A particularly decadent popular performer used to begin his concerts with the statement, "Welcome to my nightmare." Fear and darkness bring little peace. In God's design people are intended to experience joy, affection and meaning. A nightmare is about unreasoning fear. In a nightmare you can't control the steering wheel.
Postmodernism is going nowhere fast. It doesn't take long to get to nowhere. In a speech earlier this week, 34 year-old brilliant-guy Ben Shapiro said, "Young Americans--we're sick and tired of postmodern garbage." Postmodernism brought us to nowhere. And here we are.
Today, many of your non-Christian neighbors and friends are at nowhere. It is a moment of opportunity. People are tired of nothingness. There is opportunity to look again at a different approach to life. There is opportunity again to think about the things that matter.
This age has lost sense of direction. Meanwhile, we Christians who live in the last age have plentiful direction. We have plentiful motivation. We want to live right. While people around us don't know whether they are coming or going, we do. We have different values.
The Bible has enormous guidance in it, enormous wisdom. We Christians want to hear it, think it through, apply it. Then we will know how to live in these end-times.
One of Paul's letters is written to the church in Corinth. God gave supernatural gifts to believers there, and yet many of the Corinthian Christians were relatively new in the faith. They were struggling with the right use of their gifts, the right attitude. We learn much about this situation and about the right use of gifts, in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14. But have we realized that chapter thirteen is also about the right use of spiritual gifts? Chapter 13 helps us understand a great deal about what should drive us in these last days.
First Corinthians chapter thirteen has five sections.
- 1-3 Love is necessary for gifts to benefit
- 4-8a Love is and is not
- 8b-9 Things that are temporary
- 10-12 The perfect obsoletes the imperfect
- 13 The primacy of love
Let's work through the passage.
Gifts Not Administered in Love = Nothing
We begin by understanding that God gives His gifts to build up His Church. His Church has a very specific mission. God wants His people in the end to be examples of love, so He instructs us what love is and is not. Verses 1-3 show us how even God-given love, misused for selfish purposes, is so powerful that it can reduce us to nothing.
Paul warns, "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 symbol." If I exercise the gifts God gives me to build up His Church, but my motivations are for self glorification, I become unpleasant and unuseful noise. And God's gifts are wasted.
"If I have the gift or prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing." Gifts one has received from God but not used for God, that is, not used with love, nullify the gift user. He is as nothing in God's sight, for he is misusing the gifts God has given him for use. The gifts are to build up God's Church.
"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."
Great sacrifices might not be so great. They don't grow us or change us if there is no love motivation behind them. Then although the gifts are given for a divine purpose, the gift does not achieve the divine purpose.
We all know that a truth of God is that His word never returns empty to Him. It never fails to achieve the purpose He sets for it. But there are two ways God's Word can come. One is His direct command, His divine will acting and not subject to human decision. There are things God decides to do and in which He is entirely unmoved by human requests or decisions.
There are also things in which God determines He will act but also interact with human will. The use of a spiritual gift is one of these. He wants us to behave selflessly toward others but He interacts with human freedom. The role might be a very limited one or very substantial role. God in His wisdom knows which approach will bring humans the greatest real blessing and Himself the largest glory. He needs nothing but it is best for us as creatures to see God receiving glory.
The gifts God gives are for the purpose of building up His people for service. It is shameful not to use them for God's glory. But gifts not administered in love don't advance the mission God has set for us. So when He gives you a gift, you should use it in the Church for His glory!
Love is and is Not
How many ideas there are today about what love is. Love is the best and most meaningful thing about being human, yet there are vastly different ideas today about what it is. What is God's idea of love? One of the premium revelations about this is this passage.
Verses 4-8 present this data. Sixteen positively and negatively represented traits give us the outline.
First, two positive traits: Love is patient and is kind. Remember, since God is love (1 John 4:8) what we are trying to grasp here is an outline of the character of God the Father, of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Kindness and patience are very important traits for a holy, all-powerful being. Certainly, if you have read the gospels this is how you would describe Jesus. And yet I've never met anyone who read the Koran or other religious book who described their vision of God in that way. When we come to God asking His forgiveness, He is patient with us. An impatient God would not forgive as God does.
