The More Excellent Way
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The Corinthians were having problems in their meetings. Paul speaks to these problems, but sees beyond them and speaks to the root problems.
Misunderstanding of true nature of church: individualistic vs. corporate spirituality (LAST WEEK). But there is an even more important issue (read 12:31)love. Why is it a "more excellent way?"
Love is the only valid standard of success (vs 1-3)
Read vs 1-3. It's pretty difficult to miss the point, isn't it? Love is God's standard of success for our lives (see also 1 Tim. 1:5; Mt. 22:36-40; 1 Pet. 4:8; Jas. 2:8; 1 Jn. 2:7-11).
If your spirituality fails to manifest itself in a lifestyle of other-centered, sacrificial love, it is pseudo-spirituality.
Spiritual gifts have their proper place, but the key to their effectiveness is that they are exercised with a heart of love to serve people. Otherwise, they are not only ineffectivethey are ugly (TONGUE-SPEAKER GETTING OFF ON SELF; IVORY-TOWER THEOLOGIAN WHO DOESN'T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE).
Faith is certainly importantbut it guarantees nothing about my spirituality (POSITIVE CONFESSIONALISM: NEW AGE SPIRITUALITY; IDEALISTIC, VISIONARY REFORMERS WHO RUN OVER PEOPLE TO ACCOMPLISH THEIR GOALS).
Aren't philanthropy and self-denial synonymous with love? Not necessarily. Love will involve both, but both can be practiced without love. Some people give their money primarily to increase their fame and status rather than to help people (MT. 6; "BAND-AID"??). Some people make great personal sacrificeseven die for their convictionsbut not out of love for others (MONASTIC MOVEMENT; MUSLIM TERRORISTS).
What about morality? Some people are very moral in a certain sense of the word. They have never cheated on their taxes, they never cuss, they never over-eat or over-drink. But some of the most profoundly unloving people I have ever met are this way! The self-righteousness and cold-hearted condescension which radiates from such modern-day Pharisees is nauseatingand antithetical to true spirituality.
If the Bible flunks all this spiritual activity unless it is motivated by and expressed in love, what about secular standards of success? What if you have climbed to the top of the corporate world, amassed the greatest fortune, gained the most social prestigebut haven't become effective in loving others?? According to Jesus, you can gain the world and still lose your soul (Mk. 8:36)!! When the dust settles and God evaluates people by this standard (vs 8ff.), most of the world's heroes will be shown to be pathetic failures, and many of the world's rejects will be shown to be worthy of true fame.
The uniqueness & complexity of biblical love
If so much rides on being effective in love, we'd better know what it looks like. But I will warn you in advance: You'd better be ready to be stretched in ways you never expected if you want to pursue this way of life. You'd better be ready to drop your simple definitions, because biblical love will not fit into them. You'd better be ready to let go of your sentimental platitudes, because biblical love will cut right through them. You'd better be ready to throw away all simple formulas for how to express love to people, because biblical love requires extraordinary discernment and wisdom. You'd better be ready to have your confidence that you are a basically loving person shattered, because biblical love is ruthlessly hard on such self-estimations. Biblical love is like a MOUNTAIN rising up into the clouds. We can only get to the FOOT-HILLS in this teaching . . .
Because Paul probably zeroed in on specific aspects biblical love in which the Corinthians were most deficient, we need to start with a definition distilled from the whole Bible. "Biblical love is a commitment to give of oneself in every area for the good of the loved onethrough the resources supplied by Christ." A closer look at this definition reveals differences from modern views of love at almost every turn.
"Commitment"Modern love is often rooted in one's feelings (EROS- "I'm in love" means "You make me feel excited."). But biblical love is rooted in our volition; we choose to love, often in spite of our feelings. Modern love is a response to the worthiness of its object ("I love you because you are beautiful, intelligent, interested in me, etc.)and is therefore inherently conditional. But biblical love arises from the character of the loverand is therefore unconditional (1 Jn. 4:10).
"Give"Biblical love is essentially self-sacrificing (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 3:16); it "lives to give." Modern love is usually self-servingit's ultimate agenda and motive is hope of reward or reciprocation. But biblical love deeply enjoys reciprocation, but it is able to derive satisfaction from the act of giving itself. Modern love is often passive and omissive"I prove I love you by not being offensive or abusive or demanding." But biblical love is activeit takes the initiative to do something calculated to help you become what God has designed you to be.
"In every area"Modern love is selectiveit picks and chooses how it will love. I may refuse to express appreciation or affection, but be content that I love you because I provide for your material needs. I may offer you warmth and empathy, but refuse to confront you when you need it. Modern love says "I will love you in the ways that come easily/naturally to me." But biblical love is comprehensiveit is willing to serve in all legitimate ways, even when this includes learning serving in ways that are awkward for me.
