Pillars of Christian Character: Love

Notes & Transcripts

Lucy of Peanuts fame, says to Charlie Brown: "You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand love!”

Charlie Brown responds, “Who does?”

Lucy says, “Explain love to me Charlie Brown.”

Charlie Brown says, “You can’t explain love. I can recommend a book or a poem or a painting, but I can’t explain love.”

Lucy responds, “Well, try, Charlie Brown, try.”

Charlie says, “Well, let’s say I see this beautiful, cute little girl walk by . . . “

Lucy interrupts – “Why does she have to be cute? Huh? Why can’t someone fall in love with someone with freckles and a big nose? Explain that!”

Charlie Brown says, “Well, maybe you are right. Let’s just say I see this girl walk by with this great big nose . . . “

Lucy screams, “I didn’t say GREAT BIG NOSE!”

Charlie Brown sighs, “You not only can’t explain love, you can’t even talk about it.”

It is indeed difficult to explain love. Is it a feeling? Is it a behavior? The use of the word has become so contaminated in our society. We use the word to refer to affection and compassion, devotion and emotion. We say we love God, our spouses, Mexican food, and football. What does the word mean for us as Christians? In the words of the song writer, Cole Porter, “What is this thing called love?”

For the Christian, love is one of the essential pillars of Christian character. We’ve already examined three of those pillars: Faith, Obedience, and Humility. Love is the fourth and there are six more to go. It’s hard to decide if one pillar of Christian character is any more important than the other, but love is so indispensable that Jesus told His disciples that it was the singular distinguishing mark of a true disciple: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” (John 13:34-35).

We will be known, Jesus said, not by our ecclesiastical authority, or our congregational resources, or our religiosity, or by our missional commitment, or by our doctrinal purity, and not even by our theological orthodoxy. The world will know we are Christians by our love. That is how people will know we are His followers.

For the first three centuries of the Church, mutual Christ-like affection was indeed the characteristic the pagans most closely associated with the early Christians. “My how they love each other!” they would say.

In this morning’s text, the Apostle Paul paints the most remarkable image of love that has ever been penned by man.


            1. that seems like a strange statement to make—until you consider what many of the Corinthians considered ‘essential’ in the Christian life
                1. the saints at Corinth considered five elements essential in the Christian life
                2. the apostle Paul refers to these elements in the first three versus
                  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." KJV
                3. do you see them?
                    1. oratory
                    2. prophecy
                    3. miracle working faith
                    4. alms-giving or philanthropy
                    5. martyrdom
            2. the apostle told the Corinthians they could have all of these things, but if they didn’t have a Godly, Christ-centered love for others, they had nothing
                1. if you want to be true child of God, if you want to manifest His character, if you want to imitate God, then walk in love because that is a characteristic of God
                  • “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV84)
            3. the over-all conclusion of the New Testament is pointed and clear
                1. even if I have all the wealth I could imagine ... even if your days abound it with pleasure ... even if your health is excellent ... even if you have multiple degrees from prestigious universities ... even if you have authority over many people ... if you are not loving, you don’t have much going for yourself
                2. all other values, all other characteristics, all the other qualities, all the other gifts, all other attainments are nothing without love
                3. love is absolutely essential
                    1. it is a fundamental pillar of Christian character that must be nourished and demonstrated


            1. well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
                1. we all need to be able to express love to others
                2. and we all need to be loved by those significant people in our lives
            2. Karl Menninger, a well-known medical doctor, says that love is the essential element in healthy living
                1. he says that “Love is the medicine for the sickness of the world.”
            3. love is essential for our mental health and emotional health and spiritual health


