1 Corinthians 13
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,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
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;[b] 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.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 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. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
As mentioned last Sunday, starting next Sunday, there is going to be a little extended time where I am not going to be standing behind this pulpit to deliver you our weekly sermon.
Instead, a few guys in the church will be opening up God’s Word for us as we begin a study of the New Testament book of Philippians.
I think this sermon series is going to be good on a number of fronts.
First, if I can speak personally here for a second, this is going to be good for me. Because outside of a couple of sermons that I will be giving at the campground, it will be good to get a little more of an extended break from the weight that can come with writing sermons. This time will be good for me because it will allow me to get to a few other things that I might not always have the space to get to.
And I think most importantly, this time will be good for me to personally sit under preaching.
Which is what I am most looking forward to. To sit under the teaching of God’s Word. So I am sure this time will be personally good for me, which is why I am so thankful to the other elders and to you that I have this time coming up.
Second, I also think, hope that this time will be good for the guys who are going to write and deliver the sermons to us, some of which will be giving their first-ever sermons. And I trust that the entire experience that makes up a sermon will be good for them. It will be good to have to go through the study and preparation that involves trying to wrestle with the Scriptures to understand what they say.
It will be good for the guys to then go through the process of having to craft the sermon in ways that it communicates to our congregation what the text is saying and how it applies to our lives. And it will be good for the different preachers to have to go through the vulnerability that comes with having to deliver the sermon, standing behind this pulpit.
And each of these things are good because each of them are meant to drive the preacher to greater dependency upon the Lord, which we know is always good.
Third, I think this extended time that we will have in the book of Philippians will not just be good for me and for the guys who will be preaching. But I also think that this sermon series will be good for us, the entire congregation as a whole.
I think this will be good for us as a whole because I am confident each of the guys will do a good job at faithfully expositing God’s Word to us. And I think it will be good for us to hear sermons coming from different styles and different personalities.
And I think that at times, digesting different varieties of preaching can be very good for a church body because I think the variety can help break up some monotony that church life at times can bring with it.
So I think this series will help us as a whole to recapture some attention that at times can be hard to keep.
On multiple fronts, I think this is going to be a good thing for our church to do over the course of the next few weeks.
Now, because today is my last sermon behind this pulpit for a little while, I wanted to step away from our current study of 1 Samuel which I will pick back up after we finish Philippians.
Because I wanted to give us a one-off sermon from the text that I just read, which is a text that has been on my mind and heart. And it has been on my mind and heart for a couple of reasons.
First, this text is always on my mind and heart because this text, what it communicates, our call to love each other, not only is one of the most important things we are to do as a church. After all, our Lord told us that others will recognize that we are his with our love for each other.
But loving each other is also perhaps the hardest thing that we do as a church.
It is not always easy to love.
Scripture tells us a few times to not grow weary in doing good. And because our call to love can be really hard, I think loving others is the good thing that can leave us most weary.
So, because of the importance and at times difficulty to love, this passage is always one I am thinking about as it relates to us.
The second reason why this text this morning is in correlation to our staff meeting from a couple of weeks back, where somehow a conversation was started about the hardest, most painful season I had in church life.
Which was before Tia and I went to seminary.
Where the church we were part of went through an incredibly volatile and painful church split.
Which, on the day the church officially split, which was on a Sunday morning, the police were called because there was such anger and division within the church body, to the point that people were literally yelling and screaming at each other in the sanctuary.
So, after I told our staff about that awful experience, where a once unified church painfully split apart, I began to go back over in my own head what went so wrong. And my conclusion, at the center of the split, was simply a lack of love for one another. Where somewhere along the lines, the church family grew so weary in doing the hard thing of loving one another that they stopped doing it altogether.
So, after telling that story at staff meeting, coming to the conclusion that a lack of love was at the core of that awful experience, I found myself wanting to work through this text with you today as my last sermon before a little more of an extended break.
Now, before we work through this passage, let me set some brief context for you.
By simply saying that the church in Corinth, to whom this letter was written, was a church who was mightily struggling on many fronts, with the struggle to love one another being one of their primary struggles.
And because of their struggle to love, the church in Corinth was being torn apart. Let me mention a few places in the letter where we see that.
In chapter 1, this church was struggling to love one another because they were too busy dividing themselves in different camps that seemed to produce infighting. Each camp was convinced they were better, more faithful, and more spiritually mature than the other camps.
So, in Corinth, one camp would talk all day long and gush over how they followed Paul, who is the author of this letter. They believed he was the best, and if anyone wanted to be a true Christian, they would flock to Paul and read his theology.
