Love The Best Way 1 Corinthians 13a
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Stephen Caswell © 2005
New Years Resolutions
Have you made any New Years Resolutions for 2005? Are you still keeping them? I would like to suggest 2 New Years Resolutions that could transform your life; 2 simple commandments that are life changing. In fact there Jesus said that these 2 commandments sum up the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-39: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To love God and our neighbor is to fulfill the Law. Jesus then qualified who our neighbor is by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The Tsunami disaster has left millions of people needing to be lovingly cared for. We can help these people. These 2 commandments to love are vital for mankind. Since love is so important we need to take a good look at it. The word love is ἀγαπάω, or God’s love.
What makes Churches grow? One person might answer faith that works miracles. Seeing God move mountains brings people in. Someone else answers prophecy. What we need today is a new word from the Lord. A third person says what we really need is to know the mysteries of God’s Word. A fourth person says that tongues is the key to blessing. We all need to speak in tongues to reach the lost. A fifth person says what we need to give more money. Then we could build bigger buildings and help the needy. Paul says that all of these things are useless unless we love those we serve. Tragically the Corinthians used their spiritual gifts as toys to play with and weapons to fight with rather than tools to build with.
God loved and He gave His Son to serve us. Every part of Christ’s service and sacrifice was motivated by love. So Paul emphasizes love when using spiritual gifts. Unfortunately many people today take 1 Corinthians 13 out of its context and make it a hymn to love. Yet Paul is still dealing with spiritual gifts. He explains how love is the most excellent way to exercise spiritual gifts. He shares 3 vital facts about love. Love Is Essential, Love Is Effectual, Love Is Eternal.
Firstly, Love Is Essential
1 Corinthians 13:1-3: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging 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, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was the Lord said to love God with all we have. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. The Corinthian’s were using their gifts like weapons to fight with. To show how important love is Paul describes the ministry of five gifts without love. Paul refers to tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith to work miracles, and giving. J.B. Phillips paraphrases it like this. In verse 1 he says I produce nothing of value, in verse 2 he says I am nothing of value and verse 3 says that I gain nothing of value. Spiritual gifts minus love equals nothing. Paul describes these gifts as being exercised to their fullest capacity to make his point. He exaggerates his argument to highlight the importance of love. No one in Church history has used their gifts to the extent that Paul describes.
a. Tongues Of Men And Angels
On the day of Pentecost when God poured out the Holy Spirit on His Church they spoke with other tongues. This gift enabled unbelieving Jews from foreign lands to hear the good news in their own language. 1 Corinthians 14:22 says: Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; Biblical tongues aren’t babble but real languages spoken to reach the lost. In Acts 2:6 & 8 the word tongue is dialekto" which literally means a language or dialect. Paul spoke in tongues frequently in countries from Israel to Italy and even to Spain.
Some say that tongues is a special prayer language used by angels quoting 1 Corinthians 13:1 and Romans 8:26. To start with men cannot speak with the tongues of angels. Paul is simply exaggerating to make his point. No one has ever moved mountains by faith. Paul’s point is this; even if I could speak with the tongues of men and angels without love I simply make a loud noise for a moment. Love was necessary to make tongues a useful spiritual gift to reach the lost.
b. Prophecy and Knowledge
Prophecy was a gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled someone to give new revelation from God. The Lord spoke through prophets to establish His Church on solid teaching. But prophecy without love makes the prophet nothing. In Ephesians 4:15 we are told to speak the truth in love. Preaching and witnessing can do more harm than good if we don’t love the people we share the Gospel with. This application can also be made to knowledge which is spiritual insight given directly by the Holy Spirit. Again Paul is taking this example to extreme measures, because no one has ever understood all mysteries or all knowledge. But if some one knew it all, without love they are nothing. 1 Corinthians 8:1b: says knowledge puffs up but love edifies or builds up.
Stephen and Barnabas were said to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen was able to work miracles and wonders as he exercised his faith. Jesus said that if someone exercised faith they could command mountains to be moved. However no one has ever done this. Paul is not minimizing these gifts; he is simply saying that they will have no good effect on the individual or on the church unless love is manifested in the life of the Christian when they exercise these gifts.
Next Paul describes giving away all of one's possessions to feed the poor. Yet this too is fruit less. Matthew 6:2: Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. Only love enables believer’s gifts to truly help people. Christians who love the poor will not embarrass them to promote themselves. Giving must be done lovingly not grudgingly for God loves a cheerful giver. Even laying down our lives for Christ is useless without love. Here, Paul is probably speaking of martyrdom. Therefore Love is the measure of all things. Love makes ministry count. Love gives ministry a human touch that really meets people’s needs.
