April 15, 2007

Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Corinthians Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13


Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith

Jonathan Swift in his book that many of us have read entitled: Gulliver's Travels, wrote these following words: "We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough religion to cause us to love one another."

Leaving other religions aside, I have no doubt that many Christians can really be a danger to the church and the work of God in society. They may intellectually know the Bible well, but disguised by their zeal and piety is a pride that covers itself with religious clothing. And when such a pride is dressed in religion, it displays a hate and causes a hurt of the most insidious kind. They know just enough religion to be dangerous.

A few examples: They know theology, so they argue and divide over the minutia of doctrine. They know biblical reproof, so they parole the church for sin and when they find it in others, deal with it in an unsympathetic way. They know the "one-anothers," so they bicker and complain when they are not receiving them. They know good deeds, so they perform them only to parade them before the eyes of others. They know their spiritual strengths, so they judge those who fail to measure up. They know ministry, so they serve to receive and exert power. They know their convictions, so they legalistically impose them on others.

Oh, it may all appear very spiritual, but the driving force behind their actions is self-will, and their desired result is self-gratification. And when self is permitted to run its course, we have the fertile ground for all kinds of destruction; harming our testimony and only damaging already weakened souls in God's household. Clothed in spirituality, such pride does not produce what God desires and what the church needs because it is absent of one all-important quality: Love. As Swift said, "(They) have just enough religion to make (them) hate one another, but not enough religion to cause (them) to love one another."

The Bible has made an example of the Corinthians because of their appearance of spirituality but their absence of love. Their selfish tendencies were revealed in every chapter in the epistle that bears their name. Their exaltation of "self" is written all over these pages. We see it in their lawsuits, their marriages, their immorality, their cliques and their backbiting. But we especially see it in the way they exercised their spiritual gifts. Once again, under the guise of being spiritual, they misused their gifts to exalt self and run roughshod over others in the assembly.

In chapters 12 and 14, Paul provides instructive material regarding the gifts, but sandwiched in the middle is chapter 13 that provides the proper atmosphere as to how the gifts should operate.

The opposite of love is not hate, but pride. So since their problem was pride, Paul will instruct them about love. Introduced as the "more excellent way" in 12:31, we find ourselves reaching chapter 13 and drinking from an oasis in a desert of problems. Yet read in its context, chapter 13 aims to confront and correct a church that thought too highly of themselves.

I hope you are taking notes with us as we study this very popular and very important chapter in the Bible. The sermon title is: "Everything Minus Love Equals Nothing." The sermon outline is in your bulletin. In verses 1-3 we'll look at Love's Priority, verses 4-7 - Love's Properties and in verses 8-13 - Love's Permanence.

1. LOVE'S PRIORITY (verses 1-3)

Let's begin with verses 1-3.

"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."

A few observations:

First, we must understand that Paul is using a literary device called hyperbole. Hyperbole means he is exaggerating or overstating without the necessity of being taken literally to emphasize a point he is trying to make. He is pushing spiritual accomplishments to the limits of imagination to make a notable impression on the minds of the Corinthians and us this morning. He is trying to say that even if we (or himself as he repeatedly uses the pronoun "I") were a bionic believer with a double "S" on our shirt that stood for "Super Saint," all would be meaningless if conducted without love. Specifically, Paul sought to take the prideful, big-headed Corinthians even beyond the elite status they thought they obtained to show how their absence of love translated all they did to a "big zero" in God's economy.

Second, keeping in mind the context and the literary devices he was using, Paul is not advocating that Christians should necessarily seek after all the specifics he mentioned. These are hypothetical, "even if" situations, intended to shock the Corinthian show- offs and not necessarily validate every one of these pursuits through a literal interpretation. Allow me to provide three examples:

Example number one: Paul is not promoting, as many attest, a special prayer language in verse 1 that sounds like babbling, but is supposed to be angelic communication. Such a strained interpretation misses his entire point. First of all, every angel that we have recorded speaking in Scripture used the language understandable to the person to whom he was speaking. Second, Paul is speaking to a Greek church that was enamored with men skilled in the art of communication. So since they worshipped gifted orators, Paul says that even if he spoke in all the languages known to humans or even those spoken by angels, as beautiful and impressive as that might be, all would be meaningless if done without love. We must not cling to a rhetorical device and miss the essence of Paul's argument!

