We have begun a fresh new look at 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the great love chapter. As I look back over the 40-plus years of ministry of the Word of God here at Grace Church, I have decided that on Sunday nights we’re going to continue to look at some of the highlight texts of Scripture and some of the highlight doctrines that we have studied through the years. We’ve been doing that for a number of years now and going over these great themes and great doctrines of Scripture, great sections. And certainly 1 Corinthians 13 is one of those. This chapter on love is the greatest that has ever been written on the subject of love. It is the sunum bonum of chapters on love and it is the highpoint of our Christian experience to demonstrate love to one another.
This is not really about marital love, although it encompasses that. It’s not about family love, phileo love, although it encompasses that. It really is about love in the church. It’s about loving each other in the body of Christ. We all know that God is love and we have been given the capacity to love because He loved us first. John says we love Him because He first loved us.
We also know that the Apostle Paul reminds us that the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts. We follow the divine pattern in loving and we have a capacity to love granted to us by the Holy Spirit. We should be best known by our love, “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples, that you have love for one another,” Jesus said to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal. And Paul also adds that love is the fulfilling of the whole Law.
Now the Law is divided into two parts...the Law, meaning the Ten Commandments, the summary of God’s Law, God’s moral Law. The first part deals with God and the second part deals with men. The first part, our relationship to God, the second part, our relationship to man. The first part can be summed up in these words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second part can be summed up in these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” so that if you love God perfectly and you love your neighbor perfectly, you will fulfill the whole Law. You’ll never violate God and you will never violate anyone else. Therefore Romans 13:10 says, “Love is the fulfilling of the whole Law.” We are to be the model of the fulfilled Law. We are to be the model of godliness in the world and it is our love that makes that visible. It is our love for God that drives us to honor Him. It is our love for others that drive us to honor them.
The essential ingredient then in our lives as we relate to God and as we relate to each other is love. It is also that which should most mark us so that the watching world can discern that we belong to another Kingdom then the one they’re familiar with by virtue of a kind of love with which they are also unfamiliar.
Having said that, I suppose it would be fair to say, and most of you who have had church experiences somewhere else would agree with this, that while love should mark us, love sometimes seems to be absent, even in the life of the church. Christians in churches can become known for their lack of love even though it is that which should most singularly and certainly and consistently define us.
The Corinthians needed this chapter. They were a church filled with conflict. The first letter to the Corinthians was really not a letter about theology with the exception of the fifteenth chapter which deals with the resurrection, there really are not a lot of references to doctrine or theology. It is all about how the church is to deal with its own personal relationships. That calls into question their relationship to the Lord but the issue here is how they didn’t get along with each other, conflict in the church, separatism in the church, accusations in the church, lawsuits in the church, carnality in the church, pride in the church...all these kinds of things were part of that Corinthian congregation.
The fact of the matter was they had come to faith in Jesus Christ but they really hadn’t yet been sanctified. Saved and gifted, but unsanctified they had dragged into the life of the church all the attitudes that they had before they were saved. And the world is not particularly known for its love. They knew the word love, but they weren’t experiencing the word love. They weren’t experiencing the reality of love. And so, the Apostle Paul drops this incredibly beautiful and practical chapter on love in this letter to them.
And I think, in a very real sense, part of the beauty of this chapter is that it’s against a rather dark background. There were factions in the church. They were at each other’s throats. There were people who wanted to be identified with Paul and some with Peter and some with Christ, so there were segmented groups in the congregation. There were people in the congregation who were Christians who were joining themselves to prostitutes and thus bringing horrible dishonor on the name of Christ, on the indwelling Christ who lived within them. They were joining Christ to a harlot, Paul says. They were dragging each other in the courts. There was conflict at every level. Even when Paul writes the second letter, this would be months later, he remarks that his fear is that there will be among them strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossips, arrogance and disturbances.
Why would he expect that? Because that’s the way it used to be and there was still remnants of it even after one letter, a biblical letter and a couple of other non-biblical letters. There were actually four in total written to the Corinthians. He writes the fourth letter, the second one we have in the New Testament and he still fears that these kind of decisive attitudes would prevail in the church. He even goes so far as to say, “I’m afraid to visit you because I’m afraid when I come back I’m going to find out that everything I’ve done has been for nothing, that I’ve labored in vain.”
They needed to know how to love each other. And that’s why this chapter is here. It isn’t long, 13 verses, but it’s really complete. It is not esoteric, it is very, very practical.
There are four parts to the chapter, the prominence of love, the perfections of love, the permanence of love, and the preeminence of love. And we’re going to work our way through those.
The prominence of love we already looked at in verses 1 to 3. Let me read it again. He says this, “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge and have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor. And if I surrender my body to be burned but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
There’s hyperbole here. These statements are rather extreme. He says, “If I can...if I can speak every human language, if I can talk...if I can have a conversation with angels in whatever language angels converse, if I...if I have the power to proclaim, if I know all mysteries, if I have all knowledge, if I have all faith, the ‘all’ there is the hyperbole in this.” Running it to extreme. “If I have everything that one could ever imagine to have in the spiritual realm and if I am so sacrificial that I voluntarily give up all my possessions to feed the poor and actually voluntarily give up my body to be burned, having done all of this, possessing all of this, I am absolutely nothing, I am profited nothing, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal without love.”
This is a powerful way to say that it doesn’t matter what else you have, if you don’t have love, you’re nothing...you’re nothing. So we looked at that last week, the prominence of love. Let’s look at the perfections of love.
He does not define love in abstracts. He describes it in action. He describes it in action. Verses 4 through 7. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous. Love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly. It does not seek its own, is not provoked. Does not take into account a wrong suffered. Does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Now there are the perfections of love.
In some English translations they appear as adjectives. That even is kind of how it is here. Love is patient, that’s an adjective. Love is kind, that’s an adjective. Love is not jealous, that’s a negative adjective. Actually the term “kind”, the term “patient,” and the term “jealous,” are all wrapped up in verbs because love can only be described in action. Love is a verb. And they’re all verbs here, all these descriptives. This is the spectrum of love, understood by how it acts, not by how it feels. That is the worse way to define love, really, as a feeling. That is not how you define biblical love. You might define some kinds of human love in that way, but not agape, not biblical love, not the kind of love that we as believers have received from the Spirit of God and are to demonstrate. There are fifteen characteristics of love that I just read to you and they are all pictures of love in action, love as a verb.
