives for proper, appropriate conduct and deportment in all relationships and situations. It respects those in authority and holds proper regard for those under our authority. It strives not to offend. It avoids words or deeds that would violate the decency of any given situation.
An Utterly Unselfish Love
Love “seeks not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5): It is not selfish; does not insist on its own rights or its own ways. It is not self-seeking. It does not pursue selfish advantage over others, but rather seeks the welfare of others. It desires to promote their happiness even if it requires self-denial to the point of sacrificing comfort and time. There will always be times when situations arise and people need help when it is inconvenient to help. It is in these situations that the amount of agape love in you will show through.
God’s familyplan is an example of this. God wants all people to have the opportunity to be part of His Family—and more than that, God wants all people who have ever lived to have this opportunity. God’s plan of salvation is not closed or limited to Himself and Christ, or to just a small inner circle of special individuals. It is an opportunity He will freely give and share with all people for all eternity. And He has sacrificed tremendously in order to provide that opportunity to so many.
To say that agape love “seeks not her own,” is to say that it seeks not to be served but to serve—without demanding that others do the same in return.
Love “is not easily provoked” (verse 5). The words “easily provoked” come from a single Greek word, and this simply means that God’s love is not provoked. It is not prone to anger or to exasperation with others. A person with this love does not give way to sudden bursts of emotion even though he may have been emotionally injured. Even when someone must be corrected, it should be handled without provocation and with as many positive and encouraging words as possible.
Agape love “is not provoked” also means that it is not overly sensitive or touchy. It is not easily offended by other people’s words or actions toward us. This is another aspect of God’s love we must be filled with.
Love “thinks no evil” (verse 5): It is not malicious or overly suspicious of others. Agape love is not disposed to find fault with others or eager to impute evil motives to others.
“Thinks no evil” also means that love does not take account or keep record of the sins of others. Exercising agape allows for mistakes and forgives them—and requires separating the sin from the sinner and not condemning the one with the other.
According to one commentary, agape love “desires to think well of the [person] whom we love; [not to think] ill of his motives, opinions or conduct until we are compelled to do so by the most unbreakable evidence.” In other words, we assume the best in another person and we give that person the benefit of the doubt unless there is “unbreakable evidence” to do otherwise. Be careful not to think the worst by relying on your “instinct,” your perceptions, your ability to read body language, etc. Unless there is strong reason not to, we should take others at their word and assume the best.
God’s ministers operate according to this love. They are not out to catch God’s people in an evil deed. That is not how they think. So God’s people should feel comfortable around the ministry. The ministers should be like beloved family members.
Love “rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (verse 6): It does not rejoice over the vices of others or feel smug when others sin. It doesn’t hope that others will hurt themselves. It doesn’t gloat over the wickedness of others, and it is never glad when others do wrong. Rather, agape love rejoices in the virtues of others. It is pleased when they do well.
Love “bears all things” (verse 7): It bears the private and personal faults of others and does not seek to avenge itself. The word bear also means to cover. Agape love keeps a private matter private. As Proverbs 11:13 says, “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” It is inclined to hide or conceal the faults and imperfections of others and certainly does not gossip about sins or shortcomings! “And above all things have fervent charity [agape] among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Love is willing to conceal or bear with the private offenses of others patiently. That is why we first go to our brother alone when an offense or grievance occurs (Matthew 18).
Love “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7): This doesn’t mean love believes truth and error equally or that we don’t differentiate between right and wrong. This is referring to the conduct of others.
Agape love is willing to believe the best about someone’s actions—to consider the best possible interpretation of what happened. Have you ever interacted with someone who assumes the worst about a person’s actions and doesn’t even consider that they may have misinterpreted those words or deeds? This verse shows that thinking that way is not actuated by the love of God.
Furthermore, agape love gives room for people to change. It does not lose faith in the ability of a Spirit-begotten son of God to change!
Love “hopes all things” (verse 7). This too is in the context of other people’s actions. However sinister something may appear, agape love holds on to the possibility that we may have misunderstood the situation. There is a hope that the matter may be explained and made clear. Do not make assumptions and automatically jump to the worst possible conclusion.
In the context of Matthew 18, when a person goes to his brother in the right attitude to address an offense or grievance, he should expect a positive outcome because agape love “hopes all things.”
Love “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7): This means “to endure or sustain a load of miseries, adversities, persecutions or provocations in faith and patience” (Key Word Study Bible).
Agape love bears up under any adversity and does not complain. The New King James Study Bible says it “accepts any hardship or rejection and continues unabated to build up and encourage.” How well do we bear up under hardship?
Love “never fails” (verse 8): Agape love never fades out or becomes obsolete. It is as permanent as God because God is love—agape love (1 John 4:8, 16). Agape love is adaptable to any and every circumstance anywhere in the universe! It will never cease to exist and will continue to be exercised for all eternity.
The Essence of the Weightier Matters
In a Passover message years ago, Mr. Flurry said, “With this kind of love, we can’t help but solve the world’s problems.” Stop and meditate on that!
Understand this: The essence of the weightier matters of the law—judgment, mercy, faith and the very love of God—is all about relationships. It is about our relationship with God and God’s people first—and second, our relationship with our neighbors.
