Today’s message is on 1 Corinthians 13, commonly referred to as “The Love Chapter”. This is a relatively familiar passage of scripture among Christians and even some nonbelievers. Many people have heard it read or recited, in whole or in part, at weddings, anniversaries, or other ceremonies that celebrate the beauty of love.
Let’s remember that Paul has been broadly discussing the topic of spiritual gifts. He has analogized that all believers are individual members of the body of Christ, each having been uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit and called to mutually edify the church as a whole. To that end, we should all desire to utilize our gifts as effectively as possible.
In today’s message, we will discover the key element or virtue of Christian service. It is the fundamental motivation upon which our spiritual gifts should be practiced. What is this critical virtue? Love. But not just any love, God’s love.
There are several types of love spoken about in the Bible. There is romantic, sensual love that is to be practiced between a husband and wife. There is familial love which is shared between members of a family, close friends, or companions. There is brotherly love which involves a general affection and common concern for others - both friends and strangers. But above these various types of human love, there is a higher love - God’s love. It is unconditional, sacrificial, and selfless. This is the type of love that we must strive to embrace, and it is the type of love Paul describes in this chapter.
I. THE NECESSITY OF LOVE (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
In the previous chapter Paul named several spiritual gifts, including the ability to speak in tongues, to prophesy, to possess knowledge, and to have unwavering faith. Referring to these, Paul explained the necessity of love. He reasoned that the remarkable ability to speak in the tongues of men and angels was worthless apart from love, and was no more than irritating and unpleasant babble. He stated that gifts of prophecy to proclaim God’s revelations and knowledge to comprehend His mysteries and truth were of no value unless tempered with love. Even the gift of faith, so great that it might move mountains, was nothing without love.
In addition to these aforementioned spiritual gifts, Paul spoke of other acts of service. Generosity, so boundless that it willingly gave everything to feed the poor, was of no benefit apart from love. Sacrifice, that would give itself as a martyr to suffer and even die for something or someone, was of no profit without love. All of our spiritual gifts and acts of Christian service are meaningless unless motivated by sincere, godly love.
II. THE NATURE OF LOVE (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Paul wrote that God’s love is patient - it doesn’t give up, but rather waits. It is kind - gentle, caring, and courteous. It isn’t jealous or envious - it doesn’t desire what it doesn’t have. God’s love doesn’t brag, boast, or vaunt itself - on the contrary, it is quiet and sober. Likewise, it is not arrogant or proud, inflated or puffed up, but rather is humble and unassuming.
Paul stated that God’s love does not act unbecomingly or unseemly - it doesn’t force itself on others. It does not seek its own or demand its own way, but rather is considerate, thoughtful, and submissive. It is not easily provoked or stirred to anger - it doesn’t fly off the handle. God’s love doesn't take into account a wrong suffered - rather it forgives and doesn’t keep score. It doesn’t take pleasure or delight in the sin or hurt of others.
Paul said that God’s love rejoices in the truth - it believes and stands on the truth as opposed to lies or deception. It can carry or bear every weight and burden. It trusts in the LORD fully and wholeheartedly. God’s love is hopeful - always looking forward to greater things to come and the fulfillment of His promises. It endures all things - persevering to the end.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE (1 Cor. 13:8-13)
Paul declared that God’s love never fails - it never dies. It always overcomes whatever obstacles it encounters and will triumph in the end. The gift of prophecy will someday be unnecessary, the gift of tongues will cease, and the gift of knowledge will be no more. For now our prophecies are partial and our knowledge is incomplete, but when the Lord comes these unknown mysteries will be made fully known.
Paul compared our present condition to childhood. Like a child, our speech, our thinking, and our reasoning is limited. Notice these childish behaviors are akin to the gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy that Paul just spoke of. Children lack the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of adults. But when they grow older and more mature, they (in most cases) move beyond their childish ways. In a similar manner, someday our imperfect understanding and perception of God will be made perfect.
Paul then compared our present condition to someone beholding themselves in a mirror dimly. Our vision is somewhat obscured and unclear due to the lack of light. But when Christ comes, we will see Him clearly and personally, face-to-face, as His light will shine brilliantly. We will know Him fully, just as He knows us.
Paul urged the Corinthians, and for that matter all Christians, to abide in faith, hope, and love, but concluded that the greatest of these 3 virtues is love. Someday our faith will be replaced with fact. We will see Jesus personally. Someday our hopes will be fully realized and fulfilled. His promises will be kept, His judgments rendered, and His blessings received. In that day, all that will remain is love and we will dwell in Christ’s love for all of eternity.
God’s love gives our spiritual gifts meaning and value. Without it, our gifts and ministry become worthless. Again, as we’ve seen Paul emphasize throughout this letter, it's not so much what we do per se, but rather why we do it. Love should drive our speech, our thoughts, our choices, and our behaviors. Love for God and for one another is the most important factor.
When I think about the difference between God’s love and man’s love, 2 verses always come to mind. Originally, God taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This can be likened to loving others with the same level of human love that we have for ourselves. But when Jesus gave His life at Calvary to forgive our sins, the Lord taught that we should love others as Christ loved us - sacrificially and selflessly. In other words, God’s love extends beyond that of even oneself. It places others first.
Love is “the more excellent way” that Paul referenced at the end of chapter 12. In fact, my friends, it is the most excellent way. May all of us strive to love as God loves, to be motivated by and filled with His love in all we say and do, and to show it and share it unashamedly everyday.