READ : 1 Corinthians 14:1
Everyone needs a goal in life. If you aim at nothing, that is exactly what you will hit. So what are you aiming for with your life?
One of the ways scholars help us to understand the teaching of Paul’s New Testament letters is by drawing attention to the difference between the indicative and the imperative. Those are grammatical terms referring to two different kinds of sentences. Sentences in the indicative are statements; they “indicate” something. An imperative is a command. In English a sentence in the indicative is distinguished from one in the imperative simply by the order of the words. For example, “John hit the ball” is an indicative, a simple statement. But “Hit the ball, John” is a command in the imperative. The reason this is important will be clear, I hope, in a moment.
The Point of It All
First Corinthians 13 is the most important passage about love in the Bible. It is a rich chapter, full of profound truths and important information, and every sentence in it, from the first one to the last, is an indicative. What we have in this chapter is simply a series of statements about love (though they are not simple statements). Paul tells us here why love is important: “If I have not love, I am nothing. I gain nothing” – no matter what else I may do with my life. He tells us what love is like: Love is patient and kind, not jealous or arrogant or irritable. Love rejoices in the right. Love bears all things. Love never ends. Faith, hope and love abide and the greatest is love. And then at the very end, after all these indicatives, Paul adds one simple imperative: the command, “Make love your aim” (14:1).
The point is that the imperative is based upon the indicatives. That is why the indicatives come first. First is the teaching, the wonderful, rich truth about this thing called agape, the love that God himself invented. Paul states the facts about that love; what it is, how it behaves, what sorts of things it does and does not do. Then all this truth, this information that has been given to us is applied with the command to make love the primary goal of our lives.
One of the nice things about the Bible is that it always tries to help us understand the reasons why we should do what it tells us to do. Has this conversation ever taken place in your family? You tell your child to do something, and instead of obeying, he asks, “Why do I have to do that?” “Because I said so,” you growl. That is really not a very satisfactory answer, nor is it the way God speaks to us. He never says simply, “Do this because I said so.” The biblical pattern is indicative first, then imperative; explanation before application. We are given truths to understand before we are issued commands to obey.
What Are You Aiming At?
So if you have followed any of this teaching on love from 1 Corinthians 13 you have been exposed to a lot of indicatives. Now let’s consider the imperative. Make love your aim. “Follow hard after love,” Paul urges his Christian readers, “pursue it as the great goal of your life. Make it your highest priority and your greatest ambition.”
Think about some of the things people are living for. There are people who live entirely for their own pleasure. The Bible was referring to them when it said, “Their god is their belly and their end is destruction” (Phil. 3:19, kjv). Some people are worshiping, literally, their own appetites. Addiction is prevalent these days, at least in the United States. In our society people claim they are addicted to almost anything: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, of course, but also things like pornography, food, exercise, other people, even religion. In a therapeutic culture, there seem to be no longer any vices. There are only illnesses. But the Bible calls these things a form of idolatry.
Then there are those, the ambitious among us, who have made success their great aim in life. It does not matter in what field; it may be business or politics, the arts and entertainment, athletics, or even the church, but whatever their chosen area of endeavor, these people are pursuing success with single-minded intensity. Everything they do is devoted to reaching the goal. Nothing can get in their way of the climb to the top. If they fail in reaching their goal, they are disappointed, and when they succeed, more often than not . . . they are disappointed! The funny thing about success is that it so rarely seems to satisfy.
Still others are wiser, or perhaps humbler. They have turned away from the glittering temptations of power and wealth and fame. They are pursuing personal happiness as a goal in life. To be comfortable with one’s self, satisfied with one’s circumstances, to find quiet satisfaction in family and friends and the ordinary everyday pleasures of home and work – these are the goals of the wise. This is the mark at which many are aiming, and it’s not a bad one. But I do not think it is enough.
The problem with all these goals is that they are neither important enough nor lasting enough to be worth the investment of a life. Think about this: you have only one life to live, and some day you will have to give an account of how you used it. What are you spending it on? What are you doing, really doing, with your life? Do you even know? Are you aiming at anything at all, or are you just drifting along without much sense of meaning or purpose?
Maybe you’re thinking, “All this talk about goals for my life is too high and mighty. I’m just trying to get by each day, to do my job and take care of my family and pay my bills.” And you’re right. That is what most of us are trying to do from day to day. But here is an exciting thought. You can keep on doing just that, doing your job each day, fulfilling your responsibilities as best you can, but you can do it in such a way as to invest your whole life and everything you do with an eternal significance. How? By making love your aim in everything you do.
Another way of saying “Make love your aim” is this: “Make it your goal in life to live for people.” Love in the Christian sense means to act for the benefit of others purely for their sake: to be kind and good and patient, even toward those who don’t deserve it – especially toward those who don’t deserve it; to humbly serve the needs of the neediest without thought of reward; to forbear and forgive; to put your neighbor’s interests ahead of your own, doing whatever you do for the sake of others. If you live that way, you will find that nothing you do, not even the smallest and most secret thing, will ever be forgotten. Live for other people and you will discover the truth that other people are really the only thing worth living for.
Let Me Tell You Why
Do not misunderstand: making love our aim in life is not a simple thing to do. We do not adopt this goal because it will automatically yield an easy and happy life. On the contrary, loving others the way Christ has loved us is a very hard thing indeed. It takes self-denial and strength and endurance and determination. It takes a power that only God can give. It is not always fun, though I am sure that it is the only way to real and lasting joy.
Maybe you still are not sure that this is what you should live for. I won’t try to persuade you; I don’t think I could even if I tried. Only love can convince anyone to love. Only the experience of God’s love for you will give you first the desire and then the strength to turn outward away from yourself toward your neighbor. But let me give you three quick reasons why it is important to make love your aim in life.
First, because this is clearly what God wants us all to do, and Christians, at least, are people who “make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Second, because our love for others proves the genuineness of our love for God. “We love, because he first loved us,” says the Bible. “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:19,20). Third, because loving people selflessly and sacrificially is what makes us most like Jesus. “A new commandment I give to you,” he told his followers, “that you love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
One Last Question
If you are like me, about now you might be wondering: “All right. I do want to make love my aim. I want to live this way more than anything else. I want to be like Jesus Christ. I want to show that I really do know God, that my love for him is genuine. I want to make it the main business of my life to please him. But how do I do it? Tell me how to love. Show me how to love.”
I wish there were an easy way I could do that, but the truth is, there is not. In real love, as in real life, there are no easy answers, no quick and simple formulas for success. Even the imperative Paul uses is hard. The command to “Make love your aim” could literally be translated, “Pursue love.” It conjures up an image of a runner in training, working hard day after day to reach her goal. Her eyes are fixed on the target. Her whole life becomes a quest for achieving this great ambition. Nothing is allowed to interfere with the training, and the closer to the goal, the harder she works. That is how it has to be with our efforts at love. It is hard work, a goal to which all lesser ambitions in life must be subordinated, one we pursue for a whole lifetime without ever quite reaching it.
But do you know what? Someday, I think those who have made love their aim will realize it was all worthwhile.