The Greatness of Love
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
August 10, 2014 HFBC
For the last several months we have been making our way through the book of 1 Corinthians. Bro. Todd has titled the study Chaos and Correction because Paul wrote the letter to address the chaos and disfunction that has developed among the church members in Corinth. So far in the letter we have seen him address:
1. Division in the church—people thinking they are better than one another based on who the know and who they have learned from.
2. He has addressed the Corinthians tendency to cling to earthly wisdom and knowledge rather than desiring heavenly wisdom and the instruction of Christ.
3. He has addressed sexual immorality in the church.
4. He has addressed believers suing one another in court rather than seeking Christ-honoring resolution and forgiveness in their disputes.
5. He has addressed the problems of believers abusing their Christian liberties.
6. He has addressed the abuse of the Lord’s supper.
7. And now we have come to the middle of the book where he is addressing believers in the church who are arguing over spiritual gifts and whose might be greater.
It is in the middle of his correction of their arguing over spiritual gifts that we find our passage today. It is here that we find what has been dubbed “The Love Chapter.”
Sometimes it may seem strange that Paul would pause in the middle of all these corrections and specifically in the middle of his correction concerning spiritual gifts that starts in chapter 12 and goes through chapter 14 to address the issue of love. But in reality there is no better place to pause for this discussion.
Paul has been dealing with issue after issue. He has been dealing with arguments, disagreements, issues of pride, and issues of selfishness. And as he is coming to an end of his corrections in this letter, he comes to the the very root of all the issues.
You see the argument over spiritual gifts is the last argument Paul deals with in this letter. He will finish his instruction on gifts in chapter 14 and then he will answer some questions they have about the resurrection, give some theological correction about the resurrection, and wrap things up with some concluding remarks.
So since this is the last chaos issue he is dealing with it is appropriate that he would pause and use this last issue to point out the biggest problem and misunderstanding that is underlying all the other issues.
The lack of LOVE.
In verses 1-3 we looked at how without love we are nothing. Without love, the exercise of gifts means nothing; without love, good works mean nothing; without love, what we know means nothing, Paul wants the Corinthians and us to understand that love is what supports all these things.
Then in verses 4-7 Paul shows us what love looks like. He is a good teacher. He is not just going to say love one another and let people wonder what that looks like. He is not going to let them define love for themselves. Instead he tells them what love is and what it is not. What it looks like and what it does not look like.
And finally in our passage today, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Paul shows us why love is so important. He shows us why love is so great.
You see, he doesn’t what to leave them with an unclear picture of what love looks like and he does not want to leave them with an understanding that does not drive home the reason of why love is so important in everyone of the situations they have been struggling with.
You know love is a very tricky thing to understand. It was difficult for the people in Corinth nearly 2000 years ago and it is still difficult for people to understand today. Perhaps it is because we use the word so freely. We say things like:
I love ice cream.
I love my job.
I love technology.
It is such a beautiful day, I would love to be outside.
We throw it around in casual relationships and without really knowing what it means.
People in new relationships say it without meaning it. Kids too young to be dating or thinking about relationships are in them and telling each other “Oh I love you!”
But it is all done without an understanding of what love truly is. One of the best illustrations of this that I can think of is from one of my all time favorite movies. Most of you younger folks will have no knowledge of the movie but many of you more seasoned men and women will. How many of you have seen the movie “Shenandoah?”
It is an old civil war movie staring Jimmy Stewart. In the movie he is the father of several sons who go off to fight in the war and the father of one daughter. During the movie that daughter meets a young man and the man comes to Jimmy Stewart one day to ask permission to marry his daughter.
Jimmy Stewarts character asks the young man one question concerning his daughter. He asks him “Do you like her?” To which the young man responds I love her. The father then says “I didn’t ask you if you love her, I asked you if you like her.” He then goes on to explain that the young man really doesn’t understand what love is yet. He explains that what he is feeling right now is not real tested love. Sure there is an attraction. Sure there are some emotional connections. Sure there are some special feelings. But he wants to make sure the young man truly likes his daughter enough to stick with her when those things are tested. He wants to make sure he will have a foundation to build on until he learns what love really is.
And here in Corinthians Paul is having a similar conversation with the Corinthians and with us. Here he is teaching us what love really is. And he is teaching us why love is so important to Christian living.
So with all that being said, I hope you have found 1 Corinthians 13 and that you will stand with me as we begin reading in verse 8.
