Faithlife Sermons

The Way of Love: People of the Spirit at their best

1 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  46:12
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Spiritual people are known for the love of God at work through them. This love governs how they treat theri brothers and sisters in Christ and compels them to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church.

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As we read the text, make these three observations.
1. The Necessity of Love, which we observe in verses 1-3
2. The Characteristics of Love, in verses 4-7
3. The Permanence of Love, in verses 8-13
1 Corinthians 13 ESV
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 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. 12 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. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


To be sure first Corinthians 13 is one of the most beloved chapters of scripture in all the Bible. Our love this text primarily stems from the reading of verses 4 through 7 at weddings or other occasions where a sentimental Bible passage is called for. You will notice on the screen a whole host of ways that these 4 verses have been used. From jewelry to home and office decoration. You can have your sofa pillows embroidered with these verses, you can make it wall art hanging in your bathroom, and some have tattoos of one or all four verses. But by far most of the time you will hear these four verses read at a wedding. And reading would go something like this…
“…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, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
And it would sound just as sweet and endearing.
The recipients of Paul's letter in the Corinthian church would not have heard the reading of this portion of the scroll and thought to themselves, “I've gotta get a copy of that for my wedding.” Now I'm not here today to say that you should never read first Corinthians 13 at a wedding or that what Paul says about love is not true. The problem with the misuse of this text is that it can create a barrier for us when we are reading or studying the passage. I think this is certainly the case with reading 1 Corinthians 12,13 and 14. In chapter 12, Paul begins a conversation about spiritual gifts. There, as Ken reminded us last week, he gives us the foundation for the spiritual gifts and for what it means to be people of the spirit. Foundational point number one is, Christ is Lord and number two, there must be a diversity of the gifts because there is a diversity within the body of Christ and each member has been given the spiritual gift for the building up of the body. In approaching chapter 13, we should remember that the holy scriptures have not always had chapter headings and verse numbers. So when this letter was read for the first time, it would not have felt as abrupt as it may feel to us when we are reading in our modern bibles. First Corinthians 13 is not a tangent for the Apostle Paul. He has not suddenly decided to give a discourse on the way of love for no apparent reason. I hope you hear today that a corrective word on love for one another was necessary for the Corinthians.
He gave them the foundation for the spiritual gifts. And before he begins a talk in chapter 14 about how the spiritual gifts function, he must give them a sure and sound theological framework.
The spiritual gifts must be exercised within the context of love and for mutual edification. Not a context of rivalry, self-gratification or the gratification of some rather than all. The Corinthians must learn that the spiritual gifts serve the church only until Jesus returns. Only love remains forever.
Paul is concerned that the Corinthians are hindered in seeing this clearly, so he interrupts his instruction on spiritual gifts to state it plainly.
But before we jump into our study of 1 Corinthians 13, let’s first be clear on the word love. And let’s do that by hearing two passages from Jesus and Paul.

First Jesus in …

John 3:16 ESV
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 15:13 ESV
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And now Paul in …

Romans 5:5 ESV
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Philippians 1:9–11 ESV
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
So with both Jesus and Paul, there are at least three things that we have learned about love.
1. This is something of God that is foundational to all His acts of benevolence towards men.
2. It is poured into the heart of the Christian at new birth (when they are saved).
3. It is both an emotion of the heart and deeds toward others.
Although we could say much more about love, we cannot say less. This is at least what Paul means when he speaks of love in our text.

Now back to our text.

So, in 1 Cor. 13, what is Paul wanting to get across to his audience?

Spiritual people are known for the love of God at work through them. This love governs how they treat their brothers and sisters in Christ and compels them to use their spiritual gift(s) for the building up of the church.

Now, a moment ago I mention that Paul has a concern that he wants to address before continuing in his instruction on spiritual gifts. Well, he, in fact, has two concerns that he addresses in our text.
1. He wants to redirect the Corinthians thinking regarding what it means to be people of the spirit.
2. He’s going to place their emphasis on tongues within a framework where love is primary so that their eagerness for “the gifts of the spirit” will be directed toward edifying the church rather than directed toward a false “spirituality.”
Paul gets at both of these concerns by pointing out 3 essential truths concerning love. (We’ve already mentioned them and if you're taking notes you may want to write down these 3 observations.)
1. The Necessity of Love, which we observe in verses 1-3
2. The Characteristics of Love, in verses 4-7
3. The Permanence of Love, in verses 8-13


The necessity of love.

