The Beauty of Love
Good evening and Merry Christmas to you all. May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied in you as this glorious season comes to a close. Didn’t the boys do a great job reading for us tonight - a whirlwind tour through the highlights of the Christ story that will be celebrated with such festivities tomorrow as Christmas arrives. We’ve been building to this time for the last few weeks and tonight we look at our final promise, attribute and quality of the Christmas season.
The renowned musicians The Beatles sang “There's nothing you can do that can't be done Nothing you can sing that can't be sung Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game It's easy Nothing you can make that can't be made No one you can save that can't be saved Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time It's easy All you need is love All you need is love All you need is love, love Love is all you need.”
Yet love is such an elusive quality in our world today - despite the prevalent use of the word. We love everything - and I do mean everything. And this has led to the degradation of the meaning of love in our society. So as we bring this Advent season to a close we should take a few moments and look at what true love - true Biblical love - really looks like as we seek to understand what Christ’s desires are for us. So please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 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 put aside childish things. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.
There is much that Paul has to say to us in this entire passage - and there are some controversial verses that we wont touch on tonight. I read the whole passage because I particularly wanted you to hear the last verse “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love - but the greatest of these is love.” For the rest of our time together I want us to focus in on two aspects of love that Paul brings out in these verses always keeping that final declaration in mind - that the greatest of these is love. First we’re going to see how not to love, how not to love. Then we’ll look at how to love and finally we’ll tie this into the Advent season as we see the greatest demonstration of love. But let’s first look at what Paul calls “a more excellent way.”
How Not to Love
How Not to Love
Paul starts off showing this more excellent way in an odd manner. He first gives us a view of what love isn’t before sharing what love is.
He says if he could speak in human or angelic tongues. This is not merely being able to passably speak the language - it is the characteristic of having a perfect grasp of every language. Imagine for a moment being able to converse in any language. And not simply to converse, but to be able to do so with perfect clarity to be understood, simplicity to be able to speak on any level and passion to be able to get your message across. This is would be an admirable skill.
There have been many in the past who had an impressive grasp of the language - one language in the past - Charles Spurgeon, John Chrysostom (literally called the golden tongued preacher) but none who have had the grasp that Paul is alluding to here. Imagine the incredible ability to clearly communicate any thought or idea - the immense power to have such a command of the language that you could use it to influence humanity.
Now don’t misunderstand me - the ability to communicate is very important and Paul here is not advocating that we return to hand signals and grunts for language or that we never use the power of speech for positive influence.
Yet if this power is wielded without love it is the same as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. There are parents all over the world who are about to experience the dissonant and discordant sounds of instruments played without skill - particularly drum sets the bane of almost every parent’s existence. This is analogous to one who wields the ability to communicate in the languages of humans or angels but fails to employ the buffering influence of love to what they speak. This is the impetus behind Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:15
But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ.
So one aspect of how not to love is to speak skillfully but without the grace and buffer provided by love.
The second characteristic Paul highlights is the gift of understanding all things - “if I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge”. Another incredible power to have - to know all things. To be able to know who was going to win the next super bowl or win the next presidential election - or the next 20. To know what the future would hold. To be able to explain all the mysteries of life. To have the knowledge to solve world hunger, world peace, poverty.
Commenting on this passage Dr. MacArthur said this
One could fathom all the observable, knowable facts of the created universe, be virtually omniscient, and he would still be nothing without love.
On top of that Paul highlights the gift of faith - an even greater power than to have the gift of perfect knowledge. To be able to trust and believe when all indications against your belief. To have the certainty of things unseen and intuitively know they are true.
And yet again all of this knowledge all of this faith is meaningless without love to rule over it. Human nature is notoriously self-centered. Knowledge can be used for one’s benefit in an immoral manner. Faith can be used to mislead and misguide people - but when love rules and one operates from that condition or emotion first and then the other conditions second then knowledge and faith can be used to benefit those we come into contact with.
