1 Corinthians 13 -my sermon on the love chapter

i had the privilege of teaching today at the Springfield Calvary, Mass. Here is what i taught.

1 Corinthians sermon Sept 17, 2006

NIV
12:31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
13:5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
13:6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
13:7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
13:10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Most of us who have been around churches for a few years have a couple knee-jerk responses to this chapter.

“Ahhhh, the wedding chapter.” If all you get from this, is a list to hang on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself how to treat your spouse, then you do better than most who do no more than hear this chapter read at half the weddings they attend. If you do these things even out of obligation, not desire or passion, you’ve learned something most couples who divorce haven’t, as this story illustrates.

Divorce
A woman seeking counsel from Dr. George W. Crane, the psychologist, confided that she hated her husband, and intended to divorce him. “I want to hurt him all I can,” she declared firmly.

“Well, in that case,” said Dr. Crane, “I advise you to start showering him with compliments. When you have become indispensable to him, when he thinks you love him devotedly, then start the divorce action. That is the way to hurt him.”

Some months later the wife returned to report that all was going well. She had followed the suggested course.

“Good,” said Dr. Crane. “Now’s the time to file for divorce.”

“Divorce!” the woman said indignantly. “Never. I love my husband dearly!”

Another response would be, this is the place where we can replace the word “love” with “Jesus” and learn more about God. And again, that is correct and good. Indeed, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“Love for God is a response, closely linked with faith. It is created by an awareness of what God has done for us in Christ. As John says, "We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19).” Expositor’s Commentary. What does the love of God do? It creates community, prompts obedience, provides motivation, transforms character, provides purpose, stabilizes relationships, and compels concern.

Grasping the love of God for us is no small feat. Paul expresses it so beautifully in Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But I desire for you to discover why Paul put this beautiful passage here. Even though it has wonderful application to marriage and sanctification, we sometimes forget its context in our church family. What can love like this expressed to each other do in this church family?

Atmosphere of Creative Love
Some years ago, Dr. Karl Menninger, noted doctor and psychologist, was seeking the cause of many of his patients’ ills. One day he called in his clinical staff and proceeded to unfold a plan for developing, in his clinic, an atmosphere of creative love. All patients were to be given large quantities of love; no unloving attitudes were to be displayed in the presence of the patients, and all nurses and doctors were to go about their work in and out of the various rooms with a loving attitude.
At the end of six months, the time spent by patients in the institution was cut in half.

So you see, people will only last here 6 months… I’m kidding.
Your pastor admits that I’m really over-achieving by his standards to do an entire chapter in one morning. That tells me, he likes to bring you to the microscope to look at the beautiful details of this letter, which means you might have forgotten the view from the telescope. I want to make a brief survey of this letter in order to better grasp this section’s connection to the whole. We want to know, “How does this chapter about love fit into this letter to the Corinthian church?” Some “common taters” have speculated that Paul had this early hymn laying around and thought this was a good place to put it. I think the Holy Spirit was much more intentional.

What is the context of this letter?
Chaps 1-4 Division in the church
1:13 is Christ divided?
1:20 where is the wise man?

Chaps 5-7 Sex, Lawyers, and Marriage

Reminds me of a story: A priest, a pastor and a rabbi walk into a bar and the bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?”

6:18 Flee from sexual immorality

Chaps 8-10 Freedom to serve, Freedom to eat or not eat
8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak
8:11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge
9:22 To the weak I become weak
10:23 Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial

Chap 11 Community in Worship
11:11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman
1:18 I hear, when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you…

Chap 12 Gifts in worship
12:4,5,6 Same Spirit, Lord, God
12:7 for the common good
12:13 one Spirit, one body

Chap 14 Order in worship, exercise of gifts

Chap 15 Reason for worship – He has risen indeed!
15:34 Come back to your senses as you ought and stop sinning

Chap 16 Results of worship – take an offering for Jerusalem
16:4 Do everything in love

So what is Chapter 13? Fruit of worship

Chapters 12-14 are about Spiritual Gifts and their use in worship. If they are the bricks of the church, love is the mortar. If they are the parts of the body, love is the blood that keeps the body alive.

Bookends. 12:31 the most excellent way
14:1 Follow the way of love

12:31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
How can something be better than excellent? We say some, more, most, but what comes after that? Mostest?

So what’s better than excellent? Love.
What is love being compared to? Gifts.

Paul moves from gifts to fruit. The fruit is the important thing. Possession means nothing without expression.

According to 12:7 Gifts are given for the common good, but without love…

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1- tongues are only noise
2- prophecy, knowledge and faith leave you a nobody
3- personal sacrifice gains you nothing
Not that the Holy Spirit won’t give gifts to the immature, and he might even give powerful gifts to the unloving, but it’s His decision. If you think, He chooses poorly, Paul anticipated that at the beginning of the letter, Chap 1:25-31

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

As far as I’m concerned, that settles that.