Example number two: Has there ever lived a person on the planet that knows all divine mysteries (verse 2)? Even the angels in heaven cannot make that claim. Has there ever lived a person on the planet that knows all knowledge (verse 2)? There may be a lot of "know-it-alls," but there has never been a person that knows it all!

Example number three: Paul mentions having faith to move mountains in verse 2. I have known and read about many believers with extraordinary faith, but I am not aware of any of them moving mountains. Paul is using hyperbole, exaggerating a situation to make a point. He is following the example of Jesus. "For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" (Mt. 17:20). We must ask, is it the will of God that we move mountains? Others might be impressed by our power, but I do not think it would impress God. God is pleased when we do His will, when we do the impossible that is accomplished only through His power. When we can truly love our spouse, our children, our church, our co-workers, our enemies with the selfless heart of Christ. That is moving mountains! That is mature Christianity. That takes faith. That reveals the true power of God. And you know it! Would it not be much easier for God to get you to budge Mt. Everest a couple feet than die to self every second of the day?

Third, are you now seeing what Paul is trying to accomplish here? He is picking the things that would have most impressed the Corinthians show-offs, extending them to the limits of imagination, and saying that all is meaningless without love.

Verse 1, Eloquent speech in human or angelic language without love is like "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Verse 2, prophetic giftedness to write Holy Scripture combined with the understanding all divine mysteries and all knowledge exercised with extraordinary faith makes one "nothing." Verse 3, the highest forms of self-sacrifice, like giving all our possessions to feed the poor and dying an agonizing martyr's death by fire, is meaningless without love and "profits" the giver absolutely "nothing."

Christian, please allow this fundamental point to resonate in your heart! Anything, allow your minds to take any impressive deed to its highest limit, may electrify other people, but produces nothing of value before God if done without love. Everything minus love equals nothing!

So with the importance of love established and our attention piqued, we are forced to ask the questions: "What does this love look like?" "How do we love in a way that honors the Lord?" Paul will tell us. That takes us to our second point: Love's Properties.

2. LOVE'S PROPERTIES (verses 4-7)

Though it may surprise you, very few understand love as God defines it. It is remarkable that a word used by everybody and popularized in song and literature, has become so clouded in mystery and misunderstanding. Yet God wants us to be informed. So after He stated the uncompromising necessity to practice love, He has given us in Scripture the best explanation of true love known to humankind.

From verses 4-7 in chapter 13, Paul will not formally define love, but he will mention fifteen traits that identify true love. It is important to note that Paul lists verbs and not adjectives; he lists actions and not feelings. I have covered all of these traits in detail last year so I will only touch on them briefly this morning. If you would like to study them further, I encourage you to read the transcripts located on the church website.

Once again, please remember that we are nothing in the Lord's eyes unless we demonstrate these.

Love is patient

The concern here is not so much with patience in difficult situations or trials we might encounter. The Greek word is makrothumeo and it literally means "long wrath." The King James Version translates it "longsuffering" and it applies to our response with other people. It is guaranteed that others will anger, frustrate, irritate, annoy and disappoint us. Yet true love has a "long fuse" and is always patient with others whose agenda may differ from ours. When wronged, patience should kick in rather than the filthy deeds of the flesh like: Bitterness, slander, resentment or complaining. It has been said, "At times, only God can help us to do nothing."

Love is kind

This is the flipside to patience. Patience may enable us to "put up" and not retaliate with those who offend us, but kindness calls us to respond with good deeds. Think of patience as the passive side and kindness as the active side of the same coin. Both sides are necessary. So when misjudged and wrongly accused, the flesh wants to attack and/or withdraw, but the Spirit produces patience and kindness. Jerry Bridges defined kindness as the "inner disposition, created by the Holy Spirit that causes us to be sensitive to the needs of others." Even when others don't deserve it, kindness will prepare the heart and then goodness will produce tangible actions of benevolence.

