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Love is Everything

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It's been a long time since Valentine's Day was on a Sunday. I don't remember. I'm sure we've had one or two of those, but what a great opportunity to highlight God's love on a day when the sentimentality of Valentine's Day is certainly abundant. Along with it, as with so many holidays, the mistaken notion of what love is. Even as I talk today to you about a message entitled Love is Everything, our secular culture affects us to define what love means, what we mean by love.

The television, the movies, our friends, our peers, our schools, our society wants to paint a picture of love in sensual terms, in possession terms. I love to do this. I love to own this. I love this person because this person loves me back. It's such a great contrast for us to raise love up to the level that God has it this morning to see what God intends to course through our spiritual veins when He tells us to be a people who love. In fact, He tells us that love is the definition of being a Christian. That if you are a believer, if you claim to be a believer, then love is part of you. It is who you are. If you don't have love, then you cannot legitimately claim a place in God's family.

So we want to understand the power of God's love. What the Greeks called agape, that self-giving, self-sacrificing, outreaching kind of love. So for out text today, there is no greater text, no more poetic text, a text that is often read, and rightfully so, at weddings, one that gives us a definition, a glimpse from an apostle of what godly love is, the kind of love that he is telling every member of the church in Corinth, must have, a church which was very proud of some of its accomplishments, very self-proud of some of its gifts and abilities, and yet Paul saw in them a church that was not experiencing its life through love.

So I want to invite your attention to 1 Corinthians 13. I want us to look together today, and I want you to understand what I mean by love is everything. Love is everything in the Christian life. Love is everything if you are to achieve the purposes that God has for you, that you cannot be what God intends for you to be on knowledge gained alone. That you cannot achieve what God intends for you to achieve on your innate abilities alone. That without love, without love as the top that you cannot be all that God desires for you to be.

Paul begins chapter 13, well really back in chapter 12, he says, "I'm going to show you something that is more excellent." We've been talking about spiritual gifts in chapter 12, but he says, "I'm going to show you a more excellent way," and he begins that for us in chapter 13 in verse 1. Paul says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal."

Paul begins with this word that's translated here though, could be although, or if I should, might be another translation for that. What he is saying, he is putting that verb in between these two concepts. He is saying that though I should have the best speech that a human can have, be a great orator, be a great speaker, captivate huge audiences, be able to put my nouns and my verbs together properly, be able to poetically bring you to tears on any subject, even…literally in the Greek…even of angels, even if I should master the language of angels, even if I should have such speaking ability that I arrest the attention of the supernatural, if I don't have love, oh I may dispense information, I may entertain, I may inform, I may bless, but the problem is I'm personally little more than an empty brass pot.

In your bulletin today you have a little discussion about what is meant here about being a clanging cymbal. In the Greek tragedies for sound effects, they would take a brass pot behind stage and at an appropriate time, or even to keep a beat for an army marching, or whatever the play was calling for, they would hit that brass vase. When they hit that brass vase, of course it produces a sound, but the idea of the vase is that it's empty on the inside. Oh sure, it's making a sound. It's keeping a beat. It's participating. It's serving a useful purpose, but it does not good for it. It does no good for itself. It's empty on the inside.

You see you might be a great teacher, great speaker. You might be able to really convince people about a lot of things, but if you don't do this with love, you may be able to talk to people all about the Bible, all about Scripture, all about the narratives, all about the doctrines, but if there is not love that is motivating you, then you're nothing more than an empty brass vase. You know even with a brass vase, you keep hitting it over and over and over again, and that clanging sound would eventually get on anyone's nerves, and they soon will drift away.

So too with someone who doesn't have love as their motivation. They may be able to speak great things, but eventually the people will tire of it. You know it's interesting, isn't it, that when someone speaks, they may speak very well, they may speak very poorly, but you can tell whether there is love behind their speech when someone is talking to you, maybe they're apologizing to you, but you can tell by the tone of their voice that there is no love in that apology. There is no sincerity to it. After a while, you grow tired of it. It is little more than a clanging cymbal to you. That's what love does. It may have an effect on those who hear, but it has no beneficial effect on you.

Paul continues that in the second verse, and he says, "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." Paul says, "I might have the greatest gift of prophesy, the power of prophesy itself greater than Elijah, God-given ability now, God-given ability to have tremendous prophesy, to know all mysteries." You know the Bible is given to us in mysteries.

