Monday, July 21, 2014

1 CORINTHIANS 13:4 - 7 “HOW TO REALLY LOVE ONE ANOTHER!“

Faith , hope and love . Paul says  : “but the greatest of these is love” . A.W. Pink said that “ love is  the queen of all the Christian graces[1] .  Whatever gifts we do not have , if we have love  then  we have that which matters most.   The Bible says that if love  is not at the heart of all that we are and do at Eastside, then we are  but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1). That is a strong language, and  it  is good that  we should  stop  all things and activities in our church at times  in order  to   examine ourselves in this regard.

The apostle Paul  writes  this great ‘love chapter’  of the Bible against  the context of manifestations of  terrible immaturity in the church. This immaturity  manifests itself in terms   of  man centredness . The Corinthian Christians  were  looking for human heroes  and human wisdom (1:10ff ; 3:1ff )  rather than  for the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18-31) . This mentality is the mother of  all conflict   in the church and it arises  from  the age old problem of self –centredness  i.e. me-at-the-center !  It is  rooted  in  the  human fall , and has become  our  human default thinking. Every single person  needs to be delivered from this.  Our great example of  a self-less man  is the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 2:1-11)   

In terms of the  immediate context  the apostle    Paul addresses  the   problem of the self -centered use of  spiritual  gifts.  (1 Cor. 12) Spiritual gifts were never given by the Holy Spirit for  self - glorification , but always   for the mutual benefit of the church – “for the common good” ( 1 Cor.  12:7)  and ultimately always to the glory of God.

Self- centredness issues from  pride  and  when it is  not  properly checked , it always leads to division  in the church  and division leads to deadness. Now when a church is dead  it is not because the spiritual gifts aren’t practiced. It is because  the  heart  of love is  not beating ! How do you help  such a self- centered church?  Listen to Paul’s  masterful exposition  and solution to this problem  as we read through the famous  love chapter of the Bible. Keep in mind that  Chapter 13  forms part of Paul’s exposition on  the  exercise  of the spiritual gifts. In fact,  this chapter is  right in the middle  of his discourse on spiritual gifts. He is about to make further comments  on  the use  of  spiritual  gifts  in chapter  14, but he  stops his flow of thought  and introduces  the more excellent way , which is the solution  to  self- centered  thinking  and acting in the church.  1 Corinthian 13  divides into three parts, outlining  :
(i)               The priority of love  ( vv. 1-3)
(ii)             The properties of love (vv. 4-7)
(iii)           The permanence of love  ( vv. 8-13)

1.       THE PRIORITY OF LOVE  : ( vv. 1-3)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,  but have not love, I gain nothing.
Paul  here directs our attention to the fact that  powerful speaking, prophetic  speaking, profound knowledge  and understanding  of mysteries,  a powerful faith  that would move mountains  and personal sacrifice  – all focused on self  and without  the  vital ingredient  called  “love”  - are absolutely  useless!  They  are nothing but an irritating noise in the ear of God .  None of these things  are wrong in themselves ,  but if love  for God and men  are not  at the heart of all  we do , then we are wasting our time  and efforts. We might as well not  do them.

The apostle Paul is about to  define the properties  of that  love for us in verses 4-7  , but before  he speaks  we need to be reminded   that  this “ love”  must not be confused with  modern self - centered,  feeling based  notions of love. We are  talking here about  a  godly  and  God-like love. The  Greek Word   for this love is “agape”. It is in essence  an ‘other centered’  love.  The focus  of this love is not  ‘self‘  or ‘me’  – but others. It begins with “love  for  God”, and it  continues with  love towards  our neighbour. It is summarized  by  Christ  as obedience to  the greatest commandments  ( Mk 12:30,31).

The source of  love  is rooted  in God’s  own  love. God’s  greatest and grandest attribute  is  His love.  GOD IS LOVE! ( 1 Jn. 4:8). This is who He is.   The most profound  demonstration of the Love of God  for us  is  the gift of His only Son – the Lord  Jesus ( John 3:16) who died on the cross for our sin so that we might  enter heaven,  which according to Jonathan Edwards  is “a world  of love”. [2]
Being in Christ  means that we are  grounded and rooted in love  (Eph.  3:17). We are told in Romans  5:5 that  God’s  love is  poured  (a lavish  overflowing)  into our hearts  through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us . This love not only flows to us, but from us. This is why the apostle John says: “ Beloved , let us love one another, for love is from God , and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 Jn.  4:7)
So,  the exercise of love, based  on the example  of God’s own love  to us   becomes our priority and motive for  all that we do and say. Our own church mission statement  (1990)  affirms  this priority.  Eastside Baptist Church exists  to:   love God (Worship);love one another  (Fellowship);  love  a lost World  (Missions & Evangelism).  Central to our mission statement is that word “Love”.  But what exactly does this love  look like ?  Fortunately  we do not have to guess . Paul provides us with a working  definition of love .

