Summary: A sermon that challenges the body of Christ to make sure that they possess agape love.
“Summa Cum Laude”
1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
You might want to know what my title means and why I chose this phrase for this sermon when it is not even graduation time. If you were to look up this phrase you would find that it is Latin and means “of highest distinction or worthy of highest praise.” Knowing that you can easily see why Paul declares that charity (love) is the “summa cum laude” the Christian graces. Henry Drummond, a preacher from a by-gone era called this love “the greatest thing in the world” and so it is! Dr. Warren Wiersbe provides some background for this chapter when he writes; “It is tragic when the world takes a chapter like this (as it does) and divorces it from its true Christian meaning.
I. Love is Essential
a. The explanation
What is the meaning of this word? When we think of the word charity today we think of donations to the Goodwill or Salvation Army or something like that and don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this kind of charity but this is not what is meant by this word. The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention—a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike—Matt. 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christlikeness. I don’t want us to get bogged down in a bunch of Greek definitions so I’m going to focus on this one word which is “agape” and means a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. This Greek word and variations of it are found throughout the New Testament. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for his followers:
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
But the word charity is not just a powerful emotion, it is love in action and is much more demanding! For instance we are told to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and being and to love our neighbors and our friends but agape love moves beyond this and teaches us to love our enemies as well!
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Luke 6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
b. The endowment
Two things can be said about this love that is such an important part of the Christian faith. First, it is not natural, it is supernatural and it’s source is the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Barnes writes: “The Holy Spirit “…sheds abroad…” –it is diffused; is poured out; is abundantly produced ἐκκέχυται ekkechutai. This word is properly applied to water, or to any other liquid that is poured out, or diffused. It is used also to denote imparting, or communicating freely or abundantly, and is thus expressive of the influence of the Holy Spirit poured down, or abundantly imparted to people.”
Second, this love once “shed abroad” can grow and progress to become richer, fuller and sweeter!
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
It is a fruit that the Spirit produces in believers and the point is that this fruit can develop so that it becomes more and more like the love of Christ in every way short of perfection.
c. The evidence
The unsaved man can no more experience this kind of love than can a marble statue!” Only those who have experienced the new birth have agape love. In these first three verses Paul makes several points. He says that “tongues” apart from love is just noise, that “prophecy” without love is meaningless and this is also true of “knowledge” and “faith.” He does not minimize these gifts but he says that apart from love they are of no good effect. An individual might go so far as to suffer martyrdom but to do so without love is nothing. Paul’s point here is that it is possible to be involved in all types or religious activity, even something as extreme as martyrdom, and yet not possess the love of God which is the evidence of a real salvation experience!