At first glance, the phrase in love might lead some to think that this is going to be a piece about love. It sounds like I am about to wax poetic on puppy love or lovey dovey things. Of course, that could not be further from the truth; however, I may devote a post in the near future to that topic. During my morning devotions, the phrase, in love, jumped out at me as I read the following verse:
“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).
When I read over this verse, it feel like I need to duck from these commands. They are like bullets from a machine gun. Is this Paul’s intention? My answer is no, but it might take some explaining to get there. After reading this verse a third or fourth time, the second half of it seems to be the foundation. I can be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., but without love, who cares? In fact, the apostle Paul conveys this message in his justly famous love chapter, which is the thirteenth chapter to the same letter of the above text. By the time we get to our verse, Paul throws out some concluding exhortations and reminders. It makes total sense for Paul to repeat the love theme of chapter thirteen as he brings his letter to the Corinthians to a close.
In the English language, in love is a prepositional phrase. My readers and followers might be thinking, ok, Mr. English Lit guy, so what?Prepositional phrases either modify nouns or verbs, which means in the above scripture text, the phrase in love modifies the action being performed by the person. The apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to characterize their actions in love. This means that the actions rest upon the foundation of love. The next obvious question to ask is what kind of love is this? According to the Greek lexicon, the word for love is agape, which comes from the Father in Christ by the Spirit. Do these Corinthian believers exhibit such divine love in and of themselves apart from the Father? The answer to that question is an obvious no. Paul spends the entire first letter to the Corinthians reminding them of their position in Christ, and the responsibilities that result due to their union with Christ.
God’s love in Christ through the Spirit draws the Corinthian believers into the body of Christ. Another way to say this is that God’s love characterizes and establishes these Corinthian believers in the body of Christ. According to Paul’s words in chapters twelve and fourteen, these believers exhibit unique gifts of the Spirit in order to edify each other and to display Christ to the world. All of these doings and manifestations of the Spirit have their foundation in love, God’s love. When Paul fires off his quick list, be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., these qualities are not possible without being in God’s love. How does one wind up in God’s love? There are a number of ways to say it, but I will stick with a Pauline answer from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The Corinthian believer’s position, and all believers’, is secure in Christ, it was a gift, and it is in love. From this place, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be on the alert in love, to stand firm in the faith in love, and so on and so forth. The manner of our being strong must be characterized by God’s love. If one’s position is in love, then it follows that one’s actions may be in love, too. It is not possible to exhibit God’s love without being in his love. He is the source from which believers draw from in order to live. Apart from God and his love, all that believers and anyone accomplishes is zero.