February 13, 2011 / No. 3554
Dear Radio Friends,
Today I am going to speak to you on the subject of love, from the greatest chapter in the Bible on this subject (I Cor. 13:4-8): “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”
Over the years, I have been privileged, as a pastor, to speak at a number of weddings, and on more than one occasion the couple has picked these verses for their wedding text. How very appropriate. The principles and behavior of love here apply to marriage. And today, as you look at them, if you are married, you should be examining the way that you love your spouse. But love is much broader than just the relationship of marriage. This passage relates to love in the home, love in the church, and love in all the relationships of life.
If we are going truly to profit from this study of love, there are two things that we need. We need repentance, and we need a resolve to love.
As I read those verses, you would have noticed how negative the description of love is. Paul comes to a wonderfully powerful subject: love. And he says it does not do this, it is not this, it is not that. It is mostly negative. Why does he describe it in such negative terms? Well, it is simply because we do not love this way as we should. Charity is patient. We are not as patient as we ought to be in our love for our children. Love, we are told, is kind. But we look at our children and we see that they are not as kind as they ought to be to one another. Charity, Paul says, suffers long, and bears all things, and believes all things, and we look at our marriage and we see that we are not as patient and as loving as we should be with one another in the church. Charity envieth not, it vaunteth not itself. And we find in the church much envy and pride.
And so Paul is negative because he is telling us, first of all, something that we need to do. We need to repent of our sinful behavior in relation to love. We need this negative in order to correct our behavior.
And then, you would have noticed also how comprehensive this statement on love is. Paul in his description of love says fifteen things, fifteen different things, about love. We might ask, “Well, why does he say so many things? Doesn’t that make it difficult to grasp what he is talking about?” One of the reasons, perhaps, is that Paul here is waxing poetic, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of him. Usually he is very logical, he lays things out step by step in prose. But here he, as it were, breaks forth into song as he comes to the glorious subject of love. It demands this kind of literature.
Many definitions have been given of love. Books and songs and poems have been written to describe what love is. But as we look at what the apostle says here, we notice that love is an action. It is not just an attitude, a feeling, an ideology. It is not just words. But it is something that we do. The word love is a verb, as well as a noun. And the apostle says all these things here to commend us to love and to command us to love. It is not good enough that we simply understand what love is. Love is something that we must be doing. It is an active choice of the human will. And so, we not only need repentance as we come to this passage, but we also need resolve to do these things.
Now, because there are so many different ideas here, I have tried to categorize them. I have come up with seven groupings or seven ways for us to look at this passage and try to understand it. As we go through it, if you have a pen and paper, you can jot down my headings. Each of them starts with the letter P.
The first thing I want to talk about is love and preference. Who gets preferential treatment in your love—yourself…or others? In verse 4, the apostle says, “Charity envieth not,” and in verse 5: “Charity seeketh not her own.” These two things give us the over-riding and central idea of love in the passage. This is the heart of it. Love is not selfish. It seeks not its own. It is the antithesis to selfishness, to thoughts about me, to pride, to seeking my ends, to maintaining my rights, to justifying myself, to getting what I want. Love is a selfless choice of the will not to put me first.
Charity, the apostle says, envieth not. Another word for envy is jealousy. And if you think about jealousy, you see that there are two levels to it. The first is this: we say “I want what that person has.” Maybe somebody gets a new car and we say, “That’s a nice vehicle. I would like one of those.” That level of envy deals with things.
But envy goes deeper than that, too. It deals also with the people who have those things. In envy a person begrudges the neighbor for having that new car. “I want that car, and if I can’t have it, I don’t want him to have it either.” That is envy. And love, the apostle says, is not envious. It never desires what the other has. It never begrudges the other person for what he has.
What we are talking about here is not simply children fighting over toys. But when God speaks of envy in the law, He says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thy neighbor’s wife, and so on.” This is central. This is the key to happy living, to joy, to what love is. You help yourself most by selfless behavior, by helping others. There are many unhappy people in the world and in the church. And this is the issue in their lives. They live for themselves, they are jealous, they are envious of other people.
So, first, love and preference. Who gets preferential treatment in your love?
Second, love and pride. There are two things at the end of verse 4 that go together, which describe this. “Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” To be puffed up is to be proud. To vaunt is to express your pride in boasting. Love does neither of those things. It vaunteth not itself. This is the flip-side of envy. Envy says, “I want what you have.” Boasting says, “You should want what I have. You should want to be like me. Am I not good? Isn’t what I have the best?” And sometimes that comes into our speech even. One person tells a story and someone else has a better one to tell.
