Sometimes Bible students describe John as “the apostle of love.” Would it not be the case that every faithful apostle of Jesus was “an apostle of love?” The apostle Paul certainly was, as he wrote extensively about love and demonstrated his love for God, lost people, and his fellow Christians.
Paul’s relationship with the church in Corinth faced various challenges. Some of the saints doubted his apostleship. Some of them were not appreciative of Paul’s efforts on their behalf. They criticized his writing, speaking, and personal appearance.
Despite all of that, Paul continued to love the brothers and sisters who composed the church of God in Corinth. As he prepared to come visit them for a third time, he told them:
“And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
If you look closely at that statement, you will see this acknowledgement from Paul: “. . . I love you . . .” From Paul’s declaration of love for them and the context of those words, what can we learn about genuine love?
First of all, love cares about people, not their stuff. Paul told them, “. . . And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Corinthians 12:14). As their father in the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15), Paul felt a responsibility to look after their spiritual welfare. He reminded them that he was not after their things, but cared about them as human beings. Self-centered people look at what kind of benefit, especially in a material sense, they can gain from a relationship. Love is not about stuff, but people.
Love is prepared to sacrifice for others. Go back and look at the wording of verse fifteen: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls . . .” Paul totally “bought into” the idea that Christians ought to be willing to lay down their lives for the brethren because God’s Son laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16). If it is not sacrificial love, then it is not true, biblical love.
Third, love expresses itself. Paul did so verbally, telling the Corinthian saints, “I love you” (12:15). The Christ did the same with His apostles, saying to them, “I also have loved you” (John 15:9). Just like the love of Jesus, Paul’s love went beyond words. Over and over he showed by his action that he really cared about the well-being of the disciples in Corinth. We are reminded of this instruction: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Paul shows us that love perseveres even if it is not reciprocated. As his letters and life showed over and over how much he cared for the congregation he established in Corinth, what was their response? “. . . though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). Not all of the brethren returned Paul’s love and loyalty, but his love for them was unwavering. Love is patient. “Love suffers long and is kind . . . endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4,7). Real love and kindness are unconditional.
Fifth, love tries to build people up because it wants what is best for them. After directly confessing, “I love you” (2 Corinthians 12:15), Paul went on to tell the Christians in Corinth, “But we do all things, beloved, for your edification” (12:19). True love does not try to belittle others or “run them into the ground.” It seeks what is in their best interest, especially their spiritual well- being.
Love tells the truth about sin. Sin is not a pleasant topic, but sometimes it must be addressed. When Paul wrote the letter we call “2 Corinthians,” apparently some in the church there still were struggling with/practicing “contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults . . . uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness . . .” (12:20,21). Paul’s straightforward message was that those “who have sinned before and have not repented” (12:21) would have to face discipline — he would not spare them (13:1,2). He called their sin “sin,” and he called on them to repent of their evildoing. Love does not try to hide sin, its consequences, or its penalty. Genuine love causes us to speak the truth about sin like Paul did. Such an approach will pay eternal benefits.
While many folks of our day accept unfounded and unscriptural concepts of love, it is refreshing to study Paul’s “I love you” in 2 Corinthians 12:15. We are blessed to have that passage, are we not?
— Roger D. Campbell