Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Test of Love
Test series–1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Love is not a feeling. We have got to learn to get past our emotions to the meaning of the word. Love is not a feeling that we can lose or throw away. Lord, give us the courage to live it each and every day. It has been said that “love makes the world go ’round.” Love doesn’t make the world go ’round–If anything, love makes the ride worthwhile. Some have said love is a feeling that you feel when you’re gonna get a feeling that you have never felt before.
A frustrated Christian wrote to his gal that, “Love is two consonants–L and V, two vowels–O and E, and two fools–you and me.” When we think of love or speak to anybody about love, everybody is an expert on love. But are you not amazed on how confused everyone is over love and being loved? Love is a universal need for everyone who has ever taken a breath, yet so few understand what real love is. Few understand the meaning of the word. Your confusion begins when you define the word love as the strong emotions you feel.
The Greeks had the word eros, which spoke of your strong passion and physical desire. The Greeks also had the word phileo, which spoke of the strong affections and friendships you have. But it was Jesus who gave the command in John 13:34 and 35, “ ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’ ”
The word love is agape–not a very popular word in Greek literature, but the most predominate word you find in the New Testament for love. Initially, biblical love has nothing to do with your passions or affections, because you can’t command an emotion. But Jesus Christ commands you to understand, then live what it means to love. It is a choice of the will. And that’s why the poet wrote, “We have got to get past our emotions to the true meaning of the word.”
Jesus is the one who declares that love is the mark of the Christian. Love is one thing that will mark you out as unique, special, and different from anyone else on this planet. All true disciples love God and love one another. First John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Love is a test–if you don’t love, you fail the test. So then what is love?
The Greeks would elevate a man for what he knew–his intellect. The Romans worshipped what a man could do–his power. But here in 1 Corinthians 13, God says the issue is not your intellect, nor your power, but rather what have you become–what kind of person are you? In others words, God is talking about your character of love. Understanding what it means to love, then practicing love, is a focal point of everything God has ever said to you throughout the Scriptures, throughout all of history. If you do not love God, nor love each other, you have missed a main point. Why? Love is the summation of the whole law.
In Romans 13:8 to 10, the Apostle Paul says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Everything God wants for you, everything He wants you to become can be summarized in one word–love. This is the very quality Jesus demonstrates by His sacrificial giving action in taking the punishment for our sins on the cross.
Are you characterized by love? Do you live love? Do you strive to love in all you think, say and do? Love must fuel everything for the Christian–and because it must, you must understand love fully, deeply and correctly. To do that, open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 13. We come to this great hymn of love–and as you do, notice where you find it. Chapter 13 is right between chapters 12 and 14, nestled in controversy, sandwiched between two chapters talking about fighting. You see, the Corinthian believers were fighting over the issue of spiritual gifts, struggling over whether or not spiritual gifts made them spiritual or feel spiritual.
Paul ends chapter 12 by saying, “Listen, let me show you a better way (to be spiritual).” Verse 31, “And I show you a still more excellent way.” If you’re really desirous of being spiritual–which is walking in the Spirit, being controlled by the Spirit, then love will be one of the big markers. If you are in the Spirit, then there will be love. Galatians 5:22 declares, “If you walk in the Spirit, you will bear fruit of the Spirit.” And what is the very first manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit? Love. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.–but the first one is love.
It has nothing to do with how we feel–feeling spiritual. Love is actually demonstrated, lived, and shown. You have got to understand the meaning of the word. It is so important, Paul says in verses 1 to 3, love is our number one priority. This chapter teaches the priority, pattern, permanence and preeminence of love.
#1 The PRIORITY of Love Verses 1 to 3
Love is the most important. In these first three verses, Paul gives us a formula–a formula for greatness, but not greatness in the eyes of God but in the eyes of men. Read verses 1 to 3, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If 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. 3And 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.”
Verse 1, greatness in this world is to be able to speak eloquently with great words. Verse 2, greatness is to know everything, to have all knowledge. Verse 3, greatness is to be a generous giver, to give all, to serve mankind. Sounds like a pretty wonderful person to me. But Paul puts the whole thing into perspective saying that, without love, all three mean nothing in the sight of God.
