“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” - 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
Sometimes it is not always remembered that this passage comes to us from the pen of someone who possessed many or all of these things, by God’s grace. He was someone chosen to be an apostle by God’s sovereign grace. He had the gift of speaking in multiple languages and speaking in angelic tongues. He understood mysteries of God, and was an instrument God used to reveal many of them to the world. This truth comes to us from someone who had prophetic gifts, who had the gift of faith that changed the world. Also, he was someone who would ultimately give his whole life, in living and in death, for the Gospel of Christ. But, this way of love is truly a “more excellent” way (see the end of the 1 Corinthians 12), in that love is the greatest gift, and the gift that all Christians have - and that which is purely the purpose of all of us.
We are united by the love of Christ, the greatest love of all. The abundance of these gifts, without flowing from the love, is nothing, because love is everything. The love for the entire world behind one cross of torture is the message that is for all humanity. Love between us is God truly inhabiting us. Love is God’s will, love is everything.
The Church is God’s vehicle to embrace the whole world, with His message and touch of love. Even as Christians, love is not something we can produce in and of ourselves, but rather it is an ever-flowing river of God within us, that we received when we heard the Gospel and believed it in faith - that we learn more and more to choose to let flow from us to the world or to our fellow believers. This overflow of the pure water of love may take form in various ways (a kind word, feeding the needy, sharing the Gospel) Its wake is peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We can learn to choose to love despite of the situation, or our rights that may have been violated. First and foremost, I believe this passage is communicating to us that this river within us is love, is God, and anything we might appear to do that is not flowing from this, is nothing, or to ultimately no effect, or no recompensive benefit to us. Love is the lifesource flowing to us from the True Vine (John 15:4-5) and nothing we do apart from it is anything.
True love is not a human concept, warped to fit the image of man in what man thinks is right in his own eyes (if you remember the ‘love wins’ hashtag that was used in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage), but true, living love only first comes to humanity from the fountain of the cross of Jesus Christ. Because, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16a). Love is the revelation of God. In one way, love is exclusive, because only One is the source of it. (Or, rather, is it). True love is exclusive to Christianity and the Church, because they are the revelation that love is in fact a specific person, Jesus Christ. Also, love is spiritual, and is meant to touch the world through the daily life of the Church. Because love is spiritual and exclusively found and accessed through Christ (not that the love itself is exclusive), similarly to what we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 2:15, when Paul talks about how the spiritual person (illuminated by the Holy Spirit's wisdom) judges all but himself is to be judged by no one, the Church does not need to worry herself about the criticisms of the world against her regarding her love (or perceived lack of love), but only to seek to love those in the world more and more with the true love of God. Or rather, seek to get out of the way that the love of God within us may shine brighter and brighter.
Love is not something we can produce or concoct in and of ourselves by sending good vibes or good thoughts (using some current nomenclature). Love is the gift of God for all humanity, in His Son, through His Spirit, and carried by His Church, to unite all humanity. If you are a Christian or not one yet, our power, purpose, and home is the love found in the eyes of Jesus. God really is love, may our eyes be fixed on Him that His love would be seen brighter and brighter, purer and purer, through and in us, to heal those outside, even those who may have been hurt by those in the Church before. The love in His eyes is that which will last forever, and that for which He came, died, and rose again so that every human being might know it, know Him, and contemplate freely forever. His love is everything.