The Crown Jewel
1 Corinthians 13
Have you heard the story about the actor who was playing the part of Christ in the Great Passion Play in the Ozarks of Eureka Springs,
AR? As he carried the cross up the hill a tourist began heckling, making fun of him, & shouting insults at him. Finally, the actor had taken all of it he could take. So he threw down his cross,
walked over to the tourist, & punched him out.
After the play was over, the director told him, "I know he was a pest, but I can’t condone what you did. Besides, you’re playing the part of Jesus, & Jesus never retaliated. So don’t do anything like that again." Well, the man promised he wouldn’t. But the next day the heckler was back worse than before, & finally the actor exploded & punched him out again.
The director said, "That’s it. I have to fire you. We just can’t have you behaving this way while playing the part of Jesus." The actor begged, "Please give me one more chance. I really need this job, & I can handle it if it happens again." So the director decided to give him another chance.
The next day he was carrying his cross up the street. Sure enough, the heckler was there again. You could tell that the actor was really trying to control himself, but it was about to get the best of him. He was clinching his fists & grinding his teeth. Finally, he looked at the heckler & said, "I’ll meet you after the resurrection!"
You know, sometimes it is hard for those who profess to be Christians to behave like Christians should. We try to carry our crosses, but if someone crosses us, we tend to lose our composure & behave in much the same way the rest of the world behaves.
In the famous “love passage” that is read at most weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 helps us understand what love is and what it looks like
in daily life. Many have said that this is the greatest, strongest, and deepest passage Paul ever wrote. This crown jewel of the Bible establishes the fact that love is not primarily a feeling but an
action. The kind of love that you and I are called to demonstrate must be seen and experienced.
When Paul wrote this chapter, he was not thinking about weddings or romance. Chapter 13 comes right in the middle of a lengthy discussion on the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12 and 14. All sorts of disputes and divisions plagued the Corinthian church. They argued about which spiritual gift was the greatest; they were selfish, they were taking each other to court, and they were impatient with others. They needed to understand one another and appreciate the differences in the body of Christ. They needed to recognize the Spirit of God as well and His gifts. But now we have a parenthetical passage about a fruit of that Spirit…the primary one…love!
When the writers of the New Testament looked out on the world of their day they saw people who talked about love but seemed to know little or nothing about the sort of love that the Holy Spirit was revealing to them. The Greek words in general use were not adequate: one had too many sexual connotations, another meant merely natural affection, and the third meant brotherly love.
So when they wanted to write about love they needed a new word for a new idea. The love that the New Testament writers had in mind was a stranger to this planet because it was supernatural love, or agape love. It’s a selfless and unconditional commitment to imperfect people. Agape is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love which proceeds from a God who is love. It’s a love lavished upon others without a thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not. It proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than from any merit in the beloved. That’s the word that is used throughout 1 Corinthians 13.
D.L. Moody once remarked that “some men occasionally take a journey into 1 Corinthians 13” but very few people actually live there. Let’s see if we can be those who put our roots down in this chapter and live it out in our lives. Here’s a simple outline that I’m going to follow:
• The Preeminence of Love (verses 1-3)
• The Practice of Love (verses 4-7)
The Preeminence of Love
Whatever I do and say is useless without love. In verse 1, Paul is saying that even if he could master several languages and be able to speak the heavenly language of angels, but he didn’t have love, then he would be nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
In the first century, there was a big gong or cymbal hanging at the entrance of most pagan temples. When people came to worship, they would hit this gong in the hope that it would awaken the pagan gods so they would listen to their prayers. Paul is saying that even if he were so blessed that he could speak with great eloquence in every language known to man and angels, if he didn’t have love it would be as useless as the ridiculous act of pounding on a piece of metal to wake up a non-existent deity. So it is with preaching. I must speak the truth, but if not in love, it lacks power and real meaning.
In verse 2, Paul says that love is more important than knowledge. Even if we know everything about nuclear science, medicine, philosophy, psychology and theology but still do not have love, we are nothing.
Unbelievably, Paul says that love is more important than faith. He’s not saying that faith is unimportant, because we know that Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” What he is saying is that love is preeminent: “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
He next states in verse 3 that love is even more important than generosity and sacrifice.
The Practice of Love
While love is preeminent, in verses 4-7, Paul challenges us to practice it. It’s not enough to just acknowledge that love is essential; we’re called to exhibit agape love in our lives.
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
We tend to think that love is something that just happens to us. We fall in love like we fall into a ditch, or we fall out of love like we fall out of a tree. The Bible teaches us that love is something we can control. Love is a choice. It must affect the way we live. It’s the fruit of the Spirit-filled life. The love that the Holy Spirit brings into our lives is a stranger to the natural human heart. We can’t create this love but we can cultivate it and watch it to grow in our lives.
Let’s look at these descriptions a little more closely. As we do, we’ll see the Fruit of the Spirit sprouting up through the soil of 1
Corinthians 13 and out into the branches of our lives.
• Love is patient. This word basically means “someone who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so.” It carries with it the idea of perseverance.
• Love is kind. The meaning here is to “show oneself useful.” Love volunteers to help others when they’re in need. If you truly love someone you will be kind to him or her.
