“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
Why is love the greatest virtue? The line above clearly states that this is the case, but why should that be so? And for that matter, what does the word love mean here?
People often throw around the word love without knowing what it means. They treat it like an amateur chef with salt. They simply sprinkle it throughout their sentences, and they assume that their words are better because they include the word love.
Love is the greatest virtue because it allows one to love God, and the greatest commandment given to Christians is to love the Lord with all their heart. Love is also necessary for one to love thy neighbor, which is the next commandment. And to love someone is to will their good.
So love is the greatest virtue because we need it in order to fulfill the greatest commandments. Coming up, we’ll cover what this means.
What Is Love?
For many people, love is just an empty word that they throw around because it feels nice to say. The word is meaningless in their mouths. This is true not only for the word love, but for most emotionally charged words in general. People tend to feel and remember, but not think, before they speak. The effect of the common person’s lack of thought is that they never attain an understanding of what he (or sh)e is saying.
Meanwhile. other people believe that love is a “warm and fuzzy” feeling that arises in the chest. They they call this feelings good because ti feels good to experience. Yet this choice to ascribe moral weight to one’s feelings is a type of hedonism, but most do not realize it.
And the number of people who actually know what love is is quite low.
We Christians must not be among them.
To love is to will the good of something.
Now, what does that mean?
Well, the statement contains two parts, so I will need to explain what it means to will something and what good is.
What Is Willing?
To will something is to act with intention. If you intend to do seething, and if you then do it, then you willed it.
Most people never will anything. Oftentimes they will intend to do something, but they will not follow through and do it. Other times, they will intend to do something, try, and fail. And at more times still, people will do something which they did not intend.
None of these people are willing.
If you will a thing, then you begin with an intention, and you convert that intention into an act which brings about the desired effect.
What Is Good?
God is good, and those actions which bring one closer to God must contain goodness because of their relationship with Him.
And God is both existence and the potential for existence (see the section on the First Commandment).
Therefore, an act may be said to be good if it enhances one’s ability to exist and, preferably, to improve over time.
Will + Good = ?
So, putting the meanings of will and good together, we can assert that to will the good of another is to act in a way that enhances their continued existence.
If you love someone, then you will act in a way that allows them to continue existing. And that act will preferably allow them to improve over time. The improvement over time will allow themselves to produce further existence.
For example, if a parent places their child on a strict diet and exercise regimen, then they are acting in love because that child will become healthier and enjoy an increased lifespan.
But a parent who permits their child to eat and act as they please cannot be said to love that child. This is because the child, lacking knowledge, will choose to eat garbage food and spend much of their time lazing about. That child will, in turn, endure a shorter and more difficult life.
The First Commandment
I am the Lord thy God who led you out of Egypt, you will have no other gods before me.
The First Commandment requires Christians and Jews to place the Lord above all else; Muslims have a similar command in the Shahada.
Now, the name of the Lord is Yahweh, which means “I am that I am.” This is the name He provided when Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. This name indicates that God is both being and the source of his own being; then, from himself, the being of all else was made possible.
It is for this reason that to love God and, therefore, to honor the first of his commandments, one must love both existence and the ability to exist.
Yet in order for one to love these and, therefore, God, one must be able to act in a way that enhances both. Love, after all, is not merely a feeling but a will with an act associated with it. To love without action is not to love at all.
So the command to love then forces one to develop the ability to act, and this requires one to become more virtuous so that they may act in the way that God commands.
So the love of the Lord is itself the font from which other virtues are drawn.
Love Thy Neighbor – (Why Is Love the Greatest Virtue?)
Christ has commanded his followers to love each other. Moreover, to love is to will the good of another. So Christians are called to foment the continued existence of their fellow Christians.
Yet many people do not understand this. They believe that to love someone is to treat them nicely. So they try to avoid conflict with their neighbor, and this aversion to conflict often produces an effect opposite that which Christ intended.
Why is that?
Because people don’t know what’s good for them.
Most people are hedonic from beginning to end. They don’t know what is good of bad for them. Instead, they know only what feels good an what feels bad. So they often behave according to their feelings.
Yet the things which feel good are often detrimental to one’s continued existence. And many good things feel bad; dieting is the most common example of such a thing.
So most people act in a self-destructive manner, and they constantly try to do so.
Now, when a Christian encounters these people, it is the duty of that Christians, who has been commanded to will the good of others, to thwart the attempts of their fellow Christian to commit a slow suicide.
But this requires an intervention of some sort,a nd these bring conflict.
So Christians who believe that to love someone is to treat them nicely will watch their fellow men and women destroy themselves and refuse to act to prevent their slow death. It is at this point that the Christian has ceased to follow Christ’s command to love his neighbor.
And in this way, people pervert the command to love one’s neighbor for evil ends under the guise of being nice.
Why Is Love the Greatest Virtue? A Second Takeaway
Therefore, to remain Christians we must protect ourselves from the belief that the call to love our neighbor is somehow a call to avoid conflict with him. If we fall victim to this view, then we dishonor our Lord and fail our fellow man. Therefore, to be proper Christians, we must be strong enough to be formidable. In this way, love produces the other virtues necessary for Christian living.