“And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
This sentence from the apostle Paul serves to set up his magnificent treatise on the preeminence of love in 1 Corinthians 13. “A still more excellent way” — the words conclude Chapter 12, one that describes spiritual gifts and their operation in the Body of Christ. By the power of the Spirit, the particular members of Christ’s Church function as each is designed and equipped. In Chapter 14, Paul writes of the practical way these gifts work together to minimize confusion and to bring order to local assemblies.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes to the heart of all matters. It is love – agape in the Greek – that must be in control. Agape, especially as a noun, is found in few ancient texts outside of the New Testament. This is perhaps because it carries a depth that is not present in sensual, social, or family affections. It’s essence in meaning is that preference. That is, agape is the love that prefers the other; it is the love that puts the other first.
Think of the Upper Room scene that begins in Chapter 13 of the gospel of John. It is the night before Calvary. The table and food are there, made ready for the Passover feast, which Jesus celebrated with His disciples. In the midst of this “last supper,” Jesus got up from the table, filled a basin with water, wrapped a towel around Him, and began washing the feet of each of them. Even the toes of traitor Judas were touched by the hands of the Lord. Sadly, the stain of this man’s heart was beyond washing; he was now so colored with greed and self-preservation that he soon would help facilitate the Savior’s arrest. And, still, Jesus did this kindness for even him.
These moves of their Master stupefied His followers. The Great Son of the living God served them in the lowliest and smallest of ways.
Give and Receive
Peter balked – “Lord, do you wash my feet? … You shall never wash my feet.” This exchange between Peter and Jesus reveals something important about the nature of love. It must be given, and it must be received. Peter’s protestation at Jesus’ washing his feet is not evidence of humility at work in him. Note this: Jesus loved and received love as He allowed the prostitute to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. He later defended Mary of Bethany when she came under fire for anointing Jesus with expensive spikenard.The Great Son of the living God served them in the lowliest and smallest of ways. Click To Tweet
It was a lesson, a time to show before the time to tell. “Do just as I have done to you” Jesus told them. Jesus showed the love – the agape – that He would now tell them about. Through the next chapters in John, Christ speaks to them of the things to come, of His departure and of the disciples’ future. He begins this talk with a new commandment: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:33).
How were they to do this? Wash feet, and let others wash your feet. How simple this is and yet how difficult. This is love, as Jesus defined it for them and for all of us.
The Power of the Spirit
What if we don’t want to wash feet? How do we get beyond the negative thoughts and feelings that can have toward someone, toward brothers and sisters even?
Romans 5:5 gives us the answer: “… the Love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” This love is beyond our natural capacity; it must come from above. He supplies both the will to do and the power to do by His grace (see Philippians 2:13).
By the Spirit of God, agape love is activated in us. Through Him, we discover patience and kindness. We learn to bear all things, to believe all things, and to hope all things. For love never ends.
For more on this great subject of love, check out “Love, Forgiveness and Blessing,” a message from Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.