8 Love never fails. But 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.
Now what we are going to do for the rest of our time this morning is to walk through the passage looking at what it says and what it means. Because you always need to remember when studying Scripture that it only has one meaning. It can have many different implications and applications but only one meaning. So we will look at it and find that meaning. Then we will draw out some points of application that will help us to remember why love is so great and so important to Christian living.
So I hope you still have your Bible open because you are going to want to follow along.
Look again with me at verse 8. It says…
Love never fails.
Alright, if you have a pen, pencil, or highlighter take it right now and underline or circle those three words. It’s okay, it is not a sin to write in your Bible, as a matter of fact we should be diligent to make notes that help us learn and remember the weight of God’s Word.
The reason I told you to underline those words is because those three words encompass the meaning of what Paul is teaching in these 6 verses. As a matter of fact many of the great Puritan preachers and men like J.C Ryle or Charles Spurgeon would have stopped right there and preached for several hours without reading any further. Then they would have made another 8 or 10 sermons out of the rest of the chapter.
Love never fails.
Often times those three words are included with the passage that Bro. Todd dealt with last week. They are included with the previous verses when they are read at weddings and there is nothing wrong with that except that it does not allow the greatness of these words to settle in.
You see, they belong with the rest of verse 8 through verse 13 because those verses illustrate the value of them. Everything that follows them in the chapter strengthens them. Everything that follows reveals for us the fact that love never fails is what makes it so great.
Look at the rest of verse 8.
Paul says love never fails. We might be tempted to say wait a minute, I have seen love fail. But you have never seen the kind of love Paul is talking about fail. The kind of love he has just described in verses 4 through 7. Perfect love. The kind of love God has for us. The kind of love that Christ had for us while we were still sinners according to Romans 5:8.
But look at what he says does fail.
But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
Here Paul chooses three spiritual gifts or attributes to use as examples. He could just as easily have placed any of the other gifts he speaks of in verse 28 of chapter 12 in this passage. He is using them to make a point and he uses these three because they are high profile.
He uses the gift of prophecy because it is a gift that he favors as we will see in chapter 14. He uses tongues because the Corinthians have been making a big deal about the “greater” spirituality of those who can speak in tongues. And he uses the attribute of knowledge because he has already been dealing with this as an issue of pride among the Corinthians back in the beginning chapters of the book.
He uses these things near to there hearts to make a point. He is telling them. “Look, prophecies will fail”. That is to say there will one day no longer be a need for biblical preaching, that is what prophecy means here. He is not talking about OT style prophesy of telling what is to come. He is talking about the aspect of prophesy that is still proclaimed in the preaching of the Word. Every time a preacher called by God and led buy the Holy Spirit opens the Bible and preaches he is proclaiming “Thus says the Lord!”
But Paul is reminding them that as great a gift as that is, it will one day be obsolete. When Christ comes again that gift will be finished, it will be unneeded, it will end.
He then tells them the same thing concerning tongues. In chapter 14 we are going to see that the Corinthian church is having a huge problem with a misunderstanding of and misuse of the gift of tongues. We will see that they have elevated it to mean things that it does not and there are those in some Christian churches today that labor under the same misunderstanding. So Paul knows that tongues is a big deal to them so he tells them the same thing he told them about prophecy. One day they will no longer be needed.
Now let me just make a quick comment about his little part of the verse where it says tongues will cease. Some respected biblical scholars have taken this little portion of a verse and used it to support the idea that the gift of tongues has already ceased. They have used it and the Greek construction of the phrase to make an argument that the gift of tongues is no longer active. I, and Bro. Todd, fall into a different camp however.
We believe along with an equal number of respected scholars that the plain reading of the verse indicates that tongues is being dealt with just as prophecy and knowledge. They will pass away with this age as they are no longer needed due to the coming of Christ and His complete and perfect kingdom. Tongues can still an active gift. But Bro. Todd will deal more with that in coming weeks.
And Paul uses the example of our limited earthly knowledge as his final example of things viewed as valuable and important to contrast with the eternal nature of love. He is saying that in that day when Christ comes what we know or think we know now will not matter. What will matter is whether or not we had a true and unfailing love for God and He for us.
Paul then goes on to say that not only are these earthly gifts going to end but that they are also incomplete. Look at verses 9-10.
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.
