The value of prophecy is not in knowing what will happen, but why it will happen and making the life choices that such knowledge requires.
I Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Working Backward to Love (with a Capital 'L')
When we go on a trip in our automobiles we drive from point A to point B. If we get turned around on our journey and find ourselves heading back to point A, we must change direction or never reach our destination. It's that way with Love (with a capital 'L') or what theologians call 'agape love', and what I will call God-Love.
Most of us have the capacity for what some call human, or natural, love (with a little 'l'). That is, we can care enough about someone to wish them well and to do something to help secure their wellbeing. This kind of love is typically associated with, and motivated by, feelings. And there are wide ranges of feelings that can motivate us to this kind of love, such as: passion, fondness and affection; compassion, empathy and sympathy; trust, gratitude and loyalty; self-interest, self-worth and selfishness. We love ourselves, usually motivated by self-interest, self-worth or selfishness. Even when we don't particularly like ourselves we wish ourselves well and try to do things we think will secure our wellbeing. Most of us love our families and our friends, and perhaps our larger circle of acquaintances and fellow citizens (at least some of them), and perhaps even all mankind (at least theoretically), usually on a sliding scale from greater to lesser as we go down the list from ourselves. Somewhere along the scale we say we love God.
Some unfortunate people may be unable to love anything but themselves. Others, more unfortunate still, may not be able to even manage self-love. And there are, of course, things other than people that we can love. We can love our country. We can love our pets. We can love special places (perhaps our hometown, 'the old home place' or a favorite vacation spot). We can even love things, such as music, art, books, cars and homes, money, power and influence. However, for the purpose of my discussion here, I want to focus on love of people, including ourselves and others.
So how is Love-with-a-capital-'L' different from love-with-a-little-'l'? The scriptures teach us that God is Love. For you and me specifically, I think this means that His divine personality is defined wholly by a quality of character that translates into His total commitment to each of us, such that everything He says and does is designed to secure our wellbeing. In other words, everything God tells us to do is good for us, and everything God tells us not to do, if we do it, is bad for us. Adam and Eve learned that lesson the hard way in the Garden of Eden. And too often we, too, learn it the hard way if we learn it at all. God's Love is totally outward focused. It doesn't start with Him loving himself and working outward to His creation or His creatures (such as you and me) to greater or lesser degrees. God is Love. That's what that means. If it were possible for all of us to receive His Love, and then share that Love with the world around us, we would truly Love one another (as He Loves each of us) and we wouldn't have many of the problems that plague the world today, such as hate, envy, selfishness, favoritism, jealousy, prejudices of all kinds, and pride (the kind of pride whereby we think more highly of ourselves than we should, and we put ourselves before all others).
But we can't fully receive Gods Love. There's something about us that gets in the way. And it's called 'ourselves'. Specifically, God doesn't love Himself more than He Loves you or me God is Love. He doesn't Love some of us more than others, and some not at all. He doesn't Love us more today and less tomorrow because of His mood or because we behave better today than we will tomorrow. God's Love is totally focused on each of us, and His Love is totally unconditional. Conversely, our love is first focused inward, on ourselves (let's be honest) and, by greater and lesser degrees, on others. Our love is also conditional. We love others because of who they are - at our better moments we love our families and our friends, despite the hurt they may do us. We love others because we can trust them to look out for our interests, or because we can depend on them for help and support or for something we need or want a lover, a benefactor, a patron, our family, our friends.
To try and describe God-Love is difficult because none of us has ever experienced it to the degree necessary to fully understand it. It's like trying to describe color, a mountain vista or a sunrise seascape to a man blind from birth. Yet some of us understand this God-Love better than others. Some of us have in fact begun to experience it, to a lesser or greater degree, like a man blind from birth beginning to gain his sight. I'm talking here about the Christian experience. When we really accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior (and not just go through the motions, as some do), we begin to experience and understand something of this God-Love. Salvation is indeed our first conscious encounter with this God-Love. By Salvation I mean the process by which we first realize our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness and a right relationship with God, and our inability to secure this forgiveness or relationship by our own efforts. When we finally realize that we can have this forgiveness and relationship as a gift from God, despite who we are or the hurt we cause Him, and then by faith receive it, we begin a process whereby we start to see, with spiritual eyes blinded from birth, the God-Love I'm talking about.
