There is a wide debate in our world about how to be great and successful. Some would say it is your drive to the top. If you work hard, dream big, and take risks, you can work your way to the top. You may have a book written about yourself. People will want to interview you. You will be the focus of a lot of attention and praise. You will be successful. Others will say that the way to succeed is found in giving to others. Sacrifice your comfort, possessions, even your life and you will be great. People may even write books about you, interview you, and praise you. We tend to seek meaning in pridefully working our way to the top or pridefully working our way to the bottom. The same motivation that drives someone to become a world-class executive can be the same motivation that drives someone to become a world-reknowed martyr.
Paul warns that we overlook one thing. Whatever we seek to do, the motivation behind why we do it is far more important than the deeds themselves. There are people who have worked their way to the top and it will all amount to nothing, because their motives were not pure. Others have debased themselves to serve the needs of others, but still will amount to nothing because they had the wrong motivation.
No matter what we do, the only way that we will gain anything or amount to anything is if we are motivated by love. But love does not come naturally. As Paul describes love in verses 4-7, none of those characteristics come naturally to us. We are naturally lovers of ourselves, but not others. All of these things are beyond us. They highlight our shortcomings and push us to find completion somewhere else. We do not naturally love. We need help.
1 John 3:16 tells us "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." True love is shown by sacrificing ourselves, but not so that we will be known, recognized, or "feel good". Instead, we give ourselves solely for the good of the other person. Jesus gave all that He had to lift us up, not Himself. In the same way, we are to lay down our lives for the benefit of others. We are to give up our "rights" to meet the needs of our spouse. We sacrifice our comforts to give to others in need, to lift them up. This is contrary to every self-centered desire that is so natural to us.
We cannot do this on our own. It requires God. 1 John goes on to say that "love comes from God . . . because God is love" (vs. 7-8). He has enabled us to love through the gift of His Son, forgiving and removing our sins, and through the Spirit, enabling us to experience His love and overcome our sinful nature. God is the source and means of love.
God is love and demonstrated His love to us through Jesus. Now, we are freed and enabled to return that love by loving others through His Spirit.