Another camp would talk all day long and gush on how they followed Apollos. They thought he was the best, as in the New Testament, Apollos was the first well-known preacher. They argued that if you really wanted to be fed properly, you were wasting your time listening to anyone preach other than Apollos, as he was the only one who knew how to preach.
Yet, another camp would talk all day long and gush about how they followed Cephas, which is another name that the apostle Peter was called. Peter was the upfront leader of the early Christian church, as we see in the book of Acts.
So, I wonder if his leadership charisma was so strong, would this camp criticize others? If they would follow anyone other than him.
But then there was the most spiritual camp in Corinth who would play the trump card in any argument they were in with another camp. Because they would simply say that they follow Christ.
A divided church where it seemed like each group lived in their own little echo chamber, where they puffed each other in their own camp, where they had little to no interaction with others in different camps, outside of simply trying to tear the other camps down.
And this dividing into camps, living in echo chambers, seemed to be such a major issue in this church that Paul even circled back in chapter 4 to confront this division a second time.
But that is not the only place where this church struggled to love each other.
In chapter 6, the church struggled to love each other because it seems like they were too busy taking each other to court, placing lawsuits on one another. So instead of lovingly working through whatever struggle they had, they poured gasoline on the fire and made perhaps small issues into huge issues to fight over.
In chapter 8, the church struggled to love each other because they were too busy putting stumbling blocks in front of each other, where it seems like those who claimed to be strong in their faith, who claimed to be spiritually mature, were arrogantly seeking to put down those who had weaker issues of conscience. In doing so, those who claimed to be spiritually strong were counting themselves far more significant than others, rather than following what Scripture teaches of counting others more significant than self.
But there is more (Chapter 11): The church struggled to love each other, even when it came to taking the Lord’s Supper.
Which is the great meal that the local church is to take together to not only remember what Jesus did on the cross to provide forgiveness of sin, but the Lord’s Supper is also a great meal a church is to take together as a family to testify how through Christ, they have been given love and unity towards each other, becoming one body.
Which, by the way, is why when we take the Lord’s Supper together, I hope you are looking around the room to see each other who are taking the meal as well. In a way that you recognize that Jesus not only died for you but also for all of the others who are taking the meal. And now, through his blood, we have been given love and unity with each other.
However, for the church in Corinth, even this meal of love and unity in Christ became a source of division. They abused it in such a way that it was further puffing up their pride, in ways that no doubt resulted in driving them further and further apart.
Finally, let me mention Chapter 12, which comes right before our text today. The church struggled to love each other with their spiritual gifts, which are gifts given by God to each believer, to be used by each believer in ways to build up other believers in the church in love. However, in Corinth, the spiritual gifts were just one more avenue for them to pridefully divide over.
They started to use their gifts as a means of boasting of self, while at the same time belittling others who had different gifts that they deemed as lesser gifts. So this church was struggling in every way possible, and at the center of their struggle was the struggle to love each other. And, by the way, all of these areas of struggle that Corinth had are the exact same struggles we can fall into as well.
Now, just a few quick housekeeping notes before we dig back into the text. First, I know this is a famous text of Scripture that many of you are very familiar with. And this is a famous and familiar text because 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings, which, by the way, is appropriate for weddings to do. It is appropriate for a husband and a wife to love each other in ways that we see described in our passage. However, that being said, as we work through this famous, familiar passage this morning, let’s just be mindful to remember that the first context of this passage is not a wedding, but it was written to the local church to know how to best love each other in the church.
Which, for us, means that as we read this passage, we do so in ways that we are once again seeing the people in this room.
These are the people that God providently planted in our lives that you and I are called to love.
So as we work through our text, don’t simply look at me, but look at each other with a heart of love.
Second, let me give you a bit of the structure that I will be using to walk us through the text. In verses 1-3, it will be the first part of the structure which exposes some false assumptions that we might make as a church, as individuals, that make a church in terms of strength and maturity of our faith in Christ. And as we get to these first 3 verses, I have wondered how these verses specifically related to different arguments the different camps were making towards each other on why they were right, why they were best, why they were the most mature in the church.
Verses 4-7 will then be the second part of the structure, which famously gives the Biblical definition of love in terms of different character traits that are present, that are not present when love is present. These are traits that actually prove the strength and maturity of our faith.
Verses 8-13 will be the third part of the structure. We will finish off the passage by seeing why love is so important for us to have as a church. In that love will continue on for all eternity, which, in the text, is in contrast to other things we might do as a church that in time fade away.
