|This study © 2000 by David Humpal
The Love Chapter
Perhaps you can agree with the lines written by C. W. Vanderbergh
We all know that we should love others, but itís sometimes difficult to put it into practice. The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is known as the love chapter. Paul teaches us the importance of love and how it should be a priority in every Christianís life.
Matthew Henryís Commentary points out, ďHere the apostle shows what more excellent way he meant, or had in view, in the close of the former chapter, namely, charity...not what is meant by charity in our common use of the word, which most men understand of alms-giving, but love in its fullest and most extensive meaning, true love to God and man, a benevolent disposition of mind towards our fellow-christians, growing out of sincere and fervent devotion to God. This living principle of all duty and obedience is the more excellent way of which the apostle speaks, preferable to all gifts. Nay, without this the most glorious gifts are nothing, of no account to us, of no esteem in the sight of God.Ē
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians present more of an image of a noisy gong or a clanging symbol than the love of Christ. It does not matter how lofty our words or how eloquent our speech. It doesnít matter how much spiritual wisdom we can proclaim nor how many Bible verses we can quote. What really matters is how much love we show others. Jesus has called us to a life of service, a life of caring for others, a life of loving the helpless and encouraging the hopeless.
It is a sad fact that we Christians can sometimes become very arrogant about our theology and very self-righteous about our good works. How many times have you heard one group of Christians look down their noses at the way another church believes or how another church worships! Paul is saying that all arrogance and self-righteousness is nothing but noise and clanging. If we want to make sweet music, we must learn how to have love for others.
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.
Preaching is important, proclaiming Godís message is important, understanding the mysteries of God is important, gaining knowledge about God and his word is important, having great faith is important. All these things are important to Christians, but Paul says that without love they are worth nothing.
This is an amazing statement, especially since in other places Paul emphasizes the importance of these very gifts. Paul understood that love was much more important than any gift of ministry. Preaching the finest sermon without love is nothing. A prophetic message of the greatest importance without love is nothing. Understanding mysteries of heaven without love is nothing. Having knowledge about God and learning the Bible without love is nothing. Having great faith to even move mountains without love is nothing.
I sometimes wonder if we truly understand the importance of love in our Christian walk, in our ministry toward others, and in the life of the church. Paul says that whatever we do, if it is not done in love, it is nothing. These words should make us stop and think about our own heart.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Nothing seems more sacrificial than giving all that we have, whether itís finances, possessions, effort, or even our life. Certainly the early Christians to whom Paul was writing could understand what it meant to sacrifice much, since there was great persecution on the church and many even lost their lives. But Paul says that all these acts of sacrifice, if done without love, are worth nothing.
Matthew Henryís Commentary tells us, ďOur doing good to others will do none to us, if it be not well done, namely, from a principle of devotion and charity, love to God, and good-will to men. Note, If we leave charity out of religion, the most costly services will be of no avail to us. If we give away all we have, while we withhold the heart from God, it will not profit.Ē
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful.
This is the most difficult part of love -- being patient and kind all the time. When people are mistreating us or speaking against us, it is difficult to be patient and kind. When we have love in our heart, we will not be jealous of others since we realize that God has been gracious to us and has blessed us abundantly, even if others may see it as little or insignificant. When we have love in our heart, we will not be boastful since we realize that all our talents, abilities, intellect, and wisdom are merely gifts from God. We did not earn them, but they were freely given to us through the mercy of God.
You may find it difficult at times to be patient, and you may even find more times when it is a struggle to be kind. But God tells us that love is patient and kind. If we lack patience and we lack kindness, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we also lack love. God wants us to be loving people. Let us be willing to practice those attributes of love that God wants in our life.
It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.
If you thought you had problems with the last verse which taught us that we need to be patient and kind, you may really have problems with this verse. It teaches us that love isnít rude and it doesnít insist on having itís own way. Love isnít irritable or resentful. I suppose the most difficult part for us is not insisting on having our own way. We like to have things done our way, donít we? We sometimes can be very stubborn, and yes, even rude about it.
But God wants us to have a different standard than the rest of humanity. God wants us to be willing to allow others to have their way. And God wants us never to be irritable or resentful or rude or arrogant. Love steps aside and lets others win the argument. Love is willing to back off and put others first.
In Genesis 13:1-12, Abram and Lotís herds were getting too large for both to dwell in the same area. So Moses went to Lot and made him an offer in verses 8-9, ďSo Abram said to Lot, ĎLet's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the leftí.Ē Moses was the older and had the authority to choose whichever land he wished. But instead he did not insist on his own way but gave the choice to Lot. This way, Lot would not be upset about getting short-changed. This is an amazing example of the love of God. This is so unlike our sinful nature. Practically all of us would have insisted on the better land, but Moses had a heart of love. Do we have that same heart?
It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
True love rejoices in what is right. Verse 7 tells us four ways that love will help us get through a trying time:
Love bears all things. Others may cause us times of sorrow and grief, but we bear with them because we love them. We may be facing times of testings and trials, but we bear under them because we know God is with us and will see us through. When we have love in our heart, it is easier to bear up through times of sickness, pain, or emotional turmoil. We bear up for family members and friends because we love them, and we bear up under hardships because we love God and know that he will take care of us. We must learn to bear all things.
