Paul understood that if our faith can develop and become strong, it can also weaken; this is why he encouraged us to do what we can to make sure our faith doesn’t wane. “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13 RSV). The next statement he made can be seen as a separate exhortation, or it can be seen as explaining how one is to hold one’s faith: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14 RSV). When we see it as an explanation as to how we keep and maintain our faith, then we learn that love is a necessary element of the faith itself, which should not be surprising because God is love. We can see the truth of this in the way those who engage love find themselves energized by their actions; their great love builds them up and not only makes them capable of enduring great hardships, but it gives them some element of joy even if they find themselves suffering some grave misfortune.
Love, therefore, is shown to help us maintain hope, and when hope remains, faith can remain. Thus, the more we love, the more we can preserve our faith, but it can also be said, the more we love, the more we open ourselves to grace, and so the more we will grow spiritually and in such growth, find our faith to grow as well. This is why it can be read that Paul was telling us that if we want to hold onto our faith and make sure it remains strong, we embrace the path of love. What we should not do is put on an act, pretending piety, hoping that through such a pretense, we can make our faith grow strong; when we do so, we are not being honest to ourself, and so, no matter how strong our faith might appear to others, the more it will be crumbling inside until, at last, we lose it entirely. Likewise, if we think holding strong faith means knowing a lot of facts about the faith, if we think it means studying about the faith and learning all the ways it has been properly expounded, without putting it into action, that is, without acting out on love, we will have shown we don’t understand the faith itself; we will find our spiritual life to be extremely dry, and with such a dryness, it will be difficult for us to truly hold on to our faith once we find ourselves having doubts as to what we have learned and studied. In this way, in can truly be said that faith without love is dead.
A courageous faith is a faith which is willing to follow love wherever it shall lead, even if it means following the expectations of love, we will find ourselves encountering difficult, if not dangerous, situations. For love will make us consider the needs of others; it will give us the motivation we need to do what we can to help others, which can mean, sometimes, putting ourselves at risk on their behalf. This is because love will make sure we do more than think of and do things only for the sake of our own benefit. We can see the power of love, and the way it makes people strong, when we look at those who act out of such love, for we see they can and do endure all kinds of hardships for their beloved, such as we see in all that parents will do to protect their children from danger.
Christianity is not meant to be masochistic. We should not look for trials and tribulations, but when they come to us, we should have enough love in us to endure them. We should be watchful so that we make sure we do not let something other than love become the foundation of our faith. If we constantly act out of love, it our love will never grow cold; it is when we get distracted, and lose sight of love, and stop acting on it, that we find our love will grow cold, and, if we are not careful, cease to be, and with it, our faith can be lost to us soon afterward. But even then, the flame of love can be rekindled, and with it, our faith can return. This is why if we find our love, and so, our faith grows cold, we should not despair. God is a God of love, indeed, the living flame of love; when we encounter God (directly or indirectly), we encounter that love, and if we are open to it, it shall come upon us and help us once again to love as we should. Such love then can grow bright, and the more it does so, the more we will share in the glory of God, the glory of love ourselves, finding that however great it is, however bright it burns within us, we shall not be consumed by it. This is exactly what happened with Moses when he encountered the glory of God in the burning bush: when he behold the glory of God, he saw how, though it cannot be contained by any creature, it could dwell in creation, and despite how great it is, it will not destroy what it embraces. This recognition and understanding is also what lies behind the Christian understanding of the incarnation, whereby Mary, the Theotokos, conceived within her the God-Man Jesus; she was able to have the living flame of love within her while not being consumed by it (but rather, enlightened and glorified by its presence).
Moses, therefore, beheld the glory of God, the glory of love, in the burning bush, and saw how that glory was so great, it was also able to divest itself of its greatness and share itself with others so that they would not be destroyed or consumed by that greatness. It was in and through that love, Jesus allowed himself to be cast out and killed, for it was this love which gave him the means to endure all things for his beloved, his creation, and become the foundation and cornerstone of its recreation:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’ (Matt. 21:43 RSV).
Love truly is at the forefront of the faith. Without it, we are accused (cf. 1 Cor. 16:22), but with it, we are made transcendent, for by it, we find ourselves connected with the source and foundation of every love, that is God, for God is indeed love. This is why, as Paul said, we should greet everyone with that love, that is, as it were, with a holy kiss (cf. 1 Cor. 16:20), spreading the love which enlightens us with others so that they can participate in and experience it for themselves. Let us, therefore, stand firm, not selfishly, nor cruelly, but with love, and in that way truly prove we are children of God.
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