Third, a housekeeping note. I want you to know up front that I am going to do my best to keep this as a simple sermon, a focus simply on our call to love.
In the text, there are a few different verses that are hotly debated among Christians. Particularly when it comes to speaking in tongues, words of prophecy, and how they relate to the fading away when the perfect comes in verse 9.
Now, this is an important theological discussion for Christians to think through. However, for this time here, I want to focus on the forest of this text, which is our call to love, rather than on the individual trees within the text, which relates to the coming of the perfect.
And as I say that, I do think the individual trees in the text are important. But to give a thorough treatment of that portion of our passage, it would simply take more time than what is allotted here. I am happy to connect with any of you who would like to think through it a little more deeply when it comes to tongues, words of prophecy, and their passing away.
So, with those housekeeping notes, back to our text, starting with the first part of the structure in verses 1-3, which is where Paul seemingly goes on the attack on some false assumptions that the church in Corinth was having in terms of their faithfulness to Christ, the strength of their faith, and their overall Christian maturity.
It feels like the church in Corinth falsely concluded they had a bushel load of maturity because of some exterior realities that they seemed to have. In verse 1, Paul attacked those who had the false assumption that they had a strong faith simply because of their external ability related to clever rhetorical skill. As he wrote that if he spoke in the tongues of men and angels, a unique powerful ability to communicate, to preach, to teach, that no doubt would draw a following and capture people’s attention. Which, when those skills are present, it is so tempting to think it proves God’s hand is on them and it points to one’s overall maturity.
However, in the text, Paul wrote that if skills were present, but if his communication was not coming out of a heart of love, he wrote that in truth, rhetorical ability without love, love for God and others, was nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. It would just be loud, obnoxious noise, not strong faith, not a mature faith, but at best weak and shallow faith.
In verse 2, Paul went on the attack of those who could talk a big game, who could make many confident assertions. He wrote that if he had all prophetic powers, in that he could claim to understand where things were headed, if he could understand all mysteries, claiming to have all knowledge on every situation, even if he was able to profess great faith in God in ways that he could verbalize, that he could trust that God has the sovereign power to move mountains. If all of those things were present, that once again, sure sound good, sure seem to point to spiritual maturity, yet if love was not there, Paul wrote in reality he was nothing. Those great confident assertions were fool’s gold, not strong and mature in the faith, but at best weak in the faith.
In verse 3, Paul then went on the attack on even doing what appears to be deeply sacrificial acts, that even sacrificial acts do not necessarily prove the strength of one’s faith. Saying, “If I give away all that I have, and even if I deliver up my body to be burned.” Which could there be a more sacrificial act, to seemingly leave everything behind for the sake of Christ.
However, Paul wrote that if he did even great things but did not have love to guide those acts, he said, “I gain nothing.” Those great acts would simply be done in vain, a waste, not strong and mature faith, but at best weak faith.
Friends, this had to be sobering for the church in Corinth to hear, perhaps even sobering for us to hear, where we can in a sense check some really impressive boxes in church life, which, by the way, are boxes that we should want to check. Yet, if we can’t check the box of doing it out of love, in the end, we have nothing. We must have love. It must be present.
Which leads to the second part of our text, which defines what love is, the love that must be present, particularly if we long to grow and be a spiritually mature church. Now, once again, as we go through this portion of the text, please don’t just look at me as I go through these famous and familiar words, but please be looking around at the people in this room, people in the church family, to consider if you and I are loving like this and tied to that, how we might better love each other like this.
As we go through this section, notice that Paul defines love for us, both on the positive – what love is, as well as on the negative – what love is not. In verse 4, on the positive, love is patient and love is kind. That is what love is – patience and kindness.
Which clearly was not something the church in Corinth was showing towards each other. Rather, as this ancient church divided in all of the ways they divided, it proved they were not patient to understand where others were coming from, they were not kind when others didn’t see things in the same way. And because of that, they were tearing each other down, rather than building each other up.
In the text, on the negative, love does not envy. That is not what love does. When we love others in the church family, it does not allow us to look at others who perhaps have what we might want, which leads us to be envious of them and what they have. Rather, when we love, as we look to others and see whatever good thing they have that we don’t, and we are happy for them.
Likewise, on the negative, love does not boast. It is kind of the opposite of envy, which is being jealous of what others have that we don’t. Boasting is bragging about what we have that others don’t. And when we boast about what we think we have that others don’t, it is our attempt to build ourselves up, to pridefully love self, while in ways that we are seeking to tear others down.
