- John 13:34–“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
- Matthew 5:44–“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
- Matthew 5:47–“And if you greet your brethrenonly, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectorsdo so?”
- Matthew 7:12–“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
THE CONTEXT OF LOVE
Love. Jesus spoke much and often of it. This single concept under-girded His life, His words, His ministry. The entire scripture has been called “God’s love letter to humanity.”
The concept of love, when mentioned in the Christian church, brings an almost Pavlovian reaction, spouting forth “1 Corinthians 13” as the love chapter. A great chapter to be sure. And one incredibly under-rated. Quoted often in wedding sermons and Valentine’s Day cards, Paul’s words have been reduced to poetic phrase. Find me one other place where Paul meant to be poetic. It just is not his way.
To help us understand 1 Corinthians better, we will set some context for Paul’s brief dissertation on agape.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-11. What was Paul’s motivation in writing to the Corinthian church?
Was this a church who cared for each other? Or was it a church divided?
Division was not the only problem in this church. Read 1:17 and 2:12-5. What stands out to you?
The Greeks were easily captured by clever speeches and ear-tickling persuasion. Not only were there divisions in the church, they were also easily swayed by a clever turn of phrase. Such admiration for oratory skill often led to being swayed by false teaching or worldly encouragements. The book of 1 Corinthians reveals much deeper-rooted issues than even these.
- Chapter 3 highlights a church not growing
- Chapter 4 exhorts to servant-hood, imply a pride problem
- Chapter 5 hits hard on issues of immorality
- Chapter 6 attacks litigiousness among the church
- Chapter 7 strikes at immorality again, even starting with an indication that the church actually asked for guidance
- Chapter 8 talks about food sacrificed to idols. So focused on themselves, the Corinthians apparently had a tendency to separate themselves from others over things that Paul says should not be an issue.
- Chapter 9 addresses “rights”. Apparently, the church was focused on their “rights” rather than their responsibilities. An example: pedestrians have the right of way in a street and we even have civil laws to protect that right. However, the laws of physics say that a fast-moving car may not be able to stop in time to respect that pedestrians’ “right.” Rights come with responsibilities. If we only focus on our right, we may get run over because we didn’t also understand our responsibility
- Chapter 10 highlights temptation and how to deal with it. If the church wasn’t experiencing temptation, Paul would have written about something else.
- Chapter 11 reveals a desperate need for organization through the reminder of God’s ordered hierarchy.
- Chapter 12 highlights spiritual gifts. It seems that the Corinthian church was more focused on being acknowledge for their gift rather than serving people with the gift. A church focused on external showing of gifts overlooks entirely the other issues.
Which brings us to chapter 13. This was not a church best served by a lovey-dovey Valentine’s card. The Corinthian believers needed to be set straight on the ways of God, and then given a plan on how to carry it out.
This is our context. Over the next few sections, we will explore four questions using 1 Corinthians 13 as our text. Those questions are: Who are you? How are you? Where are you going? What are you leaving behind?
What is going through your mind right now?
What is God asking of you?
THE FOUNDATION OF LOVE: WHO ARE YOU?
Love begins from within you. you cannot give what you do not have. I can ask someone to borrow their pen, but if they do not have a pen, they cannot give one to me. If we have not experienced the love of Christ ourselves, we cannot begin to truly give it to others. this is why it is important to know who exactly you are.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. What stands out to you?
A critical factor to carrying out love is the foundation from which it emerges. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal” (vs. 1).
Speech is a powerful tool. It is an issue of character versus charisma. Abraham Lincoln had character. Adolf Hitler had charisma. Lincoln was motivated by love. He would rather be alone and doing the right thing than approved and wrong. His character led to the freedom of an entire race of people, and subsequently freeing a nation from the tyranny of oppression. Love isn’t always neat. The bloodshed of the civil war was immense, but the freedom gained was so much greater.
Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, was motivated by pride. He used threats, intimidation and flaming pride to gain followers. His approach led to tyranny, tragedy and World War II. Hitler instilled in the people hatred and deceit. And in the end, he died in exile.
Love or pride? What foundation do you want to work from in your life?
Confess anything standing in the way of that.
What is God showing you right now?
Read 1 Corinthians 4:20. According to this verse, where does the kingdom of God exist?
Billy Graham has been a spiritual adviser to nearly every president for the last several decades. he may have charisma, but it is his character that causes people to trust him, regardless of their beliefs. He speaks truth, period. People know his beliefs and because he doesn’t waver, they trust his word.
What is God asking you to do regarding your love? Your speech?
THE ACT OF LOVE–HOW ARE YOU?
Once you can understand your internal state, we then move on to address the external state. Just as we deal with the heart in salvation first before we speak of actions, we need to do the same with love.
How you are in the world, how you act and what you do, is an external indicator of your internal self. How important are external indicators? If someone who is normally talkative is strangely quiet, we wonder if something is wrong.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. List out the external characteristics noted in a loving individual.
How are you in this world compared to this list? Which are your strengths?
Which are areas of weakness?
What tools can you use to build your areas of weakness toward love?
What things do you need to confess, to get out of the way, so you can openly love?
What is God asking you to do?
Spend some time praising and thanking God for being the perfect example of agape love.
THE FUTURE OF LOVE–WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
“Don’t assume that movement means progress.” –unknown
We have all seen examples of situations where there is much discussion and movement, but there is not a purposeful direction. I liken it to children’s soccer–lots of movement, not necessarily all in a purposeful direction. It is important that you also understand where those actions lead. Repeat: It is important that you understand where your actions lead.
As humans we have this strange inclination to always look at the next step. The newly married couple is asked when they will have kids. After the first kid, they are asked when they’ll have more. The high school student is asked where they’ll go to college, the college student what their major will be and what they want to do with it. The college graduate hears, “so, where do you see yourself in five years?”
Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. List out the then/now comparisons.
Having straightened out our internal motivation and identifying external actions, we must now understand where all these things are leading us.
What has God set on your heart for the direction your life is going?
How can you specifically tailor your motivations and actions to move you in that direction?
Read Ecclesiastes 3:10-14. God has set eternity in our hearts–that we should fear Him. He knows we will push to the next step and the next step and the next step. Keep it all in perspective–this is not the end, this is only an image of what is to come.
Knowing that, it is important to have a game plan.
What is God impressing on your heart?
THE REMNANTS OF LOVE–WHAT REMAINS?
So what’s the point? What is the end-game in all of this question-asking? 1 Corinthians 13:13 reveals the “leftovers” of our life. We don’t take anything with us when we die, but we do leave a legacy.
Write out 1 Corinthians 13:13.
What legacy do you want to leave?
What character changes do you need ot make to get there?
Go back to the list of actions and identify those that will help you get that changed character.
Ask God for help with each of those areas.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 drives home this point as well: “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.” If the only thing that remains in the end is of God, isn’t that where you want to spend your energy?
What things do you need to build?
What things do you need to let go?
Be encouraged: this whole process is cyclical, in a sort of spiral form. As you progress through this world, you revisit the end goal, the beginning, and the middle; yet with each re-visiting, you see it from a little different angle.