Love is not jealous

Some versions say, "(Love) does not envy" (NIV). Apart from some slight distinctions, both envy and jealousy are interchangeable. Basically we are talking about a fear of losing what we possess or a desire to take away from another what they possess. Envy and jealousy reveal a greedy and ungrateful heart that is self-willed and seeks to belittle the accomplishments and abilities of others.

Love does not brag

If you want to avoid making people jealous then start by eliminating all bragging. Boasting as it is often called in the Bible means to talk conceitedly about ourselves. God finds this action so despicable because all that we have ultimately comes from Him (1 Cor. 4:7). That is why when we boast; we are to boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). Therefore boasting is not only inaccurate, but also unloving because it reveals an inordinate focus on self. As John Piper put it, "(Boasting is an) outward form of the inner condition of pride." Remember, we are to build up others, not ourselves.

Love is not arrogant

The word is all over this Corinthian epistle (1 Cor. 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1). Boasting may reveals prideful actions, but arrogance reveals a prideful heart. Webster defined arrogance as "the act or quality of having unwarranted pride and self-importance; haughtiness." We can say, arrogance is big-headed whereas love is big-hearted. Arrogance is selfishness whereas love is selflessness. Arrogance is an inflated opinion of self whereas love is an inflated opinion of others. In the modern vernacular, arrogance is looking down your nose on another. Someone once said, "Arrogance worships the grand but empty edifice of ego, self-importance and sees others as less human, cardboard cutouts."

Love does not act unbecomingly

Simply put, love is not rude (NIV). Love demonstrates manners, etiquette, courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness and faithfulness. Love knows that an absence of these will hurt and offend others and reveal a heart that is more self-focused, consumed with its own desires. In the context, the Corinthians were rude in disrupting the worship services with their self-centered behavior (1 Cor. 14:40) and not waiting for others at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:33). The small things must not be overlooked either. Do you understand how it is rude or unloving or self-focused to ignore deadlines, not return phone calls or interrupt people speaking?

Love does not seek its own

This is fairly straightforward. Love is not selfish. Love first considers God's glory and then the good of others before making decisions or comments. For those who are truly loving, a high regard for the well-being of others stands head and shoulders over a preoccupation with self.

Love is not provoked

Have you ever been around someone who is like a human time bomb just waiting to explode? Or with a person in which every conversation is like walking of eggshells? We are talking about an individual who is short-tempered or easily irritated or cantankerous or quick to retaliate or overly critical or overly sensitive or touchy or explosive. We are talking about a "hot head;" one who is quick to "lose his cool" or "blow his cork." A person provoked or "easily angered" (NIV) reveals selfishness and obviously knows nothing about patience, kindness, gentleness, peace or self-control.

Love does not take into account a wrong suffered

The flesh enjoys exposing the flaws of others, dwelling on them, exaggerating them exponentially, storing them away in our memory and then firing them back as a silver bullet when necessary. On the contrary, love understands the ultimate and complete forgiveness received from God and then seeks to extend that same forgiveness to others who have offended them to a much lesser degree in comparison.

Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness

Love is not impressed or entertained by the things that put Jesus Christ on the cross. Far from rejoicing in these sinful acts that bring the wrath of God, love shuns, weeps and confronts these deeds of darkness.

Love rejoices with the truth

Love does not rejoice with unrighteousness, but it does rejoice with the truth. That is why the Bible never separates truth and love. According to Jesus, the truth is the Word of God (Jn. 17:17). So true love is expressed when the Word of God rules in our hearts, determines our behavior and stands as our source of joy.

Love bears all things

Love desires to cover the faults of others, overlook sin when able to, and see others in the best possible light. Like Christ when being reviled, love does not revile in return and while suffering utters no threats (1 Pet. 2:23).

Love believes all things

Love is not cynical or suspicious, especially over another brother or sister in Christ. It believes the best possible outcome. It reserves judgment, leaving that in the hands of God and always gives to others the benefit of doubt. And when broken, love's first reaction is to heal and restore.