Paul finishes this explanation of what love is not by demonstrating that even the most selfless of acts can have ulterior motives and be self-serving without love. There were a few high profile leaders in evangelicalism who were encouraging Christians to sell every thing and go live in a box in Indonesia, or some other 3rd world nation, to truly live out the Christian mission. And there certainly is a need for foreign and domestic missionaries - so don’t hear me disparaging their ministry but instead it is when that is done with false motives or doesn’t come primarily from the position of a love for humanity and for God then it is of no gain to the missionary, to the people and certainly not to God.
Paul says even if I give over my body. The NASB translates this as “give my body over to be burned” so many think this is an allusion to martyrdom. And yet even this sacrifice, to die for something you believe in, comes to nothing if it is done from any other motive than love.
In the end the loveless person produces nothing, is nothing and gains nothing. Having given a clear picture of what love is not Paul moves on to describe what love is.
How To Love
How To Love
This is one of the best known passages in all of the Bible. There are few, if any, weddings that have been performed in church that do not include this passage. Paul says that love is patient, kind, it is not jealous, it does not boast or is not arrogant.
Patience - the humble willingness to accept any treatment and to take anything that comes our way. It is one of the clearest manners in which we can represent God. God has demonstrated His patience with us as we continuously flaunt our sins and refuse to submit to His will and standards. Yet this is often one of the most difficult characteristics of love for us to model. Anyone who has been married or had children for more than five minutes knows this to be true. I saw a good friend’s post, and I know this was just a joke, that said that he and his wife had just come to an agreement to have separate toothpaste tubes. And it is humorous, but it also highlights the pettiness and impatience we tend to have with one another when we don’t get our way. There is no greater crucible or producer of patience in our lives than to live in a house full of sinners and expect to get along. Yet, if the Holy Creator is so infinitely patient with His rebellious creatures (and yes that even includes us), how much more should His unholy creatures be patient with each other?
Kindness is the counterpart to patience. Where patience willingly accepts any treatment, kindness gives anything to others without expecting anything in return - even to our enemies. The Christmas season is one that is well known for demonstrations of kindness as we give to others and share out of our bounty given by God. Again this is most often challenged and demonstrated in the home.
Now for those of you who are not married or do not have kids - you are not excluded from being patient or kind. Sometimes your patience is demonstrated towards your parents as they offer their musings as to when you might get married or have kids. Your opportunities for patience may not be as readily apparent but that also presents a difficulty in itself as you have the potential for a greater self-centeredness as well.
Both of these are the completely opposite the notions of jealousy, boastfulness or arrogance. Each of these attributes is self-centered and cannot exude from a loving heart. The love that Paul is highlighting in this passage is not self-love. That type of love is all too prevalent in our world. It is instead the love that focuses outward on other people and that is impossible when you are harboring a jealous, boastful or arrogant heart.
He says that love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it not irritable and keeps no record of wrongs. What a list - is there anyone here who can honestly say they can measure up to this description of love? We are often guilty of being rude (even if it is often unintentional). The idea of getting what is mine seems to be the new American dream - or maybe it has always been that way another example of why our citizenship should be in Heaven and not necessarily tied to our temporal location. Keeps no record of wrongs - this is so counter-intutive to the world that even the secular media highlights when someone publicly forgives someone. It was national news when Rachel Denhollender forgave her attacker publicly in court. And all of this is as it should be because we find no joy in unrighteousness but rejoice in the truth.
In the end Paul sums up love by saying that it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never ends. The NASB translates this as love never fails. This is so counter to the world’s view of love - a view that allows for love to “fail”, for people to fall out of love with one another, for love to shift from one thing to another seemingly at a whim. But he means it when he writes the word “all” and he had a perfect example in mind he wrote those words. How could you write those words, how could we read them, without your mind being drawn to the greatest demonstration of love?
Love’s Greatest Demonstration
Love’s Greatest Demonstration
Preach the Gospel.