March 19, 2006

Love Rejoices With Righteousness

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: The Preeminence of Love Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5


Love Rejoices With Righteousness

1 Corinthians 13:5
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

If you are a sports fan, this is a big time of the year. "March Madness" is underway, the "Big Dance." The tournament began this past week as 65 of the top college basketball teams compete for the coveted title of National Champions.

This is an exciting event, but there are always many fans with misplaced priorities that take the sport of college basketball a bit too far.

Take for example the huge rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. The story is told that at one of the games between the two schools, an elderly woman was sitting alone with an empty seat next to her. Someone approached her and said, "Ma'am, I have rarely seen an empty seat in Rupp Arena, let alone at a game between these two teams. Whose seat is this?"

The woman responded that she and her late husband had been season-ticket holders for 28 years, and the seat had belonged to him.

"Well," said the observer, "Couldn't you find a friend or relative to come to the game with you?"

"Are you kidding?" the woman replied, "They're all at my husband's funeral."

Robert Russell, May All Who Come Behind Us Find Us Faithful

Needless to say, this woman's priorities were out of line. That's easy to see.

More difficult to see, however, are misplaced priorities in the Christian life. So often like Martha, we do that which is beneficial, while we neglect that which is essential. Despite our commitment to all the disciplines of the Christian life, our good intentions are often lacking because they have omitted that which is most important - the priority of Christian living.

The Corinthians were without this priority. For over a year, we have been learning about all the misgivings of the Corinthian church. This church was a pastor's nightmare! But their pastor, the apostle Paul did not give up on them and even more, provided the remedy to their problems. The remedy, in line with our Lord's two greatest commandments was the priority of love. All of their sin could be boiled down into one word: pride. And the opposite of pride, according to 1 Corinthians 13 is love. Sin results and spirituality fails when we conduct ourselves without the priority of love.

In the beginning of chapter 13 we read, "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. 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. 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."

Angelic tongues, limitless prophecy, unwavering faith, sacrificial compassion and courageous martyrdom (a very impressive list) mean nothing unless they are accompanied by love. As I heard it said this week, this is the only time when five minus one equals zero. Without the priority of love, my friends, we are nothing!

We have seen no greater example of this sacrificial, agape love than the one we have seen in our Lord, Jesus Christ - that the second Person of the Holy Trinity would condescend to take on human flesh and become our Redeemer. And "while we were yet sinners, (He would die) for us" (Rom. 5:8b).

And this God who "is love" (1 Jn. 4:8) has chosen to live within His children and produce in them through the Holy Spirit the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22; cf. Jn. 5:32), His love manifested though us to Him and others. Therefore love is arguably the greatest indication that we truly are children of God. 1 John 4:8, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

As we review all the attributes of love we have learned so far we can say: I am patient with you because I love you and want to forgive you. I am kind to you because I love you and want to help you. I do not envy your possessions or your gifts because I love you and want you to have the best. I do not boast about my attainments because I love you and want to hear about yours. I am not proud because I love you and want to esteem you before me. I am not rude because I love you and care about your feelings. I am not (selfish) because I love you and want to meet your needs. I am not easily angered by you because I love you and want to overlook your offenses. I do not keep a record of your wrongs because I love you and "love covers a multitude of sins" (Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness, p. 202, 203).

That final attribute we covered in detail last week. We learned how we as humans have a tendency to keep a record of the way others have wronged us. As the original Greek word indicates, we are like accountants, painstakingly recording the ways we have been wounded in permanent ink longing for the day when we can open the ledger and execute revenge.

Such a spirit is contrary to the God who has taken the books that recorded the sins against us and deleted all the records replacing them with one word: forgiven (Rom 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19)!

So as those who have been washed in the blood of Christ, who are we to keep a record of the ways another has wronged us? If we have been forgiven by a perfect God for so much, how can we who are imperfect ourselves, not forgive another for so little? When we are sinned against, we are given a golden opportunity to show the world our love, to forgive others just as we have been forgiven by Christ (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-13).

Two aspects of the ninth attribute of love from last week help us transition to the tenth and eleventh attribute of love we will study this week. I will present them in the form of a question. First question: "When someone sins against me, I understand that I must forgive that person, but what do I do with the sin? Do I say the sin was not a big deal? Do I praise God for the sin that moved me to ask God for grace to forgive the person?" Second question: "What exactly is God looking for in my forgiveness? Is it just the ability to say, "I forgive you" or is there something more? Verse 6 of chapter 13, our topic for this morning, puts both of these questions into perspective. "(Love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth."

Let's begin with the first point: "The Explanation."


