Summary: True love is a lot deeper than any of us imagine. Understanding it is probably the most important key to growing as a Christian.
There are a few times for a pastor teaching through the Word of God when a real defining moment arrives. I feel we are at one of those places today. Often times people want a key to becoming a mature Christian. I believe we have such a key before us today. But make no mistake, what we are about to look at may seem simple but it is by no means easy. To fully understand and apply the elements of what is contained in this chapter will forever change you as a person and rewrite some things that we think make us mature.
1st Corinthians 13 is probably one of the best known chapters in the Bible, or at least verses 4 through 8 are extremely well known. When we hear them we think of violins swelling, wedding vows being spoken, and romance in the air. But taken in its context, this chapter forms a sharp rebuke to how the Corinthian church was acting when it came to worshiping God, and it helps inform us of how short we really come to acting like God, who is love (1 John 4:16 ).
So before we get into the chapter let’s look first at the world’s definition of love.
World’s Definition of Love
Love is a feeling of closeness to someone else. Love is romance. Love is the physical union between two humans. Love is defined as “a strong positive emotion of regard or affection.” Love is something you give, and hope it is given back in response. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
Our idea of love, no matter how vaunted, is but at best an echo or at worst perversion of what God means by love. The problem is that we try to imitate God without being like God. You can’t fix this age; you can’t create real love out of people who can’t really love. You can only show our weakness and God’s ability to bring about His character in us.
As we begin, keep in mind that Paul is in the middle of speaking to the Corinthians about “matters of the spirit.” They were misunderstanding and misusing spiritual gifts. It was about their show and their impressiveness and ultimately their place of prominence. Paul says the gifts are an important part of the work of the body of Christ, but that body must work with a certain motivation and attitude and towards a certain purpose that is counter to the way these people, and often us, act.
I want to break this chapter up into three parts: 1. Love isn’t about us 2. Love is about relationships, and 3. Love is the hallmark of a maturing apprentice
1 – 3 Love Isn’t About Us
Paul is saying that I can be:
Impressive in speech & knowledge
Powerful in faith & the supernatural
Great in acts of humanity
I might be impressive, put on a good show, and even seem giving— but without real love I am nothing and all of my giving gains me nothing. This by and of itself should bring us up short. You mean that the greatest acts of charity that we see today are not love? They can be, depending on the attitude and purpose of the giver. And without God, you are wasting your time.
Remember that: Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment;
You can’t fix this age; you can only put it to death and resurrect it through Jesus Christ! Our problem is that in our default human nature we’d rather be impressive, knowledgeable, powerful, and even giving—than loving. It’s because love isn’t about us and it can hurt and humble and our flesh fights against that. Might I go so far as to say that we are often so busy being “spiritual” that we have no room for true love.
Next, Paul talks about what real love is. The characteristics listed in verses 4 – 7 are the opposite of the attitudes in 1 – 3. Now I could go into the definitions of love in the Bible—eros, phileo, and agape, but I think that this chapter probably more than any other, actually defines love in a much more meaningful way.
4 – 8a Love Is About Relationships
This is of course a well-known section in our heads but is it well known in our hearts? Our first reaction is to just brush over the words as some syrupy sweet nicey nicey feel good bunch of platitudes. But the words and their opposites reveal to us 1) the character of God and 2) what we should be like as little Christs. We also tend to think of these in terms of black and white, either or. But in reality the subtle differences between the positive and negative reveals much about our spiritual condition.