INTRODUCTION – In our ongoing series of sermons through the 16 chapter book of I Corinthians, we come this morning to the 13th chapter, affectionately known by many as “the love chapter”. Even some unbelievers, who know little of the treasures of the Bible, know this chapter exists because of usually having heard it spoken of at a wedding. I myself have chosen to speak from this chapter at some of the weddings I have done. Though I want to say this morning, its intended purpose was not for marriages as much as it was for congregations.
Because the 66 books of the Bible were written as whole units with great strategic purpose, every placement of a chapter or verse in a given book is strategic and intentionally placed. So that begs the question, Why did Paul choose to deal with the subject of loving one another after chapter 12 and before chapter 14, both of which deal specifically with the subject of the spiritual gifts that Jesus – the Head has given to His body?
Let me say first of all Paul doesn’t tell us why. So my answer to this question is certainly subject to your discernment. Here are some of my meditations or thoughts over this last week:
In many respects, it is the exercise of spiritual gifts within a given congregation that determine whether that congregation will operate by the wisdom and power of God or by the wisdom and power of man. And it is love for one another that will determine whether the wisdom and power of God can be entrusted to the said congregation. It is love for one another more than anything else that will determine how all of the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit wants to entrust to us here at the Well will be stewarded. It is love for one another more than anything else that will determine whether those gifts are abused and used to manipulate and control, or whether they are humbly exercised in the fear of God solely for the edification of the saints.
For me to effectively use the gifts the Holy Spirit has entrusted to me in and for His church, I must feel about His church the way He does. Now interestingly, the Holy Spirit gives some of His gifts to us way before we feel about His church the way He does. He doesn’t wait until we are fully mature in our love for one another to give His gifts. But He does expect us to long for increased maturity in our love for one another even than we long for increased anointing of our gifts. And He does expect us to long for increased anointing in the exercise of our gifts.
So while it might seem to us at times that He should wait to bestow gifts until we are mature enough to handle them, He in His sovereign goodness and wisdom chose not to wait. But He does wait for us to wait upon Him for both our love and our anointing to grow and increase – – always recognizing the need for both, and the danger of having anointing without love.
“A great artist of France in the 1800’s named Gustav Dore, stood before his easel which held his magnificent painting of our Savior – Jesus. He looked at it and then turned away in sadness, and said, “I could have painted Him better if I had loved Him more.” As we look at our levels of anointing in the exercising of our gifts, may we see them increase as our love for Jesus and our love for the brethren increases. Let me say it this way, We will see them increase as our love for Jesus and His body increases.
So with that introduction let’s dive into the chapter and specifically let’s deal with the question – just how important is this love thing?
By the way – some say the gift of tongues is no longer given. Others say it is still given but it is the least of the gifts. Well if either of those is the case, and Paul is trying to show the greatness or primacy of love in these first three verses by contrasting it with other greatly coveted and important things in the kingdom of God, why would he start with a gift that is no longer important, and not to be coveted? (read vs. 1-3)
I. The Great Value of Love – vs. 1-3 Two main points in these 3 verses.
A. great anointing in spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, revelation) as wonderful and important as that is for the body’s growth and edification, can’t touch the power and importance of love for the brethren and sistren – vs. 1,2
B. great sacrifice and willingness to give away one’s stuff and even sacrifice of one’s life as necessary as that might be, can’t touch the power and importance of true heart felt love for the brothers and sisters – vs. 3
These things are all important and God given. The church can’t go forward without these things. But they don’t hold a stick to love in terms of importance and impact.
So before we go forward with the rest of this chapter, it would seem to me, that those who lead and who care about the health and vitality of the church – must help the church see its activities and ministries and health through the love lens. And surely one of the great defects of the church of Christ in our day is that we often elevate a man’s gifts to such a degree that we overlook and foolishly excuse his or her lack of love.
If someone were to come and hang out with us for say a month and check us out, and conclude that we are a very busy church involved in many things and meeting many needs and giving and serving in sacrificial ways, but not notice anything unusual about our love for one another, then we would need to ask some hard questions about the kind of fruit we are bearing, and the kind of values we have established.
II. The Characteristics of Love – vs. 4-7 15 of them; 7 positive; 8 negative; 7 attributes of supernatural love; 8 attributes or actions that have nothing to do with God’s supernatural love (read it)
A. Patient – love is very slow to get frustrated or give up on someone; it is longsuffering;
B. Kind – not gruff; gentle; winsome
C. Not jealous – able to hold people in an open hand; not putting an expectation on them that they were not meant to bear or keep; glad for their success and fruitfulness; glad they are thriving in God ordained relationships that I am on the outside of.
D. Does not brag – doesn’t do or say anything that brings attention or glory to one’s self
E. Is not arrogant – never boasts of things one owns or has won or accomplished as if we received or won or accomplished them solely on our own. Or that somehow we deserved them.
F. Does not act unbecomingly – – does not act with ulterior motives; is not manipulative; sometimes our love is like the 4th grade class who sent a get-well card to their teacher who was recovering from surgery. The card read: “Your 4th grade class wishes you a speedy recovery, by a vote of 15 to 14.”
