Community Requires Christian Love
Passage: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
This morning, I am going to continue our series on Christ-Centered Community by considering a very familiar passage of Scripture (read).
I want to begin with a confession. I have never gotten nearly as excited about the “Love Chapter,” as 1 Corinthians 13 is often called, as many people do. I’m not a touchy, feely sort of guy, so I don’t naturally like to sit around and talk about love. And I love theology, and I love to think deeply, but these 4 verses are very easy to understand. Therefore, I’ve never paid a lot of attention to this paragraph. It just never seemed all that important.
But isn’t it incredible how God knows what we need much better than we do? My plan was to preach about love today using the example of Christ from 1 John 4:7–12. But before I went ahead with that plan, I decided to read 1 Corinthians 13 again, and these 4 verses hit me like they never have before. I was amazed at how such a brief paragraph cuts to the heart regarding the core issues that frequently destroy relationships in the church and everywhere else. It also exposed some things in my own heart that needed correction.
I’m confident that even if you have read this passage a hundred times, there is something, and probably several things in this paragraph, that you need to improve on. I need this paragraph, you need this paragraph, and Life Point needs this paragraph.
But before we dive into the details, I’d like to make 4 introductory statements about this passage that are very important for framing our discussion.
This list is situational.
By this I mean that Paul wrote this list to deal with issues at Corinth. Last week we were in chapter 12, and I said that the church was divided between the haves and the have nots, those that could speak in tongues and those who could not. It’s important that we read this text with that in mind because it really brings the passage to life.
As well because this list is situational, Paul is not attempting to give us a full definition of love; rather, he is trying to help a church overcome problems. Therefore, this passage is especially appropriate for a series on church fellowship, though it is also significant for your marriage and every other kind of relationship.
This list is active.
Verses 4–7 include 15 characteristics of love, and it’s worth emphasizing that all 15 characteristics are expressed through present tense verbs or habitual actions. I want to emphasize that because we live in a day that defines love by how I feel. Certainly love has an emotional element, but this passage and many others are clear that love is primarily defined by what I do, not by how I feel.
This list is authoritative.
You might immediately think, “Duh, of course it is.” So why even mention this? I think it needs to be said because some of these things are really hard. And unfortunately, far too often even very mature Christians put up their hands and say of a certain aspect of love, “I won’t do that.”
They may not say it out loud, but they refuse to do one of the things God commands because it’s just too much. Folks, it is never okay for a Christian to do that. We must always approach the Scriptures saying, “God, when you speak, I will listen and obey no matter the cost.” I want to urge you to take an honest look at your heart today and to surrender to whatever God says.
This list is doable.
Typically we aren’t so bold as to say, “I won’t obey God,” but I’ve heard many people say, “I can’t obey God.” “I can’t forgive.” “I can’t put up with this annoyance.” “I can’t keep my mouth shut.” But when a Christian says “I can’t” to a command of God, it’s bologna. This is because the indwelling Spirit is always sufficient to obey every command. Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
And so God demands a lot of us in this passage, but you can do it through Christ. Therefore, come to this passage with great hope and also with great resolve.
Again, there are 15 descriptions of love in this text, and every educator will tell you that you shouldn’t have a 15-point outline. Therefore, I’d like to divide our study into 4 overarching qualities of love that emerge from this text.
Biblical love is selfless and humble.
The Corinthians really needed to hear this point. There were all sorts of petty strife and competition in the church. Everyone wanted to be first, and everyone wanted attention. Therefore, a major emphasis of this paragraph is to say that genuine love is never primarily focused on my desires and my glory.
We see this in four of the negative descriptions of love in vv. 4–5.
“Love does not envy.”
Envy and jealousy are powerful forces we have all experienced. Someone enjoys a blessing, has a talent, or gets attention, and rather than rejoicing with them, we feel a gnawing frustration that they have what we want or think we deserve.
Envy was doing great damage at Corinth. Chapter 14 indicates that when one guy stood up and spoke with tongues, the rest of them seethed with envy that he was getting the attention. And this envy was pulling them apart.
This one really hit home with me. I am an ambitious person, and sometimes when other people have success, I let envy stir in my heart. I need to appreciate how wicked and destructive it is. And I would urge you to honestly evaluate your heart. Are you harboring envy? A good test and a good antidote to envy are in 12:26b. When someone else is honored, are you genuinely happy for him or her? If not, you have an envy problem. And maybe the best way to overcome it, is to intentionally push yourself to rejoice. Stop focusing on yourself, focus on them and make yourself be glad.
The next two descriptions also focus on selflessness and humility.
“Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.”
Let’s begin with the second of these because it is the source of the first one. Paul uses a verb that literally pictures something that is puffed up like a balloon. It looks big, but there’s actually very little substance. It describes someone with a big head who does all he can to flaunt his greatness, but there is little substance behind the show.
He loves to “parade himself.” In other words he likes to brag or boast. He finds ways to make sure people see how much he knows, or how talented he is. Men find ways to talk about their great accomplishments. Or maybe a woman get dressed on Sunday, motivated to wow the other ladies with her cutting edge style.
