“Preparing To Receive Love”
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
God’s love can only genuinely be shown when God’s people receive it themselves.
Love is the Greatest Deed
Love is Defined by God
Love is a Perfect Reflection
Love is the Greatest Deed
1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NKJV
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love is one of the most misunderstood things in all creation. The word itself has been misused, twisted, and tainted to the point that most people do not recognize genuine love when they see and experience it themselves. Love causes the things that people do to be more than the deed. It goes beyond the physical deed to encourage, inspire, and transform peoples’ lives. Therefore, the simple act of helping another in love makes the thing that is done on their behalf far greater than the act itself.
Apostle Paul is explaining this when he is explaining the more excellent way of living and applying the spiritual gifts believers in Christ receive from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). All the gifts God gives to His people for the edification of the entire body of Christ are powerful displays of His character. Even these great things need to be done and held in an attitude of love if they are to be beneficial to others and to the one who has been gifted. The spiritual gifts that God gives are meant for the building up of others rather than building up the one who has the gift.
Paul says that if he could speak in the languages of men and angels, if he was able to explain God’s Word to others, if he had power to do miraculous things or give everything to provide for those in need, and even sacrifice his life it would all be worthless if they are not done in the attitude of God’s love. Christ demonstrated this love throughout His earthly ministry (Philippians 2:5-8). God had created all things through Christ and for Him, but He was rejected by the same people He came to help (John 1:3-11). Yet Jesus came into the world because it pleased God the Father to crush the Messiah, His Son, under the fullness of His wrath in order that mankind could be reconciled to Himself through His sacrifice (Isaiah 53:10-11).
Love is unrecognizable by many people due to their misunderstanding of what actions are loving. There are things that on the surface appear harsh, violent, and cruel but are actually the most loving of things that can be done for someone now and eternally. This has come about because people have come to identify love as anything that pleases them personally or benefits them in a pleasing way. Pain, denial, and discomfort are seen as the opposite of love and identified as mean, cruel, and harsh. While it can mean that, there are many times it can be loving, beneficial, and kind to the one who experiences these.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the prime example of the greatest expression of love displayed to the world through unimaginable brutality and pain. It was not the suffering alone that made it loving, but the reason why the suffering was endured that made it a display of love. Jesus brought peace with God and reconciliation between God and mankind by taking the sin of mankind upon Himself in order to provide forgiveness of sins and atonement of people (Romans 5:6-8). God was pleased to crush the Son of Man so all would have the opportunity to know the forgiveness of God (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
Discipline is also a loving thing that benefits the one who endures it, yet the world has classified discipline as detrimental to the welfare of people. God identifies discipline as necessary for growth and maturity (Proverbs 3:11-12,13:24; Hebrews 12:7-11). God severely disciplined His people in accordance with the severity of their sin and rebellion. The discipline however was never as deadly and unloving as it would have been if He allowed their sin to go unchallenged and unpunished. The thing people forget even within the body of Christ is how deadly sin is to them physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sin’s effects are eternal if a person never receives forgiveness through faith in the shed blood of Jesus.
It is said that a book cannot be judged by its cover. The same is true about love. Love cannot be identified by the act itself, but in the intent and outcome that is produced by the act. Things that appear loving to people may also be cruel and harmful to them. This happens when someone is allowing their sin to go unchallenged and even ignored. Loving deeds are those things that bring a person closer to the Lord whether they are through discipline, correction, rebuke, or encouragement. This is what makes love the greatest of all deeds since it reveals the saving knowledge of Christ in a person’s life instead of letting them continue in their sin no matter how much they enjoy and crave the sin they are taking part in doing.
Love is uncomfortable and causes stress in life more than it removes these things from life. This is true since love challenges the person showing love to deny themselves and the person receiving love to have things revealed for what they truly are which is often difficult to accept. This is seen in the harsh revelations God gave His people through the Prophet Malachi. God proclaimed the dishonor and irreverence of the people, the priesthood (1:6-2:9), how His people profaned the covenant God established with the people (2:10-17), and the people’s robbery of God’s treasury (3:8-12). It was in love that God challenged His people by confronting their sin against Him.
