Confident Christianity: “The Essential Missing Ingredient” – 1 Corinthians 13

country musicSomeone heard a recent message from this pulpit and discovered in my well-disguised and cryptic preaching that I may not a big fan of country music. How they deciphered that is a mystery to us all, but as a result, and probably to torture me, they sent me a list of the “twenty-five funniest country music song titles.” I won’t read all of them, because I found some of them beyond my comprehension, but I admit, the ones that I can read led me to a crisis. I think I may need some new friends! Anyway, the list contained these gems that are supposedly about LOVE as sung in a country and western sound. The songs have titles like these:

2. I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself or Go Bowling.
4. I Sold A Car To A Guy Who Stole My Girl, But It Don’t Run So We’re Even.
5. Mama Get A Hammer (There’s A Fly On Daddy’s Head).
6. If The Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s Me.
7. She’s Actin’ Single and I’m Drinkin’ Doubles.
8. How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away.
9. I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You.
10. I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well.
11. I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim’s Gettin’ Better.
12. I Wouldn’t Take Her To A Dog Fight, Cause I’m Afraid She’d Win.
14. I’m So Miserable Without You; It’s Like Having You Here.
16. If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To, I’d Be Out By Now.
18. My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Sure Do Miss Him.
21. You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.
22. You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly.

I have to admit, some of these piqued my interest, and I am reconsidering my disdain for these eloquent expressions of tenderness. Obviously, if you read each title closely, there is a problem with some of the song writer’s definitions of “love.” I don’t know how to address such a variety of emotional disturbances, so I will simply point out that something has gone amiss in the lives of these singers and song writers that should be looked at by the American Psychiatric Association and perhaps even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms!

On the other hand, there was an old pop song from 1965 that came from Burt Bacharach and was popularized by Dione Warwick – a song that probably brings us closer to the theme of love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13, where today’s lesson in the Word takes us. The title was “What the world needs now” and the subject, unlike the titles of the songs above, was LOVE. Paul said it a bit differently. He wrote to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 12:31 [You have a variety of gifts of the Spirit] But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

There is something better than the best gifts and enabling of the Spirit of God. It is something the church of Corinth needed desperately. It is something that every group of believers needs. Paul said:

Key Principle: The church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; sometimes it simply lacks love for people.

It is unfair to share such an indictment out of the middle of a letter without context. Let’s take a moment and look back a step or two to set the scene for this powerful pronouncement… Since their disciple maker spent time with the believers at Corinth correcting five errors, and God preserved the record – they are likely something we not overlook in the context of this lesson.

Let’s take a few minutes and replay what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, and make sure we aren’t nurturing the same errors today! He cited Five Misunderstandings about Spiritual gifts. Reading the letter carefully, Paul wanted believers to know:

1. God speaks and engages them (12:1-2).

2. There are basic tools to discern truth from error (12:3).

3. Each believer is unique (cp. 12:4-7).

4. Each believer should be valued (12:8-11).

5. No believer should see themselves as overly important (12:12-31).

With those truths in mind, Paul continued his writing concerning the spiritual enabling believers have from God as he wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

His clear teaching made the answer to each rhetorical question the same negative answer. People have different gifts, and they are all essential to the body. The last two sentences, however, set up another essential teaching of Paul. The Apostle promised something BETTER than great empowering gifts. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.

The body should seek from God the gifts that would fill out the needs of the whole group, but they should seek something else that was even more critical to the success of the work of reaching people for Jesus. They should seek the highest prized earthly possession of the church in her dealing with one another. They should seek to learn to LOVE ONE ANOTHER in the way God would have us love.

The truth is that love is more important than any gift, and often accomplishes more than all of them combined! Can you hear the idea of LOVE in these paraphrased verses:

• “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

• How about here: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy...” (Hebrews 12:14).

