I Cor. 13:1-13 – Chosen Love
The church at Corinth excelled in gifts (I Cor. 1:7) but was the "all about me" church. Though they had been blessed with great spiritual gifts; the believers had fallen in love with "their" gifts. That kind of thing happens quite often. It is possible to love one's method of worship or service more than the body of Christ, or to love one's God-given ability more than the God Who gave the ability. You will even encounter those who have replaced their love for God with a love for learning about God; where the goal of spiritual intimacy is subtly replaced with the goal of superior knowledge.
1 Corinthians was not the first letter Paul had written to this church. 1 Cor. 5:9 mentions another letter Paul had sent to them, and this letter is a response to questions they had in return submitted to Paul. Paul is grieved by their immaturity but patiently corrects their problems. After he gives them an orderly way to serve the church with their gifts, at the end of chapter 12, he writes, "And yet I show you a more excellent way" (12:31b).
The Corinthians had lost their focus on what was important. They were more into the sensational sign gifts that would soon cease, than the lasting love of the Lord.
While Paul wrote a lot about love (111 occurrences in 98 sections of Scripture), I Corinthians 13:1-13 stands alone as Paul's greatest literary passage on love.
It's important to note that, in Scripture there are three words used for love: eros, phileo, and agape'.
Eros - is where we get the word erotic; which describes physical love. Our society is consumed with this kind of love and overemphasizes it to the detriment of
Phileo – refers to tender affection that is reciprocal or brotherly love. Phileo loves the lovely and those who love back. This is merit based affection, I love my car, my favorite team, I "love" that song.
– is a love WITHOUT limits. It is the highest word for love in the Greek vocabulary.
This is the great New Testament word for love. It has a meaning all its own. It is used of the love of the Father for the Son (John 17:26), of God's love for the human race (John 3:16), and of God's love for those that belong to Him (John 14:21). Agape' love is perfectly pictured is Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 2:4). It does not rise from our feelings. It does not coincide with our natural tendencies, nor is it concerned only with those for whom we have a natural affinity. It seeks the good of EVERYONE. It is God-like and divine and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9). This word for love occurs some 320 times in the New Testament. Since it is commanded it cannot be based on emotion. On the contrary it is based on will. Limitless love is a decision (I choose). It is costly as we learn from John 3:16 (God, giving His only Son in love). It demands the care and welfare of the loved one regardless of whether that involves hurting or healing; agape' love always involves helping. The natural world knows little or nothing of this kind of love, yet it is the essence of the Christian life.
It is agape' love, that Paul presents to us, in I Corinthians 13 as the greatest gift and the foremost fruit.]
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,
but have not love, it profits me nothing.
[He raises two problems. First, there might be those in the congregation that possess great gifts – without love (vv.1-2). Second, there might be those who perform great good – without love (3).
A. Possessing great gifts - without love (vv.1-2)
1. Gifts of communication (vv.1-2a)
a. The ability to speak in different tongues
Speaking in different languages "tongues of men" was the great gift that the Corinthian congregation used for the wrong reason. God gave the ability to speak in a language not known to the speaker, as a sign with limited function (see I Cor. 14:1-33). Regarding the "tongues of angels", the apostle was writing in general hypothetical terms. There is no biblical teaching of any special angelic language that people could learn to speak. Paul was simply saying that love is supreme to any language. Without love, no matter how linguistically gifted one is to speak his own language, other languages, or even (hypothetically) the speech of angels, you are just a wind chime. Unless the speech of the Corinthians was done in love, it was just a noise.
b. The ability to speak divine truth
This was the other communication gift that was so prominent in the transitional stage of the early church. Its main function in the New Testament was in the area of declaring God's truth to people. But prophecy without love is unprofitable. Love is an indication of the new birth; prophecy isn't. In the Sermon on the Mount, where God's law of love was laid out, the Lord warns of those who, on the Day of Judgment, plead, "'Lord, Lord, have we not PROPHESIED in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:22-23 NKJV).
2. Gifts of comprehension (vv.2b-2c)
"and understand all mysteries and all knowledge"
I have already mentioned those who have replaced a love for the Lord with a love for learning. They want wisdom, desire discernment, and have a knack for acquiring knowledge, but when love is left out they lose.
3. Gifts of miraculous faith (vv.2d)
"and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing"
This does not refer to saving faith, which always manifests itself in works (James 2:14-26). It refers to miracle-working faith; enduring, believing prayer that God can remove obstacles from one's path (Matt. 17:20; I Cor. 12:9). This is more than a sunny disposition, and more than positive thinking. It's a gift from God. Yet, even this great gift of faith falls short and lacks luster a part from love.
A. Performing great goodness - without love (v.3)
1. Great human compassion (v.3a)
"and though I may bestow all my goods to feed the poor…but have not love"
It's hard for us to give without love and compassion, but to some it is a way to be known for something great. Ironically, the motivation for this kind of service is selfishness. They give because it makes them feel good and appear great in the eyes of their peers. Many wealth families become known for Philanthropy. There is a difference between giving one million dollars to the poor and giving one million dollars to the "Morgan and Tonia McKnight Charitable Foundation". Even if all of this good was done from a sincere heart of compassion, it will ultimately profit nothing without God's love. It is clear in Scripture that giving is important to God, and that where our treasure is there are hearts will be also. But Paul reminds us here that while you cannot love without giving, you can certainly give without loving.
2. Great heart-felt compassion (v.3b)
"and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing"
Is it possible for someone to actually give their very life for a cause without love? This surely has to be the ultimate sacrifice, to become a martyr for a cause, to be committed even unto death, even to be burned at the stake! Actually many people have become such martyrs, committed to a cause that does not glorify God. Paul shows here that there is nothing intrinsically meritorious about death by martyrdom, and that such a death, divorced from love, profits a person nothing NOTHING!]
