Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode 581 · 5 months ago

The Ways of Love

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Well, please remain standing if you're able. And let's turn to first Corinthians Thirteen, which is not what your bulletins say. When I gave Andrew the information from the bulletins, I jumped ahead just a little bit. First Corinthians Thirteen. We definitely don't want to forget first corinthians thirteen. Let's hear God's word, may He bless us in it. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I'm a noisy gong or clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, things, believes, all things, hopes, all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As her prophecies, they will pass away. As for tongues, they will cease. As for knowledge, it will pass away, for we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love. Amen. You may be seated. Charles Hodge, Princeton theologian commentator on the letters to Corinthians, wrote a lot of different things, very important American Presbyterian theologian. He says very simply, this...

...is a real gem of a passage, and isn't that true? It's so precious, I'm so beautiful. If poets were to take a look at it they'd call it lyrical. It it spins and dances, it twirls, it's lovely. It's a lovely passage. It generates love in us. It helps us to feel love for love. It's one reason that's frequently read weddings on it reminds us of this very, very important on connection that we have with people's even things sometimes. But here Paul is focused on our relationships within the church. Even as we consider it's very specialness as this chapter, a real gem and all of scripture, we don't want to forget that. It's not first Corinthians twelve or fourteen, it's thirteen, and it's thirteen because there's a twelve and there's a fourteen. It's thirteen because it comes in a particular context. Paul hasn't given up saying the things that he's saying. He's not just Oh, by the way, I want to talk to you about love and then we'll get back to business now. What he's saying here is very much tied to what he's been saying and what he's going to say. You remember that in the previous chapter and Chapter Wellve, he was focusing on spiritual gifts, the variety of gifts that the spirit gives to each member of the church, gifts that are distributed at all according to his will, so that together we form the body of Christ, a dynamic, moving, interesting, beautiful body on that manifests the very spirit of God, makes the spirit of God known in the world and also brings glory to God, Father, son and Holy Spirit, as his work is displayed in us, as the things that he is doing in us are made known. In thinking about these gifts, one of the things that seems to be in the background is a pride over some gifts and esteeming of some gifts over others. First Corinthians twelve has a kind of equalizing force, even though it doesn't say everybody gets the same thing. He says all are important, all are essential, all have a rule to play, even in the diversity that is there. He moves his argument forward a little bit more and another step in chapter thirteen by saying love is the most important of all of these things. Love undergods them and even if you have great, great gifts, really doesn't matter that much or at all,...

...if love is not there. Now, of course, love is always there when the Holy Spirit is present. The Holy Spirit pours out his his gifts on us. He's not going to pour out gifts on us and then forget to pour out love, forget to knit us together and bind us up in those kinds of things. So Paul is not accusing the Holy Spirit of anything here, but he is w wanting to us to bring to mind this very important thing, this thing that undergirds all that is going on. He's he's causing us to reset the way we think about these things, which is frequently wrong. Jesus, in this passage, through his plot, apostle wants us to remember love. He wants us to love love, and when we do that on the spirit is made manifest. We do abide in Christ, we do enjoy his benefits, we are strengthened more and more. So as we look at this this morning, we'll look at it in three parts. First, the requirement of love, then the characteristics of love and then thirdly, the permanence of love. So first the requirements of love, and verses one through three, Paul says if this happens but this isn't true, then it's worthless. And that's the formula he uses. So he's arts. He says, if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I'm a noisy gong or clanging symbol. Now the next chapter will get to tongues and and prophecy. In those kinds of things, and we'll talk about that more and full, but just for right now, what he's talking about is this ability, that this extraordinary ability, to speak in the languages of men, to speak in other human languages, perhaps, and probably spontaneously, like we see happen in the book of acts. You remember in acts, when this Holy Spirit right again, we're thinking very much about the doctrine of the spirit. When the Holy Spirit descended on the Lord's disciples, they all started speaking in languages that all these people that had come into Jerusalem to hear, or to be it for a pentecost, they could hear the Gospel and their own languages. And there are astounded. They were amazed at this happening and there was how is this happening? Right, the Holy Spirit gave them this very amazing gift, and that seems to be what's going on in Corinth. There are those who have this ability to speak in the tongues of men and other languages. Paul takes it a step further, though. He says, if I can speak in the tongues of men, if I could even speak in the tongues of angels, right, the other words, I forget these extraordinary gift. Let's just dial it up a notch. Right, if I could even do that, right, if I conversed with angels, certainlyst spoke the language of angels, whatever that is, but have...

