1 Corinthians 13
Let’s do a quick review. Paul started a church in the city of Corinth. Years later, Paul was in Ephesus and hears that things in the church of Corinth are a mess. So Paul has to write them a letter. It’s called Corinthians. In this letter, Paul has to address several things because the believers in Corinth are new and they are dragging the sin and junk from their culture into the church and it’s creating problems.
The church lived in a city, Corinth, that was a melting pot of all the philosophies, eloquent speakers and religions. They compared them all and had their favorites. The same thing began in to happen in the church. They began comparing and arguing about who was the best church leader. Some liked Paul, others Apollos and others Peter. This created deep divisions in the church.
Paul wrote to them saying they have missed the whole point of grace. First, Jesus is the author of life, we are only hired hands. So stop comparing the people and focus on Jesus. Second, you Corinthians are using the freedom God gave you to compare, judge and argue. God’s grace is meant to free you to serve others, not tear each other down.
Paul had to address sex because the Greeks thought your mind and body are split. That meant you can love God with your mind, leave church and have a mistress for pleasure, a prostitute in idol worship and a wife for kids. Paul said, no! The mind and body are one. If God lives in you, it has a direct implication on how you live sexually. You can’t just have an urge and go fulfill it. Paul said,
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ESV 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Paul wrote, the context for sex is inside of a marriage between a man and woman for life. And inside of marriage, the husband is no longer his own and the wife is no longer her own. They need to pursue sex, you can’t be lazy, disinterested or selfish in this area.
Paul wrote about meat that was served to idols. Paul told them, you are free to eat the meat sacrificed to idols. If someone is offended by that, you need to think that through. If you know you have the right to eat meat sacrificed to idols, do you use that knowledge to defend your rights? Or, do you set aside your rights to serve someone who thinks eating that meat is offensive. Paul said, knowledge puffs up but love builds up.
Paul talked about spiritual gifts. The church was obsessed with spiritual gifts. They loved them, especially speaking in tongues. The problem was, they were comparing, measuring and using these gifts for statues and ranking each other. As they pursued these good gifts, they were hurting each other. So Paul has to confront it.
29 Is everyone an apostle? Of course not. Is everyone a prophet? No. Are all teachers? Does everyone have the power to do miracles? 30 Does everyone have the gift of healing? Of course not. Does God give all of us the ability to speak in unknown languages? Can everyone interpret unknown languages? No! 31 And in any event, you should desire the most helpful gifts. First, however, let me tell you about something else that is better than any of them! NLT 1 Corinthians 12:29-13:8
Paul is saying, yes, spiritual gifts are great but there is something much better and I want to introduce you to it. And that is the introduction to 1 Corinthians 13. Paul shares the most important thing.
1 If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever. NLT 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Paul is saying, in all your obsession and activities to prove that you are great, you are ranking each other and ruining each other. You must understand, as you pursue spiritual gifts, if you can’t love, you have no value and you have accomplished nothing. Love, by far, is the greatest quality.
Now think about how this applies to today.
You can be married but if you don’t love, you accomplished nothing. You can go to work, make money, provide for a family, build an empire and be amazing, but if you don’t love, you’ve accomplished nothing. You can go to church, start a church, serve, be a missionary, a volunteer, give and be awesome, but if you don’t love, you’ve accomplished nothing. Why? Without love, all that is left is selfishness. Without love, life is about building yourself up, protecting your rights, focusing on your statues and who you know, etc.
I want to take a time out here to really bring out a tough point. Being selfish is common place in all the places where you live; in churches, marriages, work and school. Let’s talk about how selfishness comes out in those environments. For example, I will do good things and smile to appear loving but I have a secret agenda; I expect something back. I will serve, but secretly, I expect a job. I will volunteer, but secretly, I expect a to be celebrated. I will love my spouse, but secretly, I better get what I want. I will be nice to you at school, but secretly, I expect you to be nice back. This way of living is what is normal in our world and Jesus called it, “tit-for-tat living.” Jesus said,
If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. MSG Luke 6:30
This way of living is weird for our culture. Think about it, Jesus taught, live every day and treat others the way you want them to treat you, even when it’s unfair. When it’s unfair, absorb it and live out a servant life. That is radical. That is the opposite of everything you see on TV, movies, in some marriages, some churches, some schools and where you work.
In the absence of love, it is tit-for-tat living, measuring each other, secret agendas, rankings and it’s all selfishness.
Over time, in the absence of love, we live with a selfish secret and it will come out. Do you know how? It always leads to broken relationships. Here is how it works. I will give, serve, be nice, but if my expectations aren’t met, I will get tired, I will get hurt, I will get mad, I will quit the relationship. We see this in church, at work, in marriages and schools.
James, Jesus’ brother, wrote,
Where do all the fights and quarrels among you come from? They come from your desires for pleasure, which are constantly fighting within you. You want things, but you cannot have them, so you are ready to kill; you strongly desire things, but you cannot get them, so you quarrel and fight. GNT James 4:1-2
Do you see it? In the absence of love, selfishness rules. Tit-for-tat living, measuring each other, secret agendas, rankings and it always leads to broken relationships.
This is what was happening in the church or Corinth. They were selfish. They were ranking each other on who was more important. And it was hurting people. So Paul had to explain what love was.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. 6 It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 8 Love will last forever. NLT
Here is what I know about me and probably you. The love Paul is talking about, you don’t have that inside of you. I don’t have it in me. It’s not natural. Here is how I know it’s not in me. Because it is easy for me to love when I get what I want and it’s hard for me to love when I don’t get what I want. Why is that about me and you? Because we are selfish.