Working With Fibreglass
My brother worked in a boat building factory for a long time. To make something with fiberglass you need the fiberglass and the catalyst. Fiberglass won’t set without it. It makes it gel, it causes it to set. So too love is needed to make our service gel. Spiritual gifts have no spiritual effect on the life of the church if there is no love, for it is love that the Spirit uses to build the church.
It is evident that the Corinthian’s were using their spiritual gifts and offices with an attitude of competition and not of love. The church was divided, and the situation was getting worse because the very spiritual gifts that were supposed to build the church were doing more harm than good! Preaching without love is just so much noise. Praying without love becomes an empty speech. Giving without love is just a ceremony. Is it any wonder that when Christ commissioned Peter he asked him; Do you love me? Are you serving God? What is your motive for service?
Secondly, Love Is Effectual
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
In all three of the body passages in Paul’s letters, there is an emphasis on love. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for His people, as well as a love for the lost. It has well been said that love is the circulatory system of the body of Christ.
a. Love is patient and kind
The word patient or long suffering, makroqumew, means to be long fused. It’s easy to love when people are lovable; how difficult it is to love when they injure or attack us in one way or another. Think of Christ’s patience with Peter after the times Peter sinned against Him.
Love acts in kindness. David was kind to Mephibosheth when he invited him to eat at his table like his own son. He restored to him all of Saul's property. David was not obligated to do this because he was really his enemy. Christians need to be patient and kind with each other.
b. Love does not parade itself or is not puffed up
The word vaunt or parade, perpereuomai, means to promote yourself. The words puffed up fusiow means to inflate. We say that a proud person has a swelled head. 3 John 9: I (the Apostle John) wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Diotrephes wanted to be in first place. Some Christians think they are very important. They believe that their opinion is the only right one. They look down on others. Yet love never behaves this way.
c. Love never simmers with jealousy
Envy, ζηλόω, is a terrible sin; Cain envied his brother and killed him! Some believers aren't content with their own lot. How do we react when other Christians receive blessings that we lack? Do we become jealous when others are honored? Do we allow envy to burn and become a flame? Love is pleased when others receive blessings.
d. Love is not rude or self-seeking
There is a graciousness about the person who acts from Christian love, a charm that the world cannot give. True love seeks only the good of others; it’s unselfish. You can see this love displayed in Christ’s life! The Corinthian’s looked after their interests. This is seen in their conduct at the Lord's Table. Some of them were drunkards and gluttons while the poor had none.
e. Love is not easily provoked, thinks no evil
Christian love shows no irritation, παροξύνω, as the flesh often does. Love doesn’t get upset. Thinks no evil is not a good translation. The word thinks, logizomai, means to reckon, consider, count. Love keeps no record of wrongs is better. Warren Wiersbe met a professed Christian who kept a note book to list all the wrongs others had done to him. He was a miserable man. Joseph forgave his brothers all the wrong that they did him. God forgives us because He loves us. Fellow Christians have shared grievances with me that go back 10, 15 and 20 years.
f. Rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth
Love does not rejoice in iniquity, yet the Corinthian’s were boasting about sin in their church 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. They should have mourned over immorality amongst them but instead gloried in his sin. Love encourages people to repent of sin. 1 Peter 4:8 says: And above all things have fervent love among your selves, for love shall cover the multitude of sins. Love is never glad when others practice evil, but love is always glad when people walk in the truth.
g. Love bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all, love never fails
Through Christ’s love in us, we can bear up under anything, have faith, and continue in hope. It gives us power to endure in anything. Love always leads to victory! In these verses, Paul gently rebuked the sins of the Corinthians. They did not have patience with each other in the assembly. We can also see in these verses a picture of Christ who alone perfectly manifests the love of God to us. We can substitute the word Christ for love in this chapter.
Love Never Fails
No one treated Lincoln with more contempt than did Edwin Stanton, who denounced Lincoln’s policies and called him a low cunning clown. Stanton had nicknamed him the original gorilla and said that explorer Paul Du Chaillu was a fool to wander about in Africa trying to capture a gorilla, when he could have found one so easily in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln said nothing in reply. In fact, he made Stanton his war minister because Stanton was the best man for the job. He treated him with every courtesy.
The years wore on. The night came when an assassin’s bullet struck down Lincoln in a theatre. In a room off to the side where Lincoln’s body was taken, stood Stanton that night. As he looked down on the silent, rugged face of the President, Stanton said through his tears, there lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen. The patience of love had conquered in the end.
