We do not need to know Greek and the difference between the types of love (for which Greek has separate words) to realize that the love which Paul goes on to describe in 1 Corinthians 13 is beyond anything mankind usually experiences or expresses. There is a divine quality that shines through, a quality which rings true to conscience and condemns us. We cannot quarrel with the standard Paul sets. We know that true love ought to be precisely what he depicts, but at the same time we hang our heads in shameful admission that such love is beyond us. Nevertheless, we also know that somehow we were made for that very kind of love and that our failure to experience it is a defect for which we are responsible and for lack of which we feel a deep loss.
Paul is depicting a love that is not of this world. It is additional evidence, as C.S. Lewis points out, that we were made for another world. We recognize it for what real love ought to be, and it strikes a chord in us like the description of a land we have never seen but to which we somehow feel we belong. We need read no other part of the Bible than this “love chapter” to know that man is a fallen creature. We can say “I love you!” and perhaps not even realize that deep inside we really mean “I love me and I want you!” Such is the tragedy of present human experience.
Nevertheless, those words, “I love you,” have the power to wonderfully transform both the person who speaks them and the one to whom they are spoken. They are the highest expression of which man is capable as a creature made in the image of God. Some people find these words difficult to speak, and other people find them embarrassing to hear. What we all find nearly impossible to believe is that the God who created the universe has spoken these wonderful words personally and intimately to each one of us. And He has done it in a way that no one else could: by entering into our humanity and dying for our sins upon the cross. He has thus so fully proved His love that there is no excuse for ever doubting it:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John:3:16)
It is this unparalleled manifestation of God’s love that makes Christianity what it is. Many facets of our life in Christ make it unique. Among the most wonderful distinctives is the relationship that each Christian is intended to enjoy with Christ Himself—an intimate, personal relationship that is not only unmatched by any of the world’s religions but is absolutely essential if someone is to be a Christian:
I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn thee. (Jeremiah:31:3)
In contrast, for a Buddhist to have a personal relationship with Buddha is neither possible nor necessary. Neither is the practice of Islam impaired because Muhammad is in the grave. It is no hindrance at all to any of the world’s historic religions that their founders are dead and gone. Not so with Christianity. If Jesus Christ were not alive today there would be no Christian faith because He is all that it offers. Christianity is not a mass religion but a personal relationship.