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 Sermon on 1 Corinthians 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.


The Greatest Thing in All the World

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. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul sums up by saying these words, "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 Paul. 
 

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."


Important that we know what love is

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.


David Livingstone knew the language of love

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.


Division of 1 Corinthians 13

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 verses 4-7 love is defined and analysed. In verses 8-13 love is exalted and defended.
 

First 3 verses

In the first three verses St Paul contrasts love with five great things in succession.

1  Eloquence
2 Prophecy
3 Knowledge
4 Miracle working faith
5 Martyrdom

Then he makes his conclusion that love is greater than any one of them, and greater than all of them together.
 

Eloquence

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

"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

"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.


Though I have
faith that could remove mountains

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."


Though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor

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.


Though I
give my body to be burned

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 faults.
 

Love is kind

St Paul tells us that "love is kind."  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 generous.
 

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 itself."  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 itself unseemly."  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 among themselves.
 

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 her temper.
 

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

Verse 7, "Love ... beareth all things." The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all things have fervent charity (love) among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."

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 church.
 

Love Hopeth all things

But St Paul goes on to say in verse 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.

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Thank you for posting some of (Brian Pepper's) sermons. It's like reading the very words Jesus has spoken to me and is a great encouragement. I cannot say that about many Pastors but I can say that about (Pr Pepper). Thank you. Robert @yeshuaskingdom.org (USA) ... more testimonials.

 

 
 

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