It says that He speaks to us in mysteries, and yet Paul is saying, "What if I understood all the mysteries of God? I might could explain everything about the book of Revelation," for instance. "I might could tell you everything there is to know about every verse in the written Word of God, but if I don't have love, oh you'll benefit, the audience will benefit, the hearer might benefit, the student in the class will benefit, but if the teacher is not motivated by love, then they're nothing."

You see love is everything. It's everything. Too many people probably lead even Bible studies and they have motivations other than love to guide them. Maybe it's self-importance, maybe something they have to get off their chest, maybe they are bitter, maybe they have a super ego, they have motivations that are not motivations of love, and my friends, when your motivation to share the Word of God, when your motivation to share your testimony, when your motivation to tell others about Christ is something other than love for them, they may learn, they may receive some knowledge, they may understand a few more mysteries, but it does nothing for you. It leaves you empty.

Paul said, "I can even have all faith. I can have faith such that I can move any obstacle." The idea of moving a mountain is a Hebrew idiom, and it doesn't mean to literally move a mountain, but that's what they would say. To move a mountain means to make the impossible possible, to do what is otherwise seemingly impossible to do. So Paul says, "I can have faith so strong that I can do the impossible. I can have a faith that will let God work through me and achieve things that could not be achieved normally, but if I don't have love," he says, "I'm empty."

You know we might think being a prophet would be great. We might think having in depth knowledge of the Scriptures, wow, that's right there at the top. We might think having the kind of faith, the kind of faith that causes you to be able to approach any obstacle and have faith that you can overcome that obstacle and do what God wants you to do, that's the kind of Christian we want to be, but Paul says, "No, love is everything.

If you don't have love, it doesn't matter how faithful you are." It sounds strange, doesn't it? That's what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians. If you don't let love be your priority, if you don't let your love for other people be the motivating factor of your life, it doesn't matter how great a Christian by human standards you could be, you yourself are empty. You yourself get no benefit. You yourself get no blessing.

You walk away from teaching that great class and dispensing all that great information and motivating all those people and you're just a little more empty when you started. You walk away from leading people in a knowledge of God and you're less happy than you were. Why? Because love is not your motivating factor. Something else is. Something else is driving you. Paul goes on to say in verse 3, kind of caps it all off and says, "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing."

In other words, he says, "I could be the greatest expression of charity, I can do what God would have me to do, not just talk about helping people, but I'll help people so much that I sell everything I have to help them. I'm the kind of giver that I'll give everything. I'll even give my own body. I would sacrifice myself." Now what greater example of Christ would you have in that, and yet Paul says, "I can do all of that, but if I'm not motivated by love, I'm not going to get any benefit from it. It profits me nothing."

It's interesting that we talk so much about faith. We talk so much about sacrifice. These are all valid and powerful concepts. We talk about giving. We talk about helping the poor. We talk about learning knowledge. We talk about being able to teach it, being able to share, be a disciple. Disciple others. Yet Paul says, "All of that will leave you empty if you don't have love…if you don't have love."

So what is this love like? Paul says in verse 4, "Love suffers long and is kind." The word suffers there is a word that means patient. You want to know whether or not you have God's love, this love that is everything, do you have patience? Not patience for those you love…my granddaughter, I love her to death, and I have tremendous patience with her. We can just do whatever she wants to do all day long, but the question is, do I have that patience with someone else?

Do I have that patience at the DMV office in a long line? With a difficult brother or sister in Christ? Love endures. It has patience to it. It doesn't have limitations of only those who are convenient for you. Instead, it suffers for a long time. It endures, in other words, for a long time. It is kind. It is merciful, is the word. It is a kind of love that helps those who don't deserve to be helped. That's what God's love is.

God's love is very patient with us, wasn't it? He is long-suffering and patient toward us. God's love is very merciful, very kind toward us, wasn't it? He loved us when we were unlovable. So that's the kind of love Paul says, "You must have if you're to be the kind of faithful prophetic, or whatever kind of Christian that God is leading you to be that you have to be motivated by love or it's not going to do you any good."

"You're sitting there bragging about these other gifts and spiritual abilities," he is telling the Corinthians, "but if you don't have love, you're not doing what God would have you to do." Love does not envy. Love does not parade itself. It is not puffed up. A person who has love, when they encounter someone else, they don't take advantage, they don't bully over them, they don't use the fact that they are more quick witted than they are, they have more sharp words they can say, that they can put that person down, put that person in their place, that's not what love does. Love is kind. It is patient.