...not love. I'm a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. Now, a symbol in an orchestra. You know where they put it. It's way in the back. It's way way in the back. The percussion such could there's those you know three or four people back there and you don't. You typically use a lot of simple symbol right. There's baby one or two spots. The Guy stands there and he's like this and then, when it comes to you, looks at this Mes Goes Bang and the softens them. Banging that, he softens them and then he's done. Right, that's it. It's for a fete. Usually it's for this one powerful thing. If you, you know, if you woke up and somebody was just in your room going Bang, Pang, Pang, thank you would not enjoy it. You would not want it. To speak in the tongues of men is an understandable thing. It's a helpful thing. It's not an obnoxious thing. Right to speak in the tongues of men, even angels. That's how that's a helpful thing. But if you don't have love attached to that, pulse says, you might as well be a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. This thing that you esteem, this thing that you're perhaps amazed by, this thing that in some ways is so helpful, is entirely undone and becomes the equivalent of a noisy gong or a clanging symbol if you don't have love. That's an amazing thing to say. It gets more strong and verse two he says, if I have prophetic powers, understand all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have faith that, if I have all faiths so as to remove mountains. But this is almost like Superhero language. Right, I can do this and I can do this and I can do this and I can do this, he says. If I can do all these things but have not love, I'm nothing. I'm nothing. Now Paul puts it in the personal sometimes I if I sort of pretend he's talking to me, I think I kind of hear him saying I could care less. Right, how impressive you think you are, how many gifts you think you have, like if you don't have love. It just it doesn't impress me. It doesn't matter. He goes on. If I give away all that I have, even my body, if I deliver my body to be burned right, take even my life, but have not love, I gain nothing. We'll think about this a little more later on, but so often we replace these and other things and think that they can serve as replacements for love. Paul takes all of them to the extreme, their extreme forms, and then makes this really, really clear contrast,...

...so that none of us can leave confused about the requirement of love. You cannot replace even amazing miracles, spiritual gifts, the giving of even your body, unto death, with love. There's no replacement for it. It's that important, it's that good. Well, next, in the next section, he talks, after he talks about this requirement for love, he talks about the characteristics of love and, like I mentioned before, this reminds me of lyric poetry. Right, perhaps you've read things like this or where you know, an Ode to a flower or to a drinking coffee, you know in the morning, or to sitting on the beach, or you know these kind of things, and then the poet will just kind of describe right all the things about it, wrap you up in those images so that you can just see so clearly and feel very deeply. Ah, yes, that's what that is. I think he's doing something similar here. Let's go through these characteristics and meditate on this for a moment, and as we do so, I want you to think about yourselves, the ways that you see this manifest in your own lives, maybe the ways you see it not manifest in your own lives. Think about the way you see it in your brothers and sisters especially, think about the way you see these things in our Lord, perfectly loved us in every way. Paul says love is patient. Patient love is love that is not always hurrying, a love that's willing to wait, a love that's willing to suffer, as we'll see. He says that love is kind a word that refers to the desire for the good of something or of someone. Right kindness often has a connotation of gentleness with it. Right it desires good things for someone else. He says love does not envy or boast. We are not loving when we want what other people have and are often angry or possessive about those things. Love doesn't boast. Love isn't seeking it's it's. Love isn't seeking the advantages of oneself through through boasting and and the requirements or requiring others praise. That relates to arrogance, which love is not. Love is not arrogant. Love doesn't walk around telling everyone else about how great you are. I love, I'm rejoices and shares in the gifts of others, recognizes the value in others honors them, which gives to this next one about rudeness. A lot of times today we value it, you informality,...

