1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Sermon preached on January 3, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

On Wednesday there was an article in the NY Times called,
15 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2016. Some of the suggestions seemed trite. One was, "Drink Coffee". Another was "Dress in a way that makes you feel powerful". Still another was, "Wear comfortable underwear". Still another was, "Get a Pet". Two were about being nice— "Be Nice to Babies" and "If you Divorce, Play Nice". There was one about being generous, "Be generous to those who have helped you". At least one was about becoming more healthly, "Toss the cigarettes". There were three about romantic love, including, "Stare into the eyes of someone you love (or want to love) for exactly four minutes".

There was some good advice there, but overall it seemed that it was just scratching the surface and not going deep enough. The one about being generous—being generous to those who have helped you—is good, but what about being generous to those who have not helped you? Even though their suggestion is a good one, it doesn't go far enough.

On Friday we entered 2016. I hope you all have a wonderful 2016 and that God's blessing is on you—that you enjoy a year of happiness and spiritual prosperity. Yet, as we enter the new year, I think it is appropriate to consider our great duty toward one another and other people—the duty of love. In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul wrote,

"The entire law is summed up
in a single command:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

The NIDNTTE says, (1:107)

"Love is a central and all-encompassing concept of the Christian faith (cf. John 3:16). "God is love" (1 John 4:8), and therefore…"

1 John 4:11,

"since God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another."

Jesus put it this way in John 13:34, He said to His disciples,

"A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another."

God's love to us has enabled us to move away from a self-centeredness and greed to actually show love to others. This morning we're going to be considering this duty to love one another, specifically at the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13:1–3. The apostle Paul wrote,

"If I speak in the tongues
of men and of angels,
but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith
that can move mountains,
but have not love,
I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love,
I gain nothing."

The first three verses teach us

the absolute indispensability of love.

Our text tells us that love is the greatest gift. It's greater than the gift of tongues. It's greater than prophecy. It's greater than knowledge. It's even greater than faith that can move mountains. It tells us that even the greatest sacrifice, if done without love—counts for nothing. Paul's point is unmistakable—it is absolutely essential that we have love. John Calvin comments,

"all virtues count for nothing without love."

There are other passages of Scripture that show the indispensability of love. For example, in Matthew 22:35–40 we read about an encounter between Jesus and an expert in the law. The man tested Jesus with the question,

"Teacher, which is
the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus replied:

"Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and
with all your soul and
with all your mind.'
This is the first
and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets
hang on these two commandments."

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these to commandments. John Calvin says that Jesus,

"states that nothing else is required in the Law and the prophets than that every man should love God and his neighbors; as if he had said, that the sum of a holy and upright life consists in the worship of God and in charity to men…"

Love is everything. In Galatians 5:22 the apostle Paul listed it as the first fruit of the Spirit. He wrote,

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness,"

In Romans 13:8–10 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Let no debt remain outstanding,
except the continuing debt
to love one another,
for he who loves his fellowman
has fulfilled the law.
The commandments,
'Do not commit adultery,'
'Do not murder,''Do not steal,'
'Do not covet,'
and whatever other commandment
there may be,
are summed up in this one rule:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
Love does no harm to its neighbor.
Therefore love is
the fulfillment of the law."

If you practice love—you fulfill the Law. Love is the fulfillment of the law. In Galatians 5:6 the apostle Paul put it this way.

"For in Christ Jesus neither
circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.
The only thing that counts is
faith expressing itself through love."

Love is indispensible.

So the main application I want to make is that in 2016 and subsequent years,

you want to seek to grow in love.

Pursue love. Seek to practice it more and more. Let nothing stop you. You must not let anything stand in your way of pursing and practicing love.

But it's a hard task. One of the problems with us human beings is that

we don't apply this command like we should.

Many things in our old sinful nature conspires against us loving others as we should. We often think that others are not worthy of love. We think that they don't deserve it. We think that they won't appreciate it. We think that if we loved them it would cost us too much. Many of those things may be true—but they are irrelevant.

Indeed, there are at least three main reasons we don't apply this command like we should.

First of all, we don't value love like we should.

If Christians could choose the spiritual gift that they would like to possess, I'm sure that many would choose faith that could move mountains before they would choose love. I'm sure that there are many mature Christians who know better than that and would choose love, but I think that faith that could move mountains would have an irresistible appeal to many Christians. You'd be near a mountain with them and they'd say,

"Watch this. You're not going to believe it."

Other Christians would love to be prophets. To know all the answer to all mysteries—wow. That would be great. So many Christians have questions—to be able to answer them would be great.

Other Christians would love to speak in tongues. To speak in the tongues of angels—that would be something.

But love. We don't value that like we should. It's not flashy. It doesn't draw attention to itself.