In verses one through three we have a series of conditional statements that are said this way. If I possess x, y or z, but don’t have love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, then I am at best a hindrance or a nuisance, powerless, and spiritually bankrupt. Now those first three verses are a head spinning, jaw-dropping, tear your clothes and heap ashes on your head call to repentance for the Corinthians.
You'll remember from other chapters that the Corinthians have a problem with showboating. They love to set people who have the higher gifts up above the rest. In the very first chapter of first Corinthians the problem with divisions was highlighted. How they prefer one teacher over another. To the point of pitting Paul against Jesus. They also had come to think that the human wisdom of their day could be of some benefit in their understanding of the mysteries of God bound up in the gospel. The Corinthians had indeed been blessed with great manifestations of the Spirit's power in tongues, prophetic words, mysteries, and knowledge but they had learned nothing of how the gospel transforms selfish, self-centered sinners into others’ focused, Christ-centered saints. The Corinthians were allowing the exercising of the gifts to take preeminence over the exercising of love for one another. In Paul’s mind, you can’t have gifts of the spirit and be deficient in love. And, even if only by inference, were the love of God is abounding among the church, you should also find manifestations of the Spirit’s power.

Our 2nd observation in the text are

The Characteristics of love.

It is important for us to notice that Paul uses verbs as the characterizations of love and not adjectives. That means love in this context is not a feeling but an action. While we could take each of these 15 characteristics, one by one and expound on them, it is more to our benefit to consider how the Apostle Paul might be using these characterizations of love as a means of correction for the Corinthian church? We’ll take them in three parts noticing the way Paul expresses them.
First, love is patient and kind. Here two types of action are demanded. To be patient is to wait or be longsuffering. It’s the action of inaction. And kindness could be described the way commentator David Garland says it. “It responds to others with the same tender heart and forgiveness that God has shown to us in Christ (Eph. 4:32). Kindness recognizes that everyone carries a heavy load.”[1]
Two positive expressions of love that have opposite actions towards others or difficulties in general. Paul sees these two as two sides of God’s attitude toward humankind. Listen to …
Romans 2:4 ESV
4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Through Christ, God has patiently held back His divine wrath and bestowed kind acts of mercy upon rebellious sinners. And since the love of God has been poured into the hearts of the Corinthian Christians, surely, they can demonstrate love for their brethren by doing likewise.
Next, we have a group of seven verbs that describe how love does not behave. It’s as though Paul has taken these straight out of the past events that he has written about in his letter.
The first in this group, love does not envy. And yet in chapter 3:3 this what we read concerning the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV
3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
Love does not permit jealousy and strife among the saints. It says, “How can I serve others, whatever my own desires?”
Second, in the group, love does not boast. Again, we need only to look back to chapters 3 and 8 to realize how pointed this section is for the Corinthians. They thought of themselves as having superior wisdom and knowledge. But, you simply can’t boast and love at the same time. Boasting desires that everyone around thinks highly of oneself. Love cares first and foremost the wellbeing of others
Next, love is not arrogant. This is used exclusively to describe the Corinthians when they have puffed themselves up over the Apostle Paul. Considering the unholy and unloving actions taking place among them. They have nothing to be puffed up about.
For the sake of time, I’m going to finish this seven-fold group by only clarifying two others on the list that need some explanation. The rest are likely self-explanatory.
When we read that love is not rude in v. 5, we should think “unseemly” as it is given in the King James Version. This idea speaks to the place within the letter were Paul mentions shameful behavior such as sexual misconduct, and the disregarding of cultural dress norms that showed a distinction in the sexes.
Also, in verse 5, at least in the English Standard Version, we read (love is not) resentful. New International Version translates the Greek word into a phrase that reads, “…keeps no record of wrongs.” Here’s what commentator, Gordon Fee, has written …
Since in Paul this verb very often means to “put to one’s account,” it seems probable that the nuance suggested by the NIV moves in the right direction. Just as God in Christ does not “reckon our sins against us” (2 Cor. 5:19), so the one who loves does not take notice of the evil done against them in the sense that no records are kept, waiting for God or humans to settle the score (in American parlance, “get even with”). Here Paul reflects the tradition of Jesus’ word on the cross as found in Luke’s gospel (23:34), where the Savior extends forgiveness to those crucifying him.[2]
We’ll close the observation of love’s characteristics by considering the last four in verse 7 together.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
These four are best observed as two pairs with the first and the fourth forming a pair that point us love’s ability to deal with present circumstances and the second and third forming a pair that point’s to love’s ability to look to the future. And so then we understand the character of love to put up with everything, that there is nothing love cannot face. Love has a strength of will in the present, undergirded by its confidence in the future, “that enables one to live in every kind of circumstance and continually to pour oneself out in behalf of others.”[3]

