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1 Corinthains 13 ... Love
By Brian Pepper
I am inclined to think that the person who is fortunate to be more or less permanently living in the same place has a lot to be thankful for. This moving business has its drawbacks. Every time we moved, there was a great deal of sorting out to be done. Mostly I would start out determined that this time I was going to really separate the useful things from the rubbish. However, I usually found that it takes such a long time, that in the end I just bundled the things up and dumped them in boxes.
It was on such an occasion like this while I was sorting things out that I picked out a little book with a very interesting title. It was called ‘The Greatest Thing in the World.’ Naturally I was curious to find out what the author considered to be the ‘Greatest Thing in All the World.’
Before I tell you what it was, I
would like to ask you what it was. I would like to ask
you if you were to write a book on 'The Greatest Thing in
All the World', what would you be writing about? I wonder if
you could tell me the subject of his discussion? I am sure
that you could suggest a number of things, but the subject of this
book was love, for the author was writing a commentary on
1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul sums up by saying these
"And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the
greatest of all is Charity (love)." This is a rather strange statement coming from a man like St
St Paul is not usually associated with love
One does not usually associate the word love with St Paul. As a rule, a man usually recommends to others his own strong point. There is a little evidence that love was one of St Paul’s strong points. As he grew older and mellowed with age, and as his Christian experience grew, it is apparent that he developed a kinder and more tender spirit. But when he wrote these lines his hands were stained with blood.
Now I would not have been the slightest bit surprised to read a statement like this from the apostle John, known so well as the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus entrusted his mother, the one who mentions love more then any other. It was John who penned those immortal words found in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
I have no doubt that on some occasion you have been in a darkened room. Perhaps a old shed, and you have seen little shafts of light penetrating the gloom. If you were to trace their source they would take you back to the sun. And so it is with love. Trace back and it will take you to God.
It is very important that we know
what love is. In the 10 Commandments the principle is laid
down, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
Love never wrongs a neighbour, that is why Jesus said
that love is the fulfilling of the law. After all, love is a
principle, it is a way of life.
When David Livingstone died, he was
still 1,000 miles from Zanzibar, those 56 natives who had
gone with him across the continent, took his body, removed
his heart. For they said "his heart belongs to Africa for
he loved Africa." So they buried that heart beneath a
tree. Then they carried his body with all his belongings 700
miles across the wilds, undergoing all kinds of dangers,
such as fighting hostile tribes. Finally they deposited that
body and every single article that he had at the port on the
coast. His heart was rightly left beneath that tree in the
heart of Africa, because he spoke the language of humanity,
the language of love.
True Christian love
The question that every Christian should ask themselves, "does my life demonstrate love in action?" The thing that this world needs more then any other thing, is true Christian love. There is far too much hatred, strife and envy. If you want to melt a piece of ice, there is a very easy way of doing it. There is one thing you would not do. You would not smash it with a hammer for you would have broken ice. No, all you need to do is just place it where the rays of the sun can play upon it and in a short time it will be melted. The best way to melt icy hearts is to play a little bit of the sunshine of God’s love on those hearts and they will be melted, if it is at all possible to melt them. A real Christian should be a ray of heavenly sunshine.
Now as you study
chapter 13 of 1
Corinthians you will find that it divides itself into 3
sections. In the first 3 verses
love is contrasted with some other worthy things. Then in
love is defined and analysed. In
verses 8-13 love is exalted
First 3 verses
In the first three verses St Paul contrasts love with five great things in succession.
Then he makes his conclusion that
love is greater than any one of them, and greater than all
of them together.
Now let us take the first. 1 Corinthians 13:1 "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am nothing." St Paul was writing to the Corinthians, which meant he was writing to the Greeks.
There is one thing that the Corinthians and the Athenians valued highly and that was eloquence. That is why he puts eloquence first. It is a wonderful thing to be a great speaker, to have the gift of oratory. To be able to stir men and women to action through the power of words. Bob Menzies was one the greatest speakers that Australia has ever produced. He was a man with a brilliant mind and had the ability to get his message over in a very logical way. However Paul says that it is possible for a man to speak like an angel and yet if those words are not prompted by love, they are absolutely useless.
There was an excellent article in
the Readers Digest about General Booth of the Salvation
Army. Here was a man who had the gift of getting his
message through and many were converted by the preaching of
this man of God. It was love for his fellowman that was the
motivating power of his life. Be battled his way
through countless obstacles to help his fellowmen, to help
those who were down and out.
