Love changes everything. It makes ordinary acquaintances become necessary friendships; it makes attraction turn to lifelong commitment; it makes hard labor into joyful service. In fact love is so powerful that God says without love all other powers are worthless.
Sooner or later – you could have guessed – we were going to end up here. This is what many would call the definitive love passage in the Bible.
Usually when we hear this passage we are at a wedding or anniversary celebration or valentine’s banquet. And while it’s a perfect passage for those celebrations and does teach us about the love that is in those environments, God originally inspired it to deal with spiritual issues – in particular, how we use our gifts.
In 1 Cor chapters 12-14 are dealing with the use of spiritual gifts within the community of believers. Chapter 13 explains how these gifts become most useful – namely through love.
You can see this connection right before (12:31) and after (14:1) this passage. Together these verses bookend this chapter and keep us rooted in the broader context. Earnestly desire spiritual gifts and pursue the excellent way (love).
So, in regards to how we serve and how we live, Paul calls us to love.
As we have seen and as Paul explains the need for love here, it really is the defining matter of our service. We can be Christian and using our gifts out of service for God and a need for personal growth, but still not be using them as an expression of love for God; love for the lost; or even love for the brother or sister beside you.
So, Paul begins with the necessity of love.
** The more excellent way begins by living empowered by love. Paul points out the emptiness and purposelessness of a living without love.
V1 – I say nothing. Paul is clearing the way for the issue of tongues and the problem that the Corinthians had with it. (There are still some who misapply it today.) Watch how he brings this out – tongues of men (like Pentecost); tongues of angels (ecstatic utterance) – if I can do both, but don’t have love, it’s worthless; it’s just noise; I am saying nothing.
V2 – I am nothing. Prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, faith – look at the extent – all mysteries, all knowledge, move mountains – we may think these are the gifts that would make us something before the Lord. But, not without love.
V3 – I gain nothing. Give all and die, still worth nothing.
Do you feel the weight of that? I say nothing (v1); I am nothing (v2); I gain nothing (v3).
Any act without love is empty.
Perhaps we need to stop at this point and ask: What does Paul mean by love. Is it love for God? Love for people? It has become apparent that love is at the very core of what a Christian is. As such, it is multi-faceted always. If I am serving, then love should be toward God and toward those I’m serving. If I’m alone, then love should be toward God and toward self.
Stop for a moment and ask yourself why and how you serve…
So, how should our service and giftedness look when empowered by love? We’ve been answering that bit by bit over the past several weeks. But, Paul gives us a partial answer here by listing several qualities of love and calling us to ** pursue growing love.
Walk through vv4-8a.
Not insist on its own way
Not resentful (counting wrongs)
Not rejoice in wrong, but in truth
Bears all things
Believes all things
Hopes all things
Endures all things
Now these are qualities of love that I’m not always the best at. The truth is I need to grow into this kind of love and, I imagine, so do you. That’s why in 14:1 Paul tells us to pursue this. Our sinful selves struggle to love so fully and freely.
So, it’s best to remind ourselves that we learn to love by receiving love. We love because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
** Believe in love’s permanence.
Other gifts of themselves will fall away.
Prophecies pass; tongues cease; knowledge passes. It’s not that these things are worthless, instead it’s that when perfection comes these partial things will pass on. He gives the example of a child moving to maturity (perfection) and leaving behind lesser things – or developing lesser things into better things.
All of our prophecy, knowledge, tongues are only dim reflections. They are leading us to perfection. But, even when they are all fulfilled, love remains.
Faith, hope, and love abide. But, the greatest of these is love.
The more excellent way is:
* living your life with meaning, value, and purpose by holding to and growing in love.
Seek to act in love, choose to approach from an attitude of love, grow qualities of love (through disciplines? Choosing better loves?), pursue the perfection (maturing influence) of love.
Messages in this series
Messages by Greg Taylor