But other times it is much more subtle. We develop ways of minimizing our own failures and maximizing our achievements. We direct conversation back to ourselves again and again. We have subtle ways of bringing up our work and our children and our thinking. Love does not do that. Love does not boast. Love is not puffed up. It does not vaunt itself. It is not conceited or proud.
This can be a personal sin, but it can also be a group sin, a church sin. Think of the church at Laodocia, which said in Revelation 3:17: “I am rich, I am increased with goods and have need of nothing.” What was missing in that church was this selfless attitude of love. And so love and pride. Love is not being big-headed. It is being big-hearted.
Charity, the apostle says, suffers long. And then in verse 6 he says, it is not easily provoked. And then in verse 7 he says it bears all things and it endures all things. Love is patient.
There are two sides to this. On the one side you have patience. In the original, this has the idea of being willing to bear offenses and injuries and to take them in stride, to take in stride the unpleasant character traits of others. Love says, “I’ll take anything. I’ll bear anything.” It bears all things and it endures all things. It is like a soldier standing on a battlefield being battered and shot at from every side. And he does not shoot back. But he does not die, either. He takes it. Now, this is a uniquely Christian concept and idea. To bear all things. In fact, the word that the apostle uses here in the Greek is one that is created for Christian literature. It is not a part of the Greek mind in the Greek literature. In the Greek culture you did not put up with just anything. You dealt with it. If you were pushed, you pushed back. You responded to injustices with what you saw as justice. To be patient when you have been wronged by others was viewed as weak. And it is the same in modern society.
But the Christian attitude is one of bearing all things. The believer is one who is willing to be wronged. Because this is the way Christ dealt with His enemies. He was despised and rejected. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. He opened not His mouth. He was meek and lowly. This is the behavior of love. And that is the one side of this idea of patience.
The other side of it is this, that we are not easily irritated. The apostle is talking here about anger, which is the antithesis of love. Behind anger is selfishness. “I’m going to be right.” You decide that you are more important than the other person. You are more important than anything else. And then you get angry with someone and you want to hurt him. You say things that are like swords into that person’s soul—things that you can never take back. Love does not behave that way. It suffers long and is not easily provoked. It is patient. It bears all things. It endures all things.
You should think of the kind of things that would set you off—which people, what kind of behaviors. By nature, none of us like to be interrupted when things are not going to our plans. We do not like delays at airports. We want the baby to sleep through the night. We get irritated when the postal service loses a check. When things do not go according to our plan we grumble and complain. We are easily provoked. But love is not easily provoked. And so you have love and patience.
At the beginning of verse 5, love does not behave itself unseemly, and then in verse 6, it rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth. Purity in behavior and purity in thought, especially as we relate to others, is a part of love.
To behave unseemly is to behave in an inappropriate way—to be rude. We can think of two kinds of talk, two kinds of behavior, here. There is a sexual filth and talk of our world that has crept into conversations and into the lives of so many Christians. Love protects the sacredness of the relationship of a man and woman in marriage by refusing to behave in that kind of unseemly, impure way.
The other kind of unseemly behavior is rudeness towards them. It is easy to shut out everyone who is not quite like us. Maybe we do not quite sneer at someone, but in our hearts we scorn them, and behind their backs we laugh at them, and we make it impossible for us to communicate anything of significance and truth and love to them. Where is love in that kind of behavior? The man or the woman that you relate to in this world has a soul. Your neighbor who has done some pretty crazy things, who maybe drinks, who has abused his wife, who cannot hold down a job—that person has a soul. The homeless man whom you see sleeping on a bench on the side of the street, he has a soul. And if you scorned him in your heart, you made it impossible to communicate the gospel to him in love. Love is not rude. It does not behave itself unseemly.
And then in verse 6, charity rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth. To rejoice in the iniquity is to find pleasure in sin. Love does not see sin as a means of entertainment and recreation. But love does not, either, rejoice in the sins of other people. Sometimes we wish that somebody would hurt himself with his sin. Maybe we have something against someone and we try to show him where he is wrong or where he is living in sin. But he will not listen, and so we throw up our hands and we say, “Well, you’ll find out for yourself then.” And we begin to hope he will get burned, that he will have some consequences from his sin. But love does not rejoice in iniquity. I think here of gossip, of wagging tongues. We love to parade the evils of others. Who can be the first one on the phone to tell somebody else about it? But love rejoices not in iniquity. Instead love is pure. It rejoices in truth. It finds true companionship where truth is taught and where truth is lived. It does not embrace just anyone and everyone. There is a love that we have for the ungodly. But a companionship we cannot have because love rejoices in the truth. We cannot be the friends of the world and the friends of God. And that is one side of love rejoicing in the truth—our relationship to the ungodly.
