Text: 1 Corinthians 13
Location: Park Community Church South Loop
Date: Sunday April 16, 2023
One thing I have grown to take much appreciation in, is the way this Church family loves others and loves each other. It is not uncommon for me to hear stories after they have already taken place of your love. Some of you have taken children in need into your home and served as a mom and dad. Some of you have have shown up in the most difficult moments of marriages, to just be there and sit there and help with the kids. Some of you have organized meal trains for those in the hospital, gotten apartments cleaned up for moving day, cooked meals, opened your homes to those who needed a home. This is a Church where I have seen Biblical love in action.
As it turns out opportunities to love others like Christ has loved us occur every day of our life. They occur on the buses, in elevators, in offices, in homes, in grocery stores, and on the street. God is constantly placing other people who have their own unique stories, unique challenges their facing, unique difficulties that are weighing on them, in our path. Our commissioning by God is to be like little Christ’s in all of these spaces spreading the fragrant of Christ among the nations. We often think of missions solely as what takes place overseas. And certainly that is true. Yet often, it is the simple acts of Christ-like love that go the furthest in planting seeds of the gospel everywhere we go.
We come today to one of the most famous passage in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. This passage is a glorious discovery of the doctrine of love. We often hear this passage read at weddings, and that is certainly an appropriate setting for this beautiful passage. But permit to place it in context. This chapter seems at first glance to stand alone, detached from Paul’s train of thought in 1 Corinthians. But that is not the case. Paul is in the middle of correcting the Corinthians for their abuses of Spiritual Gifts. There were those in the church who were elevating particular spiritual gifts as more important or more prominent than others. Paul, in chapter 12, was eager to get everyone off their high horse, and to remind every person in the Church, that we are inter-connected and dependent body. Meaning, that while each and every member is gifted and wired differently than every other member, we all need each other for the Church to thrive. There is no favoritism or elitism in the Church. In chapter 13 Paul continues his argument by rooting the Church on an ethic that is deeper and even more important to the health of the Church than Spiritual Gifts, and that is love.
And so let us explore this great doctrine of love as it taught to us in this great chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. We will examine this doctrine under three distinct approaches. The Necessity of Biblical Love, The Character of Biblical Love, and the Supremacy of Biblical Love.
Move 1: The Necessity of Biblical Love
We begin under the heading, the Necessity of Love. The great mark of a mature Christian is Christ-like love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “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. 2 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. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Paul in this section is making a very simple point. Namely, that we can busy ourselves with the extraordinary Christian work. We can present ourselves through our actions as the kind of Christians that others to ought to emulate, ‘Here is an example of a godly person. The kind of person that ought to lead a Church, ought to lead a movement.’ It is possible to appear that way on the outside to others, and yet so lack in love, that all of your actions are nothing but shallow empty lies. The truth is, we are all easily deceived.
He gives four specific examples. His first example is speaking eloquently. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels.” What he means here is up for debate among theologians. Some believe he is referencing the ability to speak in the heavenly language. I don’t believe that is corret, I think this metaphor just as we see metaphor being used in verse 2 when he speaks of “moving mountains by our faith.” I believe he is speaking about those who have the gift of speaking eloquently, of moving people through oratory. Those people tend to draw crowds. Others tend to prop those people up. If you all you are is words, and you are not defined throughout the rest of your life by Biblical Love, then you are nothing but a noise machine, spurting noise pollution out into the air.
His second and third examples are the ability to prophecy and to exhibit extraordinary faith. He speaks of those who prophecy in such a way that they seem to have insight into heavenly mysteries. In a Twitter & Social Media Age, it is quite easy to make a name for oneself as one who has great insight into spiritual things. Paul says its possible to have all the answers and yet have nothing. It’s possible even to have such faith that things happen around you, mountains move, God responds. Yet, its possible to be so caught up in the fact that God moves through your faith, and you forsake Biblical Love towards others, all your faith is for naught. You can move mountains, but at the end of the day you are simply a shallow shell, with no depth.