Verse 1 the priority of love in SPEAKING
Paul teaches, “Let’s say I could speak with tongues of men, with great fluency in all languages. I could speak with the eloquence of angels as they spoke in the Old Testament to the Old Testament saints. But if I cannot love, I would be as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” If it’s not spoken from a heart of love, it only resembles the dull, lifeless sound of a dead instrument. It may be loud, you may be impressed and persuaded with great words, but it means absolutely nothing. You’re literally a zero.
Verse 2 the priority of love in KNOWING
Paul pushes further, “Let’s say I have the gift of prophecy. I know all revelation of God, I know exactly what the will of God is for you. I know all the mysteries, I know everything that God knows. Nothing is hidden from my mind. And because of this great knowledge, I have great confidence–so great, my faith in God can move mountains. But I can know all of that, but if there is no love, then there is no significance to it.” Get this–a full head with an empty heart is worthless.
Verse 3 the priority of love in GIVING
Paul continues, “Let’s say I did the ultimate act of benevolence and compassion, and I gave everything away for the poor. I even gave my body to be burned at the stake, to be a martyr.” And he says, “If I did all of that, but it didn’t come from love, it profits me nothing in the eyes of God.”
Even if I as the greatest speaker, knew everything, and sacrificed all I had–if it was without love, it is nothing! These three things may win you admiration among men, but as far as God is concerned, a person void of love produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing in His sight. That is why so many high-powered people are so empty.
Paul spoke these words to the Church, to those in ministry, those involved, those who know each other. So God says, when you preach, speak, talk–when you learn, study–when you give, serve, or sacrifice, if it’s without love it is nothing. Literally the Greek says you’re a zero without love. Without love, it’s as if you never existed.
FBC is a fantastic church family. So many servants, givers, disciplers, teachers and fellowship–it is amazing. If we were to keep a record of every time you served, gave, talked in fellowship or taught, so that it made a fantastically long list, we’d all praise God for your fruitfulness. God’s warning here is clear–when you stand before Christ and He looks at your list, the only things He’ll see will be those sacrifices, actions or words done in love. If you’ve done nothing in love, then your list will be blank. If you are filled with the Spirit, your words and actions will be saturated in love. The fruit of the Spirit is love.
Yes, you must teach the truth, you must never compromise truth, you must speak the truth–but it must be done in love, sacrificial action for the benefit of another. Your ministry, your driving, your marriage, your casual comments on the patio must be in love. Caring about them, doing what’s best for others, sacrificing time to understand, listen, give and share. Love is your priority. When Jesus evaluates our church, He will not look at whether FBC was too small or too big, has a building or not, but whether we loved Him and one another.
Verse one says if you are a leader here, you are just a big obnoxious noise if you don’t serve saturated in love. Verse two says if you are Bible scholar or a woman of faith, but without love you’re a big fat zero. Verse three says if you are a massive giver, yet without love God is not impressed at all. Doing great things for God without love doesn’t count. It’s as if it never happened in God’s eyes. It’s as if you never existed if you are without love. “So (you ask) what is true biblical love like? How can I know I’m not a zero?”
#2 The PATTERN of Love Verses 4 to 7
If you are a Christian, love is your nature. In verses 4 to 7, Paul will put some shoe leather on the word love. He does this by listing fifteen dimensions of the pattern of love. This describes the nature of a person who knows God. There is a song that’s sung from 1 John 4:7 and 8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Ever wonder what God is like? Ever been asked by a child what God is like? God has a nature that is love–He is love/loving.
In verses 4 to 7, Paul lists fifteen attributes of God, but not merely God. Also fifteen attributes of the nature of a child born of God and the kind of person they are becoming–the goal every true Christian here desires to follow. Notice what Paul does here. For a new nature to be seen, you see how it relates–and this kind of person relates to four things. You see here how this new nature relates to others? How it relates to itself, how it relates to sin, and to circumstances–and that’s how you determine the real from the fake.
