Posts Tagged ‘love’

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

In 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 Paul wraps up his teaching on agape love. He is trying to explain to the Corinthian church the difference between gifts and love. Childish things are appropriate for children, and the gifts are appropriate for our present time. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit will not be appropriate forever. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Only love lasts forever. Paul is not trying to say that if we are spiritually mature, we will not need spiritual gifts. But he does say that if we are spiritually mature, we will not over-emphasize spiritual gifts, especially at the expense of love. Love trumps all else.

Someday we will have the clarity with Jesus that we just don’t have today in our fallen world. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” When we can fully see Jesus (not as in a poorly reflected image), the need for the gifts will have vanished, and so the gifts will pass away. The gifts of the Holy Spirit will be overshadowed by the immediate presence of Jesus. When the sun rises, we turn off the lesser lights. Love will be all that we see. We won’t have need for gifts to help us build toward perfect love – we will experience it face to face.

Paul uses the term “face to face” to describe complete, unhindered fellowship with God. That’s what we will experience when we get to heaven. We shall see Jesus as He is. There will be no more barriers to our relationship with God. In the spiritual sense which Moses had a face to face relationship with God, we can have a free and open relationship with God today. But in the ultimate sense where we see Jesus completely and clearly, it will wait until we get to heaven, when we are united with Jesus in glory. What a day that will be. We should anticipate and wait with excitement and joy as to what will come for all who believe.

Paul wraps up his teaching on love this way: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The three great pursuits of the Christian life are not “miracles, power, and gifts”; they are faith, hope, and love. Though the gifts are precious, and given by the Holy Spirit today, they were never meant to be the focus or goal of our Christian lives. Instead, we pursue faith, hope, and love. Those three things are what we need to pursue with all that we are. If it doesn’t, we need to receive God’s sense of priorities, and put our focus where it belongs. What are you chasing? These are the three things that should rise above all else!

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Paul puts the nail in the discussion around love and what it is with three powerful words: “Love never ends.” Wow, that’s about as definitive as it can be. Love is amazing and great and is described in detail by things it is not, and things that it is. Paul makes it clear what agape love truly is. But in human terms, the fact that love is forever is on a different level. It is beyond the norm. The bottom line is that love will outlast every other gift. It is the yardstick by which everything else must be measured. Never is a very long time, and love will still be going when we reach that point on the timeline.

Paul addresses the over-emphasis the Corinthian Christians had on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were caught up in the here and now. He shows that they should emphasize love more than the gifts, because the gifts are enablers of God’s work; love is the work itself. Love is what God has ultimately called us to do. Therefore, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are appropriate for the present time, but they are not permanent. They are imperfect gifts for an imperfect time. They enable us to do the work of the ministry so that when we do it together and well using the gifts God provides, we can demonstrate agape love to those in our patch.

The truth is that everything else is around for a season. God gives gifts to meet the need of the time. Love is the ultimate outcome to the ministry we are called to deliver. “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” We have to contrast the fact that ‘love never ends’ with the gifts of the Spirit as they will all pass away or cease. They aren’t given for long periods of time. They are given to accomplish God’s intent. But love is the everlasting goal. That’s what God wants the result of our live to be. And like love, that pursuit should never end.

Along with being temporary, Paul makes clear that the gifts are also incomplete. They aren’t the answer to the ministry we are called to accomplish. They assist, but love is the real fuel. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is not trying to say that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge have different fates. He is simply writing well, saying the same thing in three different ways. They will end, but love never fails. Gifts are given for a specific purpose and season. Love applies to all in all and through all. It is the universal outcome of all God desires to achieve.

1 Corinthians 13:7

In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul tells us four things that love is: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” These four more things love is are:

  1. Bearing
  2. Believing
  3. Hoping
  4. Enduring

Let’s look at what these four things that love is are all about. The word for bears can also be translated covers. It never proclaims the errors of good men. Some wait for the opportunity to share something bad about another, but that is never an outcome of love. Spurgeon said “Love stands in the presence of a fault, with a finger on her lip.”

Next we come to the truth that love believes all things. We choose to believe the best of others. Our first thought is not to jump to the worst, but to immediately assume the best. We start with trust and thinking the best, and only after facts come to light differently would we ever move from believing the best. Some lie in wait hoping to find negative or disgraceful things to share about another. But not in love. Love will not allow that to happen. Spurgeon wrote “I wish the chatterers would take a turn at exaggerating other people’s virtues, and go from house to house trumping up pretty stories of their acquaintances.”

Love always hopes. Not in most things, but in ALL things. Love has confidence in the future, not pessimism. It knows who is in control of the universe and the love that God pours upon us. That doesn’t mean things always go as planned or come out with a good outcome. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But that doesn’t dampen the hope in God’s goodness. When we get hurt, it does not say, “It will be this way forever, and even get worse.” It hopes for the best, and it hopes in God. There is a positive view of all that happens, even when it is not what might be wished for or expected. Hope always looks forward for the good.

