Selected highlights from this sermon.
The world is full of “love.” But what kind of love? Human love depends up the beauty, personality, and worthiness of others, but the divine love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 is completely different.
God’s love—the love that we are commissioned to employ—is dependent upon God and not the person loved. This necessary, special, and eternal love is capable of loving the unlovable. And it is this love that helps us to weather the tough problems of life.
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FINDING WHERE YOU FIT_4
The Motivation of Love
So let me begin with a question. What is it that really does distinguish us as a church from the world? Is it because we have more money than the world? Well, you can laugh at that because obviously the answer is no. Let me ask you, is it because we are more committed to our cause than the world is to its causes? Unfortunately, the answer to that again may be no. There are some people who are more committed to saving the whales than we are committed to saving souls.
Is it because of what we believe? Is that what makes us different? Well, that’s a trick question now, so be very careful before you answer it because in one sense the answer is yes. Of course, it’s what we believe that makes us different. But what we believe in and of itself does not give us a visible difference from the world. If you are going to speak about visible difference, you have to go back to the words of Jesus Christ. “By this shall men know that you are my disciples if you have love one toward another.”
Now I need to tell you that throughout the years I’ve always felt a little uneasy about that verse. I haven’t minded quoting it, of course, because it comes from the lips of Christ Himself, but I feel uneasy because I have seen in Church history so many churches that have so emphasized love that they have compromised truth. And there’s always that temptation isn’t there? The temptation is that love can just swallow truth whole, and we’ve seen that time and time again when there are those who will begin to renege on the doctrines because they say, “Well, you know God is love,” and from there all kinds of heresies have flowed.
The tension between love and truth is always there. It’s been there since the Church began really. The year is just 200 (just the third century) in Northern Africa where extreme persecution breaks out – violent persecution against the Christians, and you know, what happens is understandably there are some Christians who denied Christ under pressure. Then the persecution ended and the question was, “Should we welcome these folks back into the Church or shouldn’t we?” The Church was divided. Cyprian wrote a letter and he was a bishop in the Church and he argued that of course we should invite them back. If they repent they should be welcomed because after all the founder of the Church, the supposed founder, Peter himself denied Christ under pressure. So why can’t we welcome these people back?
There was another man in the Church by the name of Novatian and he argued differently. Novatian said if we begin to welcome these people back, number one, we will depreciate the value of martyrdom, and number two, what an example that will be for future generations. Young people are going to say, “Well you can deny Christ under pressure because all that you need to do is repent and you are reinstated into the Church. It’s no big deal.” So Novatian became a hardliner. In fact, he said that we should not even serve communion to someone who has been married twice.
So you have a split in the Church. You have the love Church on the one side, and then on the other side you have the truth Church. And the historians tell us that when that split occurred the Church began to then have so many internal divisions among itself that soon it forgot its mission to the world because it had to clean up its own act and resolve the problem of a split.
But in the Bible, truth and love go hand and hand, and today the topic is love. And the chapter is 1 Corinthians 13, and we would misinterpret this passage were it not for the need to put it into context. You remember I preached two messages on 1 Corinthians 12, and then we went to Romans 12, and now we’re back to the last part of the chapter and then chapter 13.
Paul has been discussing the issue of gifts with people who have been absorbed with the various gifts, particularly those sensational gifts. And Paul commends them and says, “I commend you because you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” There were people who were seeking gifts like the gift of tongues and miracles, and they were taking these to an extreme. And so Paul ends the twelfth chapter and he lists them in verse 28. “And God has appointed in the Church, first apostles, second prophets,” and then he puts tongues last. And he says not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets. Not all speak in tongues, etc. He says, “All do not have the gifts of healing.” Verse 31 says, “Earnestly desire the greater gifts.” Now he is not telling us that we should go through the list of gifts and choose the ones that we want. He has already emphasized that it is God who puts these gifts within the Body and distributes them as He wills.
But Paul is saying that as a church, when you are thinking about gifts, don’t just concentrate on the supernatural gifts, but rather concentrate on the more important gifts – the greater gifts of communication, of teaching, and of evangelism. And then he says, “But I have a more excellent way to teach you because no matter how gifted you are, if you don’t know this, you have missed it, and you have missed it by at least a mile.” And that’s the context now of 1 Corinthians 13.
Now since this is a famous chapter and it’s a chapter on love, I’d like to take you by the hand and very lovingly, let’s walk through this passage of Scripture together. And then what we’re going to do is to look at it and see its implications for us, for our lives, and for the Church.