His fourth example is the most jarring. He speaks of the greatest act of devotion to Christ that history has ever revealed. Throughout the ages some extraordinary and women have undergone the greatest of tortures out of devotion to Jesus. They have exhibit courage where many of us would fail. They have been burned at the stake, fed to lions, ripped limb from limb, crucified upside down, thrown from cliffs, crushed by machinery, drowned, decapitated. Paul says, “It’s possible do what others consider the greatest act of devotion a human being can physically do, and if you don’t have a life of love you have gained nothing. This is how important love is in the Christian life.
For the Christian, a life defined by Biblical Love is not optional. Paul is pointing the finger at the Corinthian Church and he is exposing a fault line. He is calling them out on their sin. They have puffed themselves up, and they are believing that they are more significant and further along in their journey of faith than they actually are. And the cause of that fault line is that spiritually powerful things are happening. Tongues are being spoken in. Prophecies are being made. Sermons are being delivered. But they lack Biblical love. And they are empty. They’ve put on a great show, but they’ve missed the core ethic that ought to drive the Church.
Church—it is possible to make this same mistake today. Is your Christianity, your faith in Jesus one that is primarily marked by being associated with things that look and sound Christian, or is your Christianity primarily a by a life of Christ like sacrificial love. I’m not asking about your Church as whole. I’m asking about you. It is very possible that many of us are making the exact same mistake as these Corinthians. They believed they were mature because… why? Because they had spiritual gifts. Powerful things seemed to be happening. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that a sign of God’s blessing? Well—yes, we might say God often brings His blessing despite our immaturity and lack of understanding. This is why God in his grace will even use heretical Churches at times to form gospel truths in people. That doesn’t make the Church right or not in need of repentance. It just means God’s mercy is more. But what about us? What is your Christianity defined by? We must major in the majors. And if our Christianity is not causing us to love others boldly, and radically like Christ, then we likely are majoring on the minors and are stuck in deep immaturity.
The great mark of a mature Christian is Christ-like love.
Move 2: The Character of Biblical Love
We now turn to the Character of Biblical love. The Character of Biblical Love is Anchored in the Cross.
We have thus far examined the Necessity of Biblical Love. But we have not yet defined Biblcial Love. And so we turn towards that excercise, and we examine the Character of Biblical Love. In our day, love is an ambiguous term. You may ask ten different people on the street their opinion on the definition of love, and you may find ten conficting definitions. Not all definitions of love can be true at the same time. Our culture has coined the phrase ‘Love is love’ and yet the many definitions of love they offer all contradict each other. A man may leave his wife and three children because he believes he loves a new woman. Is his definition correct, and how will we know? Upon what standard will we appeal to determine the definition of love. As it turns out, the standard must come to us from God Himself. These few verses are not the final words on love. They are not the ultimate definition. But in them, we are given characteristics to describe Biblical Love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Fifteen separate terms are used to describe Biblical love either in a positive or negative description. All fifteen terms are verbs which describe actions. They are not static descriptors. Love must move. Love is not love in idea or in thought alone, Biblical love moves towards a person from a particular starting point towards a particular end. A man who only ever thinks and writes about love, knows not love. A man who is static, lazy, unprepared to interact with others in any sacrificial way, knows not love.
‘Love is patient and kind.’ These first two words seem simple at first but let us consider them in depth. The fact that love is patient means that those who we do life with will behave in such a way that we either disagree with or that irks us in some way. Patience is the ability to stay present, and remain for that person. Kindness has an overall attitude of desiring the other person to leave an interaction encouraged and blessed.
‘Love does not envy or boast.’ At the center of these two words is the self, the ego. Love is the opposite of ego. Where ego places oneself at the center of one’s world, considers one’s own needs above and beyond the needs of others around them, love does not such thing. Love does not oneself up as if they are the hero. It does not speak boldly about oneself as if they are something to boast of. The Apostle learned that all of his accomplished pailed in comparison with the one great boast of his life, that he knew and loved Jesus Christ.