The Lord ministered effectively because He loved us. Are we patient with others? Do we have a long or short fuse? Do we forgive those who wrong us or do we keep a list? Are we kind to people even if they don't deserve it? Are we glad when others receive a blessing or do we become envious? Do we put others first or promote ourselves? Do we rejoice in the truth or do we take pleasure in sin? Does love enable us to overcome our enemies through good deeds? Does love lead us to victory? We can live this way if we choose to draw on the Holy Spirit’s power.
Thirdly, Love Is Eternal
1 Corinthians 13:8: Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
a. Spiritual Gifts Will Be Removed
There are a few views on how these verses should be interpreted. But one thing is certain, spiritual gifts are temporal whilst love is eternal. Long after spiritual gifts have served their purpose and ceased to operate love will remain. Why is this so? Because love is part of the very nature of God. Love is always necessary for healthy relationships between people. This will still be the case in the eternal state in heaven. Spiritual gifts won't be needed in heaven because God will have perfected His children. Love lasts, and what love does will last.
Prophecy, knowledge, and tongues were not permanent gifts. God spoke through His Prophets to instruct the early Church. They provided the teaching needed for these young Christians. They continued their ministry until the New Testament was written. 1 Corinthians was the 5th New Testament book to be written. God also gave men a word of knowledge to apply this teaching to every day living. Knowledge does not mean education, but the immediate imparting of spiritual truth to the mind. Tongues were used to share the Gospel with unsaved foreigners visiting the Church. Interpretation made it possible for the rest of the Church to understand this message too. These were gifts that some of the Corinthians prized, especially the gift of tongues.
But when will these gifts cease? When Christ establishes the new creation all spiritual gifts will cease. However some will cease before then. Some of the gifts were foundational and only required to establish the Church. Others will remain till Christ completes the Church.
b. Spiritual Gifts Will Be Replaced
1 Corinthians 13:9-10: For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When God started the Church on the day of Pentecost believers had an incomplete knowledge of the New Covenant. This was because God hadn't revealed everything to them yet. Paul describes this by saying, that we know in part and prophesy in part. God progressively revealed the New Testament to them during the apostolic age. The perfect spoken of in verse 10 is a neuter gender noun referring to a thing. I believe that the perfect refers to the Word of God which would be completed in about 40 years time with the book of Revelation. Now, we have God's complete revelation in the New Testament. Paul uses 2 illustrations, a child growing and a mirror.
Childhood to Manhood
1 Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Paul explains that these special gifts were necessary during the infancy period of the church. A child understands very little. We educate them so that they will become mature and gain practical knowledge. Tongues sound like an infant learning to speak. A child makes unintelligible sounds as he learns to talk. We don't condemn a child because he talks like a child, but we do condemn an adult for using baby talk. The day comes when he must put away childish things. Paul says, it’s time, for you babies to grow up and start talking like adults! Grow up! Tongues and other special manifestations belong to spiritual childhood. Children live for the temporary; adults live for the permanent. Love is enduring, and what it produces will endure.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul then says that they see spiritual truth in a darkened mirror. I believe that the mirror is God's Word. A mirror shows us what we look like to others. The Bible shows us how God sees us. James 1:22-24: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
Why was the mirror a dim reflection? Because the New Testament wasn't complete. But when God's full revelation was completed the mirror would give a clear reflection. The Spirit of God uses this accurate reflection of believers to help transform them into the image of Christ. As believers behold themselves in God's Word they see the areas that need transformation. 2 Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
At the end of the apostolic age God had established His Church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. He had also completed the New Testament. So the Lord withdrew these foundational gifts from the Church. We will not be fully completed until Jesus returns, but we ought to be growing and maturing now. The church grows closer to perfection through love. Ephesians 4:15-16: but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
c. Spiritual Graces Will Remain
1 Corinthians 13:8: says that Love never fails. The spiritual graces will remain forever. 1 Corinthians 13:13: says this: And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Note that all three of the Christian graces will endure, even though faith will become sight and hope will be fulfilled. The greatest of these graces is love; because when you love someone, you will trust him and will always be anticipating new joys. Faith, hope, and love go together, but it is love that energizes faith and hope.
1. Love Is Essential - Spiritual gifts without love accomplish nothing!
2. Love Is Effectual - Love builds up! It enables the body of Christ to grow!
3. Love Is Eternal - Spiritual gifts will cease to function, while love always remains!
Do you want this year to be a blessed one? Then we have seen 2 New Years Resolutions worth pursuing; Love the Lord and Love our Neighbor. Today we have seen how we should love.
2 Corinthians 13:14: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.