The Indispensable Affection of Love

Taigen Joos

woman reading book

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul begins his important discussion of spiritual gifts within the context of the local church. In that discussion, Paul highlights the need for the church to understand four things. First, there is a unity of the church as one body. Second, there is diversity in the church as many members. Third, God sovereignly places people in each local church. But there is a fourth aspect, which is most important, and that aspect is love.

The Greeks had four words to describe love. One was the word eros and meant primarily the sexual kind of love. This word is not used in the New Testament. Another word was storge which indicated a kind of love natural within families, like a mother with her child. The negative form of this word is used only a few times in the New Testament, indicating people who are without this kind of love (i.e. Rom 1:31; 2 Tim 3:3). The third word is philos and is used many times in the New Testament indicating a strong friendship kind of love. But I would submit that all three of these kinds of love are possible for unbelievers to practice, at least to some degree. It is the fourth love, agape love, that is the supernatural kind. This is the word used in 1 Corinthians 13 and many other places to describe God’s love for us, a husband’s love for his wife (Eph 5:25), and even our love for one another. 

This love is supernaturally given to a person upon conversion. It is a fruit of the Spirit of God (Gal 5:22). Therefore, it is not produced merely by human effort, or natural ability. This love is an indispensable affection not only regarding the use of spiritual gifts, but also in the entirety of the Christian life. The affection of love can be described as the inclination of the soul to embrace everything that God is, does, and says, giving the self wholly to God first and subsequently to others. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The Scriptures do represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections and fountain of all other affections.”1Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Garden City, NY: Dover Publications, 2013), 35.

Paul speaks to this epitome of love, calling it “the more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). Other Scriptures similarly elevate this kind of love as well:

Love is the greatest of all the commandments (Mark 12:29–31)

Love is the hallmark of Christian discipleship (John 13:34–35).

Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:8–10).

Love is indispensable to Christian ministry (1 Cor 13:1–3).

Love is to characterize all that we do (1 Cor 16:14).

Love is the bond of perfection (Col 3:14).

Love is the aim of Christian doctrine (1 Tim 1:5).

Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8).

Love is the essence of God, and is also a primary evidence of our salvation (1 John 4:7–8).

This kind of loving affection is what will incline us to love God who first loved us. It will dispose us to worship God rightly, submit to him humbly, and live for him wholeheartedly. It will flow through us, inclining us to love others as well. It will dispose us to serve others selflessly, encourage others compassionately, and edify one another faithfully.

The apostle John also speaks of the indispensability of this love. If we do not love others with this quality of love, we cannot rightly say we are Christians. If we say we love God but do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are deceiving ourselves, for if we say we love God, we must love others as well, otherwise our Christian faith is empty (1 John 4:7–21).

As Christians, God has implanted this love in us, but we must cultivate it through continually meditating on God’s love for us, and on the love demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ and his atoning work. We must allow God to shape our love through both our private worship as well as our corporate worship. 

If we find ourselves struggling to love people in our church because we think they are undeserving, or unlovely, or unlovable, just remember how God loved us in our undeserving, unlovely, and unlovable condition. God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Let that love be reciprocated back to God—as imperfect as we are in doing so—and let that love be manifested through us to others around us, all for the glory of God.

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1 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Garden City, NY: Dover Publications, 2013), 35.