To keep going, love is not acting in arrogance, which clearly is tied to boasting, where we think we are better than others, where we think our camp is better than their camp, where we think our spiritual gift is better than their gift, or whatever it may be where we arrogantly think we are better. That is arrogant, not love. And not only is it arrogant to think we are better than others, but it is also rude, which is also something our text tells us love is not. It is not rude.
When we love, we don’t carry ourselves in such a way that we seemingly don’t care one bit about others. This can be intentional or unintentional rudeness. In the text, love is something that does not insist on its own way, which is also tied to being rude. Where the only way we would participate in something is if we get what we want, or maybe we just keep fighting over something until we get what we want. When we insist it must go our way, we are not loving. Rather, when we love, we stop making it about us, our own way, and we lay down our desires in ways that we seek the best interest of others. That’s love.
Keep going. In the text, love is not irritable or resentful, which often goes hand in hand when we insist on our own way. And when we do not get our own way, we become irritable, resentful, snippy, grouchy – really tough to be around. We cause people to keep their distance from us because of how irritable and resentful we can be.
Verse 6, love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. When we love, we are more concerned about what is right, what is true, regardless of how it makes us look. Even if it makes our camp look negatively or perhaps a different camp look positively. This seemed to be a real issue in Corinth, who, in different levels and different ways, seemed to value wrongdoing, evil doings if it helped their camp, their cause. They perhaps even rejoiced when those they were divided from faced consequences for their sins. Maybe they were even more happy for other camps to fall than for other camps to walk in truth.
Verse 7, on the positive, love bears all things. Not some things, but it bears all things. And there are plenty of things to bear in church life.
On the positive, love believes all things. Not some things, but love believes all things.
On the positive, love hopes all things. Not some things, but love hopes all things.
On the positive, love endures all things. Not some things, but love endures all things.
The start of verse 8, on the positive, love never ends. That’s what love is. Not some kind of weak, sappy, puppy love, but a real, full, strong commitment towards others, to serve and care for others.
And friends, this morning, as we think about this definition of love in verses 4-7, a couple of thoughts:
First, this is a definition of love not to be viewed or read as a definition in theory that is just kind of floating out there. But it is meant to be put into practice. For us, it starts by practically seeking to love the people who make up RVC, with a commitment to serve and care for each other.
Second, to love like this is hard. It is not easy to love like this, even at times the people in this room. We are not always easy to love.
Friends, what is easy is to divide into camps, live in our own echo chamber, puff ourselves up in pride, and belittle those we don’t see eye to eye with. What is easy is to act like we are superior towards those who have what we might deem as having lesser gifts than ours. What is easy is to go through all the motions in church life that Paul confronted in the first three verses of our text.
What is easy is to be impatient and unkind towards each other.
What is easy is to envy and boast.
What is easy is to be arrogant and rude.
What is easy is to insist on our own way.
What is easy is to be irritable and resentful.
What is easy is to rejoice at wrongdoing.
But it is hard to love.
That is something we can only do with God’s help. Which is something I will come back to at the end of this time.
But first, the final section of the text: Verses 8-13.
Verse 8, once again, love never ends. That is why love is so important, it never ends. Even throughout all eternity, love will be present. This is in contrast to prophecies, tongues, and words of knowledge. They are not eternal realities, as verses 9 and 10 point out. We know in part and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
Here, Paul is not saying that these temporary realities were not important, but he is stressing that they are not the most important. One day, they will be gone. And based on the context of the book, this seemed to be a real issue in Corinth. They got so focused on dividing themselves on temporary issues, puffing themselves up on temporary issues, that they missed the bigger eternal reality—the reality that will never fade away, the reality of love.
And because of that, starting in verse 11, Paul gives a couple of illustrations to push this point home and help the church in Corinth see what matters eternally. This also takes spiritual maturity.
In the illustration, Paul wrote that when he was a child, young, and immature with limited understanding, he spoke and thought like a child. He reasoned like a child. This was Paul taking a bit of a shot at the church and their childish behavior in relation to the temporary issues that were dividing them.
But in the illustration, he also wrote that as he grew and matured into manhood, he left his childish ways behind. This is clearly what Paul desired for the church—to mature in such a way that they would leave behind the immaturity that divides and focus on what really matters, which is the call to love. Love is a call that will never end; it will always be present.
In verse 12, Paul gives a second illustration to prove his point. This time, it is the illustration of a mirror. In this present life, we see things about as clearly as looking through a dim mirror. We can kind of see, but not really. But when Christ comes, when we see Him face to face, then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. It will be clear and obvious that love is eternally supreme.