Over and over Scripture admonished believers to act in love toward others. It never claimed this would be easy. In fact, Scripture makes the point repeatedly that we will be taunted and suffer at time. Not everyone will be easy to love, but if it is at all possible, we are to attempt to live in peace and harmony with others.

Paul made clear the priority of love in four arguments (13:1-3)

He began:

1 Corinthians 13:1 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. 2 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. 3 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.

Some Corinthian believers thought they needed more or perhaps better gifts for their church to be more effective, but what they needed was something better than any of the gifts (12:31). They needed to understand, adopt and live out responsible and loving behavior to each other. It was easier for them to get caught up in a discussion about “how God did what He did” (apportioning gifts and operating them) than to understand that God commanded them to love each other, and leave the “universe running” to Him.

Here is the truth: Trying to figure out how God apportions gifts is NOT part of our job. God’s desire is that we focus on our responsibility in loving each other.

You can’t choose your gifts, but you will choose your behaviors (13:1-3). We are not responsible for the gifts we are given – but we are always responsible for our behavior. The spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as it pleases God, a truth very clear in 1 Corinthians 12:11 and 18. That is the Spirit’s job, not ours. Yet we are responsible for something more important than what gifts we have. We are responsible for using our gifts with a heart filled with love! The gifts are only as valuable as the love wrapping they come in! (13:1-3). Paul made clear that:

Love is more important than great communication skills! (13:1). It didn’t matter if Paul could sing like an angel or argue like a skilled lawyer – the work of making clear the truth required a loving vessel.

Love is more important than deep spiritual insight (2a). The gift of prophecy uncovered hidden spiritual truth, but it was of little value if issued from a harsh voice and cold life.

Love is more important than great vision in God’s work. (2b). Faith that moves mountains is dangerous in a loveless servant – they are liable to dump the mountain on the house of someone for whom they have only disdain!

Love is more important than self-sacrifice (3). Giving of one’s self is truly an act of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice comes from love. Many a parent raised a child out of obligation, but the house was cold because of the absence of true love.

Deep faith won’t make up for a cold heart. Both the traveling priest and the itinerant Levite mentioned by Jesus in the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” seemed to have plenty of faith. What they lacked was love. It was such a lack that it cried loudly to the man who lay beside the road broken and helpless. They crossed over to the other side of the path to avoid making his problem, their problem. In their rush to serve God, they left a man lying along a road to die alone, and nothing they would teach or oversee in the Temple that week would change that.

Did you notice that Paul didn’t finish verse three offering any less than EVERYTHING – self included? Faith isn’t enough without love, and the same is true of generosity! Giving without loving also falls short. Perhaps we give from guilt, or to gain status. Generosity can’t replace love.

Paul explained the practice of love in fifteen short but picturesque descriptions (13:4-7).

It may seem to hear it, but LOVE as God described it, is known by its practice. Love isn’t merely something you FEEL as much as something you CHOOSE to ACT upon. Paul made clear that love is not a mystical force (as in the case of some song writers who believe it is like mud you accidentally “fall into”). Not to sound cold, but love is a clear, calculated and consistent choice.

Song writers offer us the view that love is caught like a cold. They sing: “I just can’t help falling in love with you.” or, “You’ve lost that loving feeling.” or, “Hello, I love you. Wont you tell me your name!” That isn’t how real love works at all! The Bible teaches love is something we can control and are commanded by God to do. Jesus told the Disciples:

John 13:34, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

If He commanded it; we can do it! Even more… when a believer practices love – it can be measured (13:4-7). Paul wrote a description of its appearance:

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Take a moment and look at the description bit by bit, so we can build a broader view of what God meant by love we are to practically share with friends, family, church and community:

• Love is patient: makro-thumeo “long before burning temperature”. God’s description of real love is the kind that doesn’t “fly off the handle” and become rash in reaction.

• Love is kind: chrest-euo-mai: “to show one’s self mild or tender”. Love isn’t rough, but gentle. It isn’t harsh, but mild. If you find you bristle at the sound of someone’s voice and snap at them when they speak to you – you don’t love them.