And so, here we’re going to see what love does, how it behaves. This is so very important again because in the Greek world everything was sort of ephemeral, everything was esoteric, everything was in the conceptual realm. Paul wants to get the readers who are used to that Greek philosophizing out of that realm and into the realm of life. The Holy Spirit has come into our lives, He has dispersed the love of God throughout our lives and it is to be made manifest under the influence of the Holy Spirit as a fruit of the Spirit, the first of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. That is to be what characterizes us and it will be visible only in action, only in action.
And again, I think it’s very helpful for us, and we’ll see this as we go, that Paul puts this picture of love in all its beauty like a flower with fifteen petals, against the dirt of the Corinthians’ behavior. And I hope that we can see the beauty of these characteristics of love perhaps against some of the dirt in our own behavior. And by the way, there was one and only one who could sit for this portrait. There is only one who ever lived in this world as a human being who is the perfect picture of love. And who’s that? Jesus Christ. So He sat for this magnificent portrait of love.
Now this is going to be very practical and you’re going to see this very simply and clearly, that is the intent of the Spirit of God. So let’s jump in and just take these as they come.
Love is patient...love is patient, makrothumeo...makrothumeo. Thumos is a word for anger.Makrothumeo is a word that comes to mean extreme patience, a sort of maximum experience before you ever get to anger. It actually became a word that means patience with people. It’s not about patience with experiences. It’s not about patience with personal pain. It’s patience with people. It describes the person who is extremely slow to anger, who virtually never ever gets angry no matter how people treat that person. The spirit that never explodes, the spirit that never retaliates, that never seeks vengeance, that never becomes hostile. By the way, this was not a virtue in the Greek world. It is never listed anywhere in any lists among the Greeks as a highly valued virtue. It wasn’t a virtue. On the contrary, Aristotle himself defined the great Greek virtue as this, “Refusal to tolerate any insult, any injury and readiness to strike back at any hurt. That, according to Aristotle, is a virtue.”
The man who did that was the big man among the Greeks, but not among the Christians. The Christian marked by love, loves in return when hurt, when insulted, when injured and when in a position that some might deem gives him a right to revenge, he never takes it. Some translate the word “long tempered,” patient in dealing with those who wrong us. The New Testament repeatedly tells us to function that way, 2 Corinthians 6:6, in patience, Ephesians 4:2, with patience, 1 Thessalonian 5:14, be patient with everyone. It’s the same exact concept. We are to tolerate whatever may come.
Certainly Jesus was patient with people, patient with the people even who rejected Him. But, of course, God is patient. The story of Israel is the record of God’s patient love toward a rebellious, disobedient, sinful and disloyal people. If God were at all impatient, Israel would have been destroyed and all promises cancelled long ago. If Christ were not patient, the church would have been put out of existence and all of us who have sinned against the very Christ who loves us would be assigned to condemnation. But God is patent, Christ is patient. God bore with the sins of His people, Christ bears with the sins of His people with our foolishness and our disobedient, God is loving. And the patience of God, as we learned a few weeks ago in Romans 2:4, is meant to lead us to repentance.
Romans 9:22 says, “God is even patient with vessels fitted unto destruction. This is a powerful, powerful feature of love and it is not weakness...it is not weakness. Anybody can cave in and get mad, anybody can cave in and retaliate, anybody can seek a pound of flesh, anybody can go for the throat, anybody can desire vengeance, but love forgives seventy times seven, seventy times a day. That’s what it means that love doesn’t retaliate, that love is patient.
Secondly, love is kind...love is kind. It gives benefits to others. So taking the first point and adding to it, not only does love not retaliate, it finds a way to extend kindness instead of vengeance. It grants benefits to others. It doesn’t seek to injure even its enemies, it seeks to love, it seeks to well-being of those who harm.
Now the context here is in the church, remember this, where offenses happen, Jesus said that, didn’t He? In this world offenses will come and they certainly come in the church. And they are to be received with love and love is patient and love is kind. The root for the word kind is useful...useful. It is a usefulness in behalf of someone else. The idea is not so much as sweet attitude, the idea is not so much a friendly disposition. The idea rather is that even though one is injured, even though one is mistreated, even though one is hurt or harmed, patience is exhibited and on top of patience usefulness is rendered on behalf of the offender, deeds of kindness that are useful to that person who has offended. Now wouldn’t that be a transformation of most churches? Offenses will happen where a church receives those offenses, individuals receive those offenses with long-suffering and patience and return useful goodness and kindness you have the kind of church that is obedient to these behaviors that are enjoined upon all of us.
Paul does not picture loving in ideal surroundings. He doesn’t picture it all in ideal surroundings. He doesn’t picture love in the realm of very close and intimate and long-term friendships. He doesn’t picture love in the realm of affection, but in the hard surroundings of a sinful, selfish, colliding group of sinners in a church who have all come out of a bad world and have all had bad influences on their already depraved souls, who are by nature selfish. And even though they have a new nature and long for holy things, the old is still resident. This is the atmosphere that we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about your best friend, we’re talking about all the people, all the sinners who collide in the life of the church. We are to demonstrate to one another kindness.
Our model again, Peter says 1 Peter 2:3, “If you’ve tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Do you think the Lord is pretty good at returning goodness for evil? Has there been any point in our salvation since we came to Christ that we have earned His favor? Isn’t it a constant forgiveness? Isn’t every good gift that He gives to His own a gift of grace? Is any of it merited? Do we deserve anything? Not now, not ever. That is why in Ephesians we must always remember that we have been given something that we will never ever deserve. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, we have been raised up with Him by grace, seated with Him in the heavenlies in Christ, that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us. Even heaven’s kindnesses will be by grace. We will not have earned them.
This is so different. Jesus said, you know, to the Jews in Matthew 11, “Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I’ll give you rest. Take My yoke and learn of Me for I am humble, and meek, I’m lowly, I’ll give you rest for your souls.” Coming to Christ is coming to the kindest of all. That’s why Titus 3 says, “And when the kindness of God, our Savior, appeared...”referring to the incarnation, the arrival of Christ. Our model, again, is the kindness of God. He is kind to everyone, Scripture says.
When Paul wanted to instruct the Ephesians about that, he said “Be kind to one another even as God for Christ’s...and forgive one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” The model of kindness again is God and God’s forgiveness and God’s outpoured grace to undeserving sinners. Churches flounder in division and discord and animosity and I tell you, folks, I thank the Lord that we don’t have that. In this time in our church, we have been blessed with loving people. It doesn’t mean we don’t need this continual instruction because we do. But we are so thankful for the love that is shared in this incredible church.
I remember reading years ago about two men going two directions on a precipice on a cliff, no doubt a parable invented by somebody. And they met. And the wall was on one side and the cliff was on the other and there was no way that they could pass, they tried every possible way to get by each other and they couldn’t, until one man lay on the ground and the other walked across him. And that’s the way it works in the church. Love is willingness to be walked on if it serves someone else. It’s not about a battle for your rights and what you think you deserve, but rather it’s a battle to see how useful you can be to others, even those who offend you.