The fourth thing love does is endure.  Love can be hard. Most of us can bear all things, and believe all things, and hope all things, but only for a while! The greatness of agape love is it keeps on bearing, believing, and hoping. It doesn’t give up. It destroys enemies by turning them into friends. Jesus is the greatest example of all time as to what agape love is all about. We could replace the word love with the name Jesus and the description would make perfect sense. We can easily say, Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy… and make it through the whole chapter. There is a reason why Paul put this chapter in the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts. Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to remember that giftedness is not the measure of maturity, the display of love is. Love trumps all.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7

In 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 Paul concludes his list of what love is not – 8 different qualities that do not define the agape love that God wants us to have toward one another. He wraps up with “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” as the last of his ‘does not equal love’ list:

  1. Not envious
  2. Not boastful
  3. Not arrogant
  4. Not rude
  5. Does not insist on its own way
  6. Not irritable
  7. Not resentful
  8. Does not rejoice at wrongdoing

Love wants the best for all. It is never against another. Instead, love rejoices in the truth. Love can always stand with and on truth, because love is pure and good like truth.

Paul now shifts gears to tell us four things that love is: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” These are some of the greatest verses in all of scripture as Paul gives hope for what agape love is all about. This is how God loves us. This is how we should love each other. Spurgeon calls these four virtues love’s four sweet companions. These four more things love is:

  1. Bearing
  2. Believing
  3. Hoping
  4. Enduring

But before we talk about what these four mean, it is important to wrestle with the way Paul characterizes each as applying to “all things”. We might wish he would have chosen any phrase but this! All things covers everything! We can all bear some things, we can all believe some things, we can all hope some things, and we can all endure some things. But God calls us farther and deeper into love for Him, for one another, and for a perishing world. All means all, and love is not a partial action, it is all encompassing and applies completely to all things. That makes a pretty high bar, but it is the love God has for you and me, and the love He wants us to have with one another.

This love is not meant to be easy. Spurgeon wrote “Love does not ask to have an easy life of it: self-love makes that her aim. Love denies herself, sacrifices herself, that she may win victories for God, and hers shall be no tinsel crown.” Love is not a feeling, it is a choice. It isn’t meant to be easy, it is meant to be sacrificial. Love is deeper than any other emotion we may experience. It requires us to get over self and focus on others in a way that is beyond our normal thinking. Yet God calls us to love each other as He has loved, and continues to love us. He gave all He had for you and me. That is the kind of love we must give in all things toward others.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 Paul continues to tell us what love is not – 8 different qualities that do not define the agape love that God wants us to have toward one another. “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” are the next three on his ‘does not equal love’ list:

  1. Not envious
  2. Not boastful
  3. Not arrogant
  4. Not rude
  5. Does not insist on its own way
  6. Not irritable
  7. Not resentful

It’s interesting that Paul chooses to tell us far more about the things that love is not, than the list of things that love is. That should be a clue that while love is one of the most powerful things for us to live by, it also can be misused, misconstrued, misapplied and mis….lots of other things if we don’t love God’s way.

The fifth thing love is not – it is not about me. Love does not insist on its own way. This is being like Jesus in a most basic way, being an others-centered person instead of a self-centered person. There is no room for self-centeredness when we love someone. Our focus, our actions, our emotions – they all need to be focused on the person who is the object of our love. It is human nature to focus on self, but agape love is not that way. We put our focus on others. We put self aside and spend our energy on how we can lift up and put others in the center of our attention and action. It’s how Jesus lived His life, and if we’re truly going to love, we have to do the same.

Paul then says love is not irritable. We all find it easy to be irritated with those who are just plain annoying. And if we focus on their actions and attitudes, that becomes pretty easy to do. And unfortunately, we often are most easily irritated by the people we claim to love the most – those closest to us and those we spend the most time with. But it is a sin to be irritated, and it isn’t agape love. Does God take this seriously?  Remember that Moses was kept from the Promised Land because he became irritated at the people of Israel. You can argue that they were just responding to their circumstance and Moses was tired of the whining, but God cares how we treat others.

Then comes the truth that agape love is not resentful. Love does not keep score on who did what to whom, and especially who did what to me. Literally this means “love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received.” Love will put away the hurts of the past instead of clinging to them. Unfortunately many of us have long memories about things where we think we’ve been wronged or mistreated. But love let’s go of those things. It doesn’t mean we forget, but that we forgive and do not hold it within. Clarke writes real love “never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive… The original implies that he does not invent or devise any evil.” We assume the best intent and trust until we are proven that we cannot.