First of all, in verses 1 to 3 Paul says, “Love is necessary.” He says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels (if I am that gifted), but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Wouldn’t you like to have the gift of tongues? Some people would. Some of us don’t think it’s that necessary today, but there are those within the Church who still pursue it. And Paul says even if you get it and you can talk supernaturally like the angels (and nobody knows how the angels talk), if you don’t have love, it’s nothing. You are empty.
And then there are those who say, “Well, you know I’m not interested in tongues. I’m interested in the gift of prophecy. If there’s anything that I want to do, I want to train for the ministry. I want to really have the gift of communication and preach the Word of God.”
Paul says, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge…” This week as I was looking at this I thought, “You know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we here at The Moody Church hired somebody on the staff like that?” Imagine somebody having the gift of prophecy and knowing all mysteries, and having all knowledge. Can you imagine his counseling schedule? Just imagine it because here’s somebody who has all this insight, and people from around the world are trying to sign up and get 20 minutes of his time to finally find the answers of the deep mysteries that plague them. And Paul says, “If you had a gift like that and didn’t have love, it’s not just that you would be empty but,” he says, “you would be a nothing. You would be a toothpick with all of the wood carefully shaved from it.” Nothing! A zero!
Well, what about if you have all faith so as to move mountains? Now there’s something that I’d like to have. You know all these mountains that are in the way! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak the word and make the mountains disappear? Paul says if you have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, you are nothing.
Now I really struggle with verse 3. I think you will too.
“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.” I look at this and I say, how can somebody who gives all of his possessions to feed the poor not be loving? I mean there have been those in Church history who have done this, and we hold them up, as the quintessential example of what love is all about.
And then there are those who give their bodies to be burned. In France there were martyrs who were marched to their death who sang so loudly that the world hired a band to drown out the sound of the people who were going to lay down their lives. And Paul says, “I could give my body to be burned, and I could die at the stake and still not have love.” And I say, “Paul, I thought that that’s exactly what love does,” and Paul would say, “Now wait a moment before you shout.” He would say, “You have to understand that it’s even possible to do that with such a wrong motive that it’s not loving, though it looks that way. And if I give my body to be burned, and if I give my possessions to feed the poor,” Paul says, “and I don’t have love, I am nothing.” Love is essential. It is necessary.
Now in the next verses, Paul picks it up and says, “Love is special.” And certainly, by the way, he would say to us that no matter how much we know, no matter how gifted we are, no matter how much we delight in the gifts of others and no matter how wonderful our worship service is (and what a wonderful worship service we had here this morning), if you do not have love, you are nothing. That’s what Paul would say.
And now beginning at verse 4 and going through to the end of verse 7, Paul says that love is very special. It is extraordinary. You don’t find this in the average office down in the Loop. You don’t find this in the average home. This is something so unusual that, as we shall see, it is a gift of God. It has to be. And Paul doesn’t define love.
I wish I had said, “Paul, you know all kinds of arguments are going to happen in Church history over what love really is. Why don’t you give us a definition and settle the arguments?” But he doesn’t do that. He just said, “I want to describe it,” and he gives us some behavioral responses of love. And here he lists quite a few. He begins with two positive ones. He lists eight negative ones, and then on the other side he comes up with five positive responses again.
So let’s just simply take them. First of all, love is patient. That means it is able to endure injuries without retaliation. Remember in 1 Corinthians 6, he was discussing the question of lawsuits and he said, “You know, you Christians shouldn’t be going into court with one another in front of a pagan judge. I mean can’t you resolve your own differences, and can’t you even rather take wrong than to do something like that? Love is patient. It does not have to take another Christian to court to settle the score and to get that last dime. That’s not love. Love is kind. It pays back with kindness that which was delivered in hurt.”
And then begins that negative list. “Love is not jealous. It delights rather in the success of others.” Have you ever thought of the roots of jealousy in our hearts, and who of us has not been jealous? Who of us has not been willing to see someone who is above us in our company, or in our ministry (or whatever) fall? Who of us has not secretly seen him fall and perhaps delighted in it? That’s not love. That comes from somewhere else, but that’s not love.
