In last Sunday's sermon, I gave a list of 6 descriptions of love, which is the first of the 9 various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. I believe that love is the preeminent and supreme quality of the Christian! True spirituality grows in the soil of faith and of our vital union with Christ, but its most glorious and beautiful fruit is love! In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul gives us a divine lesson in mathematics. He presents what kind of activities and behaviors truly please and honor God and are acceptable in His sight. Philip Ryken has a helpful reminder for us before we look at this familiar passage commonly known as "The Love Chapter." He says that it "is not for lovers, primarily, but for all the loveless people in the church who think that their way of talking about God, or worshipping God, or serving God, or giving to God is better than everyone else’s." (Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Page 19)
1 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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 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. 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. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul first points to those who possess extraordinary talents and abilities (like having the gift of prophesy and knowing all mysteries) but do not have love. According to Paul, great abilities minus love makes you a “nothing.” Paul also points to extraordinary virtues and graces, mentioning the kind of faith that can move mountains (v. 2). But even faith, if not accompanied by love, amounts to nothing. Finally, Paul points to those who perform extraordinary accomplishments and activities (like giving all of one’s possessions to the poor, or giving one’s life in martyrdom), but have no love, and states that it profits nothing (v. 3). Great abilities – Great virtues – Great Accomplishments – minus love – equals or amounts to nothing! Jerry Bridges offers a wonderful illustration:
Write down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled a whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value.Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 13 to list 16 characteristics of genuine love. Perhaps the best way to read the passage is to insert the name “Jesus” in each place in which Paul mentions love, because Jesus is the epitome and embodiment of love:
Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind and is not jealous; Jesus does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; Jesus does not seek His own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.”
Or, if you want to see how you are measuring up in the area of love – or conversely, in what ways you lack love for others, insert your own name:
“___________is patient, ___________is kind and is not jealous; ___________does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; ___________does not seek His own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ___________never fails.”
Ouch! That is a painful exercise! But one that helps us see that we need more of the love of Jesus for others produced in my own life through the Holy Spirit! Therefore, more than the spiritual gifts, and more than spiritual accomplishments or achievements, we are to pursue love! (1 Corinthians 14:1).