One word that jumps out of this verse the is word "joy." We see it twice in the verse. "(Love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth." There is no doubt that God wants us to be happy. He commands us to be happy. He even tells us here what should make us happy. But we ask the question, "Is it really true joy for ourselves if God commands us in the ways we are to rejoice?" "Shouldn't joy be the personal overflow of our heart?" "For joy to be genuine, shouldn't we be allowed to determine that which makes us happy?"

On a human level such statements are accurate. Dictating how another should rejoice is the building blocks of fascism. But God, knowing your heart better than you know it yourself, encourages us as a good Father to pursue that which will make us the happiest. He knows what will bring His sheep the greatest joy and thereby shepherds them to choose those paths. Anything less would be unloving on His part.

Furthermore, the fact that God speaks about our joy in this verse also indicates that He is primarily concerned not with our external actions but with our heart. The point is not that we simply act out these attributes of love. The point is these actions first originate in our hearts and then we actually rejoice in practicing them.

My friends, I hope you see how successful Christian living is much more than keeping a set of rules. If such were the case, Jesus would have reserved His greatest rebuke for the harlots and His greatest praise for the Pharisees. Our core struggle is not with the evil outside. Our core struggle, according to Jesus, is with the evil within (Mk. 7:21-23). There is a spiritual battle going on and the war is being fought on the turf of our hearts. Therefore God wants us to continually probe and examine our own hearts as He does to determine the genuineness of our devotion to Him. Who are we depending on? Why do we do what we do? What are we rejoicing in?

Parents we must consider this subject when we are instructing our children. If we force external regulations upon them by external parental control such as guilt, fear and manipulation, we will either raise a self-righteous Pharisee, or we will see a child throw it all away the first month he or she is alone at college. Controlling behavior is not the solution. Rather do everything to get to the heart and shepherd the heart. Once the heart sees the high standard of God and its subsequent need for a Savior, God-honoring behavior will result that is not cosmetic, but deeply rooted; not temporary, but eternal; not legalistic, but birthed in God's grace. "For from (the heart), says Soloman in Proverbs 5, flow the springs of life" (Pr. 4:23b).

So as we return to verse 6 we ask the question. What does my heart rejoice over? Does it rejoice in unrighteousness or does it rejoice with the truth?

Maybe the best way to answer that question is to back up and take a biblical look at the human heart. Immediately after Creation man had a good heart and it resulted in perfect fellowship with God. But shortly after we read in Genesis 6, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). So what happened between Genesis chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 6? The answer is Genesis chapter 3: The Fall. As a result, sin entered the world and corrupted every human heart from the moment we are conceived. We call it original sin or the doctrine of total depravity.

This is probably best explained in Romans chapter 1. Let's pick up the text in verse 21. "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures" (Rom. 1:21-23).

Since the Fall every person suppresses the truth that there is a God who has clearly revealed Himself and there is a God who deserves to be the priority of our lives (Rom. 1:18-20). We have suppressed this reality, and tragically as Romans 1 teaches, erected idols from the created order to displace the Creator. Oh our idols may not be statues of "four-footed animals," but they are there and they are hidden away in the recesses of our hearts (Eze. 14:5). These are the gods we trust more than God. These are the gods that shape our behavior. These are the gods in which we find our happiness.

Obviously, the living God will not stand for such idolatry, so a judgment has been pronounced on the whole human race. And the judgment is actually giving us over to the sinful tendencies we have practiced in disobedience.

Beginning in verse 24. "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful" (Rom. 1:24-31).

After we reject the knowledge of God, God placed upon us one of the severest judgments. He simply let us alone. He withdrew His moral restraint. He silenced the voice of conscience within us. He gave us over to our evil intentions.

The extent of our depravity is possibly best seen in the final verse, verse 32. "And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." Despite having a knowledge of right and wrong, despite knowing that God disapproves of such actions, we not only commit them ourselves, but also applaud them in the lives of others.

Now do you understand what Paul meant when he said, "(Love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness."

So if love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, that which displeases the Lord, what does love rejoice in? The positive side is expressed in the latter half of verse 6. Though we would expect Paul to say, "Love rejoices in righteousness," he rather says, "Love rejoices in the truth."

Truth is a word we find throughout the Bible. As a matter of fact it is a word that characterizes the Holy Trinity (Jn. 14:6; 1 Jn. 5:6). On the contrary, Satan is called the "father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). The church is called "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). And most significantly for our study, Jesus said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17).