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
[The definition recorded for love in these few verses is unmatched; and goes far beyond what man could achieve apart from the empowering help of the Holy Spirit.
1. "Love suffers long" – The quality exhibited here is patience. It is really more than patience; it is self-restraint when provoked. Love does not retaliate.
2. "Love is kind" – Kindness is eager to be in action. Kindness is a universal language, everyone understands it. It may take a missionary years to speak Chinese, or learn the dialects of India or Africa; but the day he arrives, the language of love expressed through kindness will be understood by all.
3. "Love does not envy" – The word used for envy here encompasses both envy and jealousy. Envy desires to deprive someone of something he has, while jealousy desires to have the same thing for yourself. (Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 2:37). These are ugly sins. Remember envy, because if we have time I will read you another pastoral letter written to Corinth about 40 years later.
4. "Love does not parade itself" – Love is not pushy, boastful, and does not brag. Love is not a "show-off". Love is not anxious to impress other people or draw attention to itself.
5. "Love is not puffed up" – A "puffed up" person is one who has an overinflated idea of his own importance. At Corinth these were "the tongues people". They thought that their public and peculiar gift made them superior saints. Love, however, is humble. Love comes out of the shade to do its kind deed and then goes back into the shade again. Love does not think that what it has done is anything out of the ordinary. It does not exhibit pride or self-promotion.
6. "Love does not behave rudely" – In other words, love has good manners. Love does not exhibit inappropriate behavior. It knows how to behave itself at all solemn occasions. It has something to contribute. Love knows how to genuinely behave as a gentleman or a lady.
7. "Love does not seek its own" – Love is not selfish. Love does not pursue its own interests. It does not insist as having its own way. Those in "Love" with their gifts wanted every worship service to be about their gift.
8. "Love is not provoked" – This statement is absolute. Love refuses to be provoked into wrong action. It refuses to be enraged, even though it can respond in righteous indignation. Love does not carry a chip on its shoulder. It is not insulted or offended.
9. "Love thinks no evil" – Paul uses an accounting term here – logizomai. Meaning love does not keep an account of the wrong it suffers. It doesn't go around looking for opportunities to "get someone back". Love nurses no grudges; it does NOT keep score.
10. "Love does not rejoice in iniquity" – Love does not gloat when bad things happen to other people. It does not even secretly rejoice over other people's misfortune. Love does not feast on the failures of others.
11. "Love rejoices in the truth" – Love expresses itself in truth. It is glad when truth prevails. Love does not tell lies; it does not cheat or deceive. It is characterized by integrity.
12. "Love bears all things" – The Greek word for "bears" is stego, which can be rendered "covers" or "protects". That is what love is like. It finds ways to cover and protect, ways to forgive and forget. The Lord Jesus, while on the cross, asked the Father to forgive those who nailed Him there.
13. "Love believes all things, hopes all things" – This does not mean that love is gullible, that love blindly accepts everything it's told. However, love is always ready to believe the best about someone. Love prefers to be generous and have the highest hopes for everyone. Love refuses to acknowledge defeat. Hope is a word that we associate with the future. It hopes against hope. It forgives not just seven times, but seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). Love entertains great expectations.
14. "Love endures all things" – The word for "endures" here is hupomeno' which means "to remain under the load". Love is strong. Love remains under the load no matter how long and no matter what else is piled on. Pastor Preston Moore says, "This is the love that will not let us off, not let us go, and not let us down".
15. "Love never fails" – Gifts fail. At Corinth they were already being abused. They had been given by God to build the church, and they were being used instead to tear it down. Most of the gifts Paul writes about to the Corinthians were soon to cease or fail altogether. They were about to come to an end. Love, however, was not like that. Love was lasting. Love could not fail or fall or ever be made obsolete. The Corinthians had become so obsessed over the gifts that they stopped loving each other. Paul puts love back in its place as priority #1.
As we read through Paul's thorough description of love, one thought should come to mind – this is a description of Jesus. It is! He is God and God is love. JESUS is love in the flesh! This is clear when you reread I Cor. 13:1-8b and replace the word "love" with Jesus,
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not Jesus, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not Jesus, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not Jesus, it profits me nothing. Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade Himself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Jesus never fails."
What is God's goal for all believers? It is to be like Christ. Christ is God and God is love. We are commanded to love and be like Christ! Love is our command and our commission. Love is the greatest gift and the foremost fruit!]
8But whether there are
prophecies, they will fail; whether there are
tongues, they will cease; whether there is
knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
[Love outlasts everything. Paul concludes this great chapter on love by revealing that which is passing and that which is permanent.
A. That which is passing (vv.8b-12)
Paul specifically mentions three sign gifts that will "pass away": prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. These were the very gifts that the Corinthians were hung up on. Ironically, they were focusing on the very things that would soon be done away with. The devil delights in distraction. He often gets us to focus on good things in order to exclude the greatest thing. More could be said about the cessation of these "sign gifts", but Paul's purpose here was to contrast love's permanent nature to the gifts passing nature.
B. That which is permanent (v.13)
Paul concludes this chapter by contrasting 3 passing gifts with a permanent trinity of grace. Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, but faith hope and love remain. Faith trusts in Calvary. Hope looks for Christ's coming. Love is for now. Love is forever. Love is the greatest thing of all!
We serve the Lord of Love. He calls us with love and commands us to love.
It's a choice, it always benefits others, and it will last forever.
Let me read part of a letter from Rome to Corinth, by a pastor named Clement. It was written some 40 years after Paul's letter, by a disciple of Paul, around the time John concluded the Book of Revelation.]