The other day, part of Youth Impact Project team served the Carlisle for Kids event in Carlisle. We committed to serve the clients of Project Share. We loaded two trucks with shoes around 9 am, drove them to Carlisle and took around three hours to set up. People start coming at 2 pm. As we gave out free shoes, some people were so grateful. Some kids just lit up with joy. But that wasn’t everyone. The event lasted till 7 pm so around 4 pm I knew we weren’t even half way done. I was tired. The air conditioning wasn’t working so it kinda smelled – not kidding. I felt a little overwhelmed as the line seemed to grow. This one lady wanted to me to refit her son four times, and then complained about the sneakers I found for him. Brand new, free, quality sneakers for free… really?!? I looked at her and said, in a not so nice way, “They’re free.” I ran out of love about 3 pm and I didn’t even care. I was worn out.
We don’t have this kind of love inside us. This love is only found in God. It’s called Agape love. It’s a radical love. So, how do we get this crazy love inside us? Before I give you the answer, let me tell you want doesn’t work. Most Christians try this and fail. We go to a bible study, DVD series, fill in the blank workbook or a conference and read 1 Corinthians 13, then think, “Tomorrow I will work, I will strive, I will struggle, I will pray about being more loving.” Here is what I know, it will last for about a day, you will fail, you will feel guilty, you will think, “Christianity is hard.” Actually, it’s not hard at all, you are trying, on your own strength to put something inside of you. Love doesn’t work that way.
The only way, to discover this love… wait for it… is for you to enjoy God.
But now God has shown us a different way to heaven – not by “being good enough” and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way. Now God says he will accept and acquit us – declare us “not guilty” – if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. TLB Romans 3:21
Do you relax in that? Do you, daily, enjoy God’s grace?
I want to explain how love works. I have three girls in my house. Being a father of girls for about twenty years, has taught me so much about life and it confirms that girls are in fact, the weirdest most beautiful and awesome people on earth – lol. As they grow up, there have been and continue to be moments when they have hit hard times with friends, school or life. They can get scared, angry or overwhelmed. When they feel like life is shattering around them, they take it out on each other or get quiet. What do I do? I hug them. We intentionally spend one on one time with them. We tell them how much I love them and how proud we are of them. We sit and listen to them.
Do you know what happens? Slowly we connect with their hearts and they know Mom and Dad are on their side. It’s like a reset button has been hit. They are refreshed. They have confidence and courage again. They don’t try till kill each other. Then they are able to jump back into life. That’s how love works. They experience love from Mom and Dad, then they have confidence and courage to go back into life. How did that happen? They enjoyed their relationship with Mom and Dad. That’s how love works.
So the question I have for you is; are you enjoying God? I ask this because it shows up in how you love. Enjoying God is the only way to catch this crazy love.
Do you remember the parable of the lost son? The younger son leaves home, squanders all his inheritance, comes home a wreck and his father celebrates him. The older son is angry that his brother is home and can’t enjoy the party. Let’s read his response.
28 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. 29 The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? 30 Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours – 32 but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!'” MSG Luke 15:28-32
Why can’t the older brother celebrate the younger brother? Because he never enjoyed his time with his father. Every day, he faithfully went to work and banged out a list of tasks. He didn’t have love in him. Remember what we said earlier? In the absence love there is selfishness. When we are selfish, we have expectations. If our expectations aren’t met we are tired, hurt, maybe angry and we want to quit the relationships. That’s exactly what happened with the older brother.
Do you remember what Paul wrote: No matter what I accomplish, I am worth nothing unless I love.
The older brother was successful, faithful, was awesome at work but he had no love in him, only selfishness. If he would have enjoyed his father’s relationship, he could have enjoyed his brother.
Let me ask you; do you enjoy God? This is so important because it’s the only way to capture God’s love in your soul. The more you enjoy God, it will transform you. Then over time, you will be better at sharing love with others. Are you enjoying God, His love and grace for you?
Let’s close with 3 quick things about love.
Love is not a feeling or an emotion, it’s a choice to take action. Paul didn’t say you wait for a loving feeling act loving. Paul simple said, love! It’s a simple choice to take action.
Did you notice that love is painfully practical? It’s not a mystical emotion. It’s not hard. It is clear; be patient, be kind, etc. It’s available for everyone. You can love your spouse today, right now. You can love your kids, your parents, those you work with right now. You can love someone from another race, today, right now.
Lastly, love doesn’t measure, compare or weigh and it doesn’t care about statues. Love is the opposite of that non-sense. When you get caught up into that stuff, that’s how you know you aren’t loving. When it comes to people and relationships, we should be able to love with courage in every moment. The courage to honor them, bless them, and bring out the best in them. When you are stuck measuring, comparing, weighing, you can’t live with courage to help others. It literally drains all your energy from you.
What does 1 Corinthians 13 mean? The church people were taking what God gave them and using it to rank each other. Paul said, these gifts are good but I have to teach you a much better way. Love.
What does it mean to us today? You and I don’t have this love. The only way to catch it and put it into your soul is to enjoy God. So the question is: Are you enjoying God? Remember, love is a choice to take action. Love unbelievably practical. Love has nothing to do with measuring, comparing or keeping score.
So, are you enjoying God?
Who is it that you need to love?