The Corinthian church was divided. Paul has now spent the last 12 chapters trying to clarify the issues that they were divided over. Explaining the the proper way to resolve differences. About the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. And about the proper use of spiritual gifts.
But now he says,
1Cor. 12:31 ...And I show you a still more excellent way.
I can have talent. I can have giftings. I can be the best teacher, or the best speaker, or the best servant, the best prophet, the best anything in the church. I can lay hands on people and heal them, or I can perform the most fantastic miracles. I can give away everything I own and feed hundreds of people.
But my motivation for doing so can be pride. It can be trying to look good, it can be trying to draw attention to myself. It can be greed or envy. It can be one-upmanship. If my motivation isn't love, it's all pointless, worthless, and stupid. "If I don't have love, I am nothing," Paul said.
This is what it all boils down to in the church Love. Jesus said,
John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
What good is prophecy without love? No good. What benefit is there in tongues if there is no love? No benefit.
Our motivation must be love. What is love? There are three words in the Greek that we would translate as love, but they mean three very different things. One is "eros" that is a fleshly love. Another is "phileo" that is a tender affection, a cherishing. But this word used here is "agape." That word is an unconditional, giving love. Now Paul will define it for us with action words, making clear in our minds the love we must have for one another.
Agape is patient. Oh, how difficult patience is! Our flesh despises patience! And yet, all through the Word of God, we see God's example of patience and our command to be patient. The loving Christian is the patient Christian.
1Ths. 5:14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.
Patient with all men, not just the really likeable ones.
2Tim. 2:24 And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,
Patient when we're wronged. That's the real test of patience, isn't it when we've been burned by someone.
1Pet. 2:20 ...If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Love is kind. There is nothing so loving as kindness. The proverb says,
Prov. 19:22 What is desirable in a man is his kindness
Guys, some of you might have attracted a woman by your looks, others by your money. But money gets spent, and time takes care of everyone's looks. The one desirable quality that will last until the day you die is your kindness. If you're not kind, you're not desirable.
And that's why we desire God too. We know that...
Rom. 2:4 ...The kindness of God leads you to repentance
So because God has been so kind to us, let us be kind to one another.
Eph. 4:32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Many places we read in the Bible that God is a Jealous God.
Exod. 34:14 for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
But there are two different kinds of jealousy. There is a jealousy which imitates God's jealousy:
2Cor. 11:2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy...
1Cor. 3:3 ...Since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
There are men and women who get insanely jealous. The kind of jealousy that says, "I don't trust you. I have no confidence in your fidelity or your self-control." That is not love. Love is not jealous in that way. Godly jealousy is a desire for the person to have to best there is possible for them.
Loving others means putting them ahead of ourselves. Too many of us have become self-centered, selfish, self-seeking, and self-absorbed. The Bible tells us to:
Phil. 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
Love is others-centered, not self-centered.
James 3:16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
When our focus is on ourselves, we are not loving others as we should.
As with jealousy, there are two different kinds of provocation. Many times God was provoked to anger by the sin of the Israelites. But man's provocation is of the flesh. We get angry and exasperated, our temper flares and we get out of control. When that happens, we are not loving unconditionally. That is why we are told not to bring our children to that point,
Eph. 6:4 ...Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger...
Agape is an unconditional and giving love. Agape doesn't take into account a wrong suffered. "I would love you, but you've just done such terrible things to me. I would love you, but what you did last week has really gotten me angry with you." That is unforgiveness, and there are stern warnings in Scripture regarding it. For example, Jesus said,
Matt. 6:14-15 "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
An unforgiving heart is a good sign that a person has not been forgiven. The book of Hebrews says,
Hebr. 12:14-15 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
Allowing bitterness to grow and unforgiveness to fester will not only rob you of love, but is a terribly dangerous place to live when it comes to being a child of God.
How many times have we heard of something terrible happening to someone we didn't like and thought, "Well, alright, they finally got theirs! If anybody deserved to have that horrible thing happen, that guy did." That's not love. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but in truth.
If you're showing true agape love, you will bear any sin committed against you. You will continue to hope for restoration and relationship. You will endure any amount of hardship. "I've tried, believe me! There's just no getting through to her! I give up!" That's not agape love. Love never fails.
Love is God's command for the church. We are brothers and sisters in Christ all members of the same body. The common denominator here is not just loving the lovely, but also loving those who seem to be unlovable. In the church you will encounter every type of person love them all equally, with the same unconditional, giving, agape love that God has shown you.
As we discussed in our study of tongues, the perfect is still yet to come perfect love. Love is far superior to any spiritual gifts tongues, prophecy, knowledge... And it will outlast them all.
Now I know that there is controversy surrounding that interpretation. Many commentators today claim that the "perfect" means "when the Bible is finished." In tracing that teaching back, you will find that it did not exist before the early 1900's. From the inception of the church until the turn of our century, every Bible commentator knew and believed that this passage was talking about the coming of Jesus Christ bringing perfect love.
But then in the early 1900's, the Pentecostal movement sprung up. Interest in the gifts of the Spirit was brought back into the church. Unfortunately, many of those gifts began to be abused again, just like the Corinthians had abused them.
Many preachers in those days were offended and dismayed at the abuses going on. With a knee-jerk reaction, they threw the baby out with the bathwater and denied the existence of the spiritual gifts entirely. They said that these were modern times in which God didn't need to use these things anymore. There were no more tongues, miracles, or words of knowledge. And they used this verse to back it up:
1Cor. 13:10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
They claimed that "the perfect" was the Bible, not the perfect love of Jesus Christ. I disagree, as does every Bible commentator throughout history, before this century. Besides, Paul himself clarifies that when the perfect comes, then we will see face to face. Then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. Just because the Bible is complete doesn't mean that I know everything. Just because there are no more books to add doesn't mean I've seen Jesus face to face. John wrote in his first epistle,
1John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.
So the appearing of Jesus Christ will bring perfect love. When He comes back, there will be no more need for spiritual gifts. I won't need the gift of teaching or prophecy, because the Lord will be with us, and we will know fully. I won't need tongues, for they are a sign to unbelievers, and there won't be any unbelievers in heaven. I won't need the gift of exhortation, for we will never have to be exhorted! Being in the presence of the Lord for eternity will be exhortation enough!
Faith, hope, and love. Why is love the greatest of the three? It promotes action and restores relationship. God knows this, and demonstrates its superiority.
He creates man for friendship. Not wanting robots, he gave each of us a free will, the ability to choose right from wrong. We of course, seem to always choose wrong. We have lied, cheated, stolen, and even blasphemed His name because we have our own version of unconditional love unconditionally loving sin. The Bible says,
John 3:19 ..."Men loved (agaped) the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil."
Men unconditionally love evil, because we are all sinners. And because we choose darkness out of our own free will, we are destined for outer darkness for all eternity.
But God wanted us to be restored to a right relationship with Him.
So why is love greater than faith or hope? Well, He could have just had faith: "I just know they'll turn their lives around. I have faith in them!" But God knows better than that.
He could just have hoped: "I sure hope they come to their senses and choose life rather than death!" But God knows better than that too.
So instead, He loved. The Bible says,
John 3:16 For God so loved (agaped) the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
God actively and unconditionally loves you, and made a way for you to be reconciled to Him He sent His Son Jesus Christ to stand in your place. To take upon Himself the death sentence that you deserve.
Accept God's love, and you will have faith. And faith gives you a hope for an eternal future.