By Pastor Glenn Pease
Where love is absent hate will reign. This is true in every area of life for individuals and groups of all kinds. We are grateful for those who give their lives to protect us from enemy forces, but we cannot thank God that their sacrifice was necessary, for we would not have needed such sacrificial protection if love had reigned instead of hate. It is the lack of love that causes the wicked, wasteful, worthless wars that force men to become dead heroes. Woodrow Wilson said that World War I was "A war to end all wars." Such an ideal was impossible in a loveless world. There are no end to the conflicts of classes and races because of all the prejudice and hatred in the world. It is no wonder that even the life-long skeptic Burtrand Russell said, "The only hope of the world is Christian love."
It is not because this was his conclusion, however, that we want to consider love, but because his conclusion has always been the conviction of those who accept the Bible as God's revelation. In this great love chapter Paul makes it clear that love is the supreme gift. All of the human relation problems in the world are caused by a lack of love, and only love can lift us above the hatreds in the hearts of mankind. Paul is writing to a church that is filled with conflicts because of their immaturity, and lack of Christian love. The specific problem Paul has been dealing with concerns the gifts of the spirit. The Corinthians, like so many Christians since, were so preoccupied with the secondary that they lost sight of the primary. They were losing the best for the sake of the good.
The external gifts such as speaking in tongues were coveted by them. Everyone want to speak in tongues or interpret, or do something special and unique like doing miracles, and this caused a great deal of excitement. The more sublime gifts of faith, hope, and love were pushed to the back burner. Paul has to write and explain to them that not all Christians have these more eternal gifts, like healing and tongues, but the greatest gifts are available to everyone, and he urges them to covet these. He ends chapter 12 by saying that he wants to show them a more excellent way. Chapter 13 is a great Psalm of Love in three stanzas. First we see The Absence Of Love in verses 1-3. Second we see The Attributes of Love in verses 4-7. Thirdly we see The Absoluteness of Love in verses 8-13.
I. THE ABSENCE OF LOVE. vv. 1-3.
In these first 3 verses Paul says that according to divine mathematics, all gifts minus love = nothing. Tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and sacrifice, minus love = nothing. When love is absent all is lost. Take away love and you eliminate the value of everything else.
Paul begins his rebuke of the Corinthians with this reference to tongues because this was apparently the most showy of the gifts, and had become the one to be most coveted in order to gain prominence in the church. Paul warns them that the gift of tongues at its greatest conceivable development is worthless if love is absent. Too much interest in tongues led them to abuse the gift, and create such disorder that Paul had to counsel them to follow an ordering pattern lest the world think them to be mad.
There is a great deal of disagreement as to whether the tongues here refer to language or ecstatic praise to God. It is conceivable that both are true. The tongues of men being foreign tongues, and the tongues of angels being sounds not known to human ears. Whatever be the case, Paul says it is just so much racket without love.
Paul would have loved the hymn Love Lifted Me. He knew that the lost were not lifted by languages, but by love. Even if you can break the language barrier, if you do not love, you will not lift. Language will not convince where love has collapsed. Some of the most eloquent polished sermons ever delivered in the great churches of England were listened to by handfuls of people, while outside the city limits many thousands gathered to hear Wesley and Whitefield. It was not because of their greater eloquence, but because of their greater love. Goethe said, "But never hope to stir the hearts of men, and mould the souls of many into one, by words which come not native from the heart."
The secret of effective communication is in the heart and not the tongue. That is why a Christian need never fear that he will not say the right thing when he is witnessing, if his heart is filled with love. Love will cover a multitude of mistakes, and win a person to Christ far faster than cold and empty eloquence. Paul spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians, yet he is not known for this gift. He is not known as a great soul-winner because of his eloquence or ability to communicate. It is because of the constraining love of Christ. Paul was even willing to be accursed for the sake of his people Israel that they might be saved. Meyers in his poem St. Paul gives us a beautiful picture of how love, as the Queen of Graces, characterized Paul.
Then with a thrill the intolerable craving
Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call-
O to save these-to perish for their saving-
Die for their lives, be offered for them all.
O let thy love my heart constrain!
Thy love for every sinner free,
That every fallen soul of man
May taste the grace that found out me;
That all mankind with me may prove
Thy sovereign everlasting love.
Jesus did not come with brilliant oratory, but with simplicity of speech, and a life of love. People thronged to Him because of His acts of mercy and compassion. His parables and the Sermon on the Mount are beautiful language, but they would be but sounding brass without His life of love. His teaching does not save, but He does. The essence of Christianity is not what Jesus said, but what He did. Love is something you do, and not just something you say. Jesus demonstrated His love by both His life and His death.
Paul is saying to the Corinthians, stop majoring on minors. Stop wishing you had some unique gift that would make you more spiritual, for nothing will do this without love. Covet love, and ask God to fill you with the love of Christ, and then your life will count for the kingdom. To try and communicate the unsearchable riches of Christ, or to try and praise God with tongues without love, is like trying to play one of the Beethoven's beautiful symphonies with a clanging symbol. You are trying to do the greatest task with the least important instrument.