So what is love?

Are You In Love?
A young man said to his father at breakfast one morning, “Dad, I’m going to get married.” “How do you know you’re ready to get married?” asked the father. “Are you in love?” “I sure am,” said the son. “How do you know you’re in love?” asked the father. “Last night as I was kissing my girlfriend good-night, her dog bit me and I didn’t feel the pain until I got home.”
Source unknown

13:4 Love is patient, love is kind.
It is passive and active. The King James translates the word for patience as “long-suffering.”

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
The Christian community that loves does not envy the gifts of others. It doesn’t boast in its gifts. And it takes no credit for its gifts. 12:7 points out that the Spirit gave the gifts for the common good. So who gets the credit? The Holy Spirit. And who’s decision should we trust? The Holy Spirit’s. We only possess them.

13:5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Some days you're the hydrant
and some days you're the dog
Al Buse, East Granby, Connecticut

Once again, these are all good wedding exhortations, but these are originally placed in the context of church community exhortations.
Rude: In chap 11 Paul has to reprimand some for rudeness in their celebration of communion. Some came and scarfed down all the food and left none for the poor and hungry. Some came and drank all the wine and got drunk.
In 14:30 Paul instructs them that if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.
Self-seeking: a result of someone who forgets the gift is for the common good (12:7)
Easily angered: the Bible acknowledges that there is a place for anger. Paul tells us to not sin when angry nor to let the sun set on our anger. (Eph 4:26) Even Jesus got angry. He cleansed the temple violently because the money-changers had turned the temple into a den of robbers. Now how could someone get angry during church? Most people are trying not to fall asleep. Many, many, many years ago I would get irritated with mothers who let their kids make too much noise in the service, or with the teenagers who are flirting the entire service, or with the person who prays out loud at every opportunity and takes too long, but now I’m redeemed since studying this text…
But the church in Corinth was proud that they fellowshipped with a guy who was sleeping with his mother-in-law; on the other hand, they were suing each other, and they were picking camps of affiliation, “of Paul,” “of Apollos,” “of Peter.” It seems there was plenty they could pick fights about and they did. In contrast, Paul points out, the community with a heart of worship does not anger easily. Perhaps, if you have children, as I do, you’ve learned not to get angry so easily, because they often need repeated correction, but correction does not have to be done in anger. It can be done as Paul does here….

13:6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Paul contrasts evil and truth. What is evil in contrast to truth? Lies. Satan is referred to as the father of lies. (John 8:44) Who is the truth? Jesus, who says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) It is really hard for us to give our siblings in Christ the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes we can’t even give it to our spouse. But in the kingdom of God, if our brother comes to you and asks for forgiveness 7 times 70 times, we are too forgive again. We will reject rumors and libel against our family. Those aren’t from the truth. Those are lies from the evil one. That’s why in Matthew 18 Jesus instructs us to go directly to the person who offends us, instead of starting a whisper campaign or gathering an audience. It’s rare when someone in the church needs to be put in their place because it needs to happen after a long process. If the church had really loved the guy who was shacking up with his mother-in-law in Chap 5 they would have spoken the truth to him. First, brother to brother, second, brothers to brother, and finally church to brother. But they didn’t and now Paul was ordering his expulsion. Why this process? Because of love. Look how love behaves in the next verse.

13:7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
What is the repeated word here? Always, along the lines of 70x7. Perhaps you’ve come from a dysfunctional family. Anyone here not from a dysfunctional family? What does a functional family look like? It’s a family that understands this description of God’s family. In God’s family and community we should feel safe, secure, encouraged, and never forsaken. In verse 23 of the previous chapter Paul reminds them and us that we treat the less honorable parts of our bodies with special honor. We know those sensitive parts will really make us miserable if they are exposed to the harsh world. In the same way, let us protect those who are sensitive. We trust that the Holy Spirit will lead the weak as he leads us and will likewise bring their salvation to completion. We don’t lose hope that one day they will mature. And we will persevere on their behalf. “Persevere” is also translated as “enduring all things.” Jesus persevered for us. My kids memorize verses for their Friday night kids club and we just learned Hebrews 13:5 where God is quoted from Deuteronomy, “Never will I leave you: never will I forsake you.” God never stops loving us. This entire letter is a demonstration of this verse. Despite their massive issues that prompted the need for this letter, Paul protects them, trusts them, hopes for them, and endures being associated with them. In his 2nd letter to them, he calls them his living letter of recommendation, proof of his apostleship (2 Cor 3:2).

What Is Love?
It is silence—when your words would hurt.
It is patience—when your neighbor’s curt.
It is deafness—when a scandal flows.
It is thoughtfulness—for other’s woes.
It is promptness—when stern duty calls.
It is courage—when misfortune falls.
Source unknown

13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Love is eternal. It was practiced in the Godhead among the trinity before creation. It endures forever into the future, as he points out at the end of the chapter.