Beware, Christian–genuine love is radical stuff. The love of the flesh is like a Geiger counter. It only gets excited when something around it responds to it. But the love of the Spirit is like a searchlight. It blasts out its light, no matter what you do. And here’s the challenge–this love shows itself in response to others. Like the writer who said, “Love in the world for me is no chore; it’s only my neighbor who lives next door.” Or as another said, “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.” Agape . . .
First Relates to Others
Notice the three ways Paul gives us in the first part of verse 4–“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.” Patient means the ability to be wronged again and again and have the power to not retaliate or grow bitter. It takes a long time before you flame out or explode. Girls, this is when your little sister takes your best necklace without permission and breaks it. And inside you’re wanting to kill, but you say, “That’s okay, it’s only a thing–it’s not eternal. I love you, sis.” She knows she is going to die, but she doesn’t because you are being patient.
Kind isn’t an attitude or a feeling, but a useful deed. Students, to be kind means you treat your family like you treat your friends–for if you treated your friends like you treat your family, you wouldn’t have any friends. Adults, is your love useful, helpful, or is it just words, talk, thoughts, feelings or attitudes? Kind love is useful deeds that matter. Men, when you say, “I love you, Honey,” but never repair the house–then you are not kind.
Not jealous means you want nothing and give everything. The word jealous refers to an inner boiling to have what others possess, to the point that you wish others didn’t have what they own. When your younger brother gets to stay out till 1 a.m. and he is only 12, but when you were 12 you had to go to bed at 6 pm–not being jealous says, “That’s okay.” In the church, when others are recognized and you’re ignored, when an elder walks by and doesn’t say, “Hi,” when someone doesn’t talk to you at a church event–not jealous thinks, “No big deal.” When someone you respect is friends with someone else but not you–not being jealous says, “I’m glad they have friends.” Biblical love shows itself in dealing with others and . . .
Second How you Relate to Self
The second half of verse 4 and verse 5, “love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own.” The nature of genuine Christian love is to not brag about yourself. The word brag means to talk a lot about yourself. Men, when someone tells a story, do you try to top it, or merely enjoy it? When others deserve honor, do you exalt yourself and degrade them, or do you rejoice with their honor–for love doesn’t try to get others to be envious of you.
“Love is not arrogant“–literally, puffed up in yourself. Love recognizes the equal worth of another. Love never thinks himself better than another. Nor do Christians “act unbecomingly“–Christians do not act ugly or rudely. This is choosing to do or say whatever you want, the way you want, whether anyone likes it or not. When Christians say the rudest, ugliest things about each other or to each other, you have reason to question whether they are really Christians–for Christian love does care how others react to you.
Nor does Christian love “seek its own.” Love doesn’t try to get its own way nor seek to center attention around itself. Love’s goal is not self, but sacrificing self for others. This is why spiritual leadership in any form must be mature, because love demands a focus on others, not self. The pattern of love is seen with others, self, and can also been seen in . . .
Third Your Response to Sin
Look at the middle of verse 5 through verse 6, “love is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Love is not provoked. The word provoked is used of the spurs used on a horse. When you over-spur a horse, it is provoked. Men, when you come home and the first thing your wife says is, “Get off that floor, I just cleaned it.” Are you provoked? Then your kids say, “Dad, tell Johnny to stop touching me.” Are you provoked? Then your upset neighbor says, “Joe, keep your dog off my lawn”–and you don’t have a dog. Provoked? Christian love is not provoked. Christian love doesn’t lose its temper and is not provoked.
Biblical love also “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The word literally means bookkeeping. When you love the way God commands you to love, you don’t keep lists of past wrongs. This disease is eating up some Christians here. The keeping lists disease is ruining some marriages here. Real love forgives and forgets. Tear up the list. Love doesn’t return hurt (or withhold love from others). By an act of your will, you let the hurt go–symbolically bury it in the backyard.
Love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness” (verse 6). Unlike the locker room, love never brags about sin. Love doesn’t hear or read or watch sin with approval. Love never rejoices in the hurts of others, no matter how much they deserve it. But love “rejoices with the truth” (verse 6). Who is the truth? Jesus. Where is the truth found? The Bible. Where do we hear the truth explained? This church. Are you thankful for the truth being taught?