Thirdly, love is not jealous. This is the first of eight negatives. Love is not jealous. Now that word has appeared in this same context, zeloo is the word from which we get the English derivative zeal. Where does it appear? Back in verse 31 of chapter 12 and I don’t think there’s any other way to understand this than an indictment. “But you are earnestly desiring the showy gifts and I show you still a more excellent way.” You are desirous of the showy gifts, but the word there is the verb translated jealous here.
What was going on in the Corinthian church was jealousy over spiritual gifts. The verb actually means to boil over and it refers to the boiling over of a selfish passion, a jealousy related to what someone else has and you don’t. This is how it was in the Corinthian church.
Go back to chapter 12 verse 15, in the analogy of the body, speaking of the church, Paul describes the kind of jealous conflict that was in that church. “If the foot says because I’m not a hand I’m not a part of the body, is it not for this reason any less a part of the body? If the ear says because I’m not an eye I’m not a part of the body, is it not for this reason any the less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were the hearing, where would the sense of smell be? God has placed the members, each one of them in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be?”
It goes on in verse 21, “The eye can’t say to the hand, I have no need of you, the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” And he goes on to describe this which is nothing more than an analogy of the conflict in that Corinthian church. They were fighting over which were the more or less honorable functions in the church, according to verse 23. And he indicts them for that. Verse 25 he says, “There should be no division in the body, but the members should have the same care for one another and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. If one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you’re Christ’s body.”
This is part of the ugliness of the Corinthian church. Now we come to verse 31 and what he says to them is, “You are jealous,” that’s the verb, “you are jealous for the showy gifts.” The prominent up-front things, in particular, those miraculous gifts of speaking in tongues. That was the big one...that was the big one. Gifts of healing, interpretation, as he mentions in verse 30. They were torn by dissension. They were torn by carnality already before you even got to the spiritual gifts, they were divided over Peter, Paul and Jesus, as we learned early in the book. They were fool of jealousy for the gifts. Solomon called that in Proverbs 14:30 rottenness of the bones. And Shakespeare used to call jealousy the green sickness.
Love looks at people’s gifts completely differently. When love sees someone who is popular, effective, fruitful, gifted, prosperous, loved, adored, appreciated...love is glad, love is glad. Jealousy hates the fact that that person is so gifted and so well received, and wants what that person has and then wants that person not to have it.
And so, jealousy burns in the heart and leads to carping criticism where behind the scenes the jealous person has to tear down the beloved and fruitful and faithful person, meanness of soul. And you really can’t sink lower than that, folks. You can’t sink lower than that.
I always think about Philippians chapter 1, turn to it, as an illustration of one who was not jealous. It’s my ministry hero, the Apostle Paul. And he’s writing what is called a prison epistle from jail. He is in jail. It’s a horrendous place. I’ve been to the traditional site of that jail in the city of Rome in the main part of the restored old center of the city. It is a place that was a pit in the ground with the city sewage running by, occasionally they opened a flue and let the sewage drown the prisoners and haul the dead bodies out and put a new batch in. Not a very nice place to be.
Paul is there. And there are some people who are saying, “Well, yup, Paul got what he deserved. He must have secret sin, the Lord put him in jail. The Lord shut him down. His day is over. He’s irrelevant. He’s out of touch. If we only knew the truth, secret sin.
Who would say that? Who would ever say that about Paul? Oh I hate to say it, folks, but all over the place in the Gentile churches there were young would-be preachers who were...are you ready for this… Jealous of Paul. And they wanted to believe that he was actually in jail because he deserved to be in jail. That somehow he had discredited himself and the Lord had to put him on the shelf. And so in verse 15 he says, “Some to be sure are preaching Christ even from jealousy and strife and some others from good will. Some preachers are jealous of me and some only good will toward me.” They see this as God-ordained imprisonment, for the expansion of the gospel, which is what it was. The latter, he says, “Do it out of...what?...what does it say in verse 16?...out of love.” They love. They’re not jealous. They know I’m appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former, the envious jealous ones, they proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives and they want to cause me distress in my imprisonment. They want to add to my suffering.
It’s so sad to think about that because all of those preachers who were carrying that kind of attitude toward Paul were doing what they were doing because of him, right? Wasn’t he the one that God used to establish the Gentile church everywhere? They were related to him spiritually. They were either his spiritual children or his spiritual nephews, or grandchildren. How in the world could they be so jealous of this faithful man of God, so greatly gifted, so greatly blessed and yet who suffered to greatly? How could they possibly spread terrible rumors about him, adding pain to his already severe suffering? But there always there. I’ve seen them my whole life.
What was Paul’s response? I love this, verse 18, this has been a great lesson for me. “So what,” that’s what what then means...so what? “Only that in every way whether in pretense or in truth Christ is preached and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, just in case you think you can talk me out of it.” Paul is saying, “I’m content to be outdone by others as long as Christ is preached, I don’t care. It’s sinful to say what they say about me. It’s distressing to hear what they say about me. But they preach Christ and in that I rejoice.”
Here were these young preachers who wanted to be in the limelight where Paul was and they were discrediting Paul behind his back. And even that couldn’t make him angry. Jealousy is a terrible thing. It won’t destroy Paul, but it will destroy the jealous lesser man. It’s a root of bitterness that is destructive. Out of jealousy, Eve at the fruit wanting to be like God. Out of jealousy, Cain killed Abel. Out of jealousy Joseph is sold into Egypt by his brothers. Out of jealousy the older brother wouldn’t go to the party when the prodigal came home. Luke 15:28 says, “He was angry and he wouldn’t go in.” Jealousy is a horrible thing. It eats away at the soul. Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is outrageous, who is able to stand before jealousy?” You can’t survive it.
Envy and jealousy is a hatred without a cure...it’s a hatred without a cure. Listen to James 3:14, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.” It is absolutely inevitable that if you’re jealous, you lie....you lie. About what? About whoever it is that you want to replace. You’re in the business of tearing down. And you can lose control because in the next section in James 3, James reminds us that this jealousy is not a heavenly virtue. Oh you can try to paint yourself as some virtuous person but this jealousy that is arrogant, driven by selfish ambition that lies against the truth is not that which comes down from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. Chaos will reign. Why? Because jealous people lie and lies create chaos everywhere. And it’s not heavenly chaos.
Envy produces bitterness. Bitterness produces hatred. Hatred produces lies. Lies produce strive and chaos, undermine the work of God.