Because when we see our Lord face to face, we will see and understand His great love for us. We will see and understand what verse 13 tells us. So now, faith, hope, and love abide—these three, each of which are important and should be present in the life of a Christian and in the life of a church family. Faith, hope, and love are all important, but the greatest of these is love. It is most important to get that right and to continue to prioritize it even when it is hard to do so.
The love of God found in Jesus Christ, which compels us to love, must be at the core. It is required. This leads to the close of this time and a few final thoughts. As we look forward to the sermon series starting next week in Philippians, here are some considerations:
First, to love in the ways that 1 Corinthians defines it, it almost requires the presence of difficult people and situations. The difficulty actually provides the best opportunity to show this kind of love. When love is patient, there needs to be a person or situation that would naturally provoke impatience. The same goes for kindness; there needs to be a person or situation where it would be easy to be unkind. This can be applied to every trait mentioned in verses 4-7.
So, the next time you find yourself around a difficult person or in a challenging situation, instead of getting frustrated or angry, have a spiritually mature thought and see it as a God-given opportunity to love and fulfill this text.
Second, loving others as our text defines it requires us to live in community or, in other words, to connect with one another. Love is not meant to be lived out in isolation but in the context of relationships and interactions within a community.
In conclusion, as we move forward, let us keep the love of God at the core of our actions and interactions. Let us embrace the opportunities to love in difficult situations and actively engage in community, connecting with one another in love.
Friends, we can’t love others if we are not around others. Specifically tied to the context of the passage, we can’t love others if we are not connecting in ways where we are using our spiritual gifts to serve and bless them. We should seek to build them up.
Thirdly, to love in the ways that 1 Corinthians 13 defines it, we need to not grow weary in doing this good thing. I know I have mentioned this a few times already, but let me make it very specific to our church family for a moment. Our church is about 12.5 years old, and over those years, we have gone through a lot together. Not all of it has been easy; there have been many challenges that we had to face.
Starting out, just trying to get things going as a church family was not easy. We asked a lot from our members because we really needed their involvement. At that time, our members had to wear many hats and make sacrifices, serving in various areas, with no assurance if it would ensure the church’s success.
In our 12.5 years together, we bought this building, which can be a difficult thing for a church to do. Unfortunately, the process of the church split that I mentioned earlier, which broke the church into defined and divided camps, was triggered by a building project. In those defined and divided camps, we quickly stopped loving each other.
So, as we reflect on our journey together, let us not grow weary in loving one another. Let’s remember the challenges we have faced and continue to face, and let’s strive to love each other even in difficult situations.
In our 12.5 years together, we have witnessed and continue to witness many people come and go. Some have gone to the foreign mission field, some have relocated to different parts of the country, some have decided to try a different church, and unfortunately, some have even walked away from the faith. Regardless of the reasons why people have come and gone, the constant coming and going can be hard. It can leave us feeling weary from saying goodbye so many times. Personally, saying goodbye has been the hardest thing for me.
During our time as a church, we had to navigate the challenges brought about by COVID. It was not an easy time, as our society became divided into distinct camps with strong disdain for each other. Many churches struggled to love one another through that difficult period, and some were torn apart.
In the span of 12.5 years, our society has rapidly changed, and Christianity has become more marginalized. We have faced numerous significant issues that have challenged us. Despite all of these hardships and many more that I haven’t mentioned, we are still here. By God’s grace, we have stayed together as a church family.
I want to acknowledge and appreciate that, in large part, you have loved each other through it all. It hasn’t always been easy, but your commitment to love and support one another has sustained us.
So this morning, I want to encourage you not to grow weary in doing the good thing of loving one another. Let us continue to find ways to love each other, especially in the face of any challenges that lie ahead. Red Village, do not grow weary in loving one another.
There’s one more important thing I want to emphasize today as we consider 1 Corinthians 13. To love like this requires God’s love to be upon us. It is a love that is so strong that it controls and compels us to love God and love others. And this love of God, which is not weak or superficial, but strong and full, comes to us by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus.
Jesus, who perfectly loves his people, has had us written on his heart from all eternity. He loves us in all the ways described in our passage. In his great and perfect love, Jesus came to die for us, taking on the punishment for all our sins, including the times when we failed to love as God calls us to love.
And here’s the encouragement: the love that Jesus has for his people, for the church he serves, will never grow weary, fade away, or end. It is always perfect and bestowed upon those who call upon his name. So as we conclude, I invite you not only to look at the people in this room whom we are called to love, but more importantly, to look to Jesus, who loves you unfailingly.