What is Love? By Wayne Hudson
When someone says, "I don't love you anymore," it shakes you to your very core. It caused me to ponder the true meaning of love as never before. After many years, I arrived at the only definition that makes any sense. Since God is love and we must compare our love to him, we come up short if we define it any other way. For you see, in the final analysis, "Love is a commitment with a beginning and no end." Christ chose to love us and he has never stopped. He never will.
Wayne Hudson author of Many A Tear Has To Fall Padon Press

What about the gifts? Are they eternal? Apparently not. They will cease or be stilled or pass away, which makes sense. Once we are in heaven, what prophecies will be left? What tongue would be secret? What knowledge wouldn’t be common in heaven?

13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
Contrary to Bible Coders, not everything that happens in the world is prophesied, just the stuff that God wants us to look for. And if our knowledge was perfect there be no point in the gift of teaching. The students would know as much as the teachers. The facts wouldn’t be hidden and in need of being revealed. I’d be out of a job as a scientist trying to unravel God’s creation.

13:10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
This verse reveals one aspect of our incomplete knowledge. There are several lines of interpretation of this verse.
Some people say the “perfection” arrived at the completion of the New Testament canon, i.e. the bible itself. Therefore, the imperfect charismatic gifts mentioned in the New Testament have disappeared. I was raised in this environment, and even as a child who watched Jimmy Swaggart on TV, I reasoned the only options left for him by the cessationists were that he was insane or demon possessed. Come to find out he didn’t have it all together but neither did these Corinthians who exhibited many gifts of the Spirit but had troubles staying chaste and sober and considerate.
Another possibility is the maturity into a life motivated totally by love. As your love matures, increases and eventually dominates, you won’t need those imperfect gifts. But the apostle Paul goes on to say in Chap 14 how he speaks in tongues more than all of them and exhorts them to desire the gift of prophecy. His gift of apostleship seemed to remain with him up to his death. Did Paul want them to stop desiring these as soon as John finished writing the book of Revelation? How were they to know when the canon was finished? Were the gifts to be considered imperfect once Athanasius made his list of canonical books? Was there supposed to be a final prophecy declaring that the era of imperfect gifts are over?
The interpretation that makes sense to me is the arrival of the perfect is the return of Jesus to set up his kingdom. When he arrives, it will then be all clear. There won’t be anything left to say, except “Hallelujah!”

13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
If my kids understood this kind of love, I wouldn’t be constantly breaking up arguments and reminding them to treat each other the way they want to be treated. This is about the nicest way to tell someone to “grow up, quit acting like kids, quit being so immature, act your age not your shoe size.” I’ve justified so much of my selfish behavior by appealing to my identity. “Watching every UConn basketball game is part of who I am.” Then Jesus reminds me that in order to be His disciple I need to take up my cross and deny myself (Matt. 16:24). Paul earlier in the letter advised those with the freedom to eat idol-dedicated foods to refrain around those who lack that freedom (Ch. 8).

13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Paul reached for a metaphor that resonates with the Corinthians who were renowned for their high quality polished brass mirrors. But even that high quality is still not perfect. Even today, this makes sense to us. A mirror is 2 dimensional. It indicates but is not the same as 3D. We may find it hard to love the different kinds of people that the Lord adds to the family, but we know such a small part of their story. We so easily forget that God loved them so much that he died for them as he died for us. But Paul wants us to remember that in heaven we will so easily love each other. Paul acknowledges its hard to love now, but that doesn’t mean we can give up. We don’t want to be embarrassed in heaven by the prejudice and ignorance we exhibited here by withholding love from people in the family. One time my pastor was praying for a child with Down Syndrome in our church and he was telling God how sorry he felt for the “retarded” boy. God pointed out to him, that compared to Himself we are all “retarded.” Paul acknowledges his ignorance. If Paul can do that, and continue to love on this messed up church, who are we to think we know more than Paul and can shirk our obligation to love each other?

13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Does the church need tongues or prophecy? Plenty of them don’t operate in those gifts, but if those churches have faith, hope and love, then they have the essentials. A church can’t stick together without love. A church can’t persevere without hope. A church can’t please God without faith. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). The ancients were commended for their faith (Heb 11:2). We can only continue to hang on if we are expecting the “blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). But, of these three, only love is God-like. John tells us, God is love (1 John 4:8). We have faith in God. We put our hope in God. But we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) because he is love. In eternity our faith changes to vision and our hope changes into possession but our love will continue.

14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
Keep the priority straight, first love then gifts, fruit greater than gifts, maturity over infancy, expression before impression.
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i learned alot from Ray Stedman's sermon and the Zondervan software package for the PC called the NIV study bible library with the Expositor's Commentary series (hard to find anymore). I found useful illustrations at bible.org

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