The title of this post comes from one of my favorite poems, Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 72; in that poem, Shakespeare laments the fact that his loved one will have to make up lies about him after his death to make him seem worthy of being loved. Over the past week, I have been preparing a sermon from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter.” Unfortunately, common usage relegates this text to weddings and marriages. In reality, this chapter is primarily concerned with showing the superiority of Christian love to spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). But in this article, I would like to briefly consider a point that may get lost in translation: the value of love’s object.
Origins and Translations
In 1 Corinthians 13, the word that is translated as “love” in modern translations is the Greek word agape. This word is virtually unheard of outside of the New Testament, with a few exceptions in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This word refers specifically to Christian love; in other words, this love is unlike anything else in the natural human experience. Though modern translations use the word “love,” if you use the King James Version (as I do), you’ll notice that it uses the word “charity.” Rather than simply being an archaic usage, there is an excellent reason why the King James Version translators used that word, and we should as well.
The Meaning of Charity
Though now days we associate “charity” only with giving money to the poor, this word has a rich origin that sheds light on the Biblical definition of love. The word “charity” comes from the Latin word caritas, which means something that is dear, or costly, or that has a high price. This origin tells us something that may surprise you about Biblical love, something that makes it unique among human experience.
The Value of Charity’s Object
The point behind the use of the word “charity” is to show us that love, Christian love, places a high value on its object. So the question then becomes, what is the object of Christian love? The text of 1 Corinthians 13 is dealing specifically with love for other people. This is the second great commandment: love our neighbor as ourselves. Like children seeking to escape responsibility, we then ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Thankfully, Jesus answers this question for us.
First, our neighbor includes other Christians. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Second, our neighbor includes people who are not Christians. In Matthew 5:44, the Lord Jesus said this: “But I say unto you, 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.”
So essentially, our neighbor includes every human being. There are only two types of people in the world: the Christian and the non-Christian. And we are to love all of them. And this love places a high price upon the good of all men, even at a high cost to ourselves. We are not only to love our wives (though we should) or the Christians that we disagree with (though we must), but we are also to love those who are our worst enemies.
The Root of Charity
But this love is not humanistic. Humanism is the idea that life is all about human beings, that people are inherently good and therefore have worth. But the Bible tells a different story. The Biblical record is that human beings are sinful, wicked down to the core, and deserve only judgment and condemnation. So, Christian love cannot be humanistic; it cannot be rooted in mankind. Rather, Christian love is rooted in God’s love toward us.
In Romans 5:8, we read these remarkable words: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Do you see what Paul is saying? While we were yet his enemies, rebels against his lordship, God demonstrated his love toward us in his own Son Jesus Christ.
Christian love, then, is dying to ourselves. It is placing the good of others (even our worst enemies) above ourselves. It is imitating the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). Is your life marked by this kind of love? Can your worst enemy say of you, “So-and-so loves me?” If not, ask the Lord to forgive you for not loving your neighbor as yourself, and ask for grace to strive to manifest the love of God in your own life.