There is little evidence of God’s love displayed to Job when he endured the hardships of having to endure the death of all his children, the loss of all his possessions, and the destruction of his reputation by his three friends that came to comfort him. Yet, millions of people over the centuries have drawn great hope and peace by reading all that Job endured in order to have the strength to go one more day without giving up or turning against the God who provides the help in desperate times as Job had lived through.
Love offers no hope, peace, or joy defined as those in this sin cursed world describes it. All that makes love to be powerful and fulfilling is drained away if a person refuses to agree with God’s definition of what love truly is and demonstrated in the words and deeds of Christ.
Love is Defined by God
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
Mankind has identified and defined many things. God had given people this authority as stewards over His creation in the beginning (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:18-23). There are some things that are defined by God which are beyond the dominion of mankind over creation. These things are defined by God’s character which cannot be changed or altered by anything in creation. They are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 John 4:7-11). Apostle Paul was inspired to write God’s definition of love established by the character of God in this portion of his letter to the Corinthian believers.
Paul reveals what love is by explaining what it does and does not do. Love is long suffering or as is more commonly known as patient. The patience of God is demonstrated in His willingness to deal with the rebellion of His people and delay in pouring out His wrath upon the world in order to give everyone who will turn to Him in faith to do so and avoid the coming destruction (Ezekiel 18:21-23, 33:10-11; 2 Peter 3:9). What is deserved as soon as someone sins is death. For centuries God set aside the immediate justice due violators of His law leaving them unpunished in His mercy and grace to demonstrate His love (Romans 3:21-26). The patience of God is truly a demonstration of His love rather than His approval of sin. The question is often asked, “How could God allow this to happen?” Imagine if God served justice out upon all sin immediately as it happened. It is recorded that God did this in the Old Testament and it is said that He was cruel and vindictive (Numbers 14:36-38; Leviticus 10:1-3).
Showing patience with someone is to walk alongside them through a struggle rather than protecting them from the struggle. It is loving and patient to remind a child that they are loved and cared for as they endure the consequences of their actions. A society in the United States has been created that refuses to accept responsibility for actions since many parents thought it was a loving thing to protect their children from consequences of their actions. This has caused problems in every area of society as people lash out in anger and selfishness and believe their actions should be understood and accepted. That is unless they are the ones who have been violated. It is then the cry for justice breaks out loud and clear. God lovingly continues to proclaim to people everywhere a better way of life that includes accepting responsibility and putting others ahead of themselves.
Love is also kind. This means to demonstrate usefulness to others. Selfishly focusing upon self is one of the least satisfying ways for a person to live their lives. Fulfillment in a person in life is realized as they care for the needs of others before and in spite of themselves. This makes no logical sense to many people. Yet, the inward focused person is finding less satisfaction rather than more satisfaction in their lives. Kindness is to make oneself useful to others to discover joy and purpose in life that cannot be realized in any other way.
Patience and kindness are linked together because without kindness there can be no patience. Many people try to be patient with others and in situations without making themselves useful to the solution of the problem that is calling for patience in a given situation. Kindness is taking the time to find out why the productivity of a co-worker has fallen off to a degree that frustrates the work of others around them. It is lending the cleaning staff a helping hand by cleaning up after oneself rather than complaining that the custodial staff is not doing their job. Kindness is offering assistance to the neighbor who has left their lawn and house fall into disrepair before reporting them to the authorities.
Love does not envy. This means to be jealous towards someone else in a manner that harm is wished upon them. Genuine love that is patterned after God’s character will rejoice over the success of someone else and encourage others to continue to strive to become better. The one who envies cannot accept that someone else is better at something than they are and will do things in order to hinder others instead of helping them to succeed.
The concept of avoiding envy is promoted by Paul throughout his ministry. Paul told the Galatians to avoid becoming conceited and envying one another (Galatians 5:26). The apostle encouraged the Philippian believers to stay away from doing things out of selfish ambition or conceit and to esteem others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3). Paul also instructed the believers in Rome to conduct themselves in a manner that reflected Christ’s attitude rather than the strife and envy displayed in the world (Romans 13:13-14). James also made it clear that if envy is a part of a person’s life it needs to be admitted so it can be dealt with rather than denied (James 3:13-16). The warning against envy is certainly not something that is unique to the New Testament, but was expressed in the Old Testament as well. Envy causes a person’s life to decay because it consumes them (Proverbs 14:30).