Next, love is not jealous. That is, love does not envy. Lucifer said in his heart that he would ascend above the stars of God, that he would receive their worship. He wanted that worship that rightfully was God's. It was envy, jealousy, and it is a core satanic character trait. We've all indulged it. It must be eradicated in us.
Love doesn't brag or act arrogantly or unbecomingly. Love doesn't put itself above others or present itself as superior to others. It treats others with respect, even unearned respect. Love does not seek out edgy behaviors, it does not try to present itself as culturally up-to-date. These elements are simply not part of its value set.
Love does not seek its own. That is, love cannot be bent to a self-serving agenda. Love is unselfish, love unpacks itself in doing good to others with no reward anticipated. Love is backwards to us.
Love is not provoked. It is not looking for trouble, not trying to offend. Love might disturb you. You might discover that what you thought was love is not love. Love might surprise you. But love is not looking for a fight. Love is looking for a willing response.
Love does not take into account wrong suffered. We have expectations and entitlements. We feel that because we are a parent we are entitled to this response from a child. But while we might receive this response, we might not. Then do we stop loving the child? No. We still love the child. We may be saddened. But we continue to love with this love that does not take into account wrongs suffered. In other words, love is not externally dependent.
Sometimes a husband feels he's not receiving the respect he should be receiving from his wife. That may be. He might be emotionally deprived and his marriage isn't all it could be. But if he has the love of God in him he will come to understand that he should love her just the same. Hopefully she will reciprocate. But she might not. Then he loves her anyway. And vice versa for wives who may feel unloved by their husbands. This is the kind of love that gets couples through thin times, draining times. It is a kind of love we receive from God; it is not self-generated.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness. Paul could have worded this in the positive but he chose to communicate it using this negative language. Love does not exist in some morally neutral place. God's definition of love is embedded in a universe which has the possibility of good and evil. God gives everyone free choice and this free choice can be misused.
Love is righteousness, and unlove is unrighteousness. Love is in opposition to unrighteousness. And so, love does not steal, for stealing is wrong. Love does not commit adultery, because committing adultery is wrong; it is a violation of trust and the covenant of God. Love does not worship idols. Love does not disregard God's seventh day Sabbath. Love is inseparable from God's law, and love's opposite cannot be separated from the violation of God's law. Doing the right thing is doing love.
Love rejoices with truth. Love is truth-positive. Love can never be morally neutral. Love is not compatible with an everything-is-relative stance. The moral relativist will feel some emotion for sure, but it may not be the kind of love that God intends for humans. When I hear someone, even a church member, attacking Bible truth, I know that somewhere there is a love problem.
Unfortunately, what is true is that we all have a love problem. We have an improper appreciation for ourselves; we value our desire more highly than we value God's desire. We should seek truth. Its only source is God. Seeking truth is seeking Jesus. Truth has a name.
Love bears all, believes all, hopes all. Love pays the price to redeem if redemption is still possible. Jesus sacrificed His life on the Cross for you. He bore punishment for all your sin and all of mine. From the Cross the view looked hopeless. And yet, Jesus hoped for the salvation of millions or even billions of humans. The prophet Isaiah records beforetime Jesus' thoughts as He hung dying on the cross:
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11 NKJV).
Jesus looked beyond the Cross by hope not by prophecy. He believed, although He did not then know for certain, that God the Father would accept His sacrifice for humans. Jesus also endured everything at the Cross. All that Satan could throw at Him, He endured. Jesus hanging on the cross was the gospel. Jesus hanging on the cross was doing love.
This is the kind of love--the only kind--that never fails. And Jesus is the only source available to you and me. It is not in us. But it can be in us. Jesus can be in us, and it is always in Him. God gives us in Jesus exactly what we need to spiritually thrive. When we experience despair; when we experience illness; when we experience trouble in our home, in our relationships; when it seems there is nowhere else to turn, and there isn't, then we find our endurance in Jesus who endured all things to bring life to our reach.