And folks we need to see that there is no place for these attitudes or actions in the church or in any other relationship. When I come to church, I must come with a clear sense that I am a sinner saved by grace, and I am here to glorify my Savior, to receive mercy, and to bless others. It is not about me; it is about Christ and his church. And we need to drive pride out of our hearts.
This leads naturally to the next description of selflessness in v. 5.
“Love does not seek its own.”
In other words, love is not focused on my rights or my interests. Instead it is focused on serving others and pursuing their best interest (10:24). Sadly, the Corinthians were so wrapped up in themselves that they had no vision for others or for God’s purpose.
It was so childish, and we can all clearly see it, and yet so often that kind of childish selfishness plagues the church, our marriages, and every other relationship. In the church, it’s “I’m mad because we aren’t singing the songs I like.” Or, “Someone else got the position that I should have.” In marriage, we can fight to spend our money on what I want. And on and on we could go.
Folks, we need to see how immature it is to live life focused on my interests. And then we need resist selfishness by staying focused on the good of others. That’s what we see in 10:24. Take your eyes off what you want and find your joy in the good of your neighbor. Take pleasure in serving your spouse or your friend.
And so we see very clearly in this passage that love is selfless and humble. This is so crucial to the health of our church. If we come to church each week thinking about my wants and my glory, we will tear each other apart. But if we all come with the attitude that it’s not about me; it’s about how can I be a blessing; we can have profoundly powerful community.
The second major characteristic of love in this passage is…
Love is gracious.
Seven of the 15 descriptions have to do with a gracious spirit. I would like to divide them into 3 challenges.
Be merciful toward people’s faults.
The list begins with the fact that “love suffers long.” The newer translations all translate this as “patience”; however, “suffers long” is exactly what the Greek verb means. It means to endure suffering for a long time, and life with sinners will always involve suffering through their sins and failures.
There is a similar idea in v. 5. “Love is not provoked.” You could also say that love is not irritable or easily angered. Have you ever been around a cranky person, and you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells? You fear that if you make the slightest mistake, wrath will flood down. Sadly that happens a lot in marriages, in workplaces, and even in churches.
We’ve got to accept the fact that life with other sinners will bring disappointment. As much as you love your spouse, he or she will let you down, and so will the church. Love in a fallen world is never a fairly tale. And then we have to love people enough to graciously endure their faults. Rather than being quick to get offended or to be angry, we need to be quick to forgive. We need to have a grace about us that serves as a cushion for people’s sins.
A big part of remaining patient is the last statement of v. 5. “Love thinks no evil.” Paul uses an accounting verb here, so he pictures someone keeping a ledger. Every time someone sins against him, he writes it down. Of course, people rarely keep written records of how people have sinned against them, though sadly it does happen sometimes in marriages.
But many people keep a mental record. They REMEMBER all the times their spouse let them down. Or they can immediately recall all the ways church members have hurt them. They are NOT going forget, and they are bitter. It really is sad how many people live this way, and there is no joy in bitterness.
We need learn from the example of God who when he forgives a sin, Psalm 103:12 says that he removes as far as the east is from the west. It’s gone, and he refuses to let it affect how he views us or treats us. We have got to learn to forgive and forget and to be full of grace.
We must learn to be merciful toward people’s faults. The second challenge regarding graciousness is…
Treat people kindly.
The second item in this list is that “Love is kind.” One commentator said that the Greek verb describes love in action. It speaks of generous, merciful living toward those around us.
Paul expands on this concept in v. 5 when he says, “Love does not behave rudely.” Of course rudeness is the opposite of kindness. A rude person does not treat people with grace and compassion. He jumps on people’s faults or mistakes with harsh words and actions. We see that so much in our day. Someone says something foolish, and people jumps down their throats with harsh angry responses.
That’s not love, and that’s not how we should behave as Christians. When your spouse says something foolish, don’t be rude or say something biting. Rather, as Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace.” And the same goes in the church. As a general rule, you should never say something critical without giving serious thought to how you are saying it.
We need to be intentionally edifying and intentionally kind. The third challenge regarding graciousness is…
Grieve over sin and rejoice in righteousness (v. 6).
One of the darkest expressions of our sinfulness and pride is that we frequently delight in talking about the sins and failures of others. If we have a juicy secret, we want to talk about it. And one of our favorite pastimes is to sit around and talk about all that is wrong with certain people or institutions. We love to complain and when you really think about it, it’s sadistic and sad.
Someone who always complains about his or her spouse, a friend, a fellow believer, or the church where there is no edifying purpose to discussing it, has a real love problem. This is because love is gracious, and it protects. Love doesn’t hang people out to dry. If you run your mouth about people, you need to stop because you are dishonoring your family, brothers and sisters, and ultimately the name of Christ.
And you need to replace that with “rejoicing in righteousness.” God is saying that we should be much more eager to talk about people’s strengths than their weaknesses. And so I encourage you to take time and think about how you talk about your family and other people in the church and ask how is it weighted. Do you talk more about what is good or what is bad? And when you are critical, it is with a spirit of love for the purpose of affecting positive change? If not, you need to repent and change.