            1. the church has lost much of its spiritual power and its influence upon society
                1. we have lost our spiritual power because we have often been more concerned with erecting bigger buildings and expanding programs than in building loving relationships
                2. we have lost our spiritual influence because we have often been more interested in denouncing each other’s theology than in championing fellowship, harmony and love
                  • ILLUS. Thomas Aquinas, a gifted Catholic scholar of the medieval church, once called on Pope Innocent II. When he was ushered into the Pope’s presence, the Pontiff was busy counting a large sum of money. “You see,” said the Pope referring to Acts 3:6, “The church must no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none’”. "That is true,” replied Aquinas, “but neither can she now say, a ‘Rise and walk.’”
            2. prestigious buildings, well-planned programs, talented leaders, and correct theology do not draw sinful men and help them put their lives back together again
            3. love does
                1. take away love, and the church is a failure
                2. or, in the Apostle Paul’s words, we become like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal
                    1. that’s his way of saying that, without love, we’re making a lot of noise, but there’s not any music
            4. the apostle Paul said love is absolutely essential to the church


            1. God’s love for us is unconditional
              • “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV84)
            2. our love for others must be unconditional
                1. the moment we place a condition upon our affection for someone else, is the moment we stop loving that person as Christ loved us
                2. the moment we withhold our love from someone because of that person’s words, or looks, or possessions, or status, or wisdom, or lack of wisdom, or personality we have placed a condition upon our love for that person
            3. the Apostle Paul writes that love is essential to life
              • ILLUS. Quoting Karl Menninger again, “Love cures people – both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”


            1. in verses 4-6, the apostle Paul tells us that love has both a submissive and an pro-active dimension to it
            2. in this passage, the Apostle Paul shines love through a prism to reveal 15 different colors and hues of love’s spectrum
                1. each ray reveals a different facet or property of what Christ-like love is all about
                2. the purpose of Paul’s prism is not to give a technical analysis of love, but to break it down into smaller parts so that we may more easily understand and apply its full, rich meaning


            1. the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that love is patient
                1. the word patient actually means long-suffering or long-tempered
                    1. it is a word used almost exclusively of being patient with people, rather than with circumstances or events
                    2. it means that love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or even taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not be upset or angry
                      • ILLUS. Chrysostom, an early church Father, said, “It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.”
            2. how do we reveal to others a long-suffering kind of love?
                1. a patient love is kind
                    1. to be kind means to be useful, serving, and gracious – it is active goodwill
                2. a patient love is not envious and is not jealous of the successes of others
                    1. true love never envies what another has nor maliciously wishes they didn’t have it
                3. a patient love does not brag and is not arrogant
                    1. the word translated brag in this passage is used nowhere else in the New Testament – it means to talk conceitedly
                    2. the Apostle means that patient love does not parade its accomplishments – it does not have to show off in order to impress
                4. a patient love is not rude
                    1. it means we do not participate in crude behavior or speech
                    2. it means manners are important and that we do not participate in belching contests at the dinner table
                5. a patient love does not insist on its own way
                    1. love is not selfish and never says, “If you love me, you will . . . “
                6. a patient love is not easily provoked
                    1. provoked is a word that means to easily arouse to anger to the point of sudden outburst of emotion or action
                    2. love guards against being irritated, upset, or angered by things said or done against it
            3. love does not waiver—it persists—it hangs in their when life gets tough or the people around us don’t measure up to expectations
                    1. let’s face it, not everyone we know is lovable all the time
                    2. in fact, sometimes the people we love the dearest can be real stinkers at times
            4. the kind of love that Paul talks about in these verses always protects the interests of others, always trusts in their intentions, always hopes for their good, and always perseveres in its attempt to do these things
            5. even sin or failure on the part of others can not make our love for them waiver
                1. this is what Paul meant when he said, “Love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.”
            6. nothing can make true love reel or sway, totter or wobble – not the achievements of others, not one’s own achievements, not the injuries caused by others, or the failures of others
                1. this is the submissive nature of love