Love is not jealous. Love does not brag. Oh, we’ve all met those people who draw attention to themselves, who say things that even may be true, but you listen to them, and you say, “Spare me.” Love does not brag. Love is not arrogant. We recognize that right away, and the reason we do so with such facility is because we look into the mirror several times a day. Love is not arrogant. It does not act unbecomingly. Now what would that be? Well Paul uses that word in chapter 7 of this epistle to refer to a man who might lead a woman along and then in the end not marry her. He gives her the indications that he’s going to and then turns around and misuses her. That’s not love. Love doesn’t use a woman towards its own ends. There’s another word to describe that that begins with the letter “L” that’s a four letter word, but it’s not love. It’s something else. That’s not love.
Love does not seek its own. It’s not into it for its own interests. It’s not just interested in its own selfish narrow-minded individualistic agenda. That’s not love. Love is not provoked, and how easily we get provoked.
At our day of prayer yesterday, somebody was praying and saying, “Lord, help us when we are in traffic not to get angry.” There are people on the expressways that can provoke us if we aren’t careful, but be very careful, especially if you have a JESUS bumper sticker. But love is not provoked.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs, Paul says. It doesn’t have this whole file folder that it can resort to because if you do this and that, I can draw up this particular file and I can show you what you did back in November of 1992. That’s not love.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. It doesn’t delight in evil. It doesn’t like to spread stories and gossip even if the gossip is true because “Did you know what So-and-So did, and I just can’t believe it, but you know, come to think of it, it is just like him? That’s him!” That’s not love. That’s something else. Love doesn’t do that.
Paul says it rejoices with the truth. It bears all things. That means that when the going gets difficult, it keeps bearing it. It believes all things. Is it naïve? It’s not naïve, but it does give people the benefit of the doubt. It’ll always try to put stories in the best possible light. That’s the way love is.
And then he says, “It hopes all things.” It hopes for the very best. It endures all things. That is love. Now I don’t think that we should interpret this to mean that if you are being abused you should simply take it. I want you to know today that if a father is abusing you in your home, or if a husband is abusing his wife, or abusing his children, you should go for help. But the Bible does indicate that this is a quality of love that you do not find on Main Street. This is special.
Love is necessary. Love is special. And love is eternal. We keep going here. I told you we were going for a walk, and we are not yet to the end of the garden. Notice that it says in verse 8, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away.” This past week I was in Nashville speaking at the Religious Book Sellers Convention. And you know there are rows and rows of books and booths of the publishing companies. I won’t even describe what goes on. And you look at all of those books and you know there’s enough wisdom there to float the world really.
But the gift of prophecy and these gifts of communication aren’t going to last forever. You aren’t going to have to listen to sermons in heaven, Paul is saying in a footnote. He says, “If there are gifts of prophecy they will be done away.” “Oh,” you say, “but I can speak in tongues.” In fact, there are now people in certain churches who not only are speaking in tongues but also are making animal noises, and they are doing that thinking that they are doing God a favor and themselves a favor, and Paul says, “If there are tongues, they will cease. If there is knowledge (By that he means the gift of knowledge he talked about earlier that some people have.), it’s going to be done away.”
So all of the books and all of the tapes and all of the things that we put so much stock in today will no longer be relevant at a certain point of time. And they will all burn. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” See this is the best we can do. We need these gifts in this side of eternity. “But when the perfect comes (that is when Jesus returns and the Church becomes perfect) the partial (this struggling with our own gifts and knowing where we fit) 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.” Paul says, “You know all your arguing about gifts (this one is greater, and do you really need that if you’re going to get plugged into God?) is childish.” He’s not depreciating the gifts, mind you. They are very important but what he’s saying is, “If that’s your emphasis and you don’t see this overwhelming tide of love that should engulf all that you do, you have really missed it and you are childish.” Yeah, that’s what he said.
“For now we see through a mirror dimly but then face to face. Now I know in part but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
Now people say, “Will we know each other in heaven?” Of course we will know one another, and I believe that intuitively we’ll know the names of all the folks in heaven because it says, “Now we know in part but then I shall know fully just as I have also been fully known.” It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be omniscient. In heaven we aren’t going to know everything. In fact, one of the things we are going to be doing in heaven is studying God to eternity because the ideas of God will extend to eternity. So we’re going to be learning in heaven. We’re going to be studying God. That’s going to be the subject, but as far as we are concerned, we’re going to know each other in heaven.
And I believe that we’re going to be able to walk up to some of those old saints and we’ll know them intuitively and we’ll just be able to sit down and solve all the biblical questions that puzzled us as to why they acted that way. And we’ll ask them those questions if they are relevant, and that’s a might big “if.”