The truth is not taught in many churches. When the truth exposes your sin, do you rejoice? When others respond to the truth, are you glad? When the truth saves or sanctifies, you will rejoice. Love relates to others, self, sin–and the pattern of love can be seen in . . .
Fourth My Response to Circumstances
Verse 7, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Listen carefully. “Love bears all things“–meaning the pattern of love is literally reluctant to spread rumor, but seeks to cover gossip with silence, and to suppress slander. Do you protect the reputations of others, or are you quick to tear a good name apart? Love labors not to talk about anyone negatively.
Love also “believes all things“–meaning, as a Christian you believe the best of others. Couples, when your spouse had to make a tough decision alone because you weren’t there, did you believe the best? When your elders make a decision, love says you believe the best, you trust–do you? The love of the Spirit seeks to believe the best–the fake love of the flesh questions and impugns motives.
Love also “hopes all things“–literally expecting, hoping, and wanting God to do good things for others. And love also “endures all things“–literally, in the heat of the battle, love continues its selfless fight to do what is best for others, even when costly. Those who don’t love, give up on others. Those who choose to love never give up. Are you faithful in your commitments to others?
“But,” you say, “I can’t love like that!” Sure you can–you forget you have the greatest power in the universe living in you. Second Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Is love the pattern of your life? Most of you don’t realize the fifteen characteristics of love described here in English as adjectives are actually in the original Greek all verbs. It literally says, love is patient-ing, love is kind-ing. Love is not emotion, but a sacrificial giving action–doing what is best for others.
Do you love? Just replace your name for love here to find out. Chris is patient, Chris is kind, Chris is weird . . . Are you known for love? The real test is to ask your unsaved friends. What sacrificial giving deeds have you shown them so they may see the Christ of love in you? If none, how can you say you’re a Christian? But you say, “Does love really matter all that much? I’m comfortable with attending church and fellowship.” Look at . . .
#3 The PERMANENCE of Love Verses 8 to 12
“Love never ends.” Now verses 8 to 12 are difficult to interpret and controversial. I can’t explain every nuance in this chapter overview, so on our website there are messages on the apostolic sign gifts. But don’t get distracted–my plea this morning is to not lose the Holy Spirit’s overall message in this chapter. What is it? Spiritual gifts will end–love will not.
Even though you and I are commanded to minister our gift, service is never ever to be without love, since love is permanent, and certain sign gifts are not. As you evaluate your life as a Christian in this test series, as you obey the command to test yourself to see if you are in the faith–look first for love, and only serve/minister in love.
Read what Paul says in verse 8, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” Love is permanent, and certain sign gifts are not. At first blush, the fact that love never fails suggests that love will never let you down. But in the Greek, the word fail means “to fall, to collapse, to come to an end, to be terminated.” The idea then is that love, unlike a mountain eroded by the elements, will never collapse, never fade, and never end. Love survives everything. Love is invincible. But spiritual gifts are not.
The Corinthians were confused about gifts, and their biggest problem was their selfish use and abuse of the gifts–so Paul reminds them the only motive for gifted ministry is love. Gifts must be used only in love, since love is most important, since love is God’s character and more permanent than gifts. Main point–love is permanent. Look at verse 8 and let me show you what is certain, then explain the difficulty.
Paul literally says, since at this time “there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” The verb “done away” is used of both prophecy and knowledge–it’s in the passive voice, meaning both these gifts will be rendered inoperative and ineffective. The phrase “will cease” used for tongues is different–it’s in the middle voice and means the gift of tongues will cause themselves to cease. With no debate, the gifts of knowledge and prophecy will be put to an end, and the gift of tongues will end itself.
But the main point–love will continue forever. Therefore Christian, don’t stop loving in order to serve, give, minister, or use your gift–and only do those duties with a motive of love. Why? Read verses 9 and 10, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” The word perfect in verse 10 is the difficult word in this text. The two strongest understandings are these . . .