Now our third and final observation in the text,

The Permanence of Love

In verse 8, Paul pronounces, “Love never ends.” This was to give the Corinthians a good shake. He goes on to say that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge into mysteries will all pass away. And the reason for it’s passing is that they are only meant to aid the church in the progress of the gospel until the return of Christ. Back in chapter 1, part of Paul’s opening reads this way,
1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV
7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
He wanted them to know right from the beginning that a church which experiences the outpouring of the Spirit by way of the gifts as not arrived. The end, the best, is still yet to come. The spiritual gifts benefit the church only while she waits for the Savior’s return. When He returns, or as verse 10 says, “…when the perfect comes the partial will pass away.” Just as childhood and child-like ways must yield to adulthood and maturity of the person. So must go the spiritual gifts.
Verse 12 brings this teaching of the gift’s temporal nature to greater clarity. Having the spiritual gifts today is like looking into a mirror. I see the reflection clearly, and I am able to imitate the movements with precision. However, I cannot touch the reflection. I cannot embrace the image. Beloved, today we have the spiritual gifts, and they help us to see and experience the glory of God but only in part. One day, we will embrace the giver and we shall know Him fully and He will fulfill all prophecy. His radiant glory will communicate what needs to be understood by peoples. That He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and that every knee should bow and confess Him as such.
The spiritual gifts will pass away. But love, because God is love, is eternal.
In verse 13, Paul brings his audience back to the present day and reminds them that faith in God for the moment, hope in God for the future, and the love of God for each other is what people of the Spirit stand on. However, of this great triad, only love will remain. One day faith will not be needed for they will see Jesus face to face and will know fully just as they have been fully known. Hope will yield to fulfillment. But love will forever be the foundation of our relationship with God and each other.

Conclusion: Spiritual people are known for the love of God at work through them. This love governs how they treat their brothers and sisters in Christ and compels them to use their spiritual gift(s) for the building up of the church.


a. For the believer:

The love of God was poured into our hearts when we put our faith in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ for you and His resurrection whereby we too are raised to newness of life. A lover of others is who we are in Christ. To not love others is anti-Christian. It is evil, demonic and grieves the Holy Spirit. But we have hope. Daily believing the gospel and appropriating the gospel guarantees that our transformation into the likeness of Jesus is taking place and will be complete when He returns. The gospel is our only hope of ever being able to love the church and the world.

b. To the unbeliever:

You have the same for the gospel. But you first need to believe the gospel, repent and be saved. Give up your loveless life, trust in Jesus and his death for the payment of your sins. Through Him, the love of God will be poured into your heart, and you will become a channel of God’s love for your friends, family, and your community.

c. What the world needs now is not love, sweet love, but a church that will show the love of God to each other. Then as the spirit moves among us and the gifts are exercised all will know that God is really among us

Our application has a twist. When I’m preparing a sermon I use a sermon outline worksheet that helps dig at the text and arrange my findings a helpful way so that when I write my sermon I have some sense of direction.

So I was blazing away and to this point in my preparation where we need application for today. What does this text mean to us at CrossWay? Well, I did my 3-part application, proof-read my sermon and felt that something was lacking. The application was true to the text, I felt good about the three- point explanation of the text, but still it felt like I was missing the heart of the matter for us.
[1] Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians (p. 617). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
[2] Fee, G. D. (2014). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Revised Edition, p. 708). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
[3] Fee, G. D. (2014). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Revised Edition, p. 709). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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