Our world is filled with words. Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose what words are added to the dictionary. The basis of making such a decision is the frequency of its usage by a lot of people. Words are understood by the context in which they are used. They are interpreted by what the hearer/reader brings to them. The strength of the word is found in how it lives out in real life situations. Words have a great value in communicating an idea or concept or understanding. However, experience says that actions have a much stronger impact on people than words.
Paul is communicating a very important understanding of a frequently used word in his day and in our own. The passage from his letter to the people of Corinth is well known by believers and non-believers alike due to its frequent reading at weddings. This usage of the passage is not wrong but tends to leave the impression that Paul is writing about romantic love or solely a relationship between spouses. This impression could not be any farther from the purpose Paul intended. Paul is writing to a church with strong divisions and frequent conflicts. This passage lifts up to them a central understanding of what it means to be believers in Christ.
Paul knows that love is the core of who God is and how God is revealed in Jesus. This love is not romantic in nature nor is it an emotion. The love which Paul writes about is a way of living. In order to understand love, Paul is indicating that it must be witnessed in the actions and attitudes of life. Jesus expressed love not in words but in how he lived, responded to people, and viewed the world around him. This is exactly what Paul is expressing to the people of Corinth. Knowledge, spiritual gifts and insights are nice but if they lack the living out of love in life, they lose their value. Paul tells the people that the greatest of the only three items which have sustaining value, faith, hope and love, is love. This love is experienced and known through the actions and attitudes displayed in human relationships.
Each of us needs to hear Paul’s teaching here frequently. We need to realize that as wonderful as words are in communicating, the communication through actions and attitudes is all which has lasting value. If we are going to be faithful in following the Lord and demonstrating who God is, we need to live in a manner where love is witnessed, love as defined here.