Love also does not brag or exaggerate. Greatness is provided and experienced in actions rather than in the tales of people. Love expressed in anonymity turns attention upon God rather than the physical source God has employed to demonstrate His love and presence to someone. Love is revealed and seen in the boasting about the things God has done that others would be encouraged to turn to Him in faith and trust in His ability to interact with them. Paul spoke of this when he boasted about God’s provisions in difficulty, in his weaknesses, and in the rejection of others (2 Corinthians 11:22-30, 12:7-11).
Jesus never boasted about anything, but stated the truth about everything. The proclamations Jesus announced to the religious leaders were taken as prideful boast, but in reality were simple statements of spiritual truth they were too blind to see (John 2:13-22). Jesus revealed Himself in love through the things that He had done which benefited people and stating plainly who He was so that God the Father would be the One who was lifted up (John 10:22-33). There is no reason for a person to inflate their image about themselves in their minds or portray themselves as something they are not to others since it is God that people must be looking to for comfort, strength, encouragement, and inspiration (Romans 12:3). Truth needs to be told plainly without embellishment so that it can be received in the spirit of love rather than viewed as arrogant self-promotion. This means that love is expressed when the truth is shared with gentleness and respect towards others (1 Peter 3:15-17).
Love refuses to act indecently towards others. There are many who attempt to justify their indecency as an expression of love when in reality it is nothing more than violence and hatred. Love is not expressed when the innocent are taken advantage of or a person is exploited in some manner. A person displays love towards themselves and others when it is remembered everyone is a creation of God made to reflect His glory and be in relationship with Him (Genesis 1:27; Isaiah 45:12-13). God created mankind, but in their rebellion they have twisted His love into things that are self-serving (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
Love does not strive for things which benefit only itself. This speaks to the intentions of people. There are many desires people have throughout life. The majority of these desires satisfy self more than seek to benefit others. People dream of becoming wealthy so they can spend lavishly on those things they view as giving great comfort and freedom instead of having the ability to help and provide for others in their time of need. Things are acquired to give worth to self rather than with the intent to assist other people. The truck is purchased for self-gratification, but ought to be seen as a tool to help others move things and pull others out of places where they are stuck without thought of compensation. Tools are acquired for the same reasons but need to be seen as equipment to display love to others by building things they need for their joy and living.
Love clarifies the proper use of possessions, resources, and time. Everything and activity must be viewed as a means of promoting God’s character or shining the light of Christ in the world. The good of others needs to be a priority in the life of God’s people since that is the attitude Christ had during His earthly ministry (Philippians 2:4). The question God’s people must ask is: “How can I express God’s love to someone else by using this thing or giving of my time?” Life is about revealing Christ to the world. That means being honest about His justice, holiness, and righteousness as thoroughly as telling of His love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. The justice, holiness, and righteousness of God is convicting and harsh sounding to many western ears because it reveals judgment. Yet, without these things God’s love is stripped of its power to transform the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 26-27).
Love is the greatest evidence of the presence of Christ in a person’s life. It allows people to live for something other than themselves and assist and give generously to everyone without fear and doubt holding them back. Christ did not promote Himself during His ministry but always pointed people to the Father in heaven.
Love is neither easily angered and is unwilling to cause another injury. There are people who are known to become angry quickly and others who take a long time to become angry. Whether anger happens quickly or slowly, the end result is sinful in a violence done to another. This is not speaking of actions that take place in war. It is specifically referring to the lashing out of anger in violence without thought of how their actions affect those around them. Instead, love gives people the benefit of the doubt. There might be something going on in life that has caused a person to act and speak the way they do. Rather than becoming irritated and lashing back in the same manner in which another receives them the one who loves treats the other the way they would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
Love rejoices and is excited about truth and is saddened by sin. There are many things people get excited about in this world. Yet, what are those few things that really causes a person to lose control and be visibly excited that they share with and tell others about deny any power that would cause them to be silent. People share many things in anger about what they are upset about. God’s people need to set themselves apart from the world by sharing things they are rejoicing about in order to demonstrate the true love of God in their lives and His dominion over the world. Apostle Paul encourages believers to think about things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, are of good report, virtue, and things that are praiseworthy at all times (Philippians 4:8).