...and we value authenticity and we value commonness and equality. None of those things are totally bad and of themselves. There are often very good and there's certain situations, but they should never be used an excuse to be rude. Rudeness is that which dishonors and disrespects other people, people who are made in the image of God, people who, even though you disagree with them and don't like them and find them obnoxious, still deserve to be heard, respected loved. Love is not rude. Love doesn't push past people, love doesn't disrespect people, it honors them, it esteems them, and not just some people, but as Peter tells us, we are to honor everyone. Love is not rude. Love does not insist on its own way right. It's not loving when it when, if we are demanding, inflexible, unable to move and change as is necessary. Love is flexible. It's it's able to be agile. It is not irritable or resentful. When we are irritable, we are quick to judge, quick to get angry. We we have trouble, right, the sparks fly and the sparks light fires. Right has this this quickness to it. That's different than patience or resentful. I'm one of the things that as often a leading indicator of divorce is resentment or contempt. When we begin to resent people and have contempt for them, things fall apart really fast. Love isn't resentful, it's not full of contempt. It doesn't look at other people and just despise them for who they are or what they have or what they do. It doesn't rejoice at wrongdoing, but instead, Paul says, it rejoices with the truth. Love is honest. Love sometimes does the hard things. Love doesn't look away, love doesn't ignore, love doesn't um pretend, love rejoices with the truth, desires to see the truth, it desires the connections that we have with one another to be based on truth, to live in that, to uphold it. Love bears all things, which has a lot of different possible meanings to it. One is endure. But if you think that, he's probably not duplicating himself or resaying it,...

...because he does say endure all things in just a moment. If that's true, then love bears all things probably has to do with covering all things. So, while it's while the love, while love rejoices with the truth, that doesn't necessarily mean love always exposes everything in every situation and in every moment. How do you know the difference? How do you know when to do what? That takes love and it takes wisdom to the proverbs talk about this. The the person who hears a secret from a friend and then just labs it to everybody's not a wise person, it's not a loving person. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to cover for people's mistakes. They're embarrassments. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to just be gentle and let it slide. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to confront and point out it takes love and wisdom to know which is right. Love also believes all things. This is not an argument to that. There is no such thing is truth. That truth doesn't matter. Paul just told us. Love rejoices. That the truth, but it has that meaning that we all experience and feel when when someone tries to assume the best about us. Have you ever tried to talk with someone who wasn't doing that, who just automatically was assuming the worst about everything you said? It was like they had this whole other narrative for who you were and what your life was and what your motivations were, and it's like nothing you could say, no matter how good, no matter how valuable, would come out right. Everything was twisted, everything is as changed. It's the opposite of that that Paul means here. It means listening to people and believing that they probably mean what they say, listening to people and doing your best to impute to them the best motives, to hear them in the best possible light, to let mistakes be mistakes and to see them and try to understand them for what they really are saying and what they really are intending. We love it when people do that with us. We ought to extend that to others as well. It hopes all things. It looks forward in kindness. Right, it has this disposition towards the good, but it also looks forward to good things to come, especially when we consider all this in light of the Lord and his promises. Right, when we love and we do these things and patience and kindness, sometimes that's hard, Paul says, and the next phrase that it endures all things. Love isn't always easy. Maintaining these connections with each other and and this disposition of good is...

...sometimes hard. Sometimes requires suffering and extreme patience. I'm sometimes it means I'm trying and trying and trying again. When we put our hearts and our hope in the Lord, then we can hope in him for these situations. We don't have to give up the meal the moment things get rough. We can stick with each other when things aren't going very well. We can show love even when when things are are difficult. So this on, these descriptions and these characteristics of love their they don't say everything there is to say. There's a lot more. All kinds of examples we could give, things we could reflect on, but it certainly it certainly paints a very good picture and it's a good reminder. I frequently will go back to this and other passages like this and and ask me what's missing in my life, what things I am I am I not paying attention to? Maybe maybe I don't boast and I'm not arrogant, but I am really impatient, or maybe I'm okay with patients, but but when it comes to when it comes to enduring in the long, long run, that's hard. Or maybe it's resentfulness or irritableness. All of us struggle, of course, and in different ways. That's really amazing to think of. Out Is that our Lord did all of these things perfectly. This is another fun thing for you to do. Maybe this afternoon or sometime this week, go read some of the stories about our Lord and the Gospels, see him interacting with people and ask yourself, what is he doing? How is he exhibiting these things? Is he patient? Is He kind? As we consider these characteristics, Paul then moves us into this last section about the permanence of love. He says love never ends, and then he gives examples of things as a way to help us to see this, of things that do end and he talks about the way that they end. So what are they? He mentioned prophecies, tongues and knowledge prophecies, probably referring to a prophetic prophecies. Why do these pass away? Well, because they are fulfilled. Right when something is spoken about in advance and then it is fulfilled, well, then prophecy is not there anymore. It's not it's not necessary anymore. I'm similarly for tongues, Paul says tongues will cease, and we have seen that happen. And there was a time, in a place and a usefulness in which God used this extraordinary aspect of this gift in his church, but there would be a time when that purpose would end and tongues would cease. Knowledge. Same thing now. Of course he doesn't mean all...