Love believes all things. Our relationship with our family and others is based on trust. We must believe in them and trust that they will do the right things. Even when it might seem difficult to believe, love believes all things. This is also true in our Christian walk with God. We may be facing fear, doubt, and anxiety, but we must believe that all things will work out according to Godís plan for our life. We must learn to believe all things.
Love hopes all things. Sometimes we might feel like giving up hope with our children or other relatives. But this verse tells us that love hopes all things. That means we must never give up hope, whether itís in other people or in God. Since we serve the Creator of the universe, we know that things that seem hopeless with our human understanding are actually hopeful because of our spiritual understanding.
Love endures all things. This ties in with verse 5 which tells us love is patient. No matter what distractions might come our way, if we truly have Godís love in our heart, we will endure with our family, endure with our friends, endure with our church, and endure with the Lord. Christians are people of commitment. That means we endure in our commitment and endure in our faith. No matter how bad things may appear, we are committed to endure to the end because we know that God is the one who holds our future.
No matter what you are facing, remember that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
When William Tyndale was translating the scriptures into English around 1525, he had many enemies who tried to stop his work. One day when confronted by a group of these persecutors he declared, ďTake away my goods, take away my good name! Yet so long as Christ dwells within my heart, I will not love you one bit less.Ē
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
Paulís point in these verses is that love will never end, not necessarily that other spiritual gifts may end. We can tell from the end of verse 8 that the time Paul is describing has not arrived yet since he implies that this will all happen when knowledge will pass away. Obviously, that has not happened yet, but there will come a time when human knowledge and human gifts will be replaced by the heavenly. Too many people try to read a doctrine into these verses. Paulís emphasis is that although some things that we might think are important and beneficial will have an end, love will never end. This means that love is more important than any other spiritual gift or human ministry. Without love, our efforts in Godís kingdom will seem empty and futile. With love, we can be a great blessing to others and God can use our gifts and ministry to build his kingdom. The key to all this is love.
Knight tells the story of a five year-old boy in an orphanage who kept stealing small items from other children and hiding them in his locker. First they tried reasoning with the boy, but this had no effect. Next they attempted different forms of discipline, but no punishment curtailed the thievery. Finally, they decided to lavish the boy with love. Within a short time the stealing ceased. It is amazing what a little love can do!
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
The time has arrived for Christians to give up childish things. Sometimes we are so petty and we place emphasis on things of this world that are so unimportant. We need to gain an eternal perspective. We need to stop being childish -- to stop being arrogant and self-righteous. The problem is that too many of us are still speaking like a child and thinking like a child and reasoning like a child. God wants us to grow up, to give up childish ways.
This whole chapter tells us the things that we must do to become a mature man or woman -- we must have love in our heart, we must be patient and kind, we must not be jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude; we must not insist on our own way, we must not be irritable or resentful, we must not rejoice at wrong; we must bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things; and we must stop being childish. God expects us to grow up spiritually. When we allow love to reign in our heart, it changes our whole perspective. A preacher becomes a minister, an administrator becomes a pastor, a singer becomes a worship leader, a board member becomes a servant, a committee chairperson becomes an enabler, a pew sitter becomes an encourager, a churchgoer becomes a helper, and a church becomes a refuge of love and compassion.
Let us be willing to put aside childish things and allow Godís love to direct our speech, our thoughts, our reason. We will find that we will see things differently and we will think differently. Love causes remarkable changes in our life.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
While we are here on this earth, we can only see heavenly things dimly. We cannot fully understand the eternal, and we only have partial knowledge of Godís plan for us and all the other dwellers on this planet. There will come a time when we meet Jesus face to face that things will become much more understandable, but now we are viewing through a dark glass. We only understand part of what God wants for us.
That is why love is so important. Since there are many things about God and eternity that are simply impossible for our human intellect to comprehend, we must be guided by love instead of natural reason. Love will forgive, love will overlook faults, love will feel compassion, and love will show mercy. The love that God places in our heart defies our human understanding. But God wants us to show his love.
So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul lists the three most important things that Christians must possess:
Faith. We know from Hebrews 11:6 that without faith we cannot please God. We must have faith to accept Christ as our Savior and we must have faith to encounter the many daily trials.
Hope. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that hope is our anchor. We know that God wants us to live our lives in hope and confidence in him.
Love. Paul says that love is the greatest of these three essentials for a Christian -- even greater than faith and hope. This should help us realize how important it is that we have a heart of love.
Isaac Watts wrote these wonderful words to close his hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. It might be a good idea for us to live them every day.
This study on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 © 2000 by David Humpal,
all rights reserved.
Vanderbergh: The Complete Speakerís Sourcebook pg. 154 © 1996, Zondervan Publishing House
Matthew Henryís Commentary on the Whole Bible, electronic version © 1991, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
Matthew Henryís Commentary on the Whole Bible, electronic version © 1991, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
What Is Love? adapted from the Complete Speakerís Sourcebook pg. 154 © 1996, Zondervan Publishing House
Tyndaleís words (slightly edited by me) quoted in Gray and Adams Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pg. 152, Zondervan Publishing House
Knightís Treasury of 2000 Illustrations pg. 214 © 1963, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company