March 8, 2015   I Corinthians 13   Love 


        There is a story about the actor who was playing the part of Christ in the passion play in the Ozarks.  As he carried the cross up the hill one tourist began heckling, making fun of him, & shouting insults at him.  Finally, the actor had taken all of it he could take.  So he threw down his cross, walked over to the tourist, & punched him out.    After the play was over, the director told him, "I know he was a pest, but I can’t condone what you did. Besides, you’re playing the part of Jesus, & Jesus never retaliated. So don’t do anything like that again." Well, the man promised he wouldn’t. But the next day the heckler was back worse than before, & finally the actor exploded & punched him out again.   The director said, "That’s it. I have to fire you. We just can’t have you behaving this way while playing the part of Jesus." The actor begged, "Please give me one more chance.   I really need this job, & I can handle it if it happens again." So the director decided to give him another chance.   The next day he was carrying his cross up the street.   Sure enough, the heckler was there again.   You could tell that the actor was really trying to control himself, but it was about to get the best of him. He was clinching his fists & grinding his teeth.   Finally, he looked at the heckler & said, "I’ll meet you after the resurrection!"  Love is challenging.  Last week we talked about a new commandment.  Jesus said I command you to love one another as Jesus loved them.  God always gives us the resources to obey him and to follow his commands.  The bible says his commands are not grievous.

    This chapter has been called the hymn of love.   This is one of the greatest passages that Paul ever wrote.  Some like to think of it as the Beatitudes set to music.  The purpose of this passage is to edify us and build us up in our Christian life and that is the purpose of scripture.  This passage is a blessing and a breath of fresh air.  This passage is positive and in the midst of reproof and correction that Paul is putting on the Corinthians.  This passage tells it like it is.  The more excellent way that we see in I Corinthians 12:31 is found in this chapter of love.    Self-giving love is the real thing and the best example of that is Jesus.    A person was asked when we get to heaven what do you think is going to be the greatest surprise of all?   After thinking about it he replied I think we will be surprised by the over whelming depth of God’s love.  There is no end to God’s love.   We cannot fathom God’s love and it is deeper than a mother’s love and deeper than any persons love.  The song writer wrote could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade.   To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.  Our love fails but God’s love never fails and it is the more/most excellent way.  

    Paul says here that if he spoke with the tongues of men and of angels but did not love it only made a noise.   I read that in the first century some used to hit a gong loudly to awaken the gods when people would come to worship.   I am glad that God does not have to be awakened.    Paul in II Corinthians 12 said he was lifted to the third heavens and most likely heard the voices of angels.  He heard things that he could not even relate to men and men were not authorized to speak.   He had a sense of angelic speaking.   Though I can speak like angels but have not love it means nothing.    Eloquence was greatly admired by the Corinthians and the people of that day and apparently they did not see that in Paul.  Maybe the Corinthian’s love for eloquence was why they were fascinated with tongues.  In II Corinthians 10:10 Paul commented on what some of them had said about him.  They said of him that his letters were weighty and forceful but in person he was unimpressive and his speaking amounted to nothing.    In I Corinthians 2:1 Paul said that when he came to them that he did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom and in verse 4 that his message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with demonstration of the spirit’s power.  I really believe that.  We do not need a lot of fancy words but what we need is demonstration of the Spirit’s power.  When God’s Word is spoken from a heart of love there is power.  Love speaks volumes.  Heart speaks volumes.  Here is an illustration of how love moves people. 

      Doug Nichols Missionary to India got infected with tuberculosis & had to be put in a sanitarium.    Looked like he would be there for a long time and wondered how he would reach anyone.   He took bible literature and tracks with him but no one wanted any.  He would wake up at 2 AM.   Saw a man trying to get out of bed but could not.   Found out he messed himself in the night.  Next night same thing but he gets up and helps him.  In the morning 3 people come to him for tracks.  Leads several doctors, nurses and patients to Jesus but barely knew any of their language.  Love speaks.           

     Here in I Corinthians 13 Paul says if anyone speaks without love it is only noise.  I would say there is a lot of noise in the world today.   There is a lot of criticism and negativity.   The most eloquent sermon spoken from a great depth of biblical knowledge but not spoken from a heart of love can sound pretty empty.     To God it would be empty.     In Acts 12 Herod on the appointed day was wearing his royal robes sat upon his throne and delivered a public message to the people who shouted that this is the voice of a god and not that of a man.  Immediately because Herod did not give the glory to God the angel of the Lord struck him and he was eaten by worms and died.  God is not impressed with eloquence.   