...knowledge or the knowing of anything, but he's talking about this this way and we we try to understand, I think in particular the scriptures and the Lord. We try to understand these things. Why will it pass away? Because we won't need to know anything anymore. No, because we will know more fully. Here's how he describes it. He says when the perfect comes, the partial passes away. That's his explanation for these things. They they are partial and then when they are fulfilled, well than the partial is not there anymore. Give us an example, Paul, this is kind of confusing. All Right, I'll give you an example. He says, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but then I grew up, when I became a man, childishness, being a child that went away. It was there for a time, it had its place, but whence he is a man, he gives up his childish ways and he says that for these things that he's listing here, it's similar to that. They're good, they have their place, but they will pass. He gives us on another example and he uses the example of a mirror. He says, for now we see in a mirror dimly. Usually most of us have, you, I guess, Vanity Lights, we call them, interestingly enough, but we have these right bright lights above our mirrors or sunlight coming down in our bathrooms and we can usually we look in a mirror and it's it's not dim. But have you ever tried right where the light isn't working or something like that? You're trying to comb your hair and you just can't quite see. That's the experience he's describing here, looking in a mirror dimly. So there's two problems with that one, and it's all backwards and right. It's not face to face, it's not in person. It's sort of seeing things truly, but it's refracted. It's like it's mediated. Right, problem one with the knowledge and these other things. Problem too is that it's dim right. It's not just that they are presented through this medium, this mirror, but it's hard to see. The light doesn't good and there's kind of a struggle there. Right, you see but you don't really see. That kind of experience is how he describes how we are now. But there's a coming, a time when we will see face to face, and I think he has in mind the Lord Jesus in particular. This is a a great hope and a desire of Christians. We love our Lord, but he's away, right, he is not here, he is not present. Now, we see him, we know him, we feel him, we experience him, we hear his voice, we pray to him, and yet there's a little bit of disconnect there,...

...isn't there? We want to be with him, and Paul says, that's a good thing. You don't need to feel bad about that. That's a good thing. That's the way it should be, and one day we will. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully. And then this beautiful line, even as I have been fully known, all that love and connection, that that that connective connectiveness of love in relationship that he describes there, which is largely been kind of one way. Right, I am being patient, I am being kind, you know, as we've been thinking about it. Now all of a sudden he talks about how it has all come to us. Write this. This knowledge is not just a knowing about you know, what's his name and favorite ice cream or whatever, but being fully known. That's an aspect, and a wonderful aspect, of love, isn't it? The Old Testament, the language of knowledge is even to express a deep, deep intimacy between husbands and wives. Adam and Eve knew each other and then baby's appear. This knowledge that we have, that we have can have, is not just a list of facts, but it's a can be the very deep and personal knowing. The Lord knows you, which is to say he loves you. Paul says, I know in part. Then I shall know fully, even as I have already been fully known, the love that we experience, the love that we give to others. It comes in this context of already having been loved by Christ, Jesus. When he loves US, he heals US, he empowers us, he forgives us, he knows us, he lifts us up, he is kind to us, he's patient with us. Can you imagine if Jesus was irritable with you? What that might look like in your life? Every time you messed up, Jesus got really, really mad and disciplined you in some way. Think about how you're how different your life, my life, would be if Jesus came down hard on us every single time we had the wrong thought, every single time we went to the wrong place, every single time we weren't as wise as we could have been, didn't think through it all the way, didn't plan accordingly, weren't flexible enough or kind enough or loving enough. Jesus isn't irritable with us. He's so patient and kind. Imagine what it would be like if Jesus were resentful with you. I died on a cross for...