In The Missing Dimension in Sex, Herbert W. Armstrong stated that God’s law “governs and regulates all human relationships!” That is what it boils down to. In a Good News article, he wrote that God’s law “outlines, in broad detail, our right relationship with the true God [and His Family]; and also man’s right relationship toward human neighbors” (July 1952).
In fact, our relationships with people say a lot about our relationship with God. “How do we show God that we love Him? It has a lot to do with human relations,” wrote Mr. Flurry in The Last Hour. “We must love Christ’s Church—God’s Family! The way you love them is the way you love Christ and the Father. Words mean nothing if they are not followed by deeds—if you say you’re in the light, that must be reflected in your love for the brethren.”
Mr. Flurry continued: “If we don’t work out our problems with each other, we are not abiding in light! There is something wrong if we cannot get along! We must get to the cause to solve our human problems. If we love Christ, we will love each other. If we don’t love each other, we don’t love Christ! …
“A battle is raging between God’s people and the devil—and we have to conquer! If you know God, you will conquer. If you don’t know God, you will be conquered. Families will fall apart. Problems will fester between people. John is talking about human relations in the Church!
“If we keep God’s law of love, we will solve those problems.”
God’s Royal Law of Love
How do we solve problems when they arise? We need to administer God’s royal law of love. “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). The greatest injustice we could commit in our judgments is to have respect for appearances. That is sin because it is based on selfishness.
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (verse 10). If you break one of the laws, you have broken them all. But notice why!
“For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (verse 11). Which law is James talking about? The royal, constitutional law of love. Remember, the Ten Commandments are merely 10 points of the constitutional law of love. And if you break the law in one of these points, you have sinned against God’s constitution and have become a transgressor of the law!
God’s constitution is a perfect, royal law! Although it does not codify every possible circumstance or infraction, the spirit of it does cover every possible circumstance, act or question. That is the law that we must learn to administer, and that is the law we are being judged by now!
“Speak, act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom; for the judgment will be merciless to the man who has shown no mercy—whereas the merciful life will triumph in the face of judgment” (verses 12-13; Moffatt).
God holds His people accountable for how they uphold His royal law of love. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge” (James 4:11). God wants us to realize that we are the ones being judged. We are the ones on trial to see if we are innocent or guilty according to His royal law of love. We need to show God that we can use His law to solve problems.
“There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (verse 12). This verse is not saying that you cannot go to your brother to help him with a fault. God is saying that when you go to him, know that you are being examined! God is watching to see your attitude and how you administer the weightier matters of the law—judgment, mercy, faith, encompassed with God’s love.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). Love should underpin everything we do. Showing love toward others is how we fulfill the royal law. And as it says in Romans 5:5, “[H]ope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit] which is given unto us.” God’s love must be in us if we are to administer His law of love.
We must understand this because God’s royal Family will administer His royal law in the soon-coming World Tomorrow—and godly love will encompass every detail!
Fulfill the Law and Feed the World!
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ,” Paul told the brethren in Galatia (Galatians 6:2). “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (verse 10).
How can we do good to all men as well as those within the Body of Christ? We do this by giving this world what it needs most! By administering the spirit of the law of God, we feed this starving world.
“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees” (Isaiah 66:10-12).
These verses reveal what Christ’s wife will be doing after His imminent return. Jerusalem has been one of the least peaceful cities on Earth, but peace will soon flow out of Jerusalem like a river. The message taught and distributed from Jerusalem by God’s royal Family will soon nourish the whole world just as a nursing child is nourished by his mother.
That is our future. As Paul indicated in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, we will be like a nursing mother who cherishes and feeds her little children. That is how much we need to love our fellow brethren and those of the world—like they are our own flesh and blood.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:13-14). When we do the job Christ has given us, we become His friends. As He said in verse 15, we are no longer servants, but actual friends of God.
God needs people who are skilled in administering His royal law of love. To fulfill such a calling properly, we need a heart after God’s own: one that fears God and keeps His commandments (Deuteronomy 5:29)—a heart that only God can give.
A Heart to Obey
Ancient Israel, under the Old Covenant, simply did not have the heart to obey. They didn’t have the heart to be a part of the administration of the Spirit. For us to be a part of the administration of the Spirit today and in the future, we must be given a heart with the right spirit. We must be given a heart to obey.
In Hebrews 8, God clearly identifies the problem with the Old Covenant: the people! (verses 7-8). Most people believe that the problem with the Old Covenant was the law. That is the opposite of what God’s Word says! In the same chapter of Hebrews, God says, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (verse 10). Clearly, the New Covenant and the administration of the Spirit is based on the law of God, which is the love of God! Just two chapters later, God again emphasizes, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them” (Hebrews 10:16).
This is what the administration of the Spirit is all about! This is what God has wanted from the beginning: a people—a family—with a heart to obey. He wants a family that thinks like Him and that will administer His law and government the same way that He does. John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
God has called a few people out of this world today to begin working with them and to teach them His ways. Those few are, actually, now in contact with an innumerable company of angels, the true Church of the saints, God Himself and Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24).
But that is only the beginning! God is about to bring the whole world into His Family! We are being offered the opportunity to share His throne and to help in the administration of His government—a government of spirit and truth! God will give us the heart to keep His commands always if we sincerely go to Him and ask for it. He will give us the Spirit needed to understand and to love and to apply His administration of the Spirit.