In the closing verses of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul returned to the theme of loving God and loving others as the believer’s ultimate ambition: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14, ESV). Paul had repeatedly underscored this principle to the Corinthians so that they would always remember to let love be their highest goal (1 Corinthians 14:1). Love for God and fellow humans is to inspire and govern everything we do.
When Paul stated, “Let all that you do be done with love,” he had in mind the goodwill and benevolence that shows itself in self-sacrifice. Love requires an unconditional commitment to the loved one. In his command to let all be done with love, it was as if Paul glanced back to consider everything he had addressed in his letter to the Corinthian church. Among other things, He had dealt with divisions and quarreling among members (1 Corinthians 3), lawsuits between believers (1 Corinthians 6:1–8), selfishness at the Lord’s communion table (1 Corinthians 11:17–34), jealousy over spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12—14), and disorderly worship (1 Corinthians 14:26–40). Paul wanted to emphasize and remind the Corinthians that everything they did must be accompanied by love.
Earlier in his letter, Paul pointed out the “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13), teaching that love is the most valuable of all the gifts of the Spirit: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). Without love, all the other gifts of the Spirit fall short of the mark. Essential as these gifts are to the church, they are worthless without love.
Love is the ecosystem in which our lives as believers operate and thrive. Paul taught the Romans, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT). To the Ephesians, Paul said, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (verse 32). Love is the prevailing attitude that Christians are to demonstrate toward one another and all humankind.
Jesus Himself said that His disciples are to be distinguished by their love: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus sets the example of how we are to love one another. Husbands and wives ought to love one another sacrificially as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it (Ephesians 5:22–33). When we correct or rebuke someone, it is to be done with love (1 Timothy 5:1; Proverbs 27:5). If we must speak a hard truth to a brother or sister in Christ, our motivation ought to come from a place of love (Ephesians 4:15). We are always to work together as one body, inseparably joined for the purpose of building one another up in a spirit of unity and love (verse 16).
We learn to love by imitating the example God demonstrated through the life of Jesus: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:16–18, NLT; see also 1 John 4:19–21). Let all that you do be done with love means that we love like Jesus.
Knowing God means loving like He does: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:7–12, NLT).
Let all that you do be done with love means that God’s unconditional love abides in us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. God’s love becomes the indispensable force and driving motivation behind everything we do. No matter where we are and who we are with, we are compelled by love, cultivating love, pursuing love, and demonstrating love.