First The word perfect refers to the BIBLE
Prophecy and knowledge have to do with revelation, direct communication from God. At the time of 1 Corinthians, the revelation of God found in the New Testament had barely started to be recorded. Tongues were used to confirm the authenticity of the apostles as they delivered the revelation from God. Thus the word perfect, being in the neuter, best refers to an object like the completed revelation.
Perfect is used in the Bible to refer to the Bible. Therefore, at the close of the canon of Scripture, prophecies and supernatural knowledge will stop and the confirming gift of tongues will cease by itself, since the completed canon is God’s full written revelation.
Second The word perfect refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Since verse 12 refers to us seeing face to face, it leads us to believe Paul is saying that some gifts will end before and at the second coming of Christ. Again, don’t miss the main message. The Corinthians worshiped knowledge and oration. Like all Greeks, they loved to know and loved to speak what they knew. That’s why the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and tongues were so popular among them. But Paul says all three will some day cease to exist–prophecy and knowledge will be done away with, and tongues will literally cease of themselves. And not only will they cease, but verse 9 says they are only partial. But love will never cease and is not partial.
Read the two illustrations in verses 11 and 12. “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” (verse 11). Until the Bible is complete or the Lord comes, we will speak, think, and reason as children. But when the Bible is finished or Jesus comes, our understanding will mature. Then Paul adds in verse 12, “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.” When the Bible is complete or the Lord comes, the distorted images of reality and the mysteries of old will be gone. Those things are partial, incomplete–but love is permanent. And beyond all that, love is also . . .
#4 The PREEMINENCE of Love Verse 13
Love is the best. Read verse 13, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Not only is love a priority over gifts, love is also supreme over all other virtues–even faith and hope. Why? Because faith without love is cold, and hope without love is grim. Love is the fire which kindles faith and love is the light which turns hope into certainty. Also, when faith and hope become visible, faith will be replaced by sight and hope replaced by possession. Only love will remain, because God Himself is love. Love is the pre-eminent quality for and duty of the genuine believer. Is it yours?
None of you will love perfectly until you are in the presence of the only model of perfect love. But the Bible commands–as long as you live you are to pursue love with everything you’ve got. Philippians 1:9, “May your love abound still more and more.” First Thessalonians 3:9 to 10, “Now as to the love for the brethren…we urge you to excel still more.”
A Love is not an EMOTION, but an action
The problem with most Christians is, they’ve defined the Christian life by what they don’t do, and forget what God has commanded us to do. Yet the moment any believer lives by the power of the Spirit, they will be so busy doing, they won’t have time to don’t. Choosing to love cures a thousand problems. If you believe God’s Word, by an act of your will choose to love. Every day, with every casual word, each action taken, always driving ministry–determine to love. Don’t wait for emotions, choose to love and watch how God is glorified and you are blessed.
B CORRECTION is needed for Christians to love
The Corinthian Christians were being corrected–they had focused on the wrong priorities, and were not loving. Some of you here need to make things right by asking forgiveness for comments made, actions taken without love. Let the Spirit direct you–reach out to others and love.
C Love is selfless sacrifice for the GOOD of others
It is doing what is best for others, regardless of the cost. It is what Christ did for us on the cross. Not feelings, not emotions, but sacrifice in order to accomplish the best for others. Is there love in and through your life? When you sing, are you offering yourself in praise? When you give, are you truly sacrificing for his purposes? When you respond to His Word, are you living it for His glory? When you talk with the lost, are you passionate about their salvation? Love is selfless sacrifice for the good of others.
D The Bible declares, love is the most important
Love must be the most sought after quality in your life, in your family, in your ministry, at your workplace, at your school, and most of all–in your relationship with Christ. It can’t be, unless you turn to Christ in salvation. Or as a Christian, you surrender daily to His Spirit. It was only after each one of her children died, that she penned these words–but in doing so, Elizabeth Prentiss, showed us how powerful love is. She wrote . . .
More love to thee, oh Christ, more love to Thee.
Hear Thou the prayer I make, on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea, more love oh Christ to Thee,
More love to Thee, more love to Thee.
Once earthly joy I craved. Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek, Give what is best.
Let’s pray. Turn to Christ. Love is not a feeling.