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Posts Tagged ‘1 Corinthians 13’

Our topic today is Christian love – how we are to love our neighbors, our fellow church members, our spouses, our kids, our parents, our co-workers – and whatever other relationships you want to add in here, including any enemies you have. I want to talk about what Christian love is, what it looks like, some of the core components of it and how it’s different than what the world calls love.

Let me set the stage for all this by making the point up front – 

Love is the most important thing of all

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. Here he says that:

  • You can exercise spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, but if you don’t have love for others, you’re just a “clanging cymbal” – v. 1.
  • You can be prophetic and have all knowledge, but if you don’t have love for others, Paul says, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can work amazing miracles, but if you don’t have love for others, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can even sacrifice greatly giving away wealth or dying for a cause, but if you don’t have love for others in this, you “gain nothing” – v. 3.

We can add any number of other examples: what you accomplish with your career, your life achievements, your reputation, your wealth, your relationships with your family and friends, your volunteer work, the roles you have filled in church. The point is the same: without love, you are nothing.

Paul is saying in this passage that these other things are partial and will pass away in the age to come. But “love never ends” – v. 8. It goes on into eternity.

So, for instance, if I come to God on the final day saying, “look at all the knowledge I have!” God could say to me, “the least in the eternal kingdom knows a thousand times more than you.” It’s like I’m boastfully bringing a brick of gold to a kingdom that has so much gold that it uses it to pave its streets.  

Love is what’s all important in God’s kingdom. Love for God for sure, and our topic here – love for others. So here’s some questions to consider: Have you loved others in this life? Have you made loving others the focus of your life? Have you shaped everything you do in life toward the end of loving others?

Now, since love is the most important thing of all, it’s extremely important to ask and then answer the question –

What is Christian love?

1. Love is about actions. Love begins within; in our hearts. But it must come to fruition in deeds of love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Good thoughts or even good words aren’t enough. When there’s a need and you can help, to love “in truth,” as John says, is to act.

The example from this context is helping someone who lacks basic material needs. 1 John 3:16 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his sister or brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It’s not enough to say good things, “Oh, you don’t have food and clothing?” “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). Love requires action.

Now if we ask, what kind of actions, the answer is – 2. Love acts for the well-being of others. We are to “do good” to all, even if they harm us, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27 and Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Let’s look at some specifics:

  • God loves us in that he feeds us, giving rain and sunshine to all so that our crops grow – Matthew 5:45
  • God loves us in that he gave his only Son to die for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for, bless others, even if they mistreat us – Luke 6:28
  • Jesus healed the ear of the one who arrested him – Luke 22:50; and he prayed for those who crucified him – Luke 23:34

These are all good actions, aimed at doing what is best for another.

Now, if love truly means doing what is best for another then we can’t just go around being nice. We can’t reduce love to niceness. Being nice and keeping up good social etiquette is often more about staying out of people’s problems and needs. For example quickly giving money to a homeless person, hoping they go away. Or not saying anything to a fellow believer who is involved in sin, lest you make waves.

We keep up social etiquette so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we get ourselves off the hook of actually having to love them. Love, however, means doing what is best for the person. And so sometimes love has to be tough and deal with issues, precisely because this is what is in the best interests of the person.

Also, if love means doing what’s best for another, if they harm us,  we can’t just harm them back. Even if you have the legal right to have the person punished, love calls us to a higher standard. Yes, make sure that you and others are safe, but also consider what’s best for your enemy. 

Love acts for the well-being of others.

3. Love is an enduring commitment to act for the well-being of others. This is where our culture is so wrong. Love is not based on feelings. It may involve certain feelings, but these can waver or even go away for a time.

This might be one reason there is so much divorce today, and you see this especially in celebrity culture, the feeling leaves and so the relationship ends. But Christian love is based on a deep commitment to the other person and their good. It’s a choice that we make. That’s why God can command us to love others. You can’t command a feeling, but you can a choice.

This kind of love is a defining characteristic of God. As God says about himself in Exodus 34:6, the LORD is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” The word here “steadfast love” has to do with unchanging love. It’s God’s sustained covenant loyalty to his people. It’s based on his commitment to our well-being.

Think of God’s love for his people throughout the centuries, calling us, teaching us, walking with us, bearing with us – his love isn’t based on warm feelings. It’s based on this firm commitment to us and for what is best for us. And so as well, Christian love is based on an enduring commitment to act for the good of another.

4. Love involves sacrifice, laying down our lives for others. As Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 3:16 speaks of Jesus’ love in this way, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for” others.

Often the world portrays love as focused on finding personal fulfillment, you know, for yourself. It’s about what you get out of the relationship. But Christian love is about what you give to the one you love, or what you give up for them – serving and sacrificing.

In the world if you’re not feeling fulfilled in the relationship you leave. But Christian love teaches us that true fulfillment only comes when we move past self-centered love and learn to serve and sacrifice for the one we love.

5. Christian loves includes all people. It is always easier to limit our love to a certain subset of people, but Jesus teaches us that all are included.

  • It’s easy to love those who like us, but we are to love those who don’t love us; those who harm us. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46.
  • It’s easy to love those who are similar to us, but we are to love those who are different than us – different race, nationality, economic or social status. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:47.

Jesus teaches that our love is to be perfect or “complete,” like the Father’s love is perfect or complete. The word here in Matthew 5:48 can be translated either way. This is a love which is complete because it includes both the “evil and the good” and the “just and the unjust” – Matthew 5:45.

Let me end by saying –

This kind of love only comes from God

It doesn’t come from our flesh, our self-centered existence apart from God. In the flesh we want what’s best and easiest for us. Christian love!? What!?