    • “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:6–8, NIV84)
            1. when you rejoice with the truth; when you bear all things, when you believe all things, when you hope all things, when you are willing to endure all things you are making yourself vulnerable
            2. vulnerability is at the core of Christ-like love
              • ILLUS. C. S. Lewis explains what I mean. He writes: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly run the possibly being broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one . . . Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love . . . is hell.”
                1. love cannot be afraid to form attachments
                2. love looks for a ways of being constructive
            3. the essence of love is not only submissive endurance, but also active assistance
                1. love is ultimately self-sacrificing
                    1. early, I read to you Ephesians 5:1-2, but I didn’t read all the verse to you . . . '“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”/ (Ephesians 5:1–2, NASB95)
                    2. in the Bible, love is rarely ever defined as an emotion or a feeling
                    3. it is defined as an act of self-giving
                2. the word of love is never used in the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in the Gospels, and yet we know that the Samaritan was a loving person because he was kind to this stranger he found along the roadside
            4. is not just something we feel
                1. love is something we do
                2. love is not just to be experienced as an emotion within, but must be expressed by outward action
            5. what does the love the apostle Paul writes of, mean in practical terms in the believer’s life?
                1. real love sees those who are spiritually defeated and lifts them up to see Jesus
                2. it sees those who are hungry and provides food
                3. it sees those who are naked and gives them close
                4. it sees those who are homeless and provides them shelter
                5. it sees those who are sick and touches them
                6. it sees those who are in prison and visits them
                7. it sees those who are lonely and reaches out to them
                    1. do some of those things sound familiar to you?
                    2. they should, they are all things that Jesus commends when they are done on to others
            6. real love acts
            7. real love is essential to life and to the church
                1. the kind of love we are to cultivate patiently endures all of life’s pressures and persistently assists others in life needs
                  • ILLUS. Most of you or a lease somewhat familiar with the testimony of Corrie Ten Boom. she wrote a best-selling autobiography entitled The Hiding Place. it’s the story of Corrie and her family and the horrors they experienced after being sent to the Ravensbruck Concentration camp for hiding Jews during World War II. In the book she tells the story of an experience years after the war when she was giving her testimony in a church in Munich, Germany. In the crowd she saw the former S.S. Guard who stood watch at the camp’s shower room door. She writes in her book: “He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the room full of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, my sisters pain blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, Jesus has washed all my sins away!’ His hand was thrust out to shake mind. And I, who had preached so often to the people . . . about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him.’ I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer, ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.’ As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seen the pastor me to him, while into my heart springy love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”


            1. as I bring this message to a close, one more thought must be pointed out
            2. love—and the actions and expressions that proceed from a loving heart—are the only things in this world that have eternal significance
                1. all those things that some in the Corinthian church put so much emphasis on – prophecy, speaking in tongues and knowledge—will one day fade away
                2. likewise, all those things that some in the church today put so much emphasis on—ecclesiastical authority, congregational resources, religiosity, doctrinal purity, and theological orthodoxy—will also be meaningless in the Kingdom of God
            3. what mattered then and what matter now is a heart of love that expresses itself in meaningful ways to those with whom we come in contact with


            1. in I Peter 1:22, the Apostle Peter wrote: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
                1. the word fervently in the original language of the New Testament, has no adequate English word to translate it
                2. the word means to stretch with the ability to rebound to its original shape – much like when we stretch a rubber band
                    1. Dr. MacGorman, one of the great Baptist theologians of our day, translates that word fervently as stretchingly
                    2. he translates 1 Peter 1:22 as: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart stretchingly.”
            2. the word stretchingly pictures the kind of love God desires that we exhibit toward each other
                1. Christian love must absorb any and every blow
                    1. the impact may be in the form of a sharply barbed word
                    2. it may be an unkind or catty remark
                    3. it may come in the form of an untrue accusation
                2. but after the impact of each blow to our spirit and soul, we are to simply return to our original position and shape
            3. love absorbs the blow, prevents damage to either our spirit or the other person and then with a divine resiliency returns to a Christlike posture
                1. whoa-boy, easier said then done, Amen?
                  • ILLUS. Many years ago, my pastor, Martin Brockett, told me that one of the most difficult things a Christian must learn to do is to toughen the skin without hardening the heart.
                2. only the love of Christ, shed abroad in our hearts can accomplish that feat

In the Roger’s and Hammerstein musical, My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is being courted by Freddy. Freddy writes to her daily of his love for her. Eliza’s response to his notes is to cry out in frustration: Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! Don’t talk of stars Burning above, If you’re in love, Show me! Don’t talk of love lasting through time. Make me no undying vow, Show me now!

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