‘Love is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way’ Again, these words seem simple, but it is worth our time to consider them. This is fascinating language of insisting on one’s one way. A person filled with Biblical charity is capable of compromise on compromisable issues. They are able to bend in order to meet others where they are at. In fact, Biblical love will go out of its way to do what it might prefer not to do, in order to demonsrate care, compassion, and Christ-like love to another.
‘It is not irritable or resentful.’ Nobody wants to be around an irritable or resentful person. To be easily irritated is to be of a very weak composition. Others constantly are not living up to the standard you have set for them to adhere to. The same for resentfulness. Resentfulness often is an inability to forgive. Christ taught us to forgive seven times seventy times. In others words, keep forgiving, keep showing up.
‘Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.’ We must define wrongdoing in order to understand this verse. We know what is wrong because God has revealed what is wrong. We can go through the moral issues of our day, both and great and small. From abortion, to the redistribution of wealth through taxation, to ethics on gender and sexuality. These are the topics that we debate what is wrong and what is right. And God has stated the final word. Biblical love cannot rejoice at what God has called wicked. Rather, it rejoices with the truth. Because God’s Word is truth. God’s definition is the only definition. It is not one among many.
‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ Biblical love, inspired and empowered the Holy Spirit will endure all things. This is why the divorce rates of Christian couples who actually live out their faith is unbelievably low, while divorce rates of people who claim to be Christian but are not living out their faith in any real way somewhat resembles the rest of the world. If you are not fostering avenues for the Holy Spirit to flow through your life, to make you more Christ-like, your love will never endure all things. How could it, we are far too weak, far too stubborn, far to self-centered to truly “endure all things.”
When we consider these descriptions of love, it is apparent that all of us have failed to live up to this standard. If this is what God desires of us at all times, no one has lived up, but one. The Bible says in 1 John 4:9-11,
1 John 4:9-11 “9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
“God’s love was made manifest.” Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the love of God, for He is God Himself in the flesh. I’ll never forget the first time I actually sat down and read the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ. I had heard about him from a distance, but I never read for myself who he was, what he did, how he lived, and what he claimed. But I remember being overwhelmed by this man. He was different. Even when he was firm, it was an act of love.
Jesus exemplifies love for us through his life. Christ humbled himself by living among us. He washed his disciple’s feet. He wept over the reality of sin and death. He pointed all people to their hope in God. And he ultimately suffered a death on a cross that He did not deserve, but He did out of love. “Love bears all things. Love endures all things.” Christ bore all our sin on the cross. His love for us, made him willing to pay a penalty he did not earn, in order to see us restored and lifted up and set free. 1 John 4:10 reminds us that any person that claims to love God, must confess that the only reason they love God is because God has first loved them. God moved towards, God opened their heart. God was patient them with them in their sin. This is why the love of a Christian is rooted in the cross. It must be. We cannot borrow the world’s standard of love. The standard is the cross where perfect justice and perfect mercy come together in true love.
See the end of that passage, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The commission on your life as a Christian is to love others the way Christ has loved you. That’s what this passage is about. This is a supernatural calling. God chose you. God elected you. God died for you. God forgave you. God had patience with you. God was merciful to you. God showered you with blessing. God commissioned you. This is why it is only the believer who can truly live this out, because on the only believer has experienced it first. Christian joy must overflow in Christian love. If you’ve been saved by a God who moved towards you at the cross, you must move towards others in a cross-like way, sacrificially, intentionally, unwaveringly, patiently.
The Character of Biblical Love is Anchored in the Cross.
