When the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13, he wasn’t composing a sonnet or a ballad on the theme of “love” for the Corinthians to admire. He was doing quite the opposite: reproaching the Corinthians severely for the evident lack of love that they were displaying. Yet the result is one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible, one that is frequently read at weddings and funerals and on other occasions. It is no wonder that Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), in his sublime treatment of this chapter in sixteen sermons, Charity and Its Fruits, expounded on love in his final sermon, “Heaven, a World of Love.”

What is love? The clear answer from the Bible is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). There is no true love in the universe except the love that has its source in God. Our love for God, our love for other people, whether in family, church, among friends or elsewhere, has its origin in the God who is love.

If God had never created anything, He alone would exist. But in fact, God does create, and into this vast space God creates or enables the creation of all kinds of objects—jewels, crystals, kaleidoscopes, lenses, prisms, mirrors, stained glass windows—that reflect and spread and scatter the light that comes from Him who is light with all the colors of the rainbow. Now we have a universe that is ablaze with light, but the source of that light is God alone.

Now substitute “love” for “light.” God is love, God is the only source of true love, but that love is emitted and radiated to all His creatures, who should reflect that love back to Him and to one another. This true love has certain hallmarks and characteristics that mark it out as genuine. We’ll look at three of them.

Love Endures

“Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8). Love must be eternal because God Himself is eternal. God cannot fade, wither, perish, or die; therefore, neither can true love.

Here is a reality that we must all recognize: the need and longing for eternal love is found in every human heart. We all long to love and to be loved, with a love that will never end. Not only has God put eternity into every human heart, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:11; more poignantly, He has put the yearning for eternal love into every human heart.

What would eternity be without love? It would be eternal misery. And is love truly love if it is anything less than eternal? Try this: make a list of books, films, poems—but perhaps especially songs, of all genres—that have the word “love” combined with words such as “eternal,” “everlasting,” and “undying.” I can guarantee you that it won’t be a short list.

This points to the certain reality that we have all been created for relationship, created to love and to be loved. The God who is Himself an eternal loving Trinitarian fellowship of persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—created a man and immediately said about him, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). So God created a companion for the man, a fellow being, so that each could love and be loved. This need finds expression in marriage, but community is not restricted to marriage. We are all created to relate to others, and to relate to God, in love.

And this love, true love, never ends. It has no past tense. That is why bereavement is the most horrible, wrenching experience known to human beings. A young wife loses a beloved husband, and even forty or fifty years later she will say, “I still love him.” But the bride of the Lamb will never be a widow—Hallelujah!

Love Grows

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:9–10). True love always grows, always develops, always matures. It is never static or stagnant. Whether we are talking about warm affection or close friendship or romantic marriage, there is always dynamism and growth.

We are all created to relate to others, and to relate to God, in love.

A jigsaw puzzle is a wonderful illustration. Imagine you are doing a three-thousand-piece puzzle, and you have all the pieces, but you don’t have the box to show you what the final picture will look like. It is very hard work, but you keep on going. What happens? The individual pieces by themselves seem so random, so disjointed, so meaningless, but as they join together they gradually form a bigger picture that is full of meaning, with a developing and unifying theme. The partial, the incomplete, the frustrating, gives way to the whole, full, perfect, universal reality. And that is very satisfying.

All our personal relationships are like so many jigsaw puzzles, works in progress, some barely underway. But our greatest jigsaw is the jigsaw of love for God. Our love for God must be a love that grows. Because without true love, there is no true knowledge of God. As J.I. Packer wrote, there is all the difference in the world between knowing about God and knowing God. The presence or absence of love makes the difference. An atheist professor of theology might know far more about God than many Christians do, but because he doesn’t love God, he doesn’t know God at all.

Someone who wants to get a jigsaw puzzle finished will persevere until it is finished. As Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 13:11, a child has a certain view of reality, of how this whole world works, which is different from an adult understanding. It is not necessarily wrong; it may be appropriate to their age, but it is childish, immature, and incomplete.

Healthy Christians and healthy churches grow toward maturity, into what Paul calls in Ephesians 4:13 “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” While we are still in this present age, we are still children in some sense. The jigsaw puzzle is not yet finished, but one day it will be.

Love Unites

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Love always desires to be united with the one who is loved. When two people love and spend time with one another, an overlapping and a uniting of them takes place. This is true whichever of C.S. Lewis’ four loves we might be thinking about. This is supremely true in marriage, where there is the bodily union of sexual intercourse, which is the deepest expression of the two becoming “one flesh.”

But there is another kind of uniting in friendship where there is no sexual dimension. We read that the souls of David and Jonathan were “knit” to one another (1 Sam. 18:1)—and we need to emphasize in today’s climate that there was not the slightest hint of any sexual element in that friendship. Have you ever been with a group of friends, enjoying an activity together or enjoying a good laugh together, and you look around at the other faces to see if they’re laughing as much as you are? This, too, is the love that unites.

Ultimately, this is true at the spiritual level. Paul prays that Colossians would have their hearts “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2). Believers are “knit together” the more their souls are knit to God Himself in love. And as God’s people love and worship God, as they draw near and spend time with Him, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

This process is underway right now, and it reaches perfection in glory. In that glorious, finished creation, we will all love and know God, and we will all love and know one another, with perfect love. The windows of our souls will be so transparent that we can look into each other, but there will be nothing awkward or embarrassing or shameful or sinful to make us run away and hide. In that eternal city there will be love and joy without limits, with God and with one another, because we know all others, and all others know us. We shall know fully, and be fully known, and that will be the pinnacle of love and of joy.


Reformation Women: Katharina Schutz Zell