When Paul announces love as the regulating principle, he implies that love is a controlling principle that can be defined, not just felt. If God is love (John 4:8, 16), we shouldn’t be surprised if the main regulating factor for his gifts is love. Indeed, any loveless operation of a so-called gift of the Spirit would call into question not only the human agent but even the source of the activity.
And when we think of love, we should think of it in terms of the two great commandments: (1) to love God (Deut 6:5) and to love your neighbor (Lev 19:18). In Paul’s terminology, the whole law can be fulfilled in loving your neighbor (Rom 13:8–9), and in John’s term, you’re not believable if you talk of keeping the first when you don’t keep the second. So, we bring that double law into how the gifts are used in the congregation:
- Glorifying God in fulfillment of the first great commandment
- Building up the congregation in fulfillment of the second
Love Has a Definition
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor 13:4–7)
Here Paul describes love in terms of what it does and doesn’t do. In the doesn’t-do list, we hear echoes of the works of the flesh, and in does list, we see the fruit of the Spirit.
Love Has a Function
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. (1 Cor 13:1–3)
Here Paul is telling us that love should regulate and characterize any exercise of spiritual gifts. And if you read what love does and doesn’t do, you recognize a lot of what you saw in the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. A big point I’m trying to make in this whole blog series is that the gifts of the Spirit must not be tainted by the works of the flesh; the gifts of the Spirit should flower with the fruit of the Spirit.