1 Corinthians 13:4

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul begins to dissect just exactly what ‘agape’ love is all about. “Love is patient and kind;”  He begins with telling us that love is:

  • Patient
  • Kind

As he describes love, it is described by action words, not by lofty concepts. Love is not a theory or and idea, it requires us to do something. Paul is not writing about how love feels, he is writing about how it can be seen in action. True love is always demonstrated by action. Love will endure a long time. It is the heart shown in God to us, thankfully because without His patience we’d be in deep trouble.

And likewise, if God’s agape love is in us, we will show patience to those who annoy us and hurt us. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said “this is the word used of the man who is wronged, and who easily has the power to avenge himself, but will not do it out of mercy and patience.” Do you avenge yourself as soon as you have the opportunity? Or do you respond with love God’s way and patiently work to help others learn. When we have and show God’s love, it will be seen in simple acts of kindness. A wonderful measure of kindness is to see how children receive us. Children won’t receive from or respond to unkind people. So Paul tells us two things that agape love is – patient and kind.

Paul then shifts gears to tell us what love is not – 8 different qualities that do not define the agape love that God wants us to have toward one another. “….love does not envy or boast;” Here are the first two on his ‘does not equal love’ list:

  1. Not envious
  2. Not boastful

Envy is one of the least productive and most damaging of all sins. It accomplishes nothing, except to hurt. Love keeps its distance from envy, and does not resent it when someone else is promoted or blessed. Elsewhere in scripture we are told to rejoice with those who rejoice. We need to not only embrace God’s blessing on others, but celebrate it with them.

The opposite side of the same coin is related to boasting or pride. Agape love in action can work anonymously. It does not have to have the limelight or the attention to do a good job, or even be satisfied with the result. When serving in love, it isn’t about me, but about those being served. Love gives because it loves to give, not out of the sense of praise it can have from showing itself off. When we are driven by the desire to get attention and ultimately boast of our efforts and outcomes, we completely miss God’s plan and often take any joy out of the good that may happen because of our actions and attitudes. God is never pleased with a prideful spirit. In fact, scripture tells us that pride is often the doorway to a fall.

1 Corinthians 13:3

In 1 Corinthians 13:3 Paul continues to teach the Corinthian church that spiritual gifts are subservient to love in every way. Gifts are not an end to themselves. They are given by the Holy Spirit to members of the body for the well being of the body. And the foundation upon which those gifts are to be used is love. He has made the point in the first few verses that gifts of tongues, prophecy, mystery and knowledge all are worth nothing if they are not exercised and used on a basis of love for the good of the body of Christ. There is no other way for gifts to be used properly. Love trumps all else.

Paul goes on to make one last case on just how important the contrast is between love and ANYTHING else. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” But what is this love that Paul writes of. Guzik explains it this way: “Paul uses the ancient Greek word agape. The ancient Greeks had four different words we could translate love. It is important to understand the difference between the words, and why the apostle Paul chose the Greek word agape here.

  • Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love. It refers to sexual love.
  • Storge was the second word for love. It refers to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child, or between family members in general.
  • Philia is the third word for love. It speaks of a brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. It might be described as the highest love of which man, without God’s help, is capable of.
  • Agape is the fourth word for love. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting repayment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected.”

Paul drives the point deeply when he says that even dying without love is worthless. Even if we lay down our life in dramatic martyrdom, apart from love, it is of no value. Not just less, but NOTHING. Normally, no one would doubt the spiritual credentials of someone who gave away everything they had, and gave up their life in dramatic martyrdom. But those are not the best measures of someone’s true spiritual credentials. Love is the best measure. In fact, love is the only measure. Gifts don’t define our spirituality at all. But love, that is what God looks at and will determine our worth. Is love your guide?

There were some early Christians that were so arrogant they thought that the blood of martyrdom would wash away any sin. They were so proud about their ability to endure suffering for Jesus, they thought it was the most important thing in the Christian life. It is important, but not the most important. Many Christians believe the Christian life is all about sacrifice – sacrificing your money, your life, for the cause of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice is important, but without love it is useless. Love is so valuable, so important, that apart from it, every other good thing is useless. Sometimes we make the great mistake of letting go of what is best for something else that is good, but not the best. Paul is clear – LOVE is above all else in God’s eyes.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 Paul continues his thoughts on spiritual gifts. We may have a chapter break in our modern bibles, but we have to remember how he just ended the teaching in chapter 12. He just gave us a long lesson on the importance of spiritual gifts, and then ends with “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” This ties the two chapters completely together. We know 1 Corinthians 13 as ‘the love chapter’ as that is the focus Paul will give us. But its about far more than love in our often shallow definition. Paul is going to school us on love from God’s perspective.

The Corinthians were enamored with spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. Paul reminds them even the gift of tongues is meaningless without love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Spiritual gifts without the foundation of love are noise.  Clarke wrote “People of little religion are always noisy; he who has not the love of God and man filling his heart is like an empty wagon coming violently down a hill: it makes a great noise, because there is nothing in it.” There has to be the right underlying motive to make any gift serve God’s purpose.

