What is the greatest thing? If you were to ask that question to a group of people, I am sure you would get a group of answers. Some might speak of the greatness of power. If someone had power and influence, he can do all kinds of good things in the world. This is true, there have been many throughout history that have had power, wealth, and influenced that used it for good and did some significant things in their life time. But this is not the greatest thing. Some may speak of the greatness of sacrifice. This is also true. There have been committed people we may have known or heard about that literally gave their all for a cause or for someone they love. The retelling of their story may have inspired countless millions of people. Some may speak of the greatness of hope. No matter how bad things get, if we have faith in the future, then our hope will propel us forward to better things. There are many great stories that inspire hope in what might otherwise be a desperate and hopeless existence. This is getting closer to what is the greatest thing, but it is still not the greatest thing.
According to what God has said, the greatest thing is love. "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). Unlike power, love does not coerce nor is it coerced. Love is what melts hearts and transforms lives. Love is what makes power pure. Love is what motivates true self-sacrifice. Love is what supports faith and hope. The road to cross is paved with love. Love is the essence of God's character. In fact, God is love (1 Jn 4:8). All of the power, sacrifice, abilities, and service mean nothing if it does not come from love. God desires love to be our underlying motivation for all we do. It is God's underlying motivation for pursuing us to the extent that Jesus ends up on a cross. It is our underlying motivation for serving God and our neighbor. We love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. What is love?
"Love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous; love does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (1 Cor 13:4-8a);
The verses that follow indicate that everything else we might be able to do is "in part" or "partial." In other words it is incomplete. Indeed, if we do anything without love, it is incomplete. It profits us nothing and it is useless. Without love, it would become tiresome and even repugnant to God.
So, love is the greatest thing. Since it is the greatest thing and is central to the character of God, Love should be the central thing that defines church. If we are sound in doctrine, but do not have love, it means nothing. If we have great activities and potlucks, but do not have love, it profits nothing. If we have a wonderful clean and working building, but do not have love, it is nothing. What does love look like? A man once asked Jesus about this in Luke 10:29. Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which indicates that love for God and love for others are connected. Love is truly the greatest thing.