Love hopes all things

Love believes that failure is not final. It hopes for the greatest final outcome because it knows nothing is too difficult for God (Jer. 32:17). Therefore love does not write people off, but hopes for genuine repentance and reconciliation.

Love endures all things

Love remains under the pressure in difficult times. Love never gives up, especially when dealing with human relationships. Love understands that differences are not a time to end love, but a time to demonstrate the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts. That is why true love is best seen and tested in times of interpersonal adversity.

What a beautiful picture of love! What a complete picture of love! What a convicting picture of love! And according to the introduction to this chapter (in verses 1-3), what a necessary picture of the love that we must understand and put into practice.

But I ask, why is it that we see it so clearly when true love is not given to us, but have such a difficulty giving it in return to others? Why is it that we have such a hard time seeing our own misgivings, but have such an easy time seeing where others might fall short? Why is it as we go through these traits of love, we are more concerned if someone else in the church is paying attention than we are concerned about paying attending ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to probe our own hearts? I believe the answer to those questions is only another indication how self-focused and self-deceived we really are. It reminds us how far short we fall from God's expectations and how we need grace on a daily basis for empowerment and forgiveness.

I hope you see the biblical portrait of true love-this agape, self-sacrificial love that is willing to put another's needs above our own, regardless of how undeserving that person might be. This love originates from the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ and is not conditioned by the "loveableness" of the person who receives it. This love, better than anything else, demonstrates Christ's work on the cross when He died for unworthy and undeserving sinners like you and I.

One commentator said, "(Love) is not a feeling but a determined act of will, which always results in determined acts of self giving. Love is the willing, joyful desire to put the welfare of others above our own" (MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 329).

3. LOVE'S PERMANENCE (verses 8-13)

And for our final point, Love's Permanence, time permits me from a detail exposition of verses, but we cannot miss the main point of Paul's argument.

In verses 1-3 Paul took some of their cherished gifts such as languages, prophecy, knowledge, faith and giving and said they were all meaningless without love. Again, in the context of the way these Corinthians abused their spiritual gifts, Paul now shows how love exceeds the gifts that are only temporary because love, unlike the gifts, will be around forever.

Beginning in verse 8, "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away" (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

Since love is never outdated, should it not be our primary concern? And when we subordinate love to other things that are only temporary, when we consume ourselves with things that will pass away and ignore that which will never fail, are we not adults acting like little children?

Verse 11, "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."

Are we not settling for a partial greatness? Should we not begin now pursuing the things that will be more conducive to our eternal state?

Verse 12, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."

So Paul concludes in verse 13, "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Love will rule in heaven. Love is the greatest benefit to others. Love is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:37-40). And love is the dominant attribute of God (1 Jn. 4:16). "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 Jn. 4:7-8).

One author said, "There is scarce a more unaccountable thing to be imagined, than to see a company of men professing a religion, one great and main precept whereof is mutual love, forbearance, gentleness of spirit, and compassion to all sorts of persons, and agreeing in all the essential parts of its doctrine, and differing only in some less material and more disputable things, yet maintaining those differences with zeal so disproportioned to the value of them, and prosecuting all that disagree from them with all possible violence; or if they want means to use outward force, with all bitterness of spirit. They must astonish every impartial beholder, and raise great prejudices against such persons' religion, as made up of contradictions; professing love, but breaking out in all the acts of hatred" (author unknown).

Has our religious made us dangerous? Do we have just enough spiritual knowledge to make us think we are doing fine, but in reality through our pride, as Swift said, hate one another. You can add all the religion you want, but until self is crucified, our pride just changes clothes and hurts people with new weapons. Without love we are nothing. No wonder Paul told this Corinthian church in chapter 16 just before he signed off, "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor. 16:14).

other sermons in this series

Apr 22


Edification or Self-Exaltation

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:1–40 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 18


You Need Us

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:21–27 Series: 1 Corinthians

Mar 11


We Need You

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12–20 Series: 1 Corinthians