I Corinthians 13: The Greatest Gift- Love
Although this is a wonderful chapter about love, we must not disconnect it from its context. Paul is still dealing with the problems in the church at Corinth. Specifically, Paul is addressing the abuse of the gift of tongues, (eloquent speaking), divisions, envy of other’s gifts, selfishness which resulted in lawsuits, impatience, and disgraceful behavior, including open sexual immorality.
Paul has prefaced this chapter in his last sentence in chapter 12, when he wrote: “I will show you a more excellent way.” Paul uses five spiritual gifts as an example: tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and giving (sacrifice).
Whereas, chapter 12 deals with the gifts of the Spirit. This chapter deals with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit, we will see is more important than the gifts of the Spirit. For the gifts of the Spirit’s purpose is to bear fruit. And remember Jesus said, ‘by this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit.’ (John 15) Jesus said by this will people know you are my disciples that you love one another. Paul will point out even when we are using our gifts, and are busy, active people, loving is more important that being busy and active. Remember Martha who was so busy and active preparing the meal while Mary, her sister sat at his feet. Martha, we read, ‘was distracted with much serving, and she approached the Lord Jesus and said, “Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” We were created to love, to love the Lord above all else and to love our neighbor as our self. This is the more excellent way. This is the way of love.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
In Galatians 5, Paul writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Notice the subject- verb relationship is singular. The fruit of the Spirit is love. All the others come as a byproduct of love. Joy is love enjoying itself and we enjoy most when glorify Him; peace is love resting in God’s Sovereignty; patience is love waiting on the Lord; kindness is love responding in love; goodness is love choosing to seek the good of others rather than self; faithfulness is love keeping its word; gentleness is love empathizing, hurting when others hurt; and self-control is love resisting temptation. I could not resist the temptation to drink, until the love of God had come into my life. It provided me with the means and power to control the urge to drink.
Love is the work of the Holy Spirit who came into our lives to pour out the love of God in our hearts. (Romans 5) You cannot love other people with this kind of love, agape love, except you love God, and this is the type of love the Spirit pours out into our hearts. John describes the love of the Father as ‘lavish.’ In Deut. 6, we are told God will circumcise the flesh from our heart so we can love Him with all our heart.
God the Father taught us to love one another by example: He gave up His Only Son to die for us. God the Son taught us to love by dying in our place taking our sins and punishment. And God the Holy Spirit enabled us to love by pouring out the love of God into our hearts. Love is the most important. Love is what makes life worth living.
THE CONTRAST OF GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT WITH THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
Paul then contrasts this love with five of the gifts the church was enamored with: communication, power, knowledge, giving, and faith. Churches today love pastors and teachers who are eloquent speakers. Apollos was an excellent and eloquent speaker. A talent he used and it brought him many followers. Paul, on the other hand, says he did not come to them with excellence of speech or of wisdom. He said his speech and preaching was not with persuasive words. Paul says if one speaks with the tongues of men and of angels, but has not love, it is nothing but noise- a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. Communication without love is nothing, in spite of how eloquent the speaker might be. I wonder, if we are not like the church at Corinth and value eloquence more than love.
Paul then speaks of the gift of prophecy. Paul places great value on the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is the use of Scripture to reveal sin, unrighteousness, motives of the heart and actions. In I Cor. 14, Paul says pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially the gift of prophecy. And Paul tells us anyone who prophesies- strengthens, encourages and comforts. In other words they build up. Yet in I Corinthians 13: 2 Paul takes three spiritual gifts which were highly favored: prophesy, knowledge and faith which produces actions. Do you see what wonderful gifts these are: the ability to be an effective communicator, to have all knowledge, understand all mysteries and powerful faith which moves mountains? But Paul says if we do not have love we are nothing.
You can have the gift of giving, sacrifice. Always working from sunup- to sun down and into the night. Give all your possessions away to the poor, surrender your body to flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. At the Bema where works are judged, these works will not be rewarded for they were not done in love.
WHAT IS THIS LOVE?
There are three types of love: eros, philia and agape. Eros describes erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you fall in love. It is a passionate attraction for another person. Perhaps today one of the most common types of love people engage in and what love means to them. Philia is the type of love on which friendship is based, a feeling of love for another person. And then there is agape love which the original KJV chose the word, charity, to describe. For this is the love of God which is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is unconditional love, given to another which only wants the best for the other person the object of their love. It seeks the good of the others before their own good.
Want to know if you exhibit this type of love? Here is the test as to how this agape love behaves.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast (parade itself), it is not proud (not puffed up.) It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Let’s look at the positives and negatives which describe this kind of love.
Patient, patience is described in NKJV as ‘long suffering.’ We endure some kind of suffering as we wait on the other person to work out their problem. We feel most impatient when someone violates our rights. Nobody is to seek his own good, but the good of others. Remember patience is one of those by-products of love. This special type of love, agape love, which is the singular fruit of the Spirit which produces all those other virtues of which patience is one.