Pastor Melvin Newland shared a story that I think fits well here. He wrote: “I heard a story about a woman who was standing at a bus stop. She had just cashed her tax refund check, so she was carrying more money than usual & was a little bit nervous about that. She glanced around & noticed a shabbily dressed man standing nearby. And as she watched, she saw a man walk up to him, hand him some money, & whisper something in his ear. She was so touched by that act of kindness that she decided to do the same. In a burst of generosity, she reached into her purse, took out $10, handed it to the man, and whispered to him, “Never despair, never despair.” The next day when she came to the bus stop, there he was again. But this time he walked up to her & handed her $110. Dumbfounded, she asked, “What’s this?” He said, “You won, lady. Never Despair paid 10 to 1.” Pastor Newland went on to make the point that kindness isn’t really kindness when it is self-serving, and it doesn’t always pay back in this life. (Adapted from Sermon Central).

• Love is not jealous: dzayloo means “to burn with uncontrolled impassioned fervor”. Love hasn’t caused you to lose control. Lust does that, but not love. It doesn’t push your mind into thinking terrible things about another – that isn’t love. People will say, “Love makes you do crazy things!” We know what they mean, but it really doesn’t. You cannot blame feelings for actions – that is the response of the “irresponsible.” Response – able means you are able to choose your response. In the law, we have made provisions for “crimes of passion” – but they are crimes nevertheless. The Bible simply offers no refuge to the person who says “I couldn’t help it; I just felt so strongly!” Our world has demoted truth and responsibility painfully, while it elevated feeling as the chief of all motivators. God made it clear – don’t blame love.

• Love does not brag: Perpereuomai means “to verbally celebrate or concentrate on self-issues and accomplishments.” By definition, love is “other person centered” and therefore not unduly focused on self. For every moment we spend justifying our own selfishness, we give up a moment in which we could have loved others. This may seem obvious, but the longer I live the more I see people starved for real love because they have settled for selfishness as a cheap replacement.

• Love is not arrogant: Phusio-o means “to become inflated and cause to grow in self-importance” and is the brother to “does not brag”. The idea is this: Loving someone keeps you balanced from thinking you are the center of the universe. When we teach children to “fit into” the family, we are teaching them to LOVE. When we indulge children and make them the center of every decision – we don’t show them that life is filled with situations where they will not be able to get their own way. I wish I could say this in a more effective way, but I am concerned at the number of selfish Christians who act in childish ways when they do not get what they want. Someone has fed us the idea that our needs must be first, so that we can somehow have enough to care for others. That would be fine if we didn’t fall into a bottomless pit and find our needs growing as we fed them. Love doesn’t take all the air from the room, but allows others to shine and considers the needs of others first. Self-promotion is arrogance. Pouting when we don’t get our way is a form of childish arrogance.

• Love does not act unbecomingly: as-kay-mon-eh’-o means “act in a way that tears down the other”. Love builds up others whenever possible, and never seeks to cut down the other, or smash their dreams. There are thousands of ways we do this, but a very important one can be found in what we SAY about someone in front of others, and even what we say when we are alone with them. Some people have wrongly developed the habit of reacting to hurt by verbal punching. It is not loving and often as destructive as physical punching. Loving someone, no matter what you have read, doesn’t mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” Quite the opposite. It means holding your tongue and training your speech. It means saying you are sorry for anything that pulls the other down. It isn’t your job to FIX the other, but it isn’t your job to DESTROY them either!

• Love does not seek its own: The word used literally means “not forcing their own way upon another.” You keep hearing words that are the intonation of the same idea – the opposite of loving is selfish. Think of love this way: whatever you would like people to do for you – do THAT to and for them. This is a thinly veiled plagiarized quote from my favorite teacher…. Jesus!

• Love is not provoked: The word par-ox-oo’-no means “sharpened” with a figurative idea of becoming sharp or pointed. Love isn’t wearing a razor thin knife edge so that is can cut back.