Paul ends this definition of love in a grand finale announcing that love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. God’s people are called to bear with one another which is an expression of love that accepts people where they are at, but encourages them to always be moving closer to God. Love believes all things when there is no reason to doubt what is being done or said. It is not cynical toward people or the world, but looks longingly to see God’s hand in working in every situation and person. Love hopes in that it chooses to do what is best for others in the same way a person desires good things for themselves in order to reflect the character of God accurately in their lifestyle. Finally, love endures all things. This to accept whatever challenges are encountered each day and looking to the Lord for the strength to know how to respond to each one of them to reveal Christ living in them as His child.
Apostle Paul then identifies love as never failing. This is true since love is part of God’s character. Therefore, love never fails because God never fails. Most of the spiritual gifts that people have which get so much attention in this world will be obsolete in heaven. It is important to remember that Paul is explaining that all the spiritual gifts are great in and of themselves but must all be done in love. The things listed here in verse eight are referring to spiritual gifts that will no longer be of use in the new heavens and the new earth.
Many have claimed from this verse that the gift of knowledge has been replaced by intuition since the New Testament has been completed and the Church has reached maturity. Paul makes it clear that maturity is obtained when the people of God are united (Ephesians 4:13-16). Unity is the last word that can truly be applied to the church around the world, especially in America. The spiritual gift of knowledge ought to be still present according to the same definition that is used by proponents of this gift being no longer present in the body of Christ. The same is true with languages and prophesy. Day after day pastors and those who are in Christ are foretelling of the coming of the Lord. They are interpreting God’s Word to inform people of what He is saying to them and how to submit themselves to His will over their will.
The spiritual gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will cease to exist when the Church reaches maturity in the presence of Christ. This will happen when the Church has been taken out of this world to be united with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The spiritual gifts connected to evangelism will obviously cease to exist for then, and only then, will they be unneeded.
Love is how God’s character is lived out in creation. That which is done to elevate the name of Jesus and proclaim truth is a great deed but also the revealing of Christ living in His people presently.
Love is a Perfect Reflection
1 Corinthians 13:9-13, NKJV
For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Mankind can only know and understand in part in their sinful state. This is the reason for so much division among believers about many things in the Bible outside of the foundation, nonnegotiable truth that Jesus is the Christ, the one and only Son of the living God, who died for the sins of mankind and physically rose again from the dead three days later, ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father, and is returning again for His Bride, the Church. The full understanding of how the Holy Spirit works, sanctification, predestination, the second coming of Christ, how God deals with the mentally unstable, the issue of suicide, and many other things we speculate about will one day become clear, just as the means of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is currently clear to everyone.
Paul uses the analogy of how he once thought as a child but changed his way of thinking in his adulthood. Now knowledge and vision is unclear. God is not seen face to face by His people. He is known in part but will become known fully as His people are known by Him completely in eternity. That is why faith, hope, and love are the three things that remain long after all other things will pass away. Love is the greatest of all things since it is the core of God’s being, the motivation and purpose of all that is done in heaven and on earth, and will continue forever in the consuming character of God.
The closer a person draws into God the better His character is reflected in their life. This will never be perfected here upon this earth since sin will always cause the appearance of God to be marred in the lives of His people. Love will always be the way God is most clearly seen in the world by people who do not know Him as Savior and Lord and also by those who bow before Him in submission to His authority.
Preparing to receive love is actively seeking to have God revealed. It is to make oneself available for His will at a moments notice and without complaint. Listen carefully for the voice of God. He is calling His people to draw closer to Him so that His image is seen and known through His children clearer and brighter with each passing moment. Therefore, love God in the same incredible, abundant way in which He has loved all who come to Him in faith.