Though I have the gift of prophecy
Verse 2. "Though I have the gift of prophecy ... and have not love, I am nothing." It would be wonderful to be like Moses, or John the Baptist or Daniel. But St Paul says it is far greater to have love than to be a prophet without love.
"Though I ... understand all mysteries and have not love, I am nothing." Just think of the honour of being able to tell the future, to outline the events to take place, to be able to explain all the types and symbols of the Word of God. A man may be able to explain every prophecy, perhaps every verse in the bible, but if love is not the motive power he will be nothing in God’s sight.
"Though I have ... all knowledge ... and have not love I am nothing." It would be a marvellous thing to have the wisdom of Solomon. I often wish that I did, in order to solve some of my private and public problems, to understand the secrets of nature as he did, to appreciate the arts and sciences.
We humans are too often inclined to think that scholastic ability and other mental attainments are the things that really count. But St Paul says, "The real test is this: does he love his brethren, does he really care about others, that is what really counts." And how true!
Dr Albert Schweitzer was a wonderful example of what St Paul is saying. If ever a man of learning applied himself to the uplifting of humanity, it was this man. He was a man of remarkable talents, outstanding in many fields of learning. And yet he gave of himself to serve the simple Africans in the Belgian Congo.
Love is considered to be a kind of abstract thing, but I assure you there is nothing greater when seen in action.
If I had announced in the last week's Church bulletin that this Sabbath I was going to speak on love, it could have happened that some of the congregation might have decided that they were not feeling the best and stayed home. I remember a preacher, Merrin Whitaker, who once preached on the subject ‘Soap bubbles’. However as the congregation were already seated and waiting, when they learned of the title it was a little late to stay at home. It was one of the best sermons I have ever heard and everyone really enjoyed it because it was so down to earth and practical. I believe that this is just as down to earth and practical. For love is a principal, it is a way of life.
Verse 2 last part "And though I have faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing." It must be a wonderful thing to be able to heal the sick, to cast out devils, even to raise the dead. Christ did all this and he gave that power to the disciples. Paul himself did all these things and yet he says that if love is not the motivating power behind it all, it is all useless.
Did you know that there will be some who will come to Jesus at the last day and they will say to him "Lord we healed the sick, we cast out devils." And yet he will put them from him because they did not have love. Jesus said in John 14:15 "If you love me, keep my commandments." Love commands obedience, obedience is prompted by love, and anything less than that falls short. That is why Jesus has to say these tragic words, "I never knew you."
Verse 3. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor ... and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." It is a noble thing to help the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to help the needy. But if it is done for the love of praise, for display, from a sense of duty, or to avoid tax, then St Paul says that it will not do you any good.
A man offered a church school a swing on the provision that later on, if he needed it at home they would give it back. His offer was turned down because it was a gift with something tied to it, it wasn’t a love gift.
And now comes martyrdom. Verse 3 last part says "Though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." Many Martyrs have willingly given their lives. Men like Huss, Jerome, Ridley, Latimer and countless others have made the supreme sacrifice, rather than compromise principle.
And yet here is St Paul saying that a man can give his body to be burned and yet it might profit him nothing. You might say, "How can that be?" What St Paul is really saying, there is no merit to be gained by needlessly seeking martyrdom by fire or any other method.
You have all read of Buddhist
priests in Vietnam pouring petrol all over their bodies then
kindly setting fire to themselves or with smiling faces
jumping into a blazing fire, and yet St Paul says that it
will profit nothing. That is rather staggering. What
is the trouble then? It is because these deeds are unworthy?
No! There can be no better deeds than these, what is needed
is better motives. Love must be the motivating agent.
Love suffereth long
Verse 4. "Love suffereth long." There is one thing very certain and that is you cannot learn patience in isolation. The best way to learn patience is in the world not out of it, where you have to take the rubs, the blows, and the scoffs, those daily trials that come to each one of us.
It is not easy to have patience with
some people, they will try your patience to the limit. It is
quite easy to get along with certain persons such as a
friend with a friend, a mother and her child, a wife with
her husband, but it is hard to love the unlovely person, the
prickly person. Yes! It is not easy to love cranky,
peculiar, unreasonable people. And most of us have these
Love is kind
St Paul tells us that "love is
Did you know that kindness is just simply applied
Christianity? Just simple little things such as a kind
thought, a get well card, a present for mother. Love is
always courteous and obliging. Unfortunately there are too
many 'porcupine' Christians. If you go near them you will
get pricked every time. This is not Christianity, it is a
gross perversion, love is kind and patient. There is
something else about love, St Paul says that love is
Love envieth not
Verse 4. "Love envieth not."