• Love does not take into account a wrong suffered: The terms logidzomai kakos mean “to keep an account or record of evils suffered.” Historiography and forgiveness don’t really work together. If you find yourself saving up “what he or she did wrong” – you aren’t acting in love toward the other person at all. With every exchange, you are making a longer list of what they have done wrong, and readying it for release. .

Stop for a moment from this description of love and think about something. Have you ever gotten so caught up in a movie that your face was streaming tears when the character on the screen was physically wounded or emotionally hurt? I remember my children watching animated movies with eyes transfixed to the screen. They laughed on cue and cried on cue. They were experiencing what the person in the story was experiencing. In a word, they were empathetic.

When was the last time you looked at some who are hurting in your life and FELT with them the pain they experienced? Compassion and empathy can often be found in abundance where people are loving as they should. Compassion drives us outside of our own pain and trouble, and into the pains of others. “What do you suppose it is like to face searing pain and loss deep inside and know that no one knows how much you’re hurting? What do you suppose it feels like to get to the point that most of your body won’t work correctly anymore and feel in your heart like God passed over your name on the “come on home” list? What are the struggles of a physically handicapped person like to THEM?

Love calls us to notice others. It calls us to care. It helps us get off the center of the stage of our own lives and put others there. Love is at the center of our evangelism, and lack of it is at the center of our ineffectiveness to reach others. Remember: “People will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care about them.”

• Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness: It “does not celebrate getting away with breaking a rule”

• Love rejoices with the truth: It “celebrates truthfulness”

• Love bears all things: From the word stego which means “to cover over or thatch”

Love listens. It takes the time to care. It covers over the fact that what is being said doesn’t seem relevant or necessary. Love locks on to the value of the other person.

Erma Bombeck wrote about a time when she was tired of listening. She had listened to her son tell in minute detail about a movie he had just seen, after which she had received several telephone calls filled with what she felt was mindless chatter that never seemed to end. In genuine relief she was able to tell the last caller that she just had to rush off to the airport. She got into the cab, and the driver told her all about his son who had won a scholarship to college, and how he was making straight A’s. Erma sat and listened to it all, but didn’t know any of the players in the story. She thought, “Once I get to the airport I will have thirty whole minutes when I don’t have to listen to anybody. I can just sit here & read my book & not be bothered at all.” As she sat down, an elderly female said : “I bet it’s cold in Chicago.” “I suppose,” Erma replied without looking up from her book. “I haven’t been in Chicago for 3 years,” the woman said. “My son lives there.” “That’s nice,” said Erma. Then the woman continued on, “My husband’s body is on this plane. We were married for 53 years. I don’t drive, you see, and the funeral director was so nice. He drove me to the airport today.” Erma recalls, “Her voice droned on. Here was a woman who didn’t want money or advice or counsel. All she wanted was for someone to listen. In desperation she had turned to a total stranger with her story.” Bombeck continued, “She continued to talk to me until they announced that we were boarding the plane. We walked onto the plane and I saw her sit down in another section. As I hung up my coat I heard her say to the person next to her, ‘I bet it’s cold in Chicago.'” There are so many of us who just need somebody, sometime, to listen, just to focus on us and listen to what we have to say. Love helps us grow to listen.

• Love believes all things: to entrust and give credit to”

Cal Thomas wrote: Love talked about is easily ignored while love demonstrated is irresistible!”

• Love hopes all things: epidzo “have high expectations of”

• Love endures all things: hupomeno “remain under”

The point is this: because love is a chosen set of behavior, when a believer practices true love – it can be measured (13:4-7).

Paul made clear the permanence of love in three examples (13:8-13).