I feel sometimes like I could write a book on patience. Waiting, waiting, years and years for the Lord to answer certain prayers. Everyone likes for life to go as planned. We dislike anything which interrupts our plans. Car trouble on vacation. Laid off from work. Illness. Rain on our parade. These are some of the things which try our patience. Get on our nerves. James makes it most clear when he tells us the purpose of patience. “My brethren count it all a joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1) Adversity produces patience and patience is necessary to mature, strengthen, purify and enlarge our faith. Hebrews 12 tells us to’ lay aside every weight and sin which entangles us so we can run the race with patience…’
Impatience entangles us. Impatience makes us angry. Foolish decisions are made in impatience. Wait, I say, wait on the Lord. Wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit.”(Psalm 40: 1, 2) Two things about these verses: David is in a pit, a slimy pit. We can be in a pit because of our own sin, or the sins of others, like Joseph thrown in a pit by his brothers. I use the NIV word slimy, because it conveys to me, one cannot climb out of this slimy pit, and they must wait for one to rescue them. We also see we must learn to not only wait, but wait patiently. “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait I say on the Lord.” (Psalm 27)
Realizing God is a loving God, who loves me with an everlasting love and that He is also Sovereign. Nothing can come into my life that He has not approved, allowed or caused. This is how He strengthens, matures, purifies and enlarges our faith. He is working all things, which includes this slimy pit you are in, for good for those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.
Do you see what happened? Read on- “He brought me up out of a horrible (slimy, filthy) pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth- Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’
His purpose is our growth, His Glory, and the positive witness to others. “Don’t throw away your confidence, which has great reward, for you have need of endurance (patience) so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10)
We have need of patience. You must choose to thank Him when you fall into the pits of life for whatever reason for when we thank Him, we are not thankful for the pit, but for the work this pit will produce in our life which matures our faith and is used by God for multiple reasons. When we thank Him and remember it is God’s will that you give thanks in all things in Christ Jesus, we will experience a peace which passes understanding.
Kindness is defined and associated with gentleness, tenderness, i.e., ‘be kind and tenderhearted toward one another. ‘God is kind. He is the kind shepherd who leads us to green pastures and quiet waters. He goes in search for us when we stray and brings us home on His shoulders. He restores our souls. He gives us rest when we are weary. He helps us in our times of need. He is the Good Samaritan, He will not pass us by, and He will share what He has with us and go the extra mile. “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in those I delight.” We must exercise, practice kindness until it becomes a habit and a way of life. It is the love of God which indwells us which compels us to be kind. To stop, turn aside and help someone else.
Here is what Paul is saying: love is what enriches these gifts. This is why in Ephesians 4, Paul tells us to speak the truth in love. Understand this truth; we love God because he first loved us. And guess what? Everyone, no matter what their background is looking for love. It is a universal quest. It is the greatest need in the world today. Burt Bacharach got it right when he wrote the song Dionne Warwick recorded: ‘What the world needs now- is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing there is just too little of.’ We don’t need any more smart phones, I Pads and personal computers- we don’t need any more of those there are already too many of them to keep up with and have cords for and places to plug them in.
We need love- it is what makes life worth living. It enriches. It builds up. How does it do this?
By not envying – not being jealous of others. By not being prideful, parading ourselves, puffed up with our own knowledge, power, talents and even spiritual gifts.
Have you ever experienced impatience while someone else is talking about themselves, because you want to talk about yourself and your accomplishments, your children, grandchildren, vacations, etc? Facebook has become a reality show where people want to boast of their possessions and lifestyle. Arrogance, pure and simple. But unfortunately pride is like bad breath, we are not aware we have it, but others are. Rudeness is the opposite of kindness. Rudeness insists on its own way. Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no list of wrongs. Let’s contemplate these descriptions of what love is NOT.
Love does not seek its own way. Do you manipulate others under the guise of kindness, or love in order to get something you want? Are you easily irritated with others who get in your way? Pull out in front of you in their car? Get the parking place you were circling to get? Cut in front of you in line? Make you wait?
Do you keep a list of wrongs? Do you have someone in your life who has done something wrong to you, never acknowledged they did, or ask for your forgiveness for committing that wrong and you are holding that against them? This is someone who you have not forgiven and your mindset is- I am the one who was wronged. (And this can be the truth). Yet we are to forgive them, not vice versa. Again Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us to: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5)
And in the same Sermon, Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” And added: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, you Heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mathew 6) This should motivate us to forgive others and not keep a list of wrongs.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
Jesus tells us how this works and with each promise He also tells us what is required of us, demanded of us in order to receive the promise in John 12: 24-26
“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He, who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
Here are four promises with four conditions:
- Your life will bear fruit it if it falls like a seed into the ground and dies.
- You will keep your life for eternal life, if you hate your life in this world.
- You will be with Jesus where He is, if you follow Him to Calvary.
- God the Father will honor you- if you serve Jesus.
*Do you see what a huge word the little word if is? We must die to self. Taking up the cross daily. If we do – these promises are ours in God’s perfect timing.