Paul’s first connection between gifts and love addressed speaking in tongues, but he quickly widened the requirement that all gifts be based on love. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The Corinthian Christians missed the motive and the goal of the gifts, making them their own goal. Paul draws the attention back to love. God gave and continues to give gifts for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. And the very foundation of that body and the work it is called to do is love.

Paul really shows how important love is when he tells the church that even if they had faith that would move mountains, which Jesus has said could happen if one had the faith of a mustard seed, even if they had that kind of faith – without love it would mean nothing. That kind of faith would be amazing and beyond what the church had seen. It still would be today. But without love – it is worthless. The very foundation of faith in God and His Kingdom is built on love. A man with that kind of faith can move great mountains, but he will set them down right in the path of somebody else – or right on somebody else – if he doesn’t have love.

Some believe gifts are a sign of being filled with the Spirit. But the truth is, gifts are not the measure – love is. It isn’t an issue of love versus the gifts. A church should never be forced to choose between love and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul is emphasizing the focus and goal of the gifts: love, not the gifts for their own sake. It is love that trumps all else and having gifts, without love, will lead to outcomes that are not aligned with God’s purpose.

Romans 14:13-18

In Romans 14:13-18 Paul summarizes what he has been teaching about judging and relating to others. He says don’t make it an issue of judging, but don’t use your liberty to cause another brother to stumble. We easily put ourselves on the judgment seat of those in our patch, but we don’t have that right. “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” On the other hand, we do have a responsibility to each other where we don’t cause someone else in our patch to stumble by the way we live. We’re responsible to not even be a hindrance in how they live in God’s plan.

We might cause our brother to fall in two ways. We can discourage or beat them down through our legalism against them, or we can do it by enticing them to sin through an unwise use of our liberty. We have to recognize that each of us is responsible for the choices we make, but our influence can lead others to go against their beliefs and make poor choices. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Paul knew that there was nothing intrinsically unclean about meat that was not kosher or sacrificed to an idol. Yet there was nothing that could justify the destruction of a Christian brother over food. He’s telling us to limit our choices so we don’t cause a brother to fall.

Don’t we have a right to do what we want? Not if we’re governed by love. The issue is not my personal liberty; it is walking in love towards one whom Jesus loves and died for. “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Jesus was willing to give up His life for the sake of that brother, I can certainly give up my steak dinner or BBQ. In today’s world, food is probably not likely the thing that may cause someone to stumble. It may be going to a bar, watching a poor movie or TV show, or any number of other choices which we may not see as bad but could cause another to compromise their faith. We don’t want to be considered as someone who causes another to fall making our reputation as evil. “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.”

Our walk with Christ is definitely not about what we eat or drink. But it is about how we walk in the power of the Spirit. There are many things that can derail that relationship in our own life, but also in the life of another if we aren’t sensitive to those around us. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” If we place food and drink before righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, then we are hopelessly out of touch with God’s priorities and His heart. “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” Serving God with a heart for His righteousness and peace and joy is the kind of service that is acceptable in His sight, and will be approved by men.

Romans 13:6-9

In Romans 13:6-9 Paul begins by tackling one of my least favorite subject – the matter of taxes. Jesus had previously weighed in when He said ‘render to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s’ but Paul goes a little further. Like it or not, there is a sense in which we support God’s work when we do so. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” We are to give to the state the money, honor, and proper reverence which are due to the state, all the while reserving our right to give to God that which is due to God alone. These are not in conflict, but God’s design is that we have enough for both the government taxes and our tithing to God and His work.

Some may think that cutting corners or even lying to reduce taxes paid is ok. Paul is clear that is not how we should act. “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” In light of this, is rebellion against government and their tax system ever justified? If a citizen has a choice between two governments, it is right to choose and to promote the one that is most legitimate in God’s eyes – the one which will best fulfill God’s purpose for governments. But it isn’t right to cheat the government we are under authority to.

Paul goes on to give us instruction on how to live with our neighbors. He gets personal with his instruction – the only “debt” we are to carry is the “debt” to love one another – this is a perpetual obligation we carry both before God and each other. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Paul is not talking about whether or not we can or should borrow from one another. Scripture warns in other places about the danger and obligations of borrowing. But here Paul gives us direction around the one thing we can never truly complete – the command to love one another. That charge can never be fulfilled.

Paul reinforces what Jesus had given to His Twelve as the second commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself. It means we are to love the people we actually meet with and deal with every day. It is easy for us to love in the theoretical and the abstract, but God demands that we love real people. “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is easy to do all the right religious “things” but to neglect love. Our love is the true measure of our obedience to God. And that love needs to be focused on God, and on those in our patch!

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