Summary: Love is not only the key ingredient, but sometimes the missing ingredient in the church.
A Peanuts cartoon shows Lucy standing with her arms folded and a stern expression on her face. Charlie Brown pleads, "Lucy, you must be more loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place." Lucy angrily whirls around and knocks Charlie Brown to the ground. She screams at him, "Look, Blockhead, the world I love. It’s people I can’t stand." Well, I guess I am a little better than Lucy. I love people, it is just certain individuals that I have a hard time with. Friends, in all seriousness, I suspect many of us have found that it is easier to talk about love, easier to believe in love, easier to be committed to love, than it is to actually do it.
This is very obvious in the church. As Christians we know 1 John 4:11 tells us that "since God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." This morning we celebrate the magnificent love God has shown us in Jesus Christ. Most of us are in total agreement that expressing love to our fellow Christians is part of the right response to that love. Yet, it is not always easy to do, and it doesn’t always happen. We sometimes pay a high price, a very high price, when we don’t love each other as we should. There seems to be an epidemic of church conflicts these days. I hear reports of huge fights occurring in other churches and see some little ones in our midst. These things can be very destructive. I know people whose wounds from these battles have not healed even after many years. Frankly, I believe the key ingredient in preventing these problems is love. A couple of weeks ago a pastor friend of mine said, "Dan, there is a lot that goes on in the church that has no connection with love." I’m afraid that’s true sometimes. Love is not only the key ingredient, but sometimes the missing ingredient in the church.
But what exactly do we mean by this little word "love"? That is one thing we will talk about today. Our text, as we continue our journey through 1 Corinthians, is Chapter 13 -- "The Love Chapter." Though this passage is most frequently used at weddings, God has much to say in these verses about how we are to live each and every day. Let’s pray that we would be able to hear as the Lord speaks to us through His Word.
Before we get started, I want to mention a couple of things which may help us in understanding this passage better. First, we need to consider the context of this chapter. When Paul wrote this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was not thinking about weddings or romance of any type. He brings up the topic of love in the context of the arguments the Christians at Corinth were having about spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church was plagued by all sorts of disputes and divisions, and Paul is reminding them that love is the key ingredient in building spiritual health in their church and in their individual lives. It is a mistake to totally disconnect this chapter from its context and treat it as a piece of lofty romantic prose. It is also a mistake to fail to see how Paul’s words in this passage transcend the situation at Corinth and miss how relevant they are for us today. We will try to walk in the middle of the path and avoid either of these ditches.
Another mistake that people make is to focus on the fact that Paul uses the Greek term "agape" instead of "phileo." Every time we see the word "love" in this passage, it is a translation of "agape." Often people say this word refers to God’s unconditional love while "phileo" is mere human, brotherly love. The problem is that the New Testament doesn’t make the distinction quite as clear. In John 5:20 we see the word "phileo" used to describe the love of God the Father for the Son. In 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul uses "agape" to describe the love that Demas had for the world when he turned away from the Lord. All this is simply to say that we need to allow Paul to define love for us in the context of this chapter. I think it will be clear that he is describing not primarily God’s love for us, but rather the type of love we should have for each other.
OK, let’s take a look at Paul’s message in this magnificent portion of Scripture. First of all, he begins by pointing out that love is indispensable. Without it, life is empty. 1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. The reference here is to the gift of tongues mentioned in Chapter 12 which we will discuss more in a couple of weeks. No matter how wonderful someone thinks this ability is, Paul says that without love it is only noise. But tongues is not the only spiritual gift which is empty without love. 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. In Chapter 14 Paul indicates that prophecy may be a more valuable gift than tongues, but without love it is worthless. Possessing gifts of knowledge and faith is certainly a wonderful thing. Imagine what it would be like if you knew everything, not just thought you knew everything but really did. And would it not be cool to have the type of faith that could move a mountain or even a hill without a bulldozer or any piece of equipment? But, Paul says any of those gifts mean nothing without love.