And so 7 of these descriptions tell us that love is not harsh and critical; it is gracious and merciful. The third major characteristic of love in this passage is…
Love is faithful.
Notice that v. 7 concludes the paragraph with 4 last descriptions of love, and all of them say “all things.” So often our love has very small limits. “I love you, but don’t you dare let me down.” But biblical love is so much deeper and, again, it is full of grace, because all four of these descriptions have to do with how love responds to the faults and limitations of others.
The first and the last describe how love remains faithful in spite of sin and disappointment.
“Love bears all things.”
This verb gives the picture of the roof on a building. We don’t always think about it, but roofs are heavy, and the walls of a building have a big job in holding up a heavy roof. Therefore, this verb says that loving others means holding up a heavy load and staying under it for as long as is necessary.
The final verb gives a very similar picture. “Love endures all things.” This is a compound verb that combines the verb means “to abide or remain” with a preposition that means under.” Therefore, the literal idea is to “remain under.” The point of both verbs is to say that love is faithful even in the face of sin, disappointment, and failure. Rather than bailing in the face of these things; love gets under the burden, it stays there, and it holds it up.
Boy how our society needs this one. So often in marriage, when things get tough and one person isn’t happy anymore, they just want to run because ultimately they believe that life is about my happiness. But that’s not what real love does. When love sees a fault in my spouse, it gets underneath that heavy load, and it helps carry it. It is patient with the fault, it gives encouragement, and it helps the person change.
The same should be true in the church. When love sees a fault in a brother or sister, it doesn’t complain to five people, it doesn’t throw up its arms with self-righteous arrogance, and it certainly doesn’t run away. It responds with compassion. It says, “You are my brother, and I am in this with you.”
The other night I was watching a fascinating documentary PBS just put out on the Vietnam War. A Marine told the story of how he was shot, and he found himself lying only 12’ from an enemy machine gun with a hole in his chest the size of his fist. Pragmatically speaking, the other Marines should have left him there to die because he probably was going to die regardless, and rescuing him would be incredibly dangerous. But one guy came after him, and he got shot. Then a couple more came and started dragging both men off the field. They would drag them a few feet, lay on top of the wounded while they fired, and then go a little further and repeat. There was no way they were going to leave a fellow-Marine behind. They got the men off the field, and this man was so wounded that the first 2 or 3 surgeons who looked at him didn’t even want to operate. But finally one did, and he survived.
That man is alive because even when it made no sense, the other Marines weren’t going to abandon him. They endured because he was family. How we need that kind of resolve in our marriages and families. And how we need that kind of endurance in the church. We are a brotherhood, and brothers don’t leave each other behind. Love is faithful.
And the fourth characteristic of love is…
Love is hopeful.
We see this in the 2nd and 3rd descriptions in v. 7. Notice that “Love believes all things.” Paul uses the normal Greek verb for faith or belief. Now, in this context, we shouldn’t think he means that faith is gullible, that it believes everything someone says. Paul was always a realist. Rather, the idea is that love is not cynical or pessimistic. It always believes that change and growth can take place.
This becomes very apparent in the next phrase. “Love hopes all things.” Again Paul is not talking about blind optimism. If love is going to help someone, it has to be realistic about the situation. Rather, the idea is again that love doesn’t lose hope. It always believes that through the strength of God’s grace that people can change and that situations can improve.
We’ve all been down this road. Someone really lets you down, and maybe they have let you down multiple times. And you get frustrated, and ultimately you become apathetic toward that individual. You think that nothing is ever going to change; therefore, I am done. I’m not going to fight for change, and I’m certainly not going to endure the pain of this relationship anymore. I give up, and I’m walking away.
Sometimes, this happens very quickly. Someone lets us down, and we immediately brand them as having wicked motives or as being unkind. The person makes no effort to resolve the situation; they just pull away assuming that there is no hope for change.
Aren’t you thankful that Christ doesn’t do that to you? I have betrayed my Savior too many times to count. I am so thankful that no matter how many times I grieve his Spirit, he continues to forgive and he continues to work on me to change me into his image. I am so glad that he hasn’t given up on me, and that ultimately he WILL finish his sanctifying work in my life.
And folks we need to extend that same kind of hope to each other because if Christ lives inside them, he IS going to change them. Therefore, this hope is not a blind, wishful thinking, it is based in the promises of God. That doesn’t mean that we always just keep dumping hours and hours into someone who’s not interested, but it does mean that we should never just throw in the towel until we have done everything we can reasonably do to help someone and to encourage them.
Maybe you have been deeply hurt by a family member or by someone in this church. And it hurts so much to care that you have decided not to care. I hope that you will look past that person and see your Savior who never gives up on you but also who is more than sufficient to change that person. Be encouraged, be strengthened, and then keep battling. Make one more phone call, write one more note, keep praying, and keep loving. Ultimately, keep hoping in God.
Folks, Paul put 1 Corinthians 13 right here in the middle of a discussion of division in the church to say that “Community Requires Christian Love.” Let’s love each other like this, and let’s show the world that we are Christ’s disciples.