The word for love in the New Testament is a new word and is to be found nowhere else. The real meaning of it is “unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill.” If we regard with this love, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our hearts, but we will regard him with that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good. This is the love concerning which Jesus commanded: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Such love is not natural. It is not the love of natural affection. It is not the love with which we love our nearest and dearest. We cannot help loving them—such love comes to us unsought. It is born of the emotions of the heart. But the love of our text is not a feeling which comes to us unbidden and unsought; it is a spiritual love which emanates not from man at all; it is a grace from God. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the [Holy] Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).
The reason for Christians to have this love is a very simple and tremendous reason. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you … that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45). Also, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That is to say that such love makes a man like God. And to prove this, Jesus pointed to the action of God in the world, and that action is the action of unconquerable benevolence: “For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). To love like this, our Lord says, makes you “perfect, even as your Father … is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The Greek word for “perfect” is teleios. This word is often used in Greek in a very special way. For example: a victim which was fit for a sacrifice to God, that is, a victim which is without blemish, is teleios. A man who has reached a full-grown stature is teleios in contradistinction to a half-grown lad. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of his subject is teleios as opposed to a learner who is just beginning and who has as yet no grasp of things. To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned and designed and made. A man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world.
Let us take a very simple analogy. Suppose I need a particular screwdriver to tighten and adjust a screw. I go to the hardware store and buy one. I find that it fits exactly. I turn the screw, and the screw is fixed. In the Greek sense of the word, the screwdriver is teleios, or perfect, because it exactly fulfilled the purpose for which I desired and bought it.
So then, a man is teleios or perfect if he fulfills the purpose for which he was created. Now the great characteristic of the Christian is to love the saint and the sinner alike, and you can see that if a man is to fulfill the purpose for which God made him, he must love as God loves. It is the whole teaching of the Bible that we may realize our manhood by becoming God-like.
Now, such Christian love is not an easy, sentimental thing. It is the result of a victory won over self, and it is absolutely essential for successful daily life. It is the supreme achievement of life. It is the very atmosphere of the Christian life. The apostle Paul exhorts us to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us” (Eph. 5:2). It is an overall garment of the Christian life. “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14). The Christian is to be clothed in good-will. Love is the universal motive of the Christian life. The apostle exhorts: “Let all your things be done with charity” (1 Cor. 16:14). It is the secret of Christian unity. Paul prayed for the Christians at Colosse “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love” (Col. 2:2).
But, alas, life without love may be displayed. The church at Corinth came behind in no gift but was sadly lacking in love, as a reading of the epistle to the Corinthians will show. There were strifes and divisions among them. And to correct this sad condition Paul wrote this letter in which he pointed out that without divine love, even the greatest of gifts were nothing. He wrote in First Corinthians 13:
- Though a man have the gift of all earthly tongues and even heavenly tongues, if he has not love, he is nothing. Such great gifts would attract attention, but they would never satisfy the heart.
- Though a man be able to interpret and communicate great spiritual truths, but if he is lacking in the love of God in his life, he is nothing.
- Though a man has all faith and firmness of belief, giving him mastery over life’s greatest difficulties, but if he has not divine love in his heart, he is nothing.
- Though a man be a great philanthropist and gives lavishly to the poor, and even though he be a martyr for a cause and gives his body to be burned, but if he is lacking in love, in the all-seeing eyes of God, he is nothing. It is only character of true worth that counts with Him.
Christian love has its peculiar characteristics. The apostle Paul gives us the great qualities of love in First Corinthians 13, as follows:
- Love is not hasty, but patient—“Love suffereth long.” The word means patience with people and not patience with circumstances. Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength.
- Love is not inconsiderate, but kind. There is so much profession of Christianity which is good but unkind.
- Love is content—knows no envy. Love never descends to jealousy.
- Love is not boastful. There is a self-effacing quality in love. True love will always be more impressed with its own unworthiness than its own merit.
- Love never inflates itself, is not puffed up. The really great man never thinks of his own importance. No one likes the “important” person.
- Love is courteous, is not rude, “doth not behave itself unseemly.” Love is winsome; love is gracious—love is lovely.
- Love is self-forgetful, “seeketh not [its] own.” Love does not insist upon its rights.
- Love is good-tempered, “is not easily provoked.” Christian love never becomes exasperated with people. Exasperation is a sign of defeat. When we lose our tempers, we lose everything. Love does not.
- Love is generous, “thinketh no evil.” Love does not nurse grievances. It keeps no diary of hurts and slights and pinpricks which the thoughtlessness of others may inflict. Christian love has learned the great lesson of forgetting.
- Love is high-principled—rejoices only with the truth. Love finds no pleasure in anything that is wrong. Love does not gloat secretly over the failures of others.
- Love is confident—“believeth all things”; that is, it is alien to the spirit of a cynic or a pessimist or a slanderer.
- Love is not despondent but “hopeth all things.” Love has large views and hopes. Love never ceases.
- Love bears everything with triumphant fortitude. Love can bear things, not with passive resignation, but with triumphant fortitude, because it knows that God is love and that He will never cause His child a needless tear.
- Love is absolutely permanent—love never faileth; it goes doggedly on.
When we think of the qualities of this love which Paul portrays, then we can see them realized and actualized in the life of Jesus Himself. The life of Christ is summarized in these precious truths. This is the life which is more abundant in Christ. This is the love-life, and to live this life is to resemble God, for love is the very essence of God. It is the only life which will fulfill the purpose for which you were created.
— Radio sermon given by Pastor James R. King, Sr., of the North Shore Baptist Church in Bayside, New York, on November 14, 1965. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 4, 2008.