Move 3: The Supremacy of Biblical Love
We lastly turn an examine the Supremacy of Biblical Love. When Christ returns, the spiritual gifts will cease, but the love we share will
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 “8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
In chapter fifteen, Paul will expound on his thoughts on the resurrection and on heaven. We have two full weeks coming up where I get to teach on the blessings of Heaven and how Christ is at the center of it all. But I want us to see here something important is communicated to us through this passage. Remember the context for a moment. This whole discourse on love is an attempt to reorient the Christian believers in Corinth. They had become obsessed with Spiritual Gifts and other parts of life in the Church at the expense of failing to really love each other. And so, he reorients them, and the passage culiminates in an argument that essentially says, “If you’re going to primarily invest your time in anything, invest in something that’s going to endure. Invest in the way you love others.”
Spiritual Gifts like Prophesying and Speaking in Tongues. These, along with others, are gifts that were given to the Church in order that the world might know that Jesus is Lord, that He defeated death. Those powerful Spiritual Gifts serve as signs to the unbelieving world, that the message of the cross is not foolish, but is true. Miracles attest to the reality of Christ risen from the grave. “9 We know in part and prophecy in part.” That means that all of our great knowledge that we accumulate which is good, it’s not wrong, it’s needed. The gifts are needed because we have a job to do now. But even the greatest of knowledge on this side of heaven, is only knowledge in part. There is far more we will learn on the other side.
But one day, Christ will return. The sky will be rolled like a scroll. This temporary age, where the gospel is going out to the nations will come to its final end. And Christ will return. We will see him face to face. For those who have given their life to Jesus in service, to those who have received his free gift of grace, he will welcome us into his eternal presence. And for those who have refused to receive his grace and have thereby established themselves as their own gods living according to their own ways, he will separate as the chaff is separated from the wheat.
This chapter ends with language around the great virtues of faith, hope, and love. Paul often spoke about these three in connection with each other. Faith, because we do not live by sight but by faith. We do not yet see Christ face to face, and so we now we live by faith. But one day fiath will come to an end as we see face to face. Hope, we live right now with an eager hope for that great day that is to come, when Christ returns and ushers in the final judgment where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, and no more death. But we live with a hope that Christ will bring that day in its due time. And love, the great ethic of how we are to treat each other. When Christ returns, there is no more need for faith. Nor is there need for hope. But the same Heavenly ethic that we love each other with now, will be consistent in heaven. For this reason, love is supreme, because it lasts. In heaven we will be near Christ himself who is the manifstation of love, God incarnate.
Christian—if you are looking to major in the right things. Major in love. Learn to love like Christ.
Closing & Application
I would like to offer to applications for us as we leave today.
First, Biblical Love cannot be passive. In this age, the age between the resurrection of Christ and the return of Christ, we are in an age of moving the Kingdom forward. The Kingdom established when Christ defeated Sin, Satan, and death at the cross. It was the turning point of all history. And commissioned the Church to storm the gates of Hell and establish outposts of His Kingdom around the whole globe. This is why healthy Christianity can never be passive in the face of societal evil.
1 Corinthians 13:6 “6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
As Christians, we live in a day where what God calls wicked is being called right, and what God calls good is being called evil. Biblical love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It is quite easy to make the mistake that love never bothers. No! Love rejoices with truth. God’s Word is truth. Every idea, every notion, that society is building themselves upon needs to be tested per God’s Word. And as Christians, if we want to love, we must rejoice with the truth.
Second, I adjure you to measure yourself. I believe it is necessary to take an inventory of your life, of your love, of your time, of your marriages, of the way you participate in this Church family. Does your love look this Christ’s? We will all fail at times, for none of us is Christ. But is there a consistent sacrificial cross-shaped love coming out of your life flowing towards others? Do not be deceived. If the answer is no, it may be that you have fallen pray into thinking that your Christianity is sufficient because you know a little something. If you have encountered Christ, Christ-like, patient, kind, others oriented, truth championing, Word abiding, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things love ought to be what you’re known for.
John 13:34-35 “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.””