      How can we understand Love?   How can we measure it?   One way we can do it is with 5 words which Jesus said as I have loved you.   Jesus is the standard for love.   He is the perfect esample of love.    Paul said that prophecy without love it was nothing although prophecy is very important.  Paul continues with the thought that if he had the gift of all knowledge and knew all mysteries and had faith that could move mountains and gave everything he had even his life it would mean nothing without love.  Life without love is like a clanging gong or an irritating cymbal.  Maybe like a cymbal that is totally out of tune or step with the other instruments.  It just does not fit.     It is amiss and out of step.   There is just something that is wrong with it.  Some may say I will never have a hear to give.   Some might think I will never love my enemies or love my wife.  Some may say I may never want to read my bible or witness.  I would tell you to start doing it and the feelings will follow.  Do the right thing.  Ask God to help you and give you the feelings. 

   An interesting way to consider this passage is to think about God.    What would God be like without love?   God can speak most eloquently.   Think about all the wonderful things that He made just by speaking.  God certainly has all knowledge and can fathom all mysteries.   God has great faith because He spoke things into existence when nothing physical was present.  God spoke and created.  He has great faith.  And Jesus certainly was a person of faith.   People were amazed at Jesus.   The crowds were amazed at Jesus teaching.  Jesus had power.  He felt power go out of him when the woman touched his garment.    A God that had all of that power and wisdom and did not have love would be pretty scary to me.  They would be a tyrant.  He would be a scary being.  Think about this passage in light of Satan and fallen angels.  They are not creatures of love at least not any more.   Can angels love?   We know that Satan can hate.    Anyone with all of these powers and abilities but does not have love is nothing in God’s eyes.   In Jeremiah we are warned not to glory in our strength, our wisdom, and our money but glory in the Lord. 

       Paul goes on to say if he had all faith so that he could remove mountains and had not love he would be nothing.   Paul uses the same words that Jesus used on the disciples when the disciples failed to set the demon-possessed boy free.   Jesus told them if they had faith the size of a grain of mustard seed they could remove mountains.  The Lord’s point was if they trusted Him completely that nothing would be impossible in their ministry and Paul’s argument in this passage is that if someone could so trust God but did not have love it would mean nothing.  The person would be empty.   Great accomplishments and great victories are pretty empty without love.  Great faith and great eloquence without love is nothing.  The person might do great things but he or she is very small without love.   Others may think of them as great and they might think that they are great.  God does not see it that way.   Certainly in this passage though not stated that the use of spiritual gifts without love is nothing.  The use and the great abilities of others when they are not done in love means little in God’s eyes.  When those things are done without love it is done to build up a person’s pride and it is ugly.   It is done with less regard for the other person.   It is done with a self in mind.  It may be a blessing to others but it does not build up in right way the person doing it.  The act may bless others but the benefit to the person who is doing it may be selfish.    The Pharisees gave money to be seen.  Jesus said they had their reward.     

     Paul then talks about martyrdom.   He says if I give my body to be burned and have not love it profits me nothing.  It has no lasting value.  Some believe that the apostle is talking about becoming a slave.   Some slaves were branded with a hot iron.   Paul may be making the argument of the extreme of giving of oneself to totally give up their rights.  Paul may be thinking of Nero who burned Christians at the stake.  Nero reigned from AD 54 to AD 68.   It is believed that Paul wrote this letter in AD 54 or AD 55.    One commentator states that there was a rather famous monument in Athens where an Indian had burned himself to death in public.  The inscription read Zarmano-chegas an Indian from Bargosa made himself immortal and lies here.   Perhaps Paul is thinking of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego from the book of Daniel who were thrown into the fiery furnace.   Perhaps the HS inspired Paul to write these words in view of the Christians who may have been burned at the stake then and those in the future.    Some Christians of the early church sought martyrdom as a way of gaining heavenly credit but it all profits nothing if is not done from a heart of love.   

     C.S. Lewis wrote about love and said.  If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened?   A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.   The negative idea of unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self- denial as an end in itself.   We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

   If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing,   I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.   We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.   We are far too easily pleased.   What I believe C.S. Lewis is saying here folks there is nothing wrong for wanting the best for yourself as long as you are going to God for it.  It is not found in the world.  The world offers counterfeit.  There is great joy is serving God.  Jesus said I command that you love one another that your joy may be full.  

    Creation flows with God’s love and creation is filled with God’s love.  I would desire to soak in God’s love and to be filled and full of God’s love.   We can walk in his love.   We must choose it and pursue it.   It must start at home.  It starts with those close to us.    God’s love and joy can fill us and strengthen us.