A loving person, on the other hand, rejoices in everybody else’s success, rejoices in everybody else’s giftedness, celebrates when others do the same thing he does better. That’s a test, isn’t it?
When I was a kid and grew up, I used to think that when Satan fell, he landed in the choir loft because there were so many people in the choir who were mad all the time because they didn’t get to sing solos. I remember Dr. Crisswell in Dallas First Baptist Church many years ago, of course, before he went to be with the Lord, got so tired of the people moaning and crying about the fact that they never got to sing in church, that he had one Sunday night a year called “Solo Night” and anybody could come and sing one verse of anything. And he just paraded them across the platform and got rid of it all on one Sunday night theoretically.
There’s only one thing that can save you from envy and that’s love. Only one thing can save you from jealousy and that’s love. Only one thing can save you from being unkind and impatient and that’s love.
A fourth, and we’ve already indicated this in the passage in James and in Philippians that jealousy and selfish ambition go together. So the fourth one, back to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the fourth aspect of love that we see here is love does not brag...does not brag. That would be connected, wouldn’t it be, to selfish ambition. It’s a very picturesque word. It is perpereuotai(?). Maybe it’s a little bit onomatopoetic because it means a windbag, a blowhard, and it’s only here in the New Testament. It’s not talking so much about an inner attitude, gets all the way to the action. That’s what we’re talking about here is actions not so much attitudes. This is the arrogant person. This is the windbag. This is the person who brags.
Again we’re not talking about inner attitude here, we’re talking about the effect of a selfish ambition, baseless chatter that elevates oneself and depresses and denigrates others. This is the braggart, the showoff. This is the one who always calculates everything to make himself look good and you look bad. There’s no love in that...none whatsoever.
But that is exactly what was going on in the Corinthian church. It was just tragic. There were people trying to elevate themselves because they resented the gifts that others had and they were motivated and driven by their own selfish ambition to become braggarts. That’s why they were jealous, verse 31, for the showy gifts. That’s why, you know, if they weren’t going to get the eye or the face in the body, something visible, something...to borrow the word that..the old English word...comely, then they weren’t going to participate. “If I can’t be this, I’m not going to be a part of it, after all, I’m this and I’m that and these are my abilities.” This is just a blowhard, the boastful person who can only see himself and not beyond himself...self-centeredness.
C.S. Lewis said that this is the greatest sin, the essential vice behind all sins, self-centeredness, the voice of conceit and conceit is the child of pride. Only love can save us from flaunting ourselves...flaunting our knowledge, flaunting our accomplishments, flaunting our ability, flaunting our gifts.
And there’s more. There’s a fifth that goes with it. It says it, “Love is not arrogant, it doesn’t brag, it’s not arrogant.” And it uses another word. This one is onomatopoetic, phusioo, phusioo, to puff like a bellow. Again this is the braggart.
There was a great composer in Italy by the name of Moscanni(?), he wrote an opera called “The Masks.” Here is the dedication, I always loved this. Here is the dedication that Moscanni gave to his opera. “To myself with distinguished esteem and unalterable satisfaction.” I think he had a problem. I think the story goes that he one time was asked to conduct with another more famous and more accomplished composer in Italy. He was to conduct a Verdi, portions of Verdi concert and he met with the people who were providing this opportunity for him, and he said, “I will do this one with proviso, you pay me more than the other conductor who was Toscanini. Pay me more than Toscanini,” and he signed the contract and they agreed to it.
After the concert was over, they gave him one lira, Toscanini did it for nothing. What a commentary on the misery of a loveless soul, huh? Nobody left to dedicate anything to but himself. How lonely is that world? If you want to isolate yourself, that’s the way to do it, just convince yourself that you’re better than everybody else, more important than everybody else, become a blowhard, arrogant braggart and you’ll eventually be alone...you’ll be alone. Inner arrogance and braggadocio do not demonstrate love.
One of the interesting parts of the biography of William Carey was that William Carey was in India translating the Bible into 34 ;languages...how about that? Began life as a cobbler, not the kind of cobbler you eat, but he was a cobbler, he fixed shoes. And he was invited to some kind of uppity dinner party and somebody there was snobbish enough to want to humiliate him. And he said, “Mr. Carey, I hear that you worked as a shoemaker.” Which he is to have replied. “Oh no, sir, I was never a shoemaker, I was only a cobbler. I didn’t make them, I just repaired them.”
One would do well to speak like that of oneself. John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease,” John 3:30. Love is the only hope for the Corinthians. It’s the only thing that’s going to transform that church. It’s the only hope for any church. It’s the only hope for us. Love which is far superior to human eloquence, superior to angelic eloquence, superior to spiritual knowledge, superior to transcendent truth, mysteries, superior to faith, superior to self-sacrifice, superior to martyrdom, superior to all of it. It is patient. It is kind. It is the only power in the world that can save us from the stupid swagger of arrogance and bragging in the indulgence of the sneers of envy and jealousy. And it’s what must mark Christians...it must mark us. And for all those glimpses of that kind of love that I experience in this church, I am so deeply grateful. The Lord has done a wonderful work in your heart as a church. And I...I know when people come here they expect only to experience preaching and theology and they go away talking about the love that you show one another and them, and even your shepherds and your pastors.
Well, we’re five in to fifteen. But let’s stop there and we’ll cover the rest, or some of the rest next time.
Let’s open the Word of God to chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. We’re talking about the perfections of love...the perfections of love. This particular chapter is about how Christians love each other. It’s not so much about loving God, it’s not so much about husbands loving your wives, or wives loving your husbands, although all these characteristics of love apply to every single relationship. This is more about loving in the church, loving in the life of the church. The whole 1 Corinthian letter is about conduct in the church, about how you act in the church, about how you conduct your behavior among fellow believers.
This chapter is notable, concise, profound, rich, complete and very familiar to us. But I want to read it again because I always want you to know this chapter and have it accessible in your memory.
“If I speak with the tongues and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clinging...clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly. It does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away. If there are tongues, or languages, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Love is the greatest reality then in the life of the church. It is, and should be, the dominating attitude in the church’s life. That’s why chapter 14 verse 1 begins, really perhaps should be the last word of chapter 13, “Pursue love...pursue love.” Go after love with all your powers, all your faculties. This is absolutely essential.
If you are a believer, you have been given from God this capacity. First Thessalonians 4:9, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. For indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” You’ve been taught to love, you do practice it, do more of it. That’s my message to you. The love of Christ has been shred abroad in your hearts, you do love because you’ve been equipped by the Spirit of God to love. You are practicing that love, excel even more.