But there is another side to it that has to do with our relationship towards each other as believers. Instead of parading the evils of others, love finds good things in others to talk about—it rejoices in the truth. People like that, who always speak well of others, are good to be around. They have a good word. And you can learn so much from them about what love is.
There are also these four things in the text: Love is kind. It thinketh no evil. It believeth all things. And it hopeth all things.
Love is kind. That is a peacemaking behavior. Kindness is not only doing good and being nice to people who are nice to you. But kindness is about how you pay back those who wronged you. When people are kind to you, it is easy to be kind. But the test is when they have wronged you. And that is what Paul has in mind. He is writing to the church at Corinth, where there is division and strife, and where people are at each other’s throats, and he says, “Be kind to one another.” Love is kind. Love repays evil with good.
Then love thinks no evil. “Thinketh” has the idea of recording a mathematical calculation, entering something into a ledger. Love keeps no record of evils done against you. It does not write down everything or anything that anyone has done. It does not keep a diary of offenses. It does not keep on holding to things that others have done—evils that others have committed against you. It does not hold them accountable for those things. It forgives. Love forgets. That is peacemaking behavior.
And then love believes and love hopes all things. Love is not suspicious of others. We use the judgment of love towards others. We believe the best about them. Even if we hear an evil rumor about them, we do not act upon the rumor or hearsay. Love hopes all things. We expect the best of others. We want good things for others. And so in verses 4-6 the apostle has been talking about the behavior of love. And the standard that he sets is very high. It is not just in your head. It is not intellectual. It is not an idea, but it is something that you do. And it is something that applies to every believer, to every one of us. Different ones of the things we have looked at here strike your conscience: you are not kind, you are not good at bearing all things, you are easily provoked, and so on. And so we need to repent and have a resolve to love.
Here Paul, as it were, raises the bar even high. He does that by making us consider now, not our love and our heart and our choice and our willingness to love, but the things in others that might deter our love, that tempt us to hatred. He does that in verse 7 when he says that love bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. Now you say, did Paul have to say that? There are some things that I can bear. In fact, most things I can bear. I am getting better at this all the time. But, all things? Is not that a bit much? There are some things that I want to walk away from. I have endured enough. My love has gone far enough. Why does he have to say: all things?
What Paul is saying is this. There is never a reason for us to stop loving. Love is permanent. There is never a reason for us to give up on love. We should bear everything from others. You see this kind of love. I think it is very beautifully displayed when somebody has a disabled child or a spouse who is very sick. Then you see this kind of love. In love they feed and they clothe and they put to bed and they give constant care to this sick member of their family. And you say, “Well, that’s understandable. What else would you do? There’s a disability, there’s a sickness.” But, here is the point. That is what love is. And our love should be that way with each other because, from a spiritual point of view, all of us are disabled. We are all sinful. And love has to bear with that. We have to bear with one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.
And so Paul says in verse 8, love will never fail. He does not mean that love in human relationships will never fall apart. It often does. But he is speaking here in comparative terms. Early in the chapter he talked about the failure and the coming to the end of prophecy and of tongues and of miracles. And now he says, there is one thing, one gift that God has given that will never fail—that will last to eternity. And that is love. Love is eternal because God is eternal.
And that means that love is dependable. We like reliability. We like to have equipment that we can depend on, relationships that we can depend on. And Paul is saying, love will never fail you. It will always bring you what it promises. What does love promise? Love promises peace in our relationships. Love promises joy in our hearts. And, as we have said earlier, a selfish attitude does not bring joy and it does not bring peace. Here is the key to joyful living in our relationships: love. And so you have the permanence of love. It is dependable and it endures all things.
Perfection or Perfect love
Perfect love is displayed in the gospel by God in Jesus Christ. You read the Old Testament Scriptures and you see the way that God dealt with His people. And He was all things that love is here. His love was patient and kind. He endured many things. He bore all things from His people. God loved His people. And that is because God loves with an eternal love in Jesus Christ.
That love we see displayed in Jesus Christ as He comes. Romans 5:8 puts it this way: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You see it in the behavior of the Savior when He lived on the earth with the disciples and in the whole purpose and meaning of His coming. This is the mind of Jesus Christ. He prefers others before Himself. There is no pride in Him. He is meek and humble and lowly in His love. He is patient with His people. He is not easily provoked. In His thoughts and actions towards them, He is pure. He thinks no evil. He behaves as a peacemaker.
Knowing the love of Jesus Christ, we should love with that same love. And we do know it, because the love of God is shed aboard in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
May God help us to behave this way in love.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the glorious gospel of Thy Son Jesus Christ, the way that His love is demonstrated to us, His giving attitude. We pray, Lord, that these things may be reflected also in the way that we live with each other in love, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.