• Love does not envy. Instead of wishing I had what you have, love helps me to celebrate what God has given you without being jealous of it for myself.
• Love does not boast. This word literally means a “braggart” and is used nowhere else in the Bible. It can also mean, “wind-bag.” The fruit of love does not brag about what I have or what I’ve done.
• Love is not proud. The word here means to “blow or to puff.” Pride has no place in a believer’s life because everything we have is by grace.
• Love is not rude. The Greek word means that love does not “behave in an ugly, indecent or obscene manner.” Love acts in a nice way.
• Love is not self-seeking. This is the polar opposite of agape love. True love does not seek to build up self but rather puts others first.
• Love is not easily angered. A person who is living under the influence of love is not “prone” to violent anger or exasperation.
• Love keeps no record of wrongs. This is an accounting term meaning that we must not add up and itemize the failures of others. Love does not keep lists of wrongs done to it. Instead of remembering everything that’s ever been done to us, we should wipe out those wrongs by forgiving and by refusing to hold people hostage to what they’ve done in the past. Instead of being so tough on people who sin differently than we do, let’s learn to give grace by cutting others some slack.
• Love does not delight in evil. We should not enjoy hearing about other people’s sins or focus on the bad stuff that happens in our world. Nor should we watch others do evil as entertainment, whether it’s persecution in a coliseum or just watching people sin on tv.
• Love rejoices with the truth. The word “truth” here is the opposite of “evil.” Instead of locking into the vices of others, love celebrates and applauds the virtues of those around us. Whatsoever is not of truth is sin.
• Love always protects. The image here is of a blanket that covers, or hides things. The artist who painted the portrait of Alexander the Great made the shadow of Alexander’s hand conceal a scar on his brow. Instead of exposing blemishes and sins in others, true love covers them with a cloak of love.
8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8
When I am quick to notice fault and tell others about it, I am not practicing love.
• Love always trusts. The idea here is that we don’t lose faith in others even if they’ve messed up or hurt us. We resist the temptation to think the worst. We delight in giving people second and third chances. We do ‘the Jesus thing’ and open ourselves wide up to be crucified for the sake of love.
• Love always hopes. To hope means “to expect with desire.” No matter how dark things are or how bleak things look; love maintains an attitude of hope that they can get better. It’s a refusal to take failure as final.
• Love always perseveres. This literally means, “to remain under.” Love hangs in there with others in long-term relationships. We’re going to spend eternity with each other so we might as well get along now.
Living a Life of Love
The fruit of love should be desired and demonstrated by every Christian. Rather than worrying about what spiritual gifts I have; rather than being concerned about my position in church or focusing on attaining money or pleasure, I need to make sure that I am a person who loves. Do I treat others with the same type of love that God has shown me?
Here are some applications that will help us learn how to love:
1. Love those who are close to us. Someone has said, “To love the whole world for me is no chore; the only real problem’s my neighbor next door.” If we are not demonstrating love to those closest to us, how do we expect to do so in other relationships? We are commanded to love no matter how inconsiderate our spouse is; no matter how unreasonable our parents are; no matter how disrespectful our children are; and no matter how selfish our friends are.
2. Love those who are different from us. Many of us have developed negative attitudes toward certain types of people. You may not care for people who have different colored skin than you do, or live in a different neighborhood, have a different lifestyle, or listen to different music. We tend to gravitate toward those who have similar backgrounds, values and interests. While we don’t have to be best friends with everyone, we do need to strive to love everyone, even if they are different from us.
3. Love those who disagree with us. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to love someone who we think is wrong? Remember this. Christians with whom we disagree are never our enemies. They are still family members.
4. Love those who irritate us. Isn’t it hard to love people who bug us? It’s not easy to love people we think are stupid, is it? When there is someone in the church who rubs us the wrong way, we need to make a special effort to change our attitude and to treat others in a loving manner.
Some of you are thinking, “Yes, I know, but, he really hurt me when he said that,” or, “she won’t even talk to me.” It doesn’t matter. It was said of Archbishop Cranmer that if you did him a disfavor you had him as a friend for life. Before he was martyred he made a very surprising statement: “I never had greater pleasure in all my life than to forget and forgive injuries and to show kindness to them that sought evil to me.”
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes use the imperfections and sins of another person to try to excuse the lousy attitude I have toward that individual. I need to remember what Jesus said in John 8:7, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
What can we do if we’re not demonstrating the fruit of love in our life?
1. Confess your lack of love. Don’t make excuses for lousy, unloving attitudes. Own it before God and to those you’ve been sinning against.
2. Focus on God’s love for you. Read portions of Scripture about God’s love. Sing or listen to hymns and songs that speak of how God has shown us grace and mercy. Live every day with the knowledge that even if no one else cares about you, God loves you. Allow His love to be the reservoir that enables you to love others.
3. Identify someone that is hard for you to love. Pray and ask God to help you change your attitude toward this person.
4. Treat that person in a loving way. Have you ever noticed that our feelings often follow our actions? Doing the loving thing is a good place to start. When God provides the opportunity for you to act in a loving way to someone, make sure you do it.
1 John 3:18
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
[From excellent message by Brian Bill]
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