Paul lifts up the beauty and the necessity of love in this chapter. He talks about the prominence of love, which we looked at in verses 1 through 3, and then the perfections of love, and then the permanence of love, and finally a word about the preeminence of love in verse 13. Now we’re looking at verses 4 to 7, the perfections of love. And while all the “is” verbs here might lend you to think that patient, kind, not jealous, etc., are nouns, they are, in fact, verbs because love is always expressed in action. So you have basically fifteen characteristics of love in action. You can’t define love statically, you can only define it by what it does. The Bible never defines love as a feeling, it is an action that obviously reveals an underlying feeling. Love is absolutely necessary. Here its beauty and its excellence is unfolded. We saw its necessity in the opening three verses, now we see its character, its attributes.
Now remember, these attributes of love are painted against a backdrop of a very unloving congregation, the Corinthian Church. There were all kinds of, I guess you could say spiritual character deformities. They were born into the Kingdom of God. They were born as the children if God but they had some genetic defects that remained. They had some birth defects, you might say, carried over from their former life. And if anything marked this church, it was strife and chaos and conflict and harming one another. And the Apostle Paul says it’s time to replace all of that with love. And so he begins to define for them how love behaves.
And this is what we’ve already looked at. Love is patient, verse 4, patient with people is the Greek verb, emphasizing the fact that we’re talking here about relationships in the church. To say that you’re patient means that you’re slow to become angry, you’re slow to become frustrated when dealing with troublesome people, difficult people. You are long tempered would be another old word, or old phrase to describe this. Patient with people which embraces forgiveness, tolerance, understanding.
Secondly, love is kind to people. And the word actually means, as we pointed out last time, useful. You find ways to be useful. Kindness is not something superficial. Kindness is finding ways to render useful service to someone else maybe, it’s comfort. Maybe it’s encouragement. Maybe it’s knowledge. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s companionship. Even with those who have wronged you, or those who are distant from you, or critical of you, love is useful, it finds ways to minister to people no matter who they are, even if they tax one’s patience.
Thirdly, love does not envy. It is not jealous of other people. This is the first of eight negatives. It doesn’t compete. It doesn’t resent. It doesn’t become bitter. It doesn’t hate other people, their success, their place in life, their looks, their possessions, their position. It rejoices in everything that others have, even if the one loving has very little. It is not jealous because if you love someone, you don’t wish that you had what they have and they didn’t have it. You don’t have those kind of thoughts toward people you love. People you love, you wish they had everything, every possible good things, blessed thing. And the more they have, the happier you are because that’s how love behaves.
Number four, love does not brag. And the word here is the word for a windbag. It’s not a blowhard. Outward bragging is designed to make people feel inferior. The reason you parade your accomplishments, your achievements, tell the stories that you tell so very often when you brag is because you want other people to feel inferior to you. You seek public accolades. You want to be the one who is one step above others. Jealousy wants what others have. Arrogant, boasting, bragging is calculated to cause others to want what you have. Say that again. Jealousy wants what others have; bragging wants to make others want to have what you have. Either of those is an attitude of love.
And then number five, we talked about love is not arrogant. Arrogant is the driving motivation behind the bragging. It’s a high opinion of oneself, conceit. And this is so foundational that I will put it in a positive sentence. Only humble people love...only humble people love. Arrogant people do not love, they’re not interested in other people’s issues, they’re not interested in other people’s lives. They do not desire to be patient with them. They don’t care about being useful to them. They’re more than happy to brag endlessly in front of them because they are consumed with themselves. Only humble people love.
Now that brings us to number six. Love does not act unbecomingly, verse 5, does not act unbecomingly. That’s an old word. This is a verb, aschemosune and it means to behave dishonorably. Love does not behave dishonorably, inappropriately, ill-mannered. This is a big word, broad word, ill-mannered, rude...rude.
But more than that. This same word is used in Romans chapter 1 and verse 27 to speak of something beyond rude. It is in that verse speaking of homosexuality, men with men committing indecent acts, receiving the due penalty of their error. This is rudeness gone to its ultimate limit.
Rudeness is disdained for someone else. Being ill-mannered is disdained for someone else. And sexual sin and sexual perverted sin is the ultimate disdain for the person that you use for that gratification. Love doesn’t do that. It doesn’t do that. The actual root of the verb means to be shapeless or to have no form . It is kind of outrageous behavior, out of line behavior, out of order behavior. And it was going on in the Corinthian Church. The women were out of order, as chapter 11 points out. The congregation was out of order at the Lord’s Table and at the Love Feast, acting selfishly and even engaging in drunkenness. Others in the congregation were out of order morally. There was a story given in chapter 5 that is one of the ugliest accounts in the life of the church where someone has his father’s wife, that’s involved in a sexual relationship with a mother or a step-mother. It goes on in chapter 5 to talk about that and in to chapter 6 to talk about it, and in to chapter 7 to talk about immoral behavior. And some of them were joining themselves to harlots and prostitutes. There was also unbecoming behavior even in the worship services.
In verse 23 of chapter 14, “If the whole church assembles together and all speak in languages, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, they’re going to say you’re crazy, you’re mad. When they came together in the church, it was one up, everybody was rudely trying to top the other person with his ecstatic gift. This carried on in that chapter in to verse 26, “When you assemble, everybody has a Psalm, everybody has a teaching, everybody has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” Stop the madness. Everybody was trying to outdo everybody else. It was a cacophony of ridiculous behavior. And he brings it into order. If you’re going to speak in a language, only two, at the most three, each in turn, one must interpret. If there’s no interpreter, then stay silent. Only two or three prophets. The others can pass judgment on that.
Why? Verse 33, “God is not the author of what? Confusion. He is the author of peace as in all the churches of the saints. Women, keep silent in the churches. They’re not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for its improper for a woman to speak in church. Verse 37, “If anyone thinks he’s a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things that I write to you are the Lord’s commands. And if anyone doesn’t recognize this, he’s not recognized. Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy. Do not forbid to speak in languages, but all things must be done...what?...properly, decently, and in an orderly manner.”
This is the opposite of love. Everybody vying for the prominence. Goes back to 12, you know, there were...in the body metaphor, there were people saying, “If I’m not the nose and the eyes and the face, I’m not going to function.” That was the attitude metaphorically speaking. Lovelessness is disdainful of others. It is contemptuous of others. It is rude to others. It is ill-mannered to others. It speaks diffidently or unkindly to others.
