Devotional: A love that destroys

1 Corinthians 13

Week 30 (July)

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul points out that, for the believer, love is more important than anything else. He has a good reason for saying so. Agape love is the highest gift of the Holy Spirit. And part of the rich meaning of true Christian love is its destructive/creative power. Let me explain.

Agape love has an eradicating power that destroys all that is not Christlike in us. Then it sparks in us all of those virtues we have come to call Christian.

Heavenly virtues cannot coexist with carnal vices. Therefore, if we allow God to release agape love in our lives, it will destroy the pride, lust, and other self-centered attitudes lurking in the dark recesses of our hearts. As it purges, it fills. We can love as God loves — giving ourselves for the benefit of others.

The church of Jesus Christ has been slow to learn all that the Holy Spirit is trying to teach in 1 Corinthians 13.

For instance, just 15 minutes from where we lived in Florence, Italy there is a bronze plaque in the middle of public piazza (or "square" as we say in the U.S.). That plaque marks the spot where Savonarola and two other reform-minded monks were tortured, hanged, and then burned by church officials in the 1400s.

The church has come a long way since then, thank the Lord. But far too often, in reality, the "greatest of these" is not agape love. We tend to base our love on what we perceive to be the worth of the person.

In the early 1960's the appearance of a black minister caused a stir in a church where my dad, Rev. Nolan Culbertson, was pastor. The agape love powered by the Holy Spirit had not been allowed to consume sinful prejudices. Unfortunately, that congregation found itself more in line with carnal philosophies than with the Word of God.

At the height of the Cold War, I remember hearing people voice the slogan "Kill a Commie for Christ." In the light of 1 Corinthians 13, this extreme example borders on breaking the third commandment, not to mention the sixth.

On a lesser scale, most of us have been victims of non-loving actions of one kind or another in the church. Fellow Christians have hurt us, and maybe we have been guilty at times of replying in kind.

True agape love makes a carnal, self-seeking person into a human being that cares. It destroys in order to create. Only as we open ourselves this destructive/creative force of God's grace can we become the loving persons in the Christian fellowship that He envisions.

The full spectrum of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13 is not an unrealizable utopia. It is the model for the Spirit-filled life.

Have you let God's love do its destructive/creative work in you? Have you let its "eradicating" power transform your life? [ How entire is entire? ]

I wrote these devotional thoughts while we were serving as missionaries in Italy. They appeared in the July 27, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.

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