What is the greatest form of love
Paul answers the question why nothing has any real value without love by reflecting in a second part (13: 4-7) on what love is. But it does not give a precise definition - that would remain theoretical; he names a variety of behaviors and attitudes. It's clear that he praises love and doesn't want to stop anytime soon. But it is by no means just a colorful bouquet of compliments that he twists, but a carefully considered, carefully composed hymn of praise.
It begins with two positive qualities: long-suffering and kindness (13.4).
There are seven negations: what love does not do, although people usually do it: to get excited, to brag, to inflate oneself, to only look for one's own interests, to be too happy to be irritated to anger, to repay evil for evil and to offset against good (13.4f.)
In the middle (13.6) a rhetorical contradiction is emphasized: love abhors injustice and lies, it keeps truth and right. At the end (13.7) Paul says in a fourfold increase what love does in a positive way: "Everything she bears, everything she believes, everything she hopes, everything she withstands."
The first pair - forbearance and kindness - dictates the direction of the whole. Long-suffering and goodness are virtues that are turned not inward but outward. They aim less at self-perfection than at shaping life relationships with others. Long-suffering is required when another person does not want to or cannot do the right thing. Kindness is needed when it comes to promoting the good - together with others and also against (apparent) self-interests.
One of the main topics of meditation on love is how it deals with the guilt and weakness of others. The statement is perfectly clear. It is entirely in line with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5,38-48 par. Lk 6,27-36). The main message: love brings the strength to forgiveness, the strength to a new beginning. She takes the first step towards reconciliation. She remains on the side of peace, even if the gestures of goodwill are disdainfully rejected.
On the other hand, love works on self-perception, self-understanding and self-expression. Paul assumes that there is a deep temptation in people to let themselves stand tall at the expense of others - even if it is because service is particularly "selfless" capitalized. Love is the organ with which people recognize that they can only say "I" if they can also say, think and feel "you" and "we".
Both belong together: the ability to deal with conflict and the willingness to reconcile do not exist without the strength of the I, the address you are addressing and the feeling of unity. It is precisely love that creates this connection.
But it is not alone among people. The four-sentence in verse 7 speaks in both external verbs of the carrying capacity and perseverance, the resilience and sustainability of love. But the two inside verbs focus on God. That love always believed in the good in people and always hoped for a change for the better, Paul would criticize as an illusion that is all too often disappointed. That love believes everything and hopes everything can only relate to God. Love believes in God - consciously or not; she puts all her trust and hope in God - explicitly or implicitly. Why? Love, Paul thinks, sees in the neighbor the creature of God, the brother or sister of Jesus. Love knows that "everything can be and become good" only through God. Love is realistic: there will be no ultimate happiness, perfect peace, universal reconciliation on earth; The wounds of the past are too deep, the victims' suffering is too great, the limits of what people can achieve and even wish are too narrow. Love lives from the hope of the kingdom of God, the right to righteousness, peace and joy (Rom 14:17); she loves by believing in God, the Creator and Redeemer, the Father of Jesus Christ. If this belief and this hope are made explicit - so much the better. If they remain unconscious - then there is still love.
Of course, Paul goes a decisive step further. Long-suffering and goodness are excellent qualities of God according to the Old Testament. Paul neither forgot nor denied this. He presupposes it. The love that he praises and praises is the love of God himself, which he awakens and works in people. In Romans, Paul precisely described the connection between God's love for us and our love of God and neighbor: "We know: Tribulation brings about patience, patience but probation, hope. But hope does not perish because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us "(Rom. 5: 3-5).
It is this love that "remains" (13: 8) even when everything else passes: not only property, prestige, power and money, but also the highest intellectual and spiritual values of this world: even prophecy and knowledge. But love, as it is its kind, does not "stay" alone, but is always together with faith and hope. It is "greatest" not because faith and hope are ultimately unimportant, but in the love that people experience and pass on, as love for God and neighbor, it becomes clearest who God is: the "God for us" (Rom. 8: 31-39).
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