It goes beyond that. It is more than rude, it will use others for its own gratification even to the perverted level of sexual sin, such as we saw in Romans, and it will go into a worship service and turn that worship service into a circus of chaos and confusion as dominating egos collide with one another, everybody pushing themselves into the central place. It s the opposite of what is orderly, what is well-mannered, what is tender. They needed behavior that was euschemon, that’s the opposite verb, contrasting verb. And that verb means well-formed. And that is the one used in verse 40, decently and in order, well-formed...the opposite verb. Love behaves graciously, not gracelessly. It treats all with a redeeming deference. There’s no thought of self but only of others. And the only thought is what is fitting, what is suitable, what is honorable, what is elevating, never demands satisfaction for self, is never rude or corrupt at the expense of others.
You could sum it up by saying, “Love yields all personal rights.” And I’m back to what I said before, only human people love. So what do we know from this point? Love can save us from the bitter sneer of envy, on the one hand. And the ridiculous swagger of arrogance on the other. It can also save us from the inner tendency to be inflated with our own importance, leading to rudeness and even corruption. It can save us from the tendency to behave without grace and be contemptuous of the feelings and the place of others. Love is patient and kind and not jealous, and not bragging, and not arrogant, and never rude.
Number seven, love...back to verse 5 again...love does not seek its own. It is not self-seeking, okay? True love is always unselfish. That’s...that’s essential what it is, what love is. Selfishness lies at the root of lovelessness. One commentator said, “Cure selfishness and you plant a garden of Eden.” This is love. Love is utter selflessness. That’s such a beautiful, beautiful, to be completely indifferent to yourself.
Over in chapter 14 and verse 12, there are some instruction that it’s okay to be zealous of spiritual things, or spiritual gifts, but seek to abound for the edification of the church. Love, even when it acts, acts on behalf of others. It is edifying. The word means to build up others. Love doesn’t seek to build up itself, that’s not love. Self-elevation is the opposite of love. Love is unselfish, never demands precedence, never demands recognition, never demands applause, doesn’t demand consideration, doesn’t care whether it’s honored, whether it’s elevated. Love is deep, never dwells on what life owes it. It is selfless.
This is such a beautiful thing. And as I said, only humble people love, so this is at the heart of it. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” What’s the Law of Christ? The Law of love. How do you love? Be bearing others burdens.
Jesus, all the way from Bethlehem to Calvary, by the way, never insisted on His own way, never insisted on His own rights. He lost Himself in the lives of others, as we read this morning in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, but He’s come not to be served, but to serve.” And He will serve all the way to death.
All the way through His life He said, “I do what the Father tells Me to do. I don’t do My own will, I do what the Father wills for Me to do.” And there in the Garden He says, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” Love always and only thinks of others. It is consumed with others and utterly indifferent to its own self.
Number eight, love is not provoked...love is not provoked. This comes from a Greek word from which we get our English word paroxysm. Have you heard the word paroxysm? If I gave you an opportunity to take a quiz and write it down, you might struggle a little bit. It really means a sudden outburst...a sudden outburst, an explosion. It is used a few times in the New Testament and the places where it’s used and the way it is used give us insight into its meaning.
Let me see if I can find one of those. In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul arrives at Athens and he intended to rest there from the difficulties of his prior meetings. But in verse 16 of Acts 17, while he was waiting for his friends, Silas and Timothy, to join him, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. The exact same word. Paroxysm comes from a sudden outburst, it means to be upset, it means to be irritated.
Now in that case in Acts 17, it was a good paroxysm, it was a good kind of upset, it was a good kind of irritation because he was irritated about the idols. He was agitated about the condition of the city and the false religion. And here it is a righteous kind of provocation, the kind of provocation that caused Jesus to make a whip and clean the temple twice...at the beginning and end of His ministry.
So there are times and places for paroxysms of righteous indignation. We all understand that. We all know that. There’s a time for holy anger, for righteous wrath. That is true of even God.
But apart from that, apart from having your soul stirred by ungodliness and what brings shame upon the name of Christ, and what attempts to diminish the glory of God and undermine the truth of Scripture, and those things that produce righteous anger, love is not made so anger...so angry over personal offenses. Paul never retaliated to all the injuries that came to him. He was angry over what was being done religiously against God. He was angry over the blaspheming of God. But you will never find a parallel where he’s angry over the way he was treated. He shows some anger toward the high priest, doesn’t he, at the end of the book of Acts. The one who has usurped the place of authority that doesn’t belong to him, there’s a place for, I guess you could call it, righteous exasperation. And if I may be honest with you, I live with a measure of it all the time...all the time.
There are things going on in the world that vex my righteous passions. I understand Henry Martin going to India and attending one of the occasions of worship in a Hindu temple and running out of the place, this great missionary and being so distraught that he wrote in his journal, “I cannot endure existence if Jesus is always to be so dishonored.” I understand that.
I understand the horror of false prophets misrepresenting the name of Christ. And they’re everywhere, all over the place. I understand that.
And I always want to be zealous for the name of God. But when it comes to personal things, love bears all injuries suffered at the hands of others without exasperation and without irritation. Be angry over the mistreatment of the glorious name of Christ. Be angry over those who misrepresent Him. Be angry over those who espouse lies in the name of Scripture. Specious, deadly, damning heresies, be angry over those things. Maintain your righteous indignation. Be angry over the influence those people have on poor, benighted, blinded souls.
But when somebody in the church offends you, or when your spouse offends you in some way, don’t be angry. Don’t be provoked. Don’t burst out in a paroxysm, an outburst against another person no matter what they’ve done. To be sensitive to the offenses against God is a spiritual virtue. To be hyper-sensitive to the offenses that other people bring to bear on your life is an expression of sinfulness. And if it leads to some kind of uncontrollable conduct where you lose your temper, where you get bitter and angry, or where you burst out, you should see it for what it is...sin.
You say, “Well wait a minute. They did it...they did something to me that was wrong.” That’s exactly the point. What they do to Christ will cause righteous indignation. What they do to you will only cause unrighteous indignation if you do not love the person and overpower the wrong.
That’s why the Bible says, “Be angry and sin not.” There’s a kind of anger that isn’t sinning and it’s the kind of anger that we’ve described as righteous indignation. There are some Christians who are just...they’re just easily angered, irritated, exasperated, sometimes defiant. I think righteous anger..we wouldn’t be where we are without it. What would Martin Luther have been without righteous anger? Or any other Reformer? Or any other great leader when they had to stand before tribunals for their faith in Jesus Christ and they had to bring down the whole ungodly, blasphemous system, crashing. And they wouldn’t budge, it was out of a holy anger that they did that.
But to be provoked and to be irritated and angered by little things that people do, kills love and poisons life. And love is the only cure for irritability. Irritability is simply a manifestation of self-centeredness. There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, the famous Jonathan Edwards who became the third president of Princeton at the end of his life, one of history’s greatest preachers, as we all know. He had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. A young man fell in love with her and came to Jonathan Edwards and said, “I want to marry your daughter.”