Paul is pointing out the incomplete nature of knowledge and preaching. He is saying that it does not matter how much we know or how much we think we know because we are still woefully short of knowing everything there is to know. Now he is not saying there is no reason to study God’s Word, we are to try and know it as well as we possibly can. We see time and again in Scripture where we are instructed to study deeply, to know God’s Word, to hide it in our hearts, and to get to the meat of it. But the truth remains that we will never know all there is to know until Christ comes.
And even then there will be some limit on what we know where God himself is concerned because He will continue to be infinite and we will continue throughout all eternity to know Him more. But as for the knowledge concerning His kingdom, His relationship to us, and His plan as given in Scripture there will be a completeness that makes the greatest knowledge today seem very limited and feeble.
The coming of the perfect Christ will bring a completion that renders our partial knowledge and proclamation no longer needed.
Paul then moves into the next two verses with vivid illustrations of what he has just told them about the incomplete and temporary nature of earthly gifts.
In verse 11 we see a very familiar verse and one that clearly illustrates that which is temporary.
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.
Childhood is intended by God to be a temporary period in our lives. Paul is not saying that there is anything wrong with children thinking, talking, and reasoning as a child does. But he is saying there is a time in life when children are expected to stop acting like children and to begin talking, speaking and thinking like adults.
Children reason, think and speak on a very immature level. They get away with saying things like the little girl who saw here 8 month pregnant mother getting into the shower. She said, “Mommy, you are getting fat.” The mom replied, “Yes, honey but you know mommy has a baby growing in her belly.” To which the little girl replied, “I know, but what do you have growing in your behind.” Folks, no adult would ever get away with that nor should they.
And just as we would expect children to grow up and speak, reason, and think like adults so we should be expected to grow up spiritually. When we come to know Jesus and receive salvation based on his death, burial, and resurrection we are spiritual babies, children in His Word. But we are expected to grow. We are expected to learn. We are expected to seek that which brings a greater understanding. We are to seek that which is complete and will bring us closer and closer to Christ.
Paul is underscoring that spiritual gifts alone cannot do that, just like he said back in verses 1-3. He is reminding us as that we need to grow up spiritually by growing in love.
Verse 12 is another illustration that Paul uses to make his point concerning the partial nature of gifts and knowledge in light of the completeness and unfailing nature of love.
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.
Bro. Todd has shared with us that the Corinthians liked their sayings and this illustration is related to another one of their sayings. They would say that something was like “looking into a mirror.” What they meant by this was that something was puzzling. You see the Corinthians were known for their mirrors. They made what were high quality mirrors in those days. They were plates of polished bronze that were laid flat to be looked down upon in the light to see a rather vague reflection.
So when Paul says that all our worldly knowledge is like what we would know of ourselves from looking into one of these mirrors. The Corinthians knew exactly what he was saying. The earthly knowledge they so valued, prized, and delighted in was partial and temporary compared to the real and lasting knowledge that would come with Christ and His Kingdom.
And so finally in verse 13 Paul drives his point home. He has pointed out loves great and eternal nature and the passing greatness of gifts and knowledge. Now he goes one step further and elevates love to the top of the list of spiritual virtues or fruits as well.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
What are the three defining virtues of every Christian? Faith, hope and love.
Faith, faith that God created the world, saw man sin, had a plan to reconcile man to Himself and forgive that sin by sending his Son to live a perfect sinless life, die on a cross in man’s place, be buried, and to rise again on the third day having defeated sin and death in order to give us his righteousness.
Hope, hope that the pains of this world will one day end and that we will forever dwell with God in Heaven. Absent from pain, suffering, temptation and sin.
and LOVE. Love for God above all else because He is worthy. Because He is God. Because He has told us that is our primary responsibility. Love for others because that is how we know that we love God. Because we love one another.
But of these three things love is the greatest. Why? Because love never fails. It never ends.
Faith as we now know faith will end when we are in the presence of God. When faith becomes sight, it is no longer faith.
Hope is no longer necessary when what is hoped for becomes a reality. When we are ushered into the presence of God and eternity there will be no reason for hope. There will be nothing greater to hope for.
But love will go on. It will grow stronger. We will love God more and more throughout all eternity. We will love one another as we worship and celebrate God forever. Love will last forever because according to 1 John 4:16 “God is love.”
So you see that is why love is so great. That is why Paul stops in the middle of his corrective reprimand to the Corinthians and to us. We need to understand that above all we need to love. We need to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And we need to love one another as Christ loves us.