Love believes all. This doesn't mean that love magically turns fantasy into reality. Love believes all in the sense that it accepts as reality what God says is reality. Love believes the word of God. Jesus trusted His Father when He hung on the cross, and when any sense of the Father's nearness was withheld from Jesus, when He couldn't see through to the other side, when He couldn't be certain of the ultimate outcome, because in the human frailty of the body He had taken, He could not be sure that His sacrifice would be accepted by the Father, then He believed all that God had before said, all that God had before promised. Then Jesus hung by nails and by faith.
Love was willing to die for eternity that you and I might live. Listen to what happened in the ultimate moment in Gethsemane:
Now the history of the human race comes up before the world's Redeemer. He sees that the transgressors of the law, if left to themselves, must perish. He sees the helplessness of man. He sees the power of sin. The woes and lamentations of a doomed world rise before Him. He beholds its impending fate, and His decision is made. He will save man at any cost to Himself (The Desire of Ages, pp. 690-693).
Things Temporary and Primary
In verses 8 and 9 Paul tells of things that are temporary. Prophecy, the gift of languages, supernatural gifts of knowledge, are all temporary. The prophets have their day, but only their day. God speeds the time when He and we will commune face to face and no intervening barriers. Prophets will have nothing to boast about in heaven. As verses 10-12 explain, when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part will be done away. God is bringing us onward to perfection. Don't say nobody's perfect. God will perfect each one of us if we do not interpose our stubborn will between Himself and ourself.
For the believer, these three things continue: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is the kind of love we have here surveyed. It is greater than faith, greater than hope. What could be greater than faith and hope? But the love, the very love, that you and I are gifted to experience, that is greater. That will endure for eternity. And Jesus wants us to experience it now.
The Love Race
"But the greatest of these is love." We all agree. We all make our the claim. But the universe is watching. The universe wants to know by experiment if this love the Bible has described for us today, is real.
Satan disagrees. Satan says that everything God has been saying these thousands of years is a lie. He suggests that Jesus' death on the Cross was a big, hollow show. He says that this love is a mirage. He claims the whole universe is looking at a mirage. But Paul speaks of the Christian experience as a reality. Remember his claim: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known." Paul is looking ahead to completion. But Paul also teaches that God gives the gifts to His Church to make it complete, to bring it to maturity.
Paul wants the Corinthians to use God's gifts rightly, to build up the Church, to see unselfish Jesus-followers live out the faith. His message to them is exactly the message he would give to each of us.
We live in the last days. The world is tired of postmodernism. Its tired of raw experience and meaninglessness. The lies are wearing threadbare and thin. Now it is time to return to the things that matter: TTTM. Now it is time to live love, to let faith have her perfect work, to demonstrate the patience and kindness and all the other traits of Jesus to those around us. In our homes and in our communities and in our work, we can grow into unselfishness with Jesus. But we need to revise our concept of love. Love is costly. Love makes demands but gives back so much.
They're tired of meaningless postmodernism. God help us to enter the classroom of Jesus and learn love done God's way. Let's become examples of the things that matter.
Outline 1 Corinthians 13
1-3 Nothing can substitute for love
- we are just noise when we do not have love
- prophecy and deep understanding are nothing when we do not have love
- self-sacrifice that is not rooted in authentic love is nothing and we gain nothing from such an exchange
4-8 love is and is not
- not jealous
- not brag
- not arrogant
- not act unbecomingly
- not seek its own
- not provoked
- not take into account wrong suffered
- not rejoice in unrighteousness
- rejoices with truth
- bears all
- believes all
- hopes all
- endures all
- never fails
8b-9 things that are temporary
10-12 perfect eliminates the incomplete
- spiritual maturity
13 the primacy of love
- faith, hope, love
love is the greatest
- There is truth. There is a right and a wrong way to live.
- I can choose to live the right way
- While I have no strength to defeat my cultivated inclinations to self-service, God does, and He makes it available to me through Jesus
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