Speaking of gifts from God, Paul has several lists. One of the most familiar is in 1 Corinthians 13: Faith, hope and love: The “greatest” gift being love.

We’ve heard it often at weddings. It’s one of those instances when we take something that was written to a community and apply it individually. That’s okay – just don’t neglect applying it to our life as a whole community, a whole humanity, too.

“Greatest” doesn’t necessarily mean “best.” Actually “largest” might do well.

There’s probably a reason for that. Love is one of the more difficult gifts for us to receive. We don’t necessarily trust it. (I’ll spare us the stock sermon about the three Greek words for love. Ask a pastor if you haven’t heard it.)

We have difficulty even defining love.

Often we define ideas by their opposites. The opposite of love is hate. Hate we can more easily grasp – unfortunately.

But, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. That’s why St John has his spiritual guide quoting God: “I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (The Revelation 3:15b-16)

Loving and hating both require intimate involvement with their object. Apathy just doesn’t care.

The opposite of “fear” is not “courage” – it is “compassion”. It’s really difficult to fear others if we get to know them, feel with them, take them, their hopes and needs into consideration. Not that we must agree with them, but at least make the effort to understand them. Courage and fear can coexist, but compassion changes their complexion.

Jesus discovered this. Fearful He was (“Dad, I’d rather not do this…but your will be done”) And, He underwent the crucifixion because He had compassion for us and what we needed. He loves us that much.

Perhaps that’s why Paul says that love is such a “large” gift. There is so much for us to overcome when God presents love to us – when we experience it or practice it.

But, difficult as it is, counterintuitive as it is, it’s worth it – guaranteed.

Pastor Doug Campbell is a retired Lutheran pastor and a member of Faith, Wilmington. He currently is supplying pulpits in the Southern Ohio Synod. He was formerly Deputy Wing Chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol in Ohio. Before seminary he worked for the Chillicothe (O) Gazette, and as the editor of the Chanute AFB newspaper in Rantoul, Illinois.

This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.