“I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” And though not stated expressly, I think Paul wants us to grasp that only love is going to endure because, you see, when Jesus Christ returns to earth you’ll notice it says, “Now abides faith,” but we will not need faith anymore because faith will have become sight. We will not need hope because hope will have become a reality. But love is going to abide because love is as eternal as God, for “God is love, and he that knoweth God loveth,” the Bible says.
And so that’s Paul’s word to the people in Corinth, and then he picks up the subject of gifts again and says, “Remember now, it’s important but nothing matters unless you love.”
Well what we need to do is to back up a little bit and ask ourselves this question, and the question that we need to ask ourselves is, “What is going on here in the text that is so significant?” What is the love that the Apostle Paul is talking about? It most assuredly is not human love, is it, because human beings just don’t love that way? This is divine love. This is something that is supernatural, and if I could make a distinction, it would be that human love is based on the one who is loved. That’s human love. Human love says, “I can love you because of what you do for me. I love you because you make me feel good. I love you because you are special to me.” When a man says to a woman, “I love you,” usually he also means, “You are lovely in my sight, and that’s why I love you. It’s because you are easy to love.”
Now there are two things that attract us to people. One is their looks, and I want you to know today that those of you who are beautiful (and there are a few of you like that out there), you have an advantage that the rest of us don’t have. When you were in supermarkets and your mother took you there, there were people who made over you and talked to you and gave you attention that some of us didn’t have because we are attracted to people who are beautiful.
And then the other is personality. You know there are those who just ooze personality. They are very gregarious. They are very outgoing. “You’ll just love Jim,” someone may say, and the reason is because Jim is this outgoing magnetic personality. I know a man who says his wife has a magnetic personality, and the reason is because virtually everything she wears is charged. (laughter) And you meet somebody like that and you are attracted to him or her, and that is human love.
The Song of Solomon is a poem of human love. “How beautiful you are, my darling, how beautiful you are.” I guess I should bring Rebecca up here and say this to her. It says, “Your eyes are like doves behind your veil. You hair is like the mountain goats that have come down from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like newly washed ewes that give birth and they are twins.” And then it goes on to say, “Your mouth is very beautiful, and your lips are like a thread of scarlet.” And it says, “Your temples are like slices of pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David with rows and rows of stones on which hang the shields of a thousand warriors.”
Are you enjoying this? (laughter) “You make my heart beat faster, my love, my beloved sister. You make my heart beat faster by a single glance of your eyes. Your love is more precious to me than wine, and your fragrance is more precious than a thousand spices.”
Well the guy had it bad. (laughter) That’s human love. Is there anything wrong with human love? No, that’s what makes the world go ‘round. That’s what gives us energy, but I’ll tell you this about human love. It isn’t strong enough to weather some of the real tough situations of life.
Many years ago I was speaking in Peoria and a woman came forward and talked to me, and she showed me her burned arm. She had her little child with her, and she said, “I was in a fire and I barely escaped.” And she said, “My husband came to the hospital room and saw my burned body and walked out and said, ‘You are not the woman that I married,’” and he left her to marry a younger person. You see, that’s human love. You are doing something for me. You are making me feel good. You are meeting my needs. I love you because you’re lovely. That’s human love.
Many years ago there was a song that said, “I no longer love you, dear. To waste our lives would be a sin. Please release me, dear, that I might love again, and again and again and again.” Always looking for somebody more lovely! That’s human love.
Divine love is not dependent upon the one who is loved. Divine love is based on the lover. You read 1 Corinthians 13. There is no way that you can love like this unless the love comes from within you, unless there is a self-originating love that says, “I can go on loving you even after you change.” You see, that’s what real divine love is, and that’s why it is divine love because the Scripture says so clearly that even when we were without sin, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. You see God loved us even when we weren’t lovely, and that’s divine love. And that’s why the Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and long-suffering. This is not a natural kind of love. This is not human love raised to a higher power. This is supernatural because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. It is spilled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit of God that has been given unto us. It is just God being Himself in our lives. That’s what divine love is really all about. And by the way, if you have never responded to divine love, I want you to notice that the text did say that Christ shed His blood for sinners. And if you are here today and you have never drawn near to God to receive that love, you can do that even before you leave today because God is available for fellowship if you are.
