Paul understands the human heart. He says that through all our pious activity, we are still seeking our own benefit. Therefore, starting in verse 4, Paul says,
“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.”
We are very familiar with this passage, and yet we are still capable of looking at it without being Christ-centered. We can read it as if it were only a moral standard. I am not saying that we do not need moral standards. God’s law is holy, and his law is the moral standard. We do need it, but our salvation does not come from this moral standard. You are saved because of the love of God, because Jesus Christ died for us on the cross, because he fully offered himself. You are not saved by your obedience.
If you take this passage only as a moral standard, those of us who have been serving the church for a long time know that these words can be used to attack others in an argument. “He does not love me enough because he is not patient with me. He always counts my wrongdoings. He always brings up the old scores.” We use these words to protect ourselves rather than living them out ourselves.
However, in the original text, there is no verb “is.” In Greek, the noun “love” is the subject with a verb right after it. So a more accurate translation would be, “Love lies in patience; love contains kindness; love does not envy; love does not boast; love is not arrogant.” That is to say, this love is not a worldly, abstract kind of love; it is personal.
I was familiar with this passage even in my childhood, but I was scared to boast about it to my friends. We were beginning to study literature, and I soon found out that no one in the world describes love like this. When we treat love as a noun, we describe it like ice cream in the summer or like fire in the winter; a breathtaking or heart-warming love. When you describe love, because it is a noun, you describe it with scenarios. What is love? Love is like an elderly couple holding hands together in the sunset. What is love? Love is like a baby in a mother’s arms. When you talk like this, people think you are very good with words.
When I was young, I believed that if I told my class- mates, “Love does not envy; it is not resentful or irritable; love does not boast,” they might think my Christian literature was just average. In fact, Paul’s theology is inseparable from Jesus. First Corinthians uses the gospel of Christ to solve all the problems in the Corinthian church, and we treat the book as a manual for church problems. But in this love chapter, Paul is actually describing a personified love. Who does Paul think could personify this type of love? It is Jesus.
Substitute the word love with Jesus, and you will find that it reads quite smoothly. Observe: “Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” You can feel that this passage was intended to describe a personal God who endures for us, believes in us, treats us with kindness, never boasts, and always comforts us.
Jesus is often relegated to simply a moral model. I am not saying that Jesus cannot be a moral model, because the Bible tells us to imitate Christ. But before you imitate Christ, before you are sanctified, you must know that Jesus Christ truly died for you as a free gift of grace. You must understand this in order to be sanctified; otherwise your sanctification is self-reliant and self-centered, and self-centeredness is the source of all sin. If Jesus Christ is only our model, I can tell you right now that there is no way we can imitate him. He said that we should love our enemies. When he was on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
My first name is Xibo, named after the book Hebrews. But my classmates would call me A Po (meaning “old lady”) or Xi Gua (“watermelon”). I would get really angry, but I could not fight with them, so I would go home and complain to my parents. My father was a preacher, and he asked me to forgive them. They did not know what they were doing, and I should forgive them.
I complained to my parents a few more times before I started to argue with them. I would say, “There is no way I can forgive them!” My father would say, “Do you know Jesus died on the cross for his enemies?” I would respond, “He is God, and I am a man. I cannot forgive them; only God can.” If you treat Jesus only as a moral model, you are just like the Indian Mahatma Gandhi, who always carried the Sermon on the Mount in his pocket but refused to recognize Jesus as the Savior.
Excerpt from “Jesus, the Personification of Love,” by Yang Xibo.
China Partnership is excited to announce its first book! Grace to City: A Gospel Movement in China brings you five essays by some of China’s leading voices in the urban house church. We invite you to read the following excerpt and download the book for free. Join us in celebrating what God is doing in the world’s fastest growing church!
China Partnership was started in 2001 out of a partnership between Mission to the World, Redeemer City to City, and various supporting churches. China Partnership helps Chinese pastors understand and contextualize the heart of the gospel, equipping them to preach exegetically, build strong foundations of discipleship, and love the city.