It's not there to demonstrate itself in such a way that it makes it look like…well, I won that argument. I'm puffed up. I'm a better person. I have the right answer. I'm going to push. No, it understands that the person you're dealing with maybe they're wrong, maybe they have difficulties, maybe they're not doing something right, but your purpose is not to show them that you're right. Your purpose is to express love, express truth, express help, but not in a way that proves that you're right, not an I told you so, but a "God says… God loves. God wants to help."

Paul goes on through the book of chapter 13 in the middle portion of it, and he talks about the things that love does not do, and then the things that love does do. "…bears all things." That's that endurance we were talking about. Then when he comes to verse 8, he really changes the subject just a little bit to let us know why love is so powerful, why love is everything, why it is this morning that we have to stop thinking that we can be a Christian and yet not have love for someone. How that we can continue to be a Christian and yet be able to mark off whom we're going to love and whom we're not going to love.

He begins in verse 8 by saying that love never fails. Love never fails, and then he explains what he means by that. He says that some of these other spiritual gifts you Corinthians are so proud of, and let me just kind of translate that today, some of the abilities and things that you may have a niche on, he says those things will go away. Those things fail. I'll tell you one thing, when Christ comes back a lot of that stuff goes away, doesn't it?

Faith, that's gone. Hope, well, there is no hope because He is actually here. You do not have to have faith because you actually see Him. You do not need to prophesy because He's actually here. Some of those things that were brought to us at the close of the canon of the New Testament, some of those gifts just went away, but love kept going. Love kept going. So when he gets down to verse 13, he says, "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Why? Because into eternity itself, love is the thing that will continue. Love never stops. It never fails.

If there is one truth, one attribute that you have got to make paramount, it's love. Love created this world, and love will recreate it. Love was in the Garden of Eden, love will be in eternity. God's love for His people, God's love for you and me is the one transcending truth through everything. If you want to know…what is God up to? It's love. Everything He does, whether it is battles and destruction, whether it is sacrifice and crucifixion, it's all based on love. We, therefore, have to make that the paramount truth of our life.

We have to being today, we can't say, "Well, I'm not going to love this person. I don't like their skin color. I don't like their attitude. I don't like where they're from." We don't have that choice if we're to be a child of God. We can't say, "They're too young. They're too old." We don't have parameters that we can put on our love for one another. We can't be a person who can say that I'm a Christian, and yet I'm only going to love this subset. We have to have a love that endures. We have to have a love that is patient. We have to have a love that is kind, not one that is puffed up, not one that tries to exalt itself, but one that gives…that gives because that one quality is what we take with us into eternity.

That one attribute, honed and worked on in this very unloving training field called this life is a quality we'll take with us to give back to God, to share with Him in our praise for Him. Oh we practice praising God even on Sunday mornings as we sing, as we pray, as we study, but we can be the greatest singer, we can be the most knowledgeable student, but if love is not what's driving us, then we're not gaining in our training. We're not becoming stronger Christians.

We can give all kinds of money away, but if love is not the reason we're doing that, we're not gaining in our training on how to be a mature believer because I want to tell you that spiritual maturity, oh sure there is knowing how God would have you to be, there is knowing how God would have you to obey, there is knowing how to pray, there is knowing how to do all of these things, but it is all under the umbrella and subjected to the level of love that you've increased.

If you love no more people today than you did five years ago, your spiritual maturity has not grown. Your Bible knowledge might have grown, but the demons also believe and tremble. Okay? The measurement of growing is love growing. Do I love people today that a year ago, ten years ago, I would have not cared for? If as I say this you secretly are justifying and excusing yourself away from that one segment, that's the Holy Spirit talking to you. That's the Holy Spirit you're battling with, not me. The Holy Spirit who is telling you, "You need to go love that person. You have to change your approach to that individual. You have to look at those people in a way you've not looked at before. If you're going to be My child, you're going to act like My child."

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and we have to be motivated by love. We'll never be a missionary church if we think that the giving of money, writing a check is the end all of mission work. No, it's only…they'll be helped. They'll use the money, but we'll get no benefit. We'll have no interest until we learn to love those people…until we learn to love even the lost, until we learn to love those who are very unloving.

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