The second reason we don't apply this command to love like we should is because we don't understand it correctly.

We don't understand what real love is.

The problem is that we often don't understand what love really is. We think we possess it, we think that we show it when we really don't. We deceive ourselves about our love.

It was that way with the rich young ruler we read about in Mark 10. Jesus directed him to the second table of the law, which has to do with loving our neighbor. Jesus said, (Mark 10:19)

"You know the commandments:
'Do not murder,
do not commit adultery,
do not steal,
do not give false testimony,
do not defraud,
honor your father and mother.' "

The man replied, (Mark 10:20)

"Teacher, all these I have kept
since I was a boy."

He didn't have a clue about his practice of love.

What is Paul talking about when He tells us that love is indispensable? What is love? The word that Paul uses is agape. One of places that shows us the meaning is what Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34.

"A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another."

Jesus expanded on that in John 15:10–15. He said to His disciples,

"My command is this:
Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that
he lay down his life for his friends."

The love that we are called to have is sacrificial love. Jesus gave His life for us. That's the only way that human beings could be saved. It's love that cost something. It's not merely a feeling. It does not consist of self-centered actions. No. We see that from verse 3. It's about giving yourself on behalf of someone because you care about them, about helping them. We see the same usage in Ephesians 5:25–27. Paul wrote,

"Husbands, love your wives,
just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her
to make her holy,
cleansing her by the washing
with water through the word,
and to present her to himself
as a radiant church,
without stain or wrinkle
or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."

The kind of love we are to exercise is like the love of Christ—His sacrifice of Himself shows us what true love is. That's the kind of love we are to show. As Paul commanded in Ephesians 5:2,

"and live a life of love,
just as Christ loved us and
gave himself up for us as a
fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

But what is a life of love? In the past I've had some difficulty understanding verse 3 of our text. How can one give everything they have to the poor and not have love? How can one surrender their body to the flames and not have love? Is it possible to do such things and not have love? But it is possible.

You've probably heard over the past few years how some billionaires have publicly agreed to give away most, if not all of their fortunes. But my question is: Why are they announcing it? I think part of the reason is because they get adulation from it. They have been lauded for their commitment. The public announcement shows that there is more than just helping the poor that is involved. There's a self-interest there.

R.C.H. Lenski quotes Martin Luther and writes,

" 'To give is, indeed, a fruit of love though not yet love itself. Love is a spiritual gift which moves the heart and not only the hands. Love is the name, not for what the hand does, but for what the heart feels.' The works of love are thus often imitated by those who have no love and yet desire to enjoy the praise of love."

How little fallen human beings know of love.

The third reason we don't apply this command like we should is because

we restrict the command in a way that it should not be restricted.

Who do we love? For example, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, one of Hitler's greatest supporters and someone who agreed with the Nazi policy to kill the Jews, kept a daily diary. He began the diary with these words, (Time magazine, Aug or Sept 1987)

"May this book help me to be clearer in spirit, simpler in thought, greater in love."

That's how the diary of one of the most diabolical figures of the twentieth century begins. He was a Nazi through and through. He hated the Jews. He sought to exterminate them. Goebbels thought that he was interested in love—but he knew almost nothing about love.

What we must understand is that agape love is wide reaching. It loves the unlovely. It loves the undeserving. It loves even enemies. In Matthew 5:43–48 Jesus said,

"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons
of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise
on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous
and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you,
what reward will you get?
Are not even
the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing more than others?
Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus loved us when we were His enemies. Romans 5:10 says,

"For if, when we were God's enemies,
we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son,"

So Christians, do you love others like Jesus loved you? Without this kind of love—our lives are pretty much wasted.

The most commendable things that men have or do—are totally empty and vain without love.

Paul mentions speaking in tongues, of men and angels; prophecy, understanding all mysteries, faith to remove mountains. These are some of the most excellent gifts that men receive. Men have dreamed of speaking with the tongues of angels. We have dreams of understanding mysteries. Christians have wished for faith to remove mountains.

Yet Paul says that if you have all those things and have not love—you are nothing.

That is true. In my prison ministry I once encountered a group of men who spoke in tongues and who told other Christians that if they didn't speak in tongues that they weren't spiritual, that they weren't Christians. They were exalting themselves and putting down others. They didn't have love and they harmed the church rather than building it up.

It's the same with knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul wrote,

"Knowledge puffs up,"

Knowledge can make people proud, which is a sin.

You need real love for others. Colossians 3:12–14 tells us that love is the glue that binds all the other Christian virtues together. Paul wrote,

"Therefore, as God's chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together
in perfect unity."

Love makes all the other virtues work, it binds them together.

Christians, love one another. If your 2016 is going to count for anything—you must love others.