Without going into all the 'theological' details and mechanics, I think the process works something like this. Christ said that if we accept His Salvation and submit to His Lordship by faith, then we are forgiven our sins, are made members of God's family, and obligate ourselves to keep His commandments. And the greatest of these commandments, according to Him, are to love God with all our soul, mind, and strength, and to love other people as we love ourselves. These two commandments are the foundation of all other commandments recorded in scripture. This is Love with a capital 'L' (at least in as much as it pertains to us). But how do we Love in this way? Is it a feeling that compels us to do something to please God or help another? In fact it is simply this:
We Love God when we keep His commandments. That is, we Love God when we do what He says we should do, as recorded in scripture. How do we know we Love God? By keeping His commandments. If we are at least trying to keep His commandments (it's hard), we can know that we Love God (with a capital 'L'). If we are not trying to keep His commandments, we do not Love God (His definition, not mine). It has nothing to do with feelings, but with doing. At least, it has nothing to do with feelings at first.
And one of His commandments (one of the most important) is that we are to Love (with a capital L) others as ourselves. Not some others, and not sometime, and not to a lesser degree than we love ourselves. We are to Love all others, and at all times, and to the same degree as we love ourselves. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to pray for those who despitefully use us. We are to give to, and do for, them that need and ask, and often give to, and do for, them that need but don't ask. Some scriptures even suggest that there are times and circumstances when we should not retaliate against those who would take advantage of us and not seek revenge on those who would hurt us. Like I said, it's hard to keep God's commandments. I have a real hard time with these last ones myself. Yet God has promised us divine help if we want it, and we should at least be trying if we are to Love Him, and others, as we ought. And it has nothing to do with feelings. It has to do with doing. At least, it has nothing to do with feelings at first.
So what's the relationship between doing and feelings? Feelings are not to be discounted. In as much as we feel God-Love we should encourage it in ourselves. But at first most of us will not feel very Loving. That's because of our fallen estate. We're blind to God-Love until God opens our eyes to it. That's where keeping His commandments come in. God Loves, because God is Love. We Love because we are becoming Love. We've gone far is the wrong direction, and when we become Christians it's like reversing directions and going the right way. It's one example I can think of where we have to put the cart before the horse (doing before feeling).
In other words, we will begin to experience God-Love in ourselves when we begin trying to keep God's commandments, including the one about Loving others as we love ourselves. We just do what God says we should do (keep His commandments) and, if we do it for the right reason (that is, because we want to Love God by keeping His commandments and to experience and practice this God-Love) it will come to us. Indeed, we will begin a process whereby we eventually become like God. And God is Love.
Let me say here that motivation is important. If we do what God tells us to do for any reason other than wanting to Love God by keeping His commandments, and thereby begin to experience, practice and become this God-Love, then we may be guilty of sin. We may be guilty of the sin of selfishness if we do it because we think we will get some kind of reward (other than the satisfaction, peace, joy and affirmation that comes with this God-Love). We may be guilty of the sin of faithlessness if we do it because we think it will earn us favor with God, or that somehow we can obligate Him. We may be guilty of the sin of hypocrisy if we do it for any reason other than a desire to Love God by keeping His commandments and to experience, practice and become God-Love. A lot of harm is done to Christianity, and to the souls of those who might have otherwise become Christians, by those who profess Christ as Lord and Savior and then go about 'doing good' for the wrong reasons. Such reasons will always be found out.
Most of us probably have to start small (with baby steps), like not cussing out the fool who cuts in front of us in traffic, but instead sincerely praying for his or her safety. If done for the right reason (as noted above) we will be surprised by the results.
Or how about the next time someone spreads malicious gossip about you at work? Try praying for them, and maybe next time you take something special into work (like cookies or candy) make a point to see that they especially get some. And if you're not in the habit of taking good things to work for the enjoyment of your coworkers, maybe you should start doing that, too, on occasion.
Try it sometime, and then tell me you can feel the same aggravation you felt towards that other driver or coworker when first they cut you off or spread rumors about you. I bet you can't. And that's just the beginning of truly Loving God and others, and of experiencing, practicing, and eventually becoming, God-Love.
I John 5: 1 5 (New International Version)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.