So let me leave you this morning with 5 points of application or 5 things to remember about love. 5 things that will remind us of the greatness of love and drive us to exercise love in every area of our lives.
Love is Complete.
Love is not something that is partial or can be done in degrees. You either love or you do not. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says we cannot serve two masters, we will love one and hate the other. There is no riding the fence.
God does not love partially and He expects that we will not attempt to do so either. We cannot say things like “they are too hard to love.” “If only they were easier to love.” We do not have the luxury of asking people to be lovable before we love. We were not and are not lovable yet God loves us.
We also cannot love God partially. He wants our undivided heart. Jesus says no man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. God wants us to be consumed with the act of loving. Loving Him and loving others is to be our complete life work. Love is complete.
2. Love is Continual
Love does not end. In this passage Paul has made that his primary point. If we truly love God, we will never stop loving Him. If we do, John says we never really loved Him in the first place. That means that we can be confident that if we truly love God now, we will most certainly love Him forever. We should also long to be with Him and to please Him by loving others.
That means our love for one another does not end either. That means we love the unlovable. That means we love those we have never met. It means that we show love to the “the least of these” as Jesus commands in Matthew 25:45. That means we love everyone enough to tell them about Jesus. It also means that we do not forsake love in our relationships. It means marry and stay married, it means we love children when they are wayward, it means we love parents who have not followed God’s model of a loving Father. It means we love one another in spite of one another. Love is continual.
3. Love is a Choice
Love is not some nebulous feeling. It is not chemistry. It is not physical attraction. It is not lust. It is not something we fall into and out of. Love is always active, it is never a passive thing. Think back to last week and verses 4-7. All of the descriptions Paul gives of love are active verbs. Sometimes love can be hard work. Sometimes love is not easy. Sometimes it is even an effort to love God in the midst of difficult situations. But if we understand love and make the choice to love, then it will always carry us through and closer to God. Love is a choice.
4. Love is Clear
It should never be a question of where our love lies. Our love for God would show in every part of our lives. Our lives should not indicate that there is something else vying for the number one place in our hearts. People who know us should be able to say we are followers of God and that we love Him more than anything else.
Our former church planting partner Rodney Miliski told a story about his family when he was with us during a men’s breakfast a few years ago. He said that one day during a family devotional he gave each of his children two post it notes and told them to place them on the two things they thought were most important to him. He said that each of them placed their first note on his Bible and their second note on his iPad. In his humility he said he thought they placed the one on the Bible because they knew that was the right answer. But he was deeply disturbed by the fact that the second post it was not placed on his wife or even on the children themselves.
To be honest I have thought about this often and have always been too fearful to try it in my own home because I don’t know that I would fair even as well as Rodney.
But our goal should be that it would be clear to those around us that we love God above all else followed by the pattern given in Scripture of loving our spouse, our children, and all others before ourselves. Love is clear and finally.
5. Love is Christlike
That means love is sacrificial. How much does Christ love us? Enough to leave the perfect fellowship he has always enjoyed with the Father. Enough to take on the form of a created thing. Enough to be tempted as we are tempted. Enough to be beaten. Enough to be betrayed. Enough to die in our place on a cross that would have been a just punishment for our sins. Enough to be separated from the Father as our sins were heaped upon his broken body.
Look again at verses 4-7. Remember last week when Bro. Todd replaced the word love with the name Jesus? Remember the picture of sacrifice that gives?
Let me read it that way again.
Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade himself; Jesus is not puffed up; Jesus does not behave rudely; Jesus does not seek his own, Jesus is not provoked, Jesus thinks no evil; Jesus does not rejoice in iniquity, but Jesus rejoices in the truth; Jesus bears all things, and believes all things, Jesus hopes all things, Jesus endures all things, Jesus never fails!
Folks, there is a lot of sacrifice in that passage of Scripture. But sacrifice is not bad. Sacrifice is a good thing because it is based in and driven by love.
Love is great, love is powerful, love is life changing. But we have to pursue it. We have to value it. And we have to let it change us.
Would you stand with me as I leave you with one last thought. It is a quote from one of my favorite preachers, John Piper. Listen closely as he tells us what love must do.
Piper asks, “What must love do? It must rescue us from our addiction to self and bring us, changed into the presence of God.”
Folks that is why love is great. It has the power to change us. It will never fail us. It has the awesome power to draw us ever closer to God.
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