Grace For The Journey
Our theme over the next three days will be love. We will look at the most beautiful chapter in the whole New Testament, First Corinthians 13. This chapter is famous, not only for its majestic language, but for the lofty idealism of its subject matter and the very practical behavior it describes.
Someone has said that “analyzing these words is almost like taking a beautiful flower and tearing it apart.” But some analysis is necessary in order that we might fully grasp what the Apostle Paul is saying here in this great apostrophe to love. There are three aspects of love which we will consider over the next few days:
- The preeminence of love.
- The practice of love.
- The permanence of love.
We should remember that this chapter on love, though it is often read separately from the rest of the content, really fits beautifully with what the apostle has been talking about in the previous section. Beginning with Chapter 12 he introduced the subject of matters pertaining to the Spirit of God. The first part of that chapter was the focus of the Spirit on the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus is Lord;
This is always the
Emphasis of the Holy Spirit.
He makes Christ real to us.
If we have any sense
At all of the reality and living
Presence of Christ
It is because of the work
Of the Holy Spirit within.
Then Paul talked about the gifts of the Spirit. The Bible teaches that every believer is equipped with certain spiritual gifts that put him into the ministry. If you are not learning to use those gifts, you are going to sabotage the program of God as far as you are concerned. He has given them that you so you might have a ministry within the Body of Christ.
In Chapter 13, we come to the fruit of the Spirit. The apostle has introduced it with a hint already that the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit.
That we become loving people
Is far more important
Than whether we are active, busy people.
Both are necessary, but one is greater than the other. Paul has said so in verse 31 of the previous chapter – There is a more excellent way . . . That is the way of love.
I call this the “fruit of the Spirit” because in the letter to the Galatians, in the famous passage in Chapter 5, the apostle details for us what the fruit of the Spirit is. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It has been pointed out that all of those qualities really are manifestations of the first one, love — that, after all . . .
- Joy is love enjoying itself;
- Peace is love resting;
- Patience is love waiting;
- Kindness is love reacting;
- Goodness is love choosing;
- Faithfulness is love keeping its word;
- Gentleness is love empathizing;
- And self-control is love resisting temptation.
Love is the key; love is the main thing.
This chapter, therefore, is setting forth
That quality of love which is
The work of the Spirit of God within us
Reproducing the character of Christ.
The Bible teaches that once you have love, all the other qualities that are part of the fruit of the Spirit are possible to you. If we have the love of God in our hearts, then we can be patient; we can be peaceful; we can be good, loving, faithful, gentle, kind, and all these other qualities. But without love all we can do is imitate these qualities, and that is what produces a phony love.
One of the most deadly enemies of the Christian cause is phony love. That is why, in Romans 12:9a, the Bible says, “Let love be genuine.” When you come into the church, especially among the people of God, love must be genuine. If it is not, it is hypocrisy. If it is put on just for the moment, if it is an attempt to put on a facade, to act like you are kind, thoughtful. gracious, faithful, and so on, but it all disappears as soon as the situation changes, that spreads death within the whole community. Genuine love, however, will produce all these qualities.
The word “love,” that is used here is not the Greek word “eros.” That word is used to describe “erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you “fall in love,” a passionate attraction to another person.” That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God, strangely enough, though it is a common form of love today.
The word “love” that is used here is not “philia,” which means “affection, friendship, a feeling of warmth toward someone else.” This too is a universally distributed love, but this is not what is mentioned here.
Paul is talking about “agape,” which is “love that it is divine, self-sacrificing, one-way, and a commitment of the will to cherish, uphold another person, and work for their best interest.” This love is not romantic, saccharine, or sentimental love because the issue is not emotion but attitude. Agape love is “divine” because this love comes from God. This love is self-sacrificing and not selfish. Self-sacrificing love is willing to place others above self. It is one-way in that it does not depend on the other person to love us back. Moreover, it is free to relate to others and does not carry “soul-kinks” such as bitterness, resentment, and hostility toward others. It is free from those attitudinal sins. This love is unconditional for it loves in the face of faults and failures. It is a choice to love the unworthy in our perception.
It is a word, therefore, addressed to the will.
It is a decision that you make and
A commitment that you have launched upon
To treat another person with concern,
With care, with thoughtfulness,
And to work for his or her best interests.
That is what love is, and this
Is what Paul is talking about.
This kind of love is possible only to those who first love God.
Any attempt to try to exercise love like this without having first loved God is to present a phony love, a selfish, fleshly kind of love. The reason I say that is because the Bible tells us there are two great commandments. The first is, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” The second one is, “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Matthew 22:37-9, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27).
We try to turn that around. Many of us are trying to love our neighbor, whoever he may be, in our family or anywhere else, without having loved God, and it is impossible to do that.
It is “the love of God
Shed abroad in our hearts
By the Holy Spirit,”
That fulfills the definition
That is given in this chapter,
And only that love.
Therefore, you cannot love other people until you first love God.
When you really think about it, love for God is not difficult, because all you need to do is be aware of how He has loved you – in creation, in the supply of all you need, in leading and putting you in various places with various persons. But above all else He has loved you in having given His Son for you, having redeemed you, having forgiven you, having changed your heart and destiny. Your sin; your guilt is taken away. God has called you to Himself and has given you a standing before Him as a son or daughter within his family.