Someone said, "Love is the leading instrument in the orchestra of character." Without love there is no melody or harmony, but only loud irritating noise. In a world of hate, discontent, and disharmony, it is obvious that there is need for clanging symbols to add to the deafening racket. What is desperately needed is spiritual Davids who can soothe the half-mad Sauls of the world with saving harmony from the harp of love. If we do not love we will not lift. Without love all of our efforts will be as worthless as the attempt to play classical music on the lid of your garbage can. Eloquence is only noise without love, and none of the gifts amount to anything without love.
B. GREATER GIFTS. v. 2
It is not surprising that Paul exalts love over tongues, for tongues were clearly among the lesser gifts, but here he tells us that even the greater gifts are of no value without love. The implications of this verse are astounding. Certainly a man who can prophesy and have great knowledge, and have such strong faith that he can do miracles, must be somebody, but Paul say he is nothing without love. Jesus said there will be those who will come to Him on the day of judgment and say, "Lord, we have prophesied in your name, and did many mighty works in your name," but Jesus will say, "I never knew you." Paul explains how this could be true by telling us that they did some great things, but it had to be all in self power, for they never were motivated by the love of Jesus to do what they did. Their lack of love made all they did of no value.
When it comes to knowledge the Pharisees were marvelous. They not only memorized the law, but added hundreds of their own laws. They knew more about right and wrong tha God had even revealed, but for all that they were nothing ,for it was knowledge without love. Paul was a Pharisee, but he counted all his knowledge as dung that he might know the love of Christ. When Jesus was at the home of Simon the Pharisee, a woman came in and wiped the feet of Jesus, and Simon said, "If he knew what kind of woman she was he wold not allow that," but he was wrong, for Jesus was not like him. He had knowledge without love, but Jesus had knowledge with love, and that made all the difference in how he dealt with sinners. He knew what she was, but he did something about it. Knowledge just knows and looks, but love lifts, and that is what Jesus did. It does nobody any good just to know that someone is a sinner. It is love that is needed to help them see there is a better way.
The rich young ruler had the knowledge of God's will, and even obeyed it, but he lacked the love necessary to give his all to the poor. He had everything but love, and everything without love is nothing. Paul goes so far as to say that even faith is not enough without love. This is the great Apostle of faith that is writing this. Faith that is not mixed with love is dead faith. We see Paul in full agreement with James here. James says that faith that does not lead to acts of love is a dead faith. What good is a faith that moves mountains, if there is no love with it to move men? If you really want to be somebody in the kingdom of God, then love people, and show it. God does not need a lot of people who can move mountains, but there is no end to His need for those who can move men by love.
When Carl Lundquist was President of Bethel College and Seminary he told this story of Ann Marie. She was a little German girl who came to Bethel. She was not a Christian when she came, but soon opened her heart to receive Jesus as her Savior. She was working her way through college by baby sitting, and one of the jobs that came her way was an emergency situation. A family had just moved to the area, and had not even unpacked when the mother-in-law had to be rushed to the hospital. They had several small children and knew nobody to call, and so they called Bethel that was just a few blocks away. They asked if they could get someone to watch their children. Ann Marie went to help out. The man told her they did not know when they would be back, but the envelope on the stand has some money, and she could leave the next morning when his sister would be arriving.
The sister did come and Ann left. When the man got home he found the envelope still there, and with it this note: "I don't want any money for baby-sitting. I am glad as a Christian I could help you in your hour of need." That man was so impressed that he called Bethel. He said he did not know that people like her existed, and that her love had an impact on him greater than all the sermons he ever heard. She never moved any mountains, but she moved men, and did what no amount of eloquence, or any other gift, could have accomplished. That is why Paul wants us all to covet this gift.
Paul says love never fails. Faith can fail and turn to doubt. Hope can fail and turn to despair. But love endures to the end. People wonder about security in Christ, and the answer is in love. Can people be lost who are preachers, or teachers, or speakers in tongues, or people who do wonders? Yes, all of such can be lost, for security is not in these things, or anything else. It is in Christ, and we only have Christ in reality when the love that took Him to the cross is in our hearts, and motivating our lives.
The controversy over eternal security can easily be resolved by showing that both sides are correct. People can have every gift in the book and be marvelous professing Christians, and yet have not security, because everything minus love is nothing. Eternal security is found in the love of Christ that gives value to all of the other gifts and virtues of the Christian life. Each side of the controversy has much Scripture to back up their view, and each can be right when it is all seen in the light of the importance of love. But it is not enough to be right, for even being right is nothing without love. Nothing is enough without love, but with love all is of value. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, but we must have this love to have that kind of assurance and security.
John confirms this truth of Paul in I John. He writes in I John 2:5-6, "But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. "This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to love in him must walk as Jesus did." In 2:15 He writes, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." In 3:14 he writes, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains n death." In 4:7-12 he writes, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. this is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son in to the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God loves in us and his love is made complete in us."
In the light of all that Paul and John have to say about love, who can doubt that its absence is the greatest loss, and its presence the greatest gain and gift possible. We many never have many of the lesser gifts of the Spirit, but God forbid that we ever lack this greatest of all gifts, for everything minus love is nothing.