G. Does not seek its own – is not covetous; self consumed; trusts God with his or her needs and reputation. When with others able to look upon their needs as more important than my own.
H. Is not provoked – – can’t be ruffled; because we are dead to anger and resentment – – nothing anyone does can rile us and bring out that old contentiousness we used to walk in
I. Does not take into account a wrong suffered – – Graham Cooke once said about God’s love, “God is never disillusioned with you – because He never had any illusions about you in the first place.” Perhaps one of the reasons we hold on to grudges and find it easy to be offended by our brothers or sisters is we put them on a pedestal they were never meant to be placed on. We put expectations on them God never approved of.
J. Does not rejoice in unrighteousness – true love mourns and is grieved by all sin and unrighteousness. It mourns when anyone sins regardless of how they have treated us in the past. It can never join in the fleshly and sensual revelry that the world seeks to find joy and happiness in.
K. But it Rejoices with the truth – true love – God’s love is always looking for truth and finds joy when truth is embraced to whatever degree.
L. Bears all things – true love always has in mind Jesus’s 77 times 7 rule of thumb. True love is always mindful of how long suffering and merciful God has been with us.
M. Believes all things – unless we have strong reason not to believe of course. But the point is true love wants to believe, and is not suspicious and accusatory.
N. Hopes all things – true love has strong roots in the greatness and goodness of God and in His ability to do the unthinkable and the impossible and thus is always dripping with hope, where others have given up hope.
O. Endures all things – true love is very very slow to throw in the towel. Though true love may feel like quitting, they trust God to hang in there a little longer.
III. The Permanency of Love – vs. 8-13 (read it) (4 observations)
A. Love never fails unlike prophecy, tongues and knowledge – vs. 8. All these wonderful gifts will die off and be of use no longer when Jesus returns.
B. Even when on the top of our spiritual game, our prophesying and revelation knowledge is at best partial. Vs. 9 But love always hits the mark – love never fails.
C. When Jesus returns, all these gifts will no longer be necessary. Vs. 10 implication is love will still be necessary and will always be the currency of heaven.
D. To love effectively we must grow up completely. Vs. 11
Children have to be taught to share. They are basically selfish. They cry and throw tantrums when they don’t get their way.
It is understandable that when we first come to Christ, we are highly unrefined and very self centered, rather childish.
But Paul is saying, in his journey there came a point where he firmly and decisively did away with his childish, immature and selfish ways. Jesus called Paul to be a great lover like Him. And Paul became just that!
Brothers – God forbid that we relegate being perfected in love to the sisters!
Men it is manly to love!
– “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 16:13,14
Men must beware in the church that we just want to fix buildings; and develop practices and policies; and make plans; and do budgets; and even do missionary trips – – and fail to grow in the daily experience of loving our brothers and sisters – – not just in word or tongue, but in deed and truth as John the apostle instructed us.
BTW – there is a big difference in the N.T. between being child like and being child ish.
IV. The Early Church’s Love – – if time
When Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you – that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “ it evidently stuck!
There are various historical accounts of such outside the history book called the book of Acts. For instance, there was an unbelieving Greek writer named Lucian who lived between 120 and 200 AD. Upon observing the warm fellowship of the Christians in his region, he wrote, “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator (Jesus) has put it into their heads that they are brethren.”
Historical accounts of the church in the third century have noted that when a devastating plague swept across the ancient world, Christians were the only ones who cared for the sick, which they did at the risk of contracting the plague themselves. Meanwhile, pagans or unbelievers were throwing infected members of their own families into the streets even before they died, in order to protect themselves from the disease.
Well if Jesus can produce that kind of love in His church in the first few centuries after Christ died and rose again, surely He can do it in our day.
So let me end our discussion by suggesting a few practical things we can give some time and attention to grow in love for one another.
V. The Way to Love – –
How do we grow in or develop this kind of love for one another? Well I would suggest that we first acknowledge with the Lord Jesus – that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5); and that we acknowledge with the apostle Paul, that .”…nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; Romans 7:18.
Agape love does not come natural. None of us are born with it. Growing up in the South might make you a little more outgoing and and a little more courteous, but it does little or nothing to make you more loving as in loving as Christ loved.
Second, while we were born in sin and with the inability to truly love people, and while we were born without the capacity to truly love people in our sinful unregenerate nature, in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness. In Christ – we have supernatural ability and overflowing capacity to love even the most unlovely or the most difficult to love (according to humans standards). Gal. 2:20
Third, because we are born in sin, and because we have all grown up in a sin tainted and idolatrous and self consumed world, whose love is increasingly growing cold, and because we inherit the sin patterns or generational sins of our parents and ancestors, we need to pray David’s prayer of Psalm 51, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” – – especially in this hour – those sins that keep us from loving one another like Jesus loves.
Great lovers will always be Great Cleansers – knowing how crucial it is that no sin is allowed to hinder the flow of Christ’s love in and through us.
With that in mind, let’s transition now to the Lord’s Table. And I want to turn your attention to
Read I John 4:7-10 as our meditation passage while we observe communion.
I Cor. 11:23-32 – – “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.