“You can’t have her,” he said and it was an abrupt answer. “You cannot have her.”
“But I love her,” the young man pleaded.
“You still can’t have her,” Edwards repeated.
“But she loves me,” replied the young man.
And again Edwards rejected his request.
And the young man said, “Why?”
And Edwards said, “Because she’s not worthy of you.”
“But,” he said, “she’s a Christian, isn’t she?”
To which Edwards replied, “Yes, she is a Christian but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else should ever live.” Jonathan Edwards had a lot of integrity and produced one old maid.
Number nine, number nine...we have been looking at these and they’re so basic and so straightforward. This one is very important. “Does not take into account a wrong suffered...does not take into account a wrong suffered.” And we’re in the same zone here, aren’t we? These are overlapping realities. This is the concept.
The first concept, we just talked about, was not blowing up. And this follows up not holding a long-term grudge. This...this is so very important. This is the attitude of not holding a wrong doer permanently accountable for some injury done. In fact, some of the more freewheeling translations which say “Love doesn’t keep records of wrongs done. Love doesn’t maintain and accounting of every time it is wrong.”
Chrysostom...John Chrysostom said, “As a spark falls into the sea and doesn’t harm the sea, so harm may be done to a loving soul and is soon quenched without ever disturbing that soul.” This is pardon, rather than holding a grudge. You don’t blow up when you’re injured. Love doesn’t do that. Love forgives. And you don’t hold a long-term grudge, this is a word that has to do with accounting. It’s an accountant’s word. Love doesn’t keep records. Oh my, lots of people do, becomes what the writer of Hebrews calls a root of bitterness.
And by the way, this word here, this accounting word here is the very verb used to describe the pardoning work of God, He does not impute our sins to us. What happens when you’re saved is indicated in Psalm 32:2 and repeated in Romans 4:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:19, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute...what?...iniquity.” It’s the same word used in the New Testament, doesn’t keep a record of your sin. He’s a pardoning God, and that’s why it tells us in the Old Testament, “Who is a pardoning God like You?” Who is a pardoning God like You?, Micah 7...who doesn’t hold on to the record. What do we learn about when you come to salvation? “Your sins are removed as far as the east is from the west,” right?, “buried in the depths of the sea and remembered no more.” This is the model of love, this is love. It doesn’t hold others accountable for evil. It doesn’t impute their sin to them and thus it doesn’t produce long-term resentment. It’s actually the word for recording an item in a ledger so it will always be in the record.
Love doesn’t keep books. It doesn’t keep records. It doesn’t recite all the wrongs done. It doesn’t keep a mental record of all the offenses until the proverbial molehill becomes a mountain. And that molehill of resentment becomes a mountain of hostility.
I was reading some years ago about a tribe of people living in the South Pacific who made a virtue out of resentment, and it was customary for every man to keep reminders of hateful deeds done against him. Articles were suspended from the roofs of their huts to keep alive the memory of those who had wronged them.
Love never does that. Never makes memories out of wrong. It never rehearses and rehearses and rehearses and rehearses until they’re so embedded that you can’t live your life freely. Love is unable to do this.
Then Paul gives us the last of the eight negative aspects. There’s a few of them here to make up the eight. Let’s consider number ten in the list of fifteen. This is so basic. We’re now in to verse 6, “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, or in iniquity.” It’s really all too characteristic of human nature, can you believe this, to take pleasure in other people’s sins? Wow! You know, we live in a culture that is fed with salacious material about other people’s wretchedness, isn’t it? And in a bizarre kind of way, we like that stuff because it makes us feel good about ourselves because we’re not extreme perverts and mass murderers.
And it even gets closer to home. We love to gossip about other people who in our minds are worse than we are. And so we find some kind of bizarre satisfaction in the iniquities of other people because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We can always find people whose sins are different than ours. That’s part of being human and it comes into the life of the church.
And how sad it is. What’s behind gossip? We ought to hate gossip.
I’ve been asked through the years if speaking in tongues was a big issue to me. Well it is an issue in the Bible and we don’t do that here and we don’t feel that it’s for today. But it’s a small issue, it’s a minor issue compared to gossip. If you have your choice? Speak in tongues all you want day and night because nobody is going to know what in the world you’re doing. But as soon as you make sense with the words, then we all get it. Much worse. And the salacious sin in gossip is self-promotion by relishing the falling of others, the iniquity of others. That’s not loving. Nothing loving about it, love doesn’t do that. And controlling the tongue in that way is what is in James’ mind when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways,” James 3:2, “if anyone doesn’t stumble in what he says, he’s a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body as well.” Everybody’s going to stumble with the tongue. But if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.
Look at the ships also. They’re so great and drive by strong winds and they’re still directed by a very strong rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires, so also the tongue is a small part of the body and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire? And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity. The tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body. It sets on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell. For every species of bird and beast and reptile and creatures of the sea is tamed and has been tamed by the human race, but no one can contain the tongue, it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of God, from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water and a fig tree, my brethren, or a vine produce figs, nor can salt water produce fresh. Get control of your tongue.
How do you do that? Love does that. Love does that. Love controls your tongue. Love prevents you from a salacious way gloating over the iniquities of other people because you don’t like them anyway, because they did something to you, or because it makes you feel more virtuous because you have sins that fit into a different category all together. Love doesn’t do that. Never rejoices in iniquity.
Certainly it couldn’t, and here’s why, how could any Christian ever rejoice in any case over something that offends God? Get a perspective. Love finds no satisfaction in passing on somebody else’s iniquities, rehearsing somebody else’s iniquities, parading somebody else’s iniquities to further offend God.
Number eleven, love rejoices with the truth. How important is this? The Old Testament says God hates a liar, right? God hates a liar. Love tells the truth and it rejoices to tell the truth.
Another way to see this, and there are lots of ways to see it, it’s a very broad statement, love is honest. Love is honest. It doesn’t lie to flatter. It doesn’t lie to falsely protect. It loves truth, it rejoices in truth. It will always speak the truth. It will celebrate the truthfulness, the honesty, the integrity of others. Does this refer to doctrinal truth? Sure. Biblical truth? Of course, knowing it, living it, loving it.
But it’s more than that. We’re talking about behavior here, we’re not talking about theology. You can’t inject that in the middle of all of this. What this is telling us is loving people tell the truth because telling the truth builds strong relationships, telling lies destroys relationships. It cares for the truth. It loves the truth. It upholds the truth. It speaks the truth.
Sometimes the truth is painful but we speak the truth in love, right? Ephesians 4. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth, but it’s always best to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is encouraging and comforting and winsome and brings a benediction. And sometimes the truth is convicting and painful and brings a condemnation. But loving people always speak the truth.