2.        THE PROPERTIES OF LOVE  (vv.  4-7)
[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is  so profound  that it cannot be described or explained in one simple  word .Paul  has to use  15  different verbs   to explain  what love  is or  what it is not.  Seven  verbs teach us what love is , and  eight   teach us what love is not .

LOVE IS
LOVE IS NOT
Patient  (lit. long suffering
Envious  (lit. jealous) at the root  of envy is  the spirit of covetousness which is forbidden in the 10th  commandment
Kind (Gr. chresteuomai  - good , gracious )  ;  Christ – like

Boastful  (lit. to speak conceitedly ; to brag ).  If envy is  wanting what my neighbour has, boasting  is to make others envious of what I have.
Rejoices with the truth : Christian love  is  actively engaged in doing that which is right in  God's eyes ;  it is actively  engaged   in    a deep commitment  to  God’s truth, as it is revealed in  the Bible.
Arrogant  ( lit. “puffed up , inflated” – NIV “proud”)
Bears all things : There are two aspects  attached to the Greek word "stego".  (i) the idea of "covering "  in the sense of concealing or excusing the   faults of others, instead of gladly disclosing them.  That would   support the translation of the NIV.  (ii) "to bear - to bear in  silence, all annoyances and troubles" (Charles Hodge), hence supporting the  ESV/KJV.
Rude ( lit.”acting contrary to form”) -  acting without regard or consideration to others.
Believes all things : Charles Hodge says  that “love is not suspicious, but readily  credits what people may say in their  own defence…”. “Love always gives the benefit of the  doubt”  (Leon Morris).
This  doesn't imply that we must blindly and naively swallow all that is  presented to us at face value.  Matthew Henry says it well: "Indeed Love does by no means destroy prudence (caution /discretion). Wisdom may dwell with love, and  love may be cautious."
Insist on its own way  ( lit. not selfish).  “Selfishness is a very small world inhabited by one man “
Hopes all things :  Christian  hope is not grounded in uncertainty,  but in Him who holds the future and  the destiny of  all people  in His hand. Christian love  hopes the best  with regard to  our Christian brothers and sisters.
Irritable –  the  Greek word  (paroxuno) has to do with sharpness – that  which we sense when our temper rises (NIV – not easily angered)
Endures all things NIV “always perseveres”  . The Greek  word  hupomoneō is   a military term -  to sustain  the assault of an enemy .
Resentful –KJV thinketh no evil; NIV keeps no record of wrongs

Rejoice at wrongdoing  : This statement  must be understood  in relation to  all that  is said before . Whenever biblical love sees envy , boasting  , arrogance and rudeness, selfishness ,  irritability or resentment  it  cannot be  happy with that.

The 15 verbs indicate a  call to action. They are  all  written in the present continuous tense, indicating  an ongoing action and a habitual practise,  ingrained  by  constant repetition.  Dr Wayne Mack reminds us  of  the importance of  sound habits .  He writes  : “Habits are learned ways of living. A habit is created when something is done repeatedly , until it becomes a pattern. Habits may be actions, attitudes or patterns of thinking that have become so ingrained, that they are second nature. Hebrews 5:14 for example speaks of people who have become mature, because they “ have  their powers of discernment trained  by constant practise to distinguish good from evil.”[3]   
1 Cor.  6:9 –11 describes people whose lives have been characterised by adultery , immorality , homosexuality, thievery , greed , drunkenness and slander. Paul says to these Corinthians: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Those sinful lives had  been changed for better!  Through consistent practice, unbiblical habits can be unlearned , and biblical habits can be learned.  We  can learn to love in a biblical way  ; we can learn to be patient, to be kind ; we can learn not to be envious ; we can learn not to  be irritable of resentful; we can learn not  to rejoice at wrongdoing  ; we can learn  to rejoice with the truth. We can learn to bear all things, believe all things,  hope all things , endure all things…  All these things can become living truths in our lives.  However it is important that we must plan to change in these areas. And not only plan – but put it into practice!  We learn in order to   respond  in God’s way.  This is called  discipleship
This is a call and reminder  to put the emphasis, where the Scripture puts it.  We can have all the  spiritual gifts in the world. That proves nothing about us. The proof  of  an authentic Christian church  lies in the fact  that love (defined according to verses 4-7 )  is found at the heart of all that we do . How are  you doing  in this  regard ?
       
We need to examine ourselves in regard to this issue – the priority of love. Much  blessing may yet e absent, because we yet fail to take seriously the priority of living in biblical  expressions  of agape  love. In John  13:35, Jesus  makes this weighty observation: "All men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."
I submit then to you , that the Spirit of God is saying to our church this morning :  “ if  you do not have love, you  have  nothing, and that if you do  have love, whatever else we may lacking presently we have what matters most.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus  be with us all , to hear and obey . Amen .




[1] Tract by A.W. Pink : “ True Christian Love”
[2] Jonathan Edwards : Charity and its Fruit , Banner of Truth , p. 323
[3]  John Mc Arthur / Wayne Mack : Biblical Counselling , p293 

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