"For the good of the loved one"Biblical love operates on the basis of absolute truthGod's revealed definition of what is good for human beings. It therefore has the integrity and fiber to be uncompromising about truth and moralityeven if this causes waves (EVANGELISM). It also has a category for discipline. It is not naive about human nature. It knows that people often foolishly and sinfully define "wants" as "needs." It is therefore willing to confront and devise even severe consequencesbut always for the goal of repentance and growth, not for revenge. By contrast, relativistic modern love often degenerates into soft, over-indulgent sentimentalityand accuses biblical love of being unloving!
"Through the resources supplied by Christ"This kind of love is only possible when we have a personal love-trust relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Only God's love through the cross can motivate us to love others like this. Only God's wisdom can teach us how to express love appropriately in complex situations. Only God's power can sustain us to live sacrificially. Only God's forgiveness can explain why we should forgive our enemies. (GOSPEL)
Vs 4-8 provide us with additional insights into biblical love, probably selected because of the Corinthians' deficiencies. But there's more than enough here to challenge me . . . which convict you?
"Patient"People change slowly, relationships take work over time (contra INSTANT GRATIFICATION; TV SHOW 30 MIN. RESOLUTION). This is also the ability to practice forbearanceto prioritize issues and let smaller ones slide in order to make progress with bigger ones.
"Kind"/"Does not act unbecomingly"When someone is kind, you'll more likely feel safe opening up to them. They may not agree with you, but they won't be needlessly offensive or harsh, and they won't use their IQ or personality to mock you or humiliate you. This is the sensitivity to know and care how our words and actions will affect others, and to use that knowledge to draw out instead of to intimidate.
"Not jealous"There is a legitimate jealousy which is indispensable to true love. God is jealous of other gods because we were made for him. Spouses should be jealous of other lovers. But this is unhealthy possessivenessthe never-satisfied desire to have more and more of the person for oneself (TIME; ATTENTION), which views other legitimate interests (OTHER PEOPLE; MINISTRY INVOLVEMENT) as rivals to be eliminated.
"Does not brag and is not arrogant"Love is self-effacing, not self-promoting. It may be delighted to be noticed, but it is content to do good without recognition and praise. It takes a genuine interest in the other person, and is glad when they succeed.
"Does not seek its own"Because I am secure in God's love, I can give to others without expectation of return from them. Because I know God will bless me as I follow him, I don't have to demand or manipulate. Love is shrewdly calculatingbut not to get for itself, but to move people closer to God.
"Is not provoked"This doesn't rule out anger (see Mk. 3:5; Jn. 2:14-17). Sometimes anger is appropriate and necessary to get someone to wake up. Righteous anger is slow (Jas. 1:19) and calculated to help. But this is paroxunothe uncontrolled reaction (DOG SNAPPING WHEN TAIL STEPPED ON). If you have a hot temper, get alone, cool off, then come back and discuss. Otherwise, you can destroy in one moment what has taken months to build.
"Does not take into account a wrong suffered"Unlike the above (whose anger passes quickly), this is the brooding resentment and bitterness which keeps a careful ledger (logizomai) of offenses, like an accountant calculating the bill owed. This is what leads to malice and hate. How dare we receive God's forgiveness, and then refuse to forgive others? Repent!
"Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth"Love has no humanistic denial of human evil. It holds people responsible for their actions and doesn't let them off the hook with excuses. It exposes evil with the truth and presses for repentance. But it derives no thrill from "busting" and "nailing" people (POWER-TRIPPERS); its thrill comes when people turn to God and change.
"Bears all things"Paul uses this in 9:12 to describe waiving personal rights for the sake of advancing Christ's cause. Love is not rights-oriented; it is willing to give up even legitimate prerogatives in order to guard Christ's reputation and see others benefit.
"Believes all things, hopes all things"This doesn't mean love is naive about human nature (Jn. 2:24). Rather, love believes that change is possible with God's help, and it focuses on a person's potential and has a vision for what they could be like if they walk with God (Jn. 1:42).
"Endures all things"Love is not dependent on the other person's response. They may never change, or love me backbut if I learn to honestly seek their good and treat them with redemptive strength, I can be free from their power over me >> VICTORIOUS LOVE.
Love is the only pathway to true joy & fulfillment
Advancing in love is painfulbut it leads to true joy. It is profoundly discouragingyet it leads to increasing fulfillment. If you pursue this goal, you will often be keenly aware of your deficiencies, failures, and how far you have to go (ME). You will also often be confused and agonize over how to express love appropriately. But if you are committed to this way of life, your walk with Christ will be intensely alive. You will have an ever-deepening appreciation for God's mercy on you. You will be less afraid of what others think about you and more confident in God's ability to teach and empower you to love others effectively.
This is the great paradox of the Bible. It is by losing our lives in loving service that we gain our lives. If you seek fulfillment by trying to get others to love you the way you want to be loved, you will be miserable. If you seek happiness by constructing a world full of comfort and convenience, it will elude you. But if you forsake this and instead seek to love others the way God loves you, joy and fulfillment will find you in increasing measure.
What about you? What are you going to do about this issue? Where are you going to be next year on this issuesafely back asleep dreaming the AMERICAN DREAM, or making real progress with the dual experience described above?? Pursue love (14:1).
This should be the #1 goal of our church . . .