Envy does not come from God, it comes from the devil. If
someone else is succeeding and we are not, how much better
it is to give them the credit and to rejoice with him. May
God deliver us from envy and jealousy. True love is never
jealous of another's success.
Love vaunteth not itself
Now next on the list is humility. St
Paul says in
verse 4, last part, "Love vaunteth not
There are some folk, who whenever they do something, they
want others to know all about it. They talk about their good
deeds from morning till night.
Love is not puffed up
"Love is not puffed up." We should never be blown up with our own importance. You most likely have met folk who are always running others down in order to push themselves up. Love does not inflate a person with vanity.
I remember seeing in one of those
Walt Disney nature films a frog opera where the frogs blew
themselves up like balloons and then emitted a deep guttural
sound. It was quite comical for it reminds you of some folk
who are always blowing themselves up. When I went to college
there was a young man with a very interesting nickname. The
students called him 'trumpet', you can imagine why.
Love does not behave itself unseemly
Verse 5. "Love does not behave
Love is not rude, or unrefined, or
discourteous. There are some people who seem to take a real
delight in showing their contempt for conventions, and
everything else. A true Christian should always be courteous
and kind. How easy it is to be snappy and sharp tempered
after a very late night or a series of late nights.
Especially when the children begin to squabble and fight
Love seeketh not her own
Now next on that list of what real
love is we read, "Love seeketh not her own." There is
no place for selfish ambition. This was a lesson that John's
mother had to learn she wanted those boys of hers to have
first place in this wonderful kingdom that they expected
Jesus to establish. But the Master told her that to be first
you have to be willing to be last. Love is never greedy, or
grasping, or covetous, and it never seeks its own interests.
The greatest curse is the love of self.
Love is not easily provoked
Verse 5 latter part, "Love ... is
not easily provoked." Love does not give way to temper
and passion. Some folk blaze out in anger with the slightest
provocation. A Christian should be able to control his or
Love thinketh no evil
Verse 5 last part, "Love ...
thinketh no evil." Love never becomes a talebearer. Love
will never needlessly expose the faults of others.
Love rejoiceth not in iniquity
Verse 6, "Love ... rejoiceth not
in iniquity." It does not listen to unfavourable reports
but instead it tries to draw attention to the good points.
There is an old saying that goes this way, "There is so
much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of
us, that it hardly behoves any of us to speak evil of the
rest of us."
Never were truer words spoken.
Love beareth all things
There is a story told of Alexander
the Great, he had commissioned a famous artist to paint his
portrait. However the artist was rather perplexed how to
paint the portrait, for Alexander had a very ugly scar on
his temple. He did not want to put that scar in the portrait
because it might offend Alexander and yet he did not want to
leave it out for it would not be true of art or a faithful
likeness of the emperor. So he said, "I want you to put
your hand up this way with your fingers on your forehead."
And so he had Alexander place his hand just so the scar was
covered. Surely we could learn a lesson from that artist! Is
it not better to put the finger of love over the defects and
scars of our brethren.
Love believeth all things
Verse 7, "Love ... believeth all
things." Love is ready to believe a man is right until
he has been proved wrong. After all that is fair enough. We
would expect that from civil justice surely more so from the
Love Hopeth all things
But St Paul goes on to say in
7 last part, "Love ... hopeth all things." Even after
a man has been proved guilty, love still hopes that he will
repent and be restored. I am so glad of that! Love will see
the most depraved person and look upon him as a candidate
for the kingdom.
Love endureth all things
Verse 7 last part, "Love ...
endureth all things."
Love is able to endure all things and time after time
this has been very clearly demonstrated.
Love never faileth
St Paul defends and exalts love in the closing part. Verse 8, "Love never faileth ..." How true! There used to be a hymn with that title in the old Advent hymnal, it was a very good hymn too. Many things fail, often the things we least expect. Did you know that once the mighty Niagara Falls failed? An ice dam was formed by huge blocks of ice piling up until it stopped the water. When the water was stopped, the rainbow was gone. The thunder of the falls was hushed. But God’s love has never failed. The rainbow around the throne has never faded.
St Paul says that prophecy will cease, for the time is coming when every prophecy will have been fulfilled. Tongues will pass away, for we will all speak the one language of heaven. One thing will remain throughout all eternity and that is love.
It is no wonder when St Paul sums up he says, "love is the greatest of all." Trace the source of love and it takes you back to God. Jesus says "If you Love God you will love your fellow men." We can certainly learn a lot from 1 Corinthians 13.