1 Corinthians 12:31b (ESV)
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
This “more excellent way” is what follows in chapters 13 and 14 of 1 Corinthians. According to Paul, the spiritual gifts he listed in chapter 12, the valiant acts in chapter 13, and the use of the “higher” gifts in chapter 14 must be drenched in love or they are all useless.
Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul spells out what this love is and what it looks like. Ultimately, Christian love is not altruism. Altruism is
This makes it difficult to define love in a clear cut way, yet Paul does put this term into some clarity throughout the rest of chapter 13, “Love is patient and kind….” D.A. Carson in his devotional book For the Love of God helps, even more, to clarify what Christian love truly is and what it looks like.
So love must be something other than, or more than, mere altruism and self-sacrifice.
It may be difficult to provide a perfect definition for Christian love. But it is not difficult to find its supreme example. Christ’s love for us is not grounded in our loveliness, but in his own character. His love is not merely sentimental, yet it is charged with incalculable affection and warmth. It is resolute in its self-sacrifice, but never merely mechanical self-discipline. If we wish to come to terms with the apostolic depiction of Christian love as “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b) that all believers must follow, we need only imitate Jesus Christ.
-D.A. Carson, September 8th reading on 1 Corinthians 13, For the Love of God, 1998
So, what we can learn about love is that it is bound up in the Person of Jesus Christ. His tender care for sinners and death on the cross for them displays the type of love his followers must imitate. Christian love cannot be practiced any other way than imitating the One who loved us first.