To remember all that is to be stirred with love for God. When you love God, you awaken your capacity to love people. Therefore, it is very important that we understand, in reading this passage, what Paul has been reminding us of all through this letter, that . . .
Love is a supernatural quality.
God alone can give this kind of love.
God alone can lead you to make a choice
To love somebody who does not appeal to you,
Who does not awaken anything within you.
Yet that is what God’s love is.
That is what is so desperately needed
And so beautifully described in this passage.
It can only come as we love God
And love is awakened within us by the Holy Spirit.
It is important for us to remember that this chapter comes after Paul has said that all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit, made a part of the Body of Christ. As Jesus put it, we are “in Him” by that process (John 14:19-20). All believers have been filled with the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, “made to drink of one Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:13b). By that process our Lord’s words, “I in you” (John 14:20c), have been fulfilled.
Because of that
We all have the capacity
To act in love.
All that Paul is saying in this passage is, “If you have that capacity then do it. Love one another.”
To encourage this he shows us some of the qualities of love:
The first is what we are looking at in today’s blog – the preeminent value of love. Paul contrasts love here with certain things that were highly regarded in Corinth and are still highly regarded in the world today.
The first is the ability to communicate.
These Corinthians valued communication. They enjoyed eloquence; they admired oratory. They were especially entranced by the gift of tongues, the ability to speak in languages that had never been learned, which had been given among them, but which by the power of the Spirit enabled person to pray and praise God. They were making much of this gift, as many are today, so Paul begins on that note. He says in verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
There is no suggestion in this that the gift of glossolalia — which is speaking in tongues — is identical to what Paul refers to as “the tongues of angels.” I know people today who claim that the gift of tongues enables you to speak with the tongues of angels, but Paul does not say that at all. In fact, it is a pure, arbitrary assumption on the part of anybody that the gift of tongues constitutes the tongues of angels. We know that angels do communicate in heaven (Isaiah 6:2) and to man (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:13, 26-28). This is the only reference in all the Scriptures to the tongues of angels.
All Paul is saying is that to be
A loving person is more important
Than to be able to speak
In all the languages
Of earth or heaven.
Therefore, it is essential to learn to love. Communication without love is a useless thing.
Second, the ability to know and believe.
Paul compares love to these two qualities that were admired in Corinth and are admired in our age as well. Verse 2 says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
Prophecy is a greater gift (14:1-5) than tongues (verse1). In its primary sense, the gift of prophecy is the ability to know divine truth apart from human knowledge. Prophecy is the ability to receive knowledge directly from God by divine revelation. This was a primary gift during the completing of the canon of Scripture in the first century. Once God completed the canon, He limited the gift to exposition (13:8), so in its secondary sense, prophecy is the ability to expound the Word of God (chapter 14).
“Mysteries” are truths not revealed to the point of understanding. They are not something spooky or mysterious. We can find a usage of “mystery” as a truth not previously revealed (Ephesians 2:15-18; 3:3-5).
“Understanding” is insight and “knowledge” is the capacity to gather facts of divine revelation. The gifts referred to here are a combination of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Capacities of understanding and knowledge hold the great danger of arrogance and pride if not held in humility.
A mountain is a worldwide symbol for something immovable. It was a figure of speech for doing the impossible. Faith enough to move a mountain is synonymous for great faith.
Paul is thinking of theologians particularly, men and women with great ability to detect and understand the mysteries of the Scriptures and to answer all Biblical questions, riddles and parables. I am sure you have been asked these questions, or maybe you have even had them yourselves: “Why does the devil exist?” “Where did Cain get his wife if he was the only person in the world?” “Why does God allow injustice, accidents and tragedies in our world?” These are questions asked of every Bible teacher. Paul says, “If I could answer all those questions, if I could explain all those mysterious movements of God and still was not a loving person, if I was difficult, cantankerous, hard to get along with, even though I could move mountains by faith, if I lacked a loving spirit, it is all nothing.”
Finally, he takes up the matter of sacrificial zeal.
He says in verse 3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” There are many reasons why people give away things. Sometimes they give because they are deeply concerned about certain cause or a need. They are willing to sacrifice their own possessions in order to meet that. But sometimes people give for very selfish reasons, although it appears to be a generous gift. I have known people who gave great sums of money to a cause they actually had no interest in at all, no more use for than a hog has for hip pockets, and still they gave their money. Why? Because they had a selfish interest in it. Now you can do that. You can give away everything. You can impress people with tremendous willingness on your part to sacrifice. Giving our body to be burned as a martyr is a horrific form of martyrdom. Nothing could be of greater sacrifice, but it does not profit us if we do not do it out of love.
The word “profits” means “to prevail, to be advantageous, beneficial, useful, or expedient.” Doing things without love is not beneficial to us personally. Note the progression of “nothing:” I say nothing, verse 1 … I am nothing, verse 2 … I gain nothing, verse 3.
Love is the important thing.
Nothing can underscore
That fact more than these words.
This is what life is all about.
We are born to learn to about God’s love and we are born-again to let others hear and see God’s love through our lives. To live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.
Tomorrow we will look at verses 4 through 8 of 1 Corinthians 13 and see how love must be practical.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”