So that’s why divine love is so powerful. With it you can love an enemy. Jesus said that you can do good to those who hate you. You can bless those who curse you. Is that what you do with those who curse you at work? Do you bless them? Do you pray for those who despitefully use you? You say, “Well, where would I find the energy to have that kind of a response?” And that’s the very question you should be asking, because the answer is it must come from God. It is the work of God in the heart to enable us to forgive and to enable us to be able to love supernaturally. And could I say that that’s how the Early Church won the world for Christ. They loved even to the point of being irrational. They just loved.
Bishop Samuel, who died in that hail of bullets that killed Anwar Sadat, told Ray Bakke, “To know how the Church spread in North Africa you must understand that in ancient times – in the first and second centuries, and even before that - the means of birth control was to just simply take unwanted babies and leave them on the street.” Today when that happens here, it’s front-page news, but in those days that’s just what happened, and the little babies would cry, and eventually they would become hungry and die. And if somebody wanted them they could pick them up. You could just pick up these unwanted babies. And what the Church did was it gathered together nursing mothers. You have to understand that in those days there were no baby bottles. It gathered together nursing mothers and it took them to a square in town, and then they would organize baby hunts, and they would go up and down the streets looking for abandoned babies, and they would bring them to these mothers who would nurse them, and who would adopt them and who would rear them. And the world said, “What in the world would make a mother do that?” You see that’s what’s called credibility.
Something else that happened in the Early Church is that oftentimes the Christians, because they were persecuted, got the worst jobs, and some of them were garbage collectors. And thrown into the garbage, because in Greek philosophy men like Plato said the body wasn’t important anyway, there were many bodies - some of them burned, some of them who had been infected because of disease and therefore died. And these garbage collectors would take these dirty bodies, burned and dying of disease that they found in the garbage, and they would wash them and they would bury them. And they did it because of their theology. They said that even the unjust are going to be raised in the resurrection.
You see, the Early Church saw it as its responsibility to out-love the world. And may I say that the world can out-finance us? They have certainly done that. They most assuredly can out-entertain us. They can out-organize us. They can out-business us, but may it never be said that the world is able to out-love us. May that never be said! And that’s the way in which we are going to gain the very thing that the evangelical community has lost in this generation, and that is the word credibility. We are not credible. Intellectually we can win the arguments any day. We’ve got books and we’ve got scholars, all of whom are very important, and if you take it argument by argument, point by point, Christianity can take on any comers (period). But we are losing it because people don’t make their decisions just on the basis of intellect, and the basis of rational argument. They will not make their decision unless there is credibility. And the Scripture says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples.” And Jesus said that because He knew right well how difficult and how naturally of ourselves we find it to love. It is very, very difficult. It is contrary to our nature. That’s why we read 1 Corinthians 13 and can scarcely grasp it.
Charles Weigel, whom you probably don’t know, except that he is the author of the hymn, No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus, was preaching in Pasadena in the previous century. And he came to the evening service where he was to preach, and the first people who met him asked, “How did you enjoy the rose garden this afternoon?” And he said, “Very fine.” But the next people that he met also said, “How did you enjoy the rose garden?” He thought a few people had seen him but he couldn’t believe so many had seen him. Everybody said, “How did you enjoy the rose garden?” Finally he said, “How come you know that I was in the rose garden this afternoon?” And they said, “It’s because you brought the smell of the roses with you.”
How are people going to know tomorrow that we were at Moody Church? How are people in your office, in your bank, in your factory, in your hospital going to know that we have been in the presence of Christ? It is through this sweet fragrance that God works in our hearts and enables us to respond differently to the painful situations of life because we go on loving and loving. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but because He first loved us.” And because He loved us, we love Him, and therefore we also love one another, even to the point of being irrational because love does not confine itself to the categories of reason. It just goes on loving.
“By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one toward another,” and it should begin in this auditorium and spill out into the streets of the city of Chicago.
Join me as we pray.
Our Father, today we ask in the name of Jesus that all the excuses that we give for why we can’t love might be broken down in light of the fact that we’ve been granted the Holy Spirit to whom we can submit if we so will to work in us that which is totally supernatural, that which is so unique the world is astonished and says, “How can somebody do that?” Oh Father, we pray that from this congregation that You might raise up those who have been called (and all of us are) to special vocations, to special works, knowing that they have been planted there, that people who know them say, “This person has the smell – the aroma – of Christ.” Grant it, Lord Jesus, we pray in Your name, Amen.
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