  • Good words and thoughts aren’t enough, I have to something?
  • I can’t just be nice or payback wrong, I have to act for their well-being?
  • It’s not based on feelings? I have to hang in through thick and thin? When I don’t feel like it?
  • It’s not about me? I have to focus on giving, even sacrificing?
  • I can’t limit it to people who like me, or who are like me?

The flesh doesn’t want anything to do with Christian love.

No, this kind of love only comes from God, who is love. As 1 John 4:7 says, “God is love.” And only God can produce this kind of love in our hearts. Christian love is “the fruit of the Spirit” who is at work within us (Galatians 5:22) empowering us and enabling us to love in all these ways.

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The Scriptures call us to love all people. But what does it mean to love someone? Pick someone to see if you love them. Go through the following traits of love and test yourself. Do you love them?

1. Love is shown through deeds – True love is not about words or good intentions. As 1 John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” True love is expressed in deeds. When you see _______ in need, and you can help, do you act?

2. Love acts for the well-being of a person – Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” God loved us by giving his Son for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8. If you love someone, you will not try to hurt them. Rather, you will try to do what is good for them. Through your words and actions do you harm, injure or hurt _______? Or do you seek what is good for him/her?

3. Love builds others up – 1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It is easy to put down others when you think you know more than they do or that you are smarter than them. But love doesn’t act this way. Love seeks to lift others up through encouragement and help. Do you encourage and strengthen _______? Or, do you discourage and tear him/her down?

4. Love is not self-centered – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love does not insist on its own way.”  Love listens to others and is considerate of their point of view. Love is not pushy only wanting to get its own way. Are you considerate of _______ and what they think? Or do you simply try to get what you want?

5. Love is glad for the success of others – This shows up in two phrases in 1 Corinthians 13 – “Love does not envy” – (v. 4) and “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing” or as some translations put it – “does not gloat over the failure of others” – (v. 6). Since life is not all about you, you can be happy when others do well in life. Are you glad when _______ does well?

6. Love is respectful of others – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not rude.” It does not dishonor others. Love shows dignity and honor to others. Do you show proper respect to _______?

7. Love is kind to others – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is kind.” This is a broad word that means tenderhearted, considerate, compassionate, gentle and merciful. Are you kind and gentle to _______?

8. Love is humble before others – Two phrases from 1 Corinthians 13:4 make this point – “Love does not boast” and “Love is not arrogant.” Love does not cause us to lift ourselves over others, but to lower ourselves before them. Do you show humility to ______?

9. Love serves others – Paul says, “through love serve one another” – Galatians 5:13. We lower ourselves in order to help others with their needs. Are you willing to serve _______?

10. Love sacrifices for others – This is a central part of what love is about. Jesus says in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Are you willing to sacrifice to help ______ with what he/she truly needs?

11. Love is giving – 1 John 3:17 says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  If _______ has a real material need, and you can help, do you?

12. Love is honest – Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love.” 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love . . . rejoices with the truth.” Sometimes we don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to hurt someone, or cause trouble. So we keep quiet when there is a problem. But love means you have integrity with others. You are honest, not to hurt them, but so you can have a real relationship with them, not an artificial one. Are you honest with _______ when there is a problem? Or are you two-faced?

13. Love is slow to anger – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not irritable” or “Is not easily angered.” Love is not quick tempered, but is willing to overlook minor offenses. Are you quick to find fault or express your anger towards _______?

14. Love is longsuffering – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “love is patient.” The word means longsuffering, which means you are able to suffer for a long time. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “love bears all things.” That is, it puts up with annoyance or difficulty. Similarly 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “love endures all things.” Do you bear with _______ weaknesses and endure his/her failings? Or are you impatient and intolerant?

15. Love seeks peace with others – Colossians 2:2 speaks of hearts “being knit together in love.” Love draws people together. Colossians 3:14 says, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Verse 15 then goes on to talk about unity in the church. When there is conflict or misunderstanding, love compels you to do the hard work necessary to find peace with the other person. Are you willing to seek peace with _______?

16. Love forgives – Paul says, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). To cover sins is another way of talking about forgiveness.  Are you willing to forgive _______? Or do you hold resentments and bitterness?

17. Love is trusting – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love believes all things.” This doesn’t mean that you are naïve. It means that, unless there is good evidence to the contrary, you are willing to extend trust. Are you willing to believe _______? Or are you overly suspicious and distrustful?

18. Love is hopeful – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love hopes all things.” Love is optimistic, even when things aren’t going well. You leave the door open to healing with the other person. Are you open to healing with _______?

19. Love is a commitment – It is not based on feelings, which can come and go. God commands us “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – Mark 12:31. You can’t command a feeling, but you can command a choice and a commitment. Are you committed to love _________ whether you feel like it or not?

20. Love is impartial – You don’t take into account how someone might be different than you, or how favoring them might help you. Speaking of favoring the rich over the poor, James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” This would also apply to other social distinctions as well. If _______ is different than you in race, economic status or social status, does this affect your love?

21. Love is not based on how the person treats you – Jesus says, “Love your enemies . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:44, 46). Paul says, “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Even if someone harms you, you will not return harm for harm, but return love and good. Do you love _______ even when he/she doesn’t love you or treat you well? Or do you try to get even?

How did you do? If you find yourself struggling, don’t be surprised. It is very difficult to love someone in this way. This kind of love does not come naturally from the human heart. Rather this kind of love comes from God, because God is this kind of love (I John 4:7). This love is supernatural. It is a fruit of the Spirit of God working in our lives (Galatians 5:22).

Since this is so, we should pray that God will change our heart and empower us to love others in this supernatural way.

William Higgins

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