LOVE IS THE GREATEST
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). These three remain as critical features of the Christian life, although the greatest is love. As for the former, they are bonded together in authentic Christian experience. As for the latter, when faith and hope have served their purpose, love remains a constant for eternity.
Four Greek terms suggest the complex character of love. Initially, there is storge. This pertains to natural affection. Such as the love of parents for their children, and the reverse. It is perhaps for this reason that it is sometime characterized as familial love.
Secondly, there is philia. As when persons are bonded together is some common enterprise. For instance, this was employed for persons engaged in an academic pursuit. It is perhaps more commonly associated with team sports today. In this regard, persons are encouraged to subordinate their personal concerns for corporate success.
Thirdly, there is eros. This pertains to erotic love. The love of a husband for his wife and the reverse. It also recalls a humorous response. While engaged to be married, the girl inquired of her anticipated husband, "Do you love me?" Much to her surprise, he responded: "I will." Thus emphasizing the importance of commitment in a marriage.
Finally, there is agape. In brief, unconditional love. The kind of love God exercises toward humans, and humans are encouraged to exercise toward one another. This gave rise to C. S. Lewis’ observation that hell serves to accommodate those who will receive nothing better from a compassionate deity.
Having briefly explored these four loves, we turn our attention to selective commentary. "We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence and its only end" (Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil or the Two Nations; as cited in William Sykes, ed., The Eternal Vision, p. 270).
"The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love" (W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up).
"The greatest thing that can happen to any human soul is to become utterly filled with love; and self-sacrifice is love’s natural expression" (William Temple, Christian Faith and Life).
"There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved; it is God’s finger on man’s shoulder" (Charles Morgan, The Fountain).
"Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing broader, nothing is more lovely, nothing richer, nothing better in heaven or in earth" (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).
"Love to God is the slowest development to mature in the soul. No man ever learned to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself, in a day" (Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit; in Sykes, op. cit., p. 271).
"Love is the supreme badge of any true Christianity, and the traits of the beatitudes in a person’s life are a surer evidence that he belongs in Christ’s family, than is the fact that he holds current opinions on obscure questions of belief" (Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in 16th and 17th Centuries).
"To make Love the ruling power of my life, the only power. To be kind, gentle, considerate and unselfish, to let nothing stand in the way of doing everyone a good turn, never to consider myself and my own feelings, but only other people’s. To put myself out to any extent for the sake of others, especially for the sake of those who are not attractive" (Edward Wilson, in George Seaver, The Faith of Edward Wilson; likewise in Sykes, op. cit., pp. 271-272). In these and other ways, we are reminded of the prime importance of love in life’s equation.