So when the verse says we are to rejoice in the truth, it is another way of saying that we are to rejoice in the revealed standard of God given to us in Holy Scripture. This should rule our hearts. This should determine our behavior. This should be our source of joy when we see it lived out in our lives and the lives of others.


My time is rapidly fleeting so let's move to the second point and examine some examples of this principle.

Examples of Unrighteousness

We don't have to look far to see a culture that rejoices in unrighteousness. Consider the television and umpteen channels filled with garbage that so many crave. Don't get me going on soap operas. Even the commercials use unrighteousness because advertisers know that such behavior gains our attention and thereby sells their product. Movies are filled with foul language, nudity and other forms of evil that we call entertainment. It's almost impossible to enter a video store without being bombarded by offensive displays and promotions. Wait in any line at the grocery store and it's hard to avoid the tabloid headlines that spark our sinful desires that crave deception, gossip, rumor, disputes and failure. Humans not only participate in unrighteousness, we actually rejoice in it.

Some other forms of unrighteousness are more subtle. We may rejoice in unrighteousness without even knowing it! How about that innocent Disney movie? Is it really a big deal if the girl is disrespectful to her father or if the main character worships false gods? How about gossip? Do we have a secret satisfaction to discover the weakness of another? Do we try to conceal our gossip in the form of a prayer request? How about revenge? Are we thankful when our enemy falls so it will justify our disagreement? Do we couch it in a "he got what he deserved" mentality? Do we take pleasure in the opportunity to confront someone?

We can even get more subtle? Do we find joy when a ministry collapses after our departure? Do we hope a spouse commits adultery so it will defend a divorce? Are we thankful for the high divorce rate so we can use it to stress the necessity for a Christian marriage? Are we happy others are suffering more than us so it appears to minimize our difficulties? Are we glad kids are starving in Africa so we can get our children to eat their peas?

So many find such delight in evil. But in Isaiah 5:20 God said, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil."

Examples of Righteousness

On the flipside, are we rejoicing in the truth? We know the culture doesn't rejoice in the truth. If they did, the churches would be packed. But I am convinced that many Christians don't enjoy the truth either. They may follow the truth out of duty or necessity or misplaced fear, but they don't delight in God's law. And if given the opportunity, they'd love to rewrite God's law to their own specifications. Do we both practice and rejoice in the truth as it is revealed to us in Holy Scripture?

Do we rejoice when the truth of God's Word is taught and obeyed? Do we seek the truth, defend the truth, proclaim the truth and desire that the truth prevail? Are we like the Psalmist? "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psm. 119:97).

Specifically, do we have a love for purity and holiness and kindness and righteousness and goodness? God delights in these things. Do we? The Bible says, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Lk. 15:10). A pastor can fall and the news travels faster than lightning, but 10 people can get baptized and the miracle of God's redeeming grace seldom travels very far and very long.

What makes us happy? It's been said, "Finding out what an individual enjoys is very revealing about the character of a person."

Again, Paul's point is not that we will simply avoid unrighteousness and practice the truth, but that we will enjoy avoiding unrighteousness and enjoy the practicing of truth. Moreover, let's not forget that our ability to do the latter, according to 1 Corinthians 13, is an indication of our love. In other words, the most loving thing we can do is operate within the parameters of God's Word. Put another way, it is unloving to compromise the truth of Scripture. There is an inseparable bond between truth and righteousness and love. Weaken one and you have weakened them all. Based on this standard and considering the examples I've provided earlier, how loving is the world? How loving are you?


So what's the solution? As I said earlier, the change must begin in our heart. And only God can change the heart. Therefore we must cry out to Him and ask Him to purify our hearts so we will desire that which pleases Him. This is done through prayer and immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. The Bible is truth. The Bible will teach us what pleases Him and Bible will be used by Him to take away our natural desire for evil and replace it with a desire for righteousness.

Far from falling for a worldly definition of love, we should look to the word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. And 1 Corinthians 13:6 teaches us that the indication of our love is the extent to which we rejoice in God's word.

Yes, love by God's standard is very convicting because when we take a closer look at love, we are beginning to look deeply into the face of God who is love. Yet we must not run away from or dumb down His standard. We must not fear righteousness because it condemns us nor must we feel comfortable with evil because it is our nature. As I said earlier, we are nothing without love. Therefore we must prioritize biblical love that is displayed by rejoicing not in unrighteousness, but rejoicing with the truth.

other sermons in this series

Mar 26


Love Bears, Believes, Hopes and Endures

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:7 Series: The Preeminence of Love

Mar 12


Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5 Series: The Preeminence of Love

Mar 5


Love Is Not Provoked

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:5 Series: The Preeminence of Love