Back to the old story, if the house is on fire and the children are sitting in the house and don’t know the house is burning, the most loving thing you can do is break down the front door and scream, ”Fire,” and create panic and get them out of there. Maybe it’s an offensive message but it just happens to deliver reality and that’s what love does, it is always truthful because when you tell the truth, you have genuine relationships. When you lie either flattering people to achieve an artificial relationship, or confronting people over sinful issues in a judgmental harsh, brutal kind of self-serving way, you destroy relationships. But when you speak the truth with love and when you’re known as a truthful person, you will also be known as a loving person.
Well, we then come to the last four and like a consummating ascending summary of the attitudes of everything we’ve seen, this beautiful verse 7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Almost musical, isn’t it? Lyrical. This is the first of glorious positives. Love bears all things. It means to cover with silence, to cover with silence. Love suppresses. It doesn’t mean that love puts up with anything, we’ve already said that. It doesn’t mean that love won’t confront, love is truthful. But what it does mean is that out of genuine, passionate, honest, legitimate concern for the value of another person for the real worth of that other person, love will do everything it can to cover the weakness...cover the failing, to cover the sin.
Love is reluctant to drag a person into scandal in front of everybody else. It bears all things, not in the sense of putting up with everything, but in the sense of being disposed to cover the ugliness rather than make sure everybody knows about it. How hard we work to teach our children not to tattle, to expose every evil, better done by siblings. We teach them to love because it’s a hard thing to teach because it’s not natural. It’s natural to make yourself feel better about yourself by exposing all that’s bad about the people around you. When a spouse can do nothing but broadcast the faults of his or her partner, that’s not love because love covers. In fact, 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Great verse, isn’t it? Love covers a multitude of sins. Love throws a kindly mantle over the faults, a kindly covering over the weaknesses and failures.
With the Corinthians, they were just waiting to expose somebody. Love dismisses the sins of those in view of its affections. It doesn’t pounce on them. It doesn’t proclaim them. Love warns, yes; it exhorts; yes, it rebukes; yes; and it covers. Beautiful characteristic and it should be part of all of our lives to live that way.
Well, number thirteen, love believes all things...love believes all things. What are we saying here? Love is not suspicious, it just believes the best. It is not suspicious. It is not always eager to pounce and denounce some offender, always suspicious, always assuming the worst. It doesn’t go through life with cynical suspicion, it goes through life believing the best because love seeks the best so strongly.
You can tell whether somebody loves you. This is one of the ways. If in spite of your failures they believe what you say because they love you, they want so much to believe you. Literally you will find that what you believe about a person eventually will shape that person, either a positive, affirming, honest person, or a defensive, dishonest person. Nothing is more loveless than suspicion, the eagerness to believe what is bad. Assuming things to be true that aren’t true, being judgmental, unloving. That’s arrogance. Love is eager to believe the best. Poor old Job, huh? His friends all believed the worst and he had a hard time convincing them they were all wrong. So love covers the worst and believes the best.
Number 14, love hopes all things. As long as the grace of God is operative in the person, you never give up. You like that? Never give up. Love is fully optimistic, it just keeps on hoping, keeps on hoping. And what is that hope in? Not in the person but in the Lord. As long as the grace of God is operative, human failure is never final.
Look, I’ve lived my life long enough to have to put this into practice with people very close to me. And I will promise you that I’m very optimistic and the failures may be great, but they’re never final and the Holy Spirit is always in the process of sanctifying someone. That’s why Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy-times-seven, because we’re all in process. Love is fully optimistic, it keeps loving because it keeps hoping, even when trust is stunned.
No, I promise you, you batter trust to a pulp and hope will fade to a small glimmer. I’ve talked to wives who want to hope because they love a man who has literally taken the flame of trust down to a tiny flicker. They don’t know if they can and it’s a long way to restore that trust. But there seems to be where Christ is involved always a flicker of hope. It doesn’t mean you run back into the relationship until the trust has been rebuilt, but love hopes. I confess, I’m somewhat hopelessly optimistic, always wanting to believe the best, no matter how bad things appear. When clouds of doubt and despair settle over our lives and we think it’s as bad as it can be, for those we love they will be the objects of our hope. And sometimes hope is the only thing that can rescue a person from a long series of sinful behaviors.
And finally, love endures all things. Love endures all things. That’s final. What does that mean? Can’t kill it, you cannot kill it. Endures all things, that’s comprehensive. “Endures” is a military term, its roots are in the military. It sustains...the idea is, endures means to sustain. It’s a quality that sustains a soldier in the face of violent battle. This is not minor annoyance here. It’s not the word. This is a word for life and death, horrible opposition, violence, persecution, suffering. Love survives all that. It just doesn’t die, never really gives up. It endures through everything.
This is the crescendo of love. Love bears all hurts and wounds and disappointments, believing the best about others in spite of the wounds, gently throwing a mantle over their faults. And when the believing is betrayed, love still hopes because God is still God. And when hope seems lost, love still endures with triumphant confidence that the God who is still God is still sovereign and still able. Love just holds on. Love is never totally overwhelmed, never, no matter how many disappointments.
George Matheson loved a girl, deeply loved a girl and he started to go blind. And she told him she could never be married to a blind man. And so he penned his feelings, his broken-hearted feelings. He wrote in his prayers these words, “Not with dumb resignation but with wholly joy, not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise.” He praised God because even she couldn’t kill his love. And then he wrote this familiar hymn. “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul on Thee, I give Thee back the life I owe that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”
He had known a human love that let him go. But he would rest in the love of God which would never release its grip. We who have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts have that kind of love. It endures. It survives. It is unconquerable. It can be wounded to the bone, but it will endure. This is how we should be known. This is how we should live. How can I apply it in my life? Acknowledge it as a command, agree that you have the capacity from God to love this way. Understand that it’s not the unusual kind of Christian living but the norm. Realize that it is the Spirit’s work and go do it.
Father, it’s so refreshing to drag our weak and sinful hearts through these truths and be reminded again of how it is that we are to live and love. I thank you for the love that we know here in our church. Thank You for the love that is shed abroad in our hearts and shed abroad from person to person in the life of the church. Thank You for its durability, its undying properties, its largess, its greatness. Thank You for its depth. And we understand it to be supernatural. It’s a gift from You. It’s not human. Help us to live in love. We love, we’ve been taught by You to love. We practice that love as the Thessalonians said, “Help us to excel still more.” Starting in our own homes, in our own closest family relationships and spreading from there. Fill this church with love, may it be known for that and may You be honored thereby, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen....Amen.