Paul established how important it was for believers to love one another while living out their faith at home, in their community and (in the immediate context) in the local church assembly. Gift cannot do what love can. He described the attributes of that love, and then turned his attention to the great truth about love: One hundred million years from now, it will be God’s love for us and ours for one another as followers of Jesus that will matter. Our gifts and contributions will fade, but our heart of love for one another will not. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 13:8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 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. 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. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The choice to serve with love brings about more lasting results than any other outworking of the Spirit. It is for this reason the Apostle proclaims that “Love never fails” in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Here is the truth: I fail all the time!” One preacher spoke for me when he said, “I have never had to apologize for my position, but I have oftentimes had to apologize for my disposition.” We may know what we believe, but we may act in ways that show us to be aloof from what is most important.

Sometimes what we think is important, just isn’t the main thing. The fact that even the lauded gifts that reveal truth (like that of tongues, prophecy and spiritual knowledge or enabled discernment) will be limited in their time and usefulness should have made believers want something MORE LASTING than gifts that tend promote selfish headiness. Though of God, they are incomplete in scope and content and temporary in use. Corinthian believers could not put all their faith in them for they would cease (1 Corinthians 13:9).

As each believer grew in faith, they needed to learn to leave the early things they trusted to discern God’s will and direction – and move on to trusting in God’s Word without the other manifest signs and works of God (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). Experiencing God dramatically becomes much less important when we trust God more fully. Believers were to grow out of dependence on overt signs from God and simply rest in God’s Word. The signs of God’s profound presence were there in the early days of their walk, but simply became less important as the people grew up.

Believers must instructed that loving behavior is the real key to serving God in a way that pleases Him – not spectacular gift use (13). Pursue love in the use of the gifts, or they will not be what they should be (14:1).

Content is subject to change in the ages, love should not be! (8-10). Dazzling displays are not the primary object, love is what should catch our eye! (11). We must not simply KNOW clearly the word, but SHOW clearly the word in love! (12). Other lesser things will help, but love will get the message to the finish line! Helpers include:

• Faith: the vision of what God can do with one who is completely sold out to Him!
• Hope: the enduring trust that you can have if you learn that God is Sovereign!

Yet, the essential pervasive ingredient must be love: the choice to act on behalf of another, even when they don’t respond in kind!

We often attempt to use the Word to unravel the mysteries of how God works, yet the point of the Word is to change US, not to fully explain the operations of God. We must focus on the call of the Word for us to change and conform to the principles of God’s Word, and cease worrying about whether everyone else is on the right path. We are here to show God’s love to people:

Some construction workers were building a high rise across the street from a hospital. As they were working on the 3rd floor they noticed a little girl standing in the 3rd floor window of the hospital watching them work. One day they looked across & saw the little girl hold up a poster that said, “My name is Lisa. What are your names?” So the next day the construction workers came back with some poster board & magic markers, & they all wrote down their names. “My name is Bob. My name is Bill. My name is Harry. How old are you?” The next day the little girl held up a sign that said, “I am 7 years old. How old are you?” Well, this went on for several days. But one day they noticed that Lisa wasn’t at her usual place in the window. At break time one of the workers called the hospital and asked for a third floor nurse. He asked if she could tell him anything at all about Lisa. The nurse said that Lisa had taken a turn for the worse and was now in Intensive Care. The workers pooled their money and bought some flowers, with a card and a little note. They sent it to Lisa in Intensive Care. Several days passed, when another sign appeared at the window, “Lisa passed away. Thank you for caring!” (Adapted from Sermon Central).

A few men were moved by a girl they never met, because they got caught up in thinking about HER struggles, and for a few days, they forgot about their own. They didn’t have the ability to help her medically, but they could show her love – and that drew them into her story. Let me say it again as we file out the doors and are tempted not to notice one another…

The church isn’t lacking talent, gifted people or knowledgeable leaders; often it simply lacks love for people.

• It lacks the love to share the Gospel with the lost.
• It lacks the love to reach out to those who sit across from us and touch their lives.
• It lacks the love to rise above our own opinions, pains and feelings and take the time to see people who feel left out. It lacks love, and it will never be truly effective until it starts loving as we were told.

Can you help?