...this right, for this guy. He doesn't say that, though, does he never. It never crosses his mind, it never comes into his heart to dislike I'm about to give up, I'm about to walk away. No, he died for us and he died for US perfectly and forever. He guarantees by his own blood that nothing, as Paul says, nothing will separate us from the love of Christ, high, depth, angels, powers, you name it, nothing will separate us from that love. Jesus isn't resentful about what he's done. He loves what he's done. He is of it, he loves US, he calls US beloved. We could go on and on, as Jesus's arrogant, as Jesus rude with you. Does Jesus Rejoice in the truth? Does he bear all things? Does he believe all things, help all things and Doure all these things? Isn't it lovely how Jesus loves you? Isn't it lovely how Jesus loves us? Isn't it lovely how Jesus gives to us all of these things? Yes, he's calling us to them absolutely, and yes, we need to confess our sins for the ways in which we have fallen so far short. But let us not forget, as we do so, that this comes in a context of already having been fully known. One day, that one who is fully known us, you will see him face to face. We see the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ. Right now, in the preaching of the Gospel, we hear these words about Jesus and encourages us and it strengthens us. One day you will hear the words of Jesus from him directly, face to face, and what a what a wonderful and Glorious Day that will be. Our love is dependent upon his, and these things, prophecies, tongues, knowledge, these things are going to pass away, but not love. Love is different. Love doesn't sort of enter into its final form and then sort of go away. This love will abide and it has grounding and produces and flows from and is intimately related to these other things, faith, hope and love, or faith. Yes, faith, faith and hope rather, the greatest of these, he says, is love. There's very deep things to think about here and we can't get into all of them, but I hope that at the very least you see the loveliness of love, particularly the loveliness...

...of love as it comes in Christ Jesus to us. I hope you also see the the importance of it as we live our lives in the body to apply this in a way similar to what we Paul says. It's it's sometimes easy to forget that love is as essential as he says it here, particularly when we see people with gifts and when we're hungry for people with gifts and leaders and helpers and servants. It's easy to look at a man who might be a potential pastor, let's say, or an officer or an elder or Deacon in the church, or maybe a lay leader of some kind, and say, yeah, he's really arrogant and he's not very patient. It gets irritable really fast. But man, that guy can preach. It's so good, isn't it right? We love him, he's awesome. We gotta get him, we got to bring him into the pulpit, we got to give him a position of authority. Or maybe it's not preaching. Maybe his administration skills are just top not he knows how to get things done, he can manage people, he can move people, he can shift people, he can help make things work and function really well. and Oh we could really use that right now. Oh if he weren't just a jerk, right, if you weren't so impatient, if you weren't so demanding all the time. But we say these things to our something to say, well, that's all right, well, let's just get him. He's rough around the edges right. Both believes all things. It hops all things. Let's ignore it and try to try to work with what we got now. No one's perfect, right. I'm not saying that no one has it all together. We all struggle, we all have our ups and downs in our bad days. But if the people that we are putting in leadership positions, if the people were seeking and praying for, don't have love, just to be really simple about it, if they're they don't love people, it doesn't matter, Paul says, how awesome their gifts are. It doesn't matter if they could move mountains with their faith. If you had somebody in in in our church who could, you know, Keel Limbs, move mountains, a somebody who is very generous all buy a church for you, no problem. It doesn't matter. If love is not there, let it go. Don't be all clamoring over each other to respect this person or that person, whether that seems like they're spiritual gifts, financial gifts, if they're willing to give their own body to be...

...burned for the church or for you or whatever, but have not love. It's nothing, he says. It's really tempting for us to forget about that and to push people into places and to ask people to do things, but they're not ready for it when they don't have this most essential characteristic. And it's also true of us as well. We in the same way, we sort of look past these things, and others sometimes we look past them in our selvingly say well, you know, I just I'm irritable and I mean and I'm rude, but I sure know how to and you fill in the blank. Let's learn not to excuse that kind of thing in ourselves, but to hear Paul saying what he's saying, how lovely love is, how required love is, how important it, love is, and when we see the need for that, let's look to the one who loves us, who knows US and who is pulling us together in his love and by his strength. We do that, beloved, because his love is infinite. There's no end to it. It's a it's a limitless supply and we can go to her, him for all of our needs, which are many. When we sense what we lack, when we sense the struggles that we have, when we sense our impatience, and and and all the rest, let's go to Christ ask him to forgive us, ask him to grow us, ask him to give us his spirit. And you know what, that's exactly what he desires to do. It's what he died to do. His love never fails, his love never ends, his love never gives out and gives up. We can go to him and trust him for all these things. So let's do so now in prayer and ask for the Lord to be at work in each of us, in our hearts and in us as well as a body, his body. Let's pray.

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