The True Measure of Love
1 Corinthians 13
Love is something most of us profess to know about from firsthand experience. We have sung songs about it. We have read about it and we have watched movies about it. Love songs, love stories, and love letters have been a part of all of our lives at one time or the other.
I am pretty sure we have as a society really missed the finer points of love. Let me give you a couple of examples.
A man wrote: "Dear Abby, I am in love and I am having an affair with two different women other than my wife. I love my wife but I love these other women too. Please tell me what to do, but don’t give me any that morality stuff." Signed: Too much love for only one.” In this case Abby’s answer was classic. She wrote: “Dear Too much love for only one. The only difference between humans and animals is morality. Please write to a veterinarian."
"Dearest Jimmy, No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie...
P.S. Congratulations on winning the state lottery."
Of course the real definer of love is country music:
1. If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead?
2. I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me
3. You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly
4. I’m Ashamed to Be Here, but Not Ashamed Enough to Leave
5. If My Nose Was Running Money, Honey, I’d Blow It Al On You
6. You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Banister Of Life
7. You Ain’t Much Fun Since I Quit Drinkin’
8. I Would Kiss You Through the Screendoor but It’d Strain Our Love
What does it mean to really love? Where can we find a standard to judge our love by? Let me assure you that comparing your love to the fabrication of love as portrayed by the media is a poor place to start. Ever since Lucy made a fool of her husband on a weekly basis it has been hard to find one solid together loving family on TV. (other than Bill Cosby’s family)
In the first letter written to the church in Corinth the writer was dealing with the church and issues in the church. Many were drawn to the gifts of the Spirit and the demonstration of them. It never takes long for human being to turn the focus from God to themselves and just like today many of the early believers did what they did for God to make themselves look better.
They lacked an understanding of the love of God and its power and motivation. In Romans 5:3-5 we are reminded of these words, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trails, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT
Authentic Christfollower’s denomstrate love toward all people. The love of God that is given to us is not self centered but others centered. It is described beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13.
In 1 Corinthians 13 we find a teaching that I believe will speak to all of us in this room if we allow the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God in our lives today. Often these verses are used in wedding ceremonies and every time I read them in that context I wonder how long it will take before they forget them.
1. Love Dissected:
Some of us can remember that day in biology class when we were told to dissect something. Whatever the animal appeared to be on the outside looked and smelled much differently on the inside.
In the introductory words of this chapter the writer clearly is in a dissecting mode. He spares no one and skillfully cuts away any of the things we are quick to identify as our spiritual fruit.
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT
When we look deep into our hearts and deep into our relationships we can easily discover things sometimes are hard to look at. Listen to these words again in the Message.
- If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
- If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
- If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere.
- So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Remember he had been dealing in the previous chapter with people abusing the gifts of the Spirit and doing things for their own glory instead of Gods.
The writer quickly moves into the practical and that is where I want us to spend some time today.
2. Love Described:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languagesand special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NLT
1. Love is patient. The Greek word (makrothumein) means patience with people and not patience with circumstances. It is the word used of the man who is wronged and who has the power to avenge himself but will not. It describes the man who is slow to anger and it is used of God himself in his relationship with men. Such patience is not the sign of weakness but the sign of strength; No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than did Stanton. He called him "a low cunning clown", he nicknamed him "the original gorilla". Lincoln said nothing.
He made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job and he treated him with every courtesy. The years wore on. The night came when the assassin’s bullet murdered Lincoln in the theatre. In the little room to which the President’s body was taken stood that same Stanton and looking down on Lincoln’s silent face, he said through his tears, "There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen." The patience of love had conquered in the end.
2. Love is kind. Origin had it that this means that love is "sweet to all." So much Christianity is good but unkind. There was no more religious a man than Philip the Second of Spain, and yet he founded the Spanish Inquisition and thought he was serving God by massacring those who thought differently from him. There is in so many good people an attitude of criticism. So many good Church people would have sided with the rulers and not with Jesus if they had had to deal with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus we know rescued her and told her to go and sin no more.
3. Love is not jealous. It has been said that there are really only two classes of people in this world--"those who are millionaires and those who would like to be." There are two kinds of envy. The one covets the possessions of other people. The other is worse. He or she grudges the very fact that others should have what they not; he or she doesn’t so much want things for himself as he wishes that others had not got them at all.
4. Love is not boastful. True love will always be far more impressed with its own unworthiness than its own merit. Some people are in love with the idea that they are doing somebody a favor. But the real lover can never get over the wonder that they are loved. Love is kept humble.
5. Love is not proud. The really great person never thinks of their own importance. William Carey, who began life as a cobbler, was one of the greatest missionaries and certainly one of the greatest linguists the world has ever seen. He translated at least parts of the Bible into no fewer than thirty-four Indian languages. When he came to India, he was regarded with dislike and contempt. At a dinner party a snob, with the idea of humiliating him, said in a tone that everyone could hear, "I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoe-maker." "No, your lordship," answered Carey, "not a shoe-maker, only a cobbler." He did not even claim to make shoes--only to mend them. True love keeps us from being proud and arrogant.
6. Love is not rude. It is a fact that in Greek the words for grace and for charm are the same. There is a kind of Christianity which takes a delight in being blunt and almost brutal. There is graciousness in Christian love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are lovely things.
7. Love is not self-seeking. It doesn’t demand its own way. There are those in this world who are always thinking of what life owes them and there are those who never forget what they owe to life. Most of our problems which surround us today could be avoided if we would think less of our rights and more of our duties. Whenever we start thinking about "ourselves" and "our place" we are drifting away from Christian love.
8. Love is not irritable. It is not easily angered. Christian love never becomes exasperated with people. Exasperation is always a sign of defeat. When we lose our tempers, we lose everything. Kipling said that it was the test of a man if he could keep his head when everyone else was losing his. The man or woman who is master of their temper can be master of anything.
9. Love keeps no record of wrongs. The word translated keeps (logizesthai) is an accountant’s word. It is the word used for entering up an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. That is precisely what so many people do. One of the greatest talents in life is to learn what to forget. Many people nurse their wrath to keep it warm; they brood over their wrongs until it is impossible to forget them. Christian love has learned the great lesson forgetting.
10. Love does not delight in evil or rejoice in injustice. Better to translate this that love finds no pleasure in anything that is wrong. It is not so much delight in doing the wrong thing that is meant, as the pleasure which comes to most of us when we hear something derogatory about someone else. It is one of the traits of human nature that we prefer to hear of the misfortune of others rather than of their good fortune. It is much easier to weep with them than to rejoice with those who rejoice. Christian love finds no pleasure in bad reports.
11. Love rejoices when the truth wins out. That is not as easy as it sounds. There are times when we definitely do not want the truth to prevail; and still more times when it is the last thing we want to hear. Christian love has no desire to veil the truth; it has nothing to hide and so is glad when the truth is revealed.
12. Love never gives up. (Love bears all things) It is possible that this may mean "love can cover anything," meaning it will never drag into the light of day the faults and mistakes of others. Love would rather mend things than publicly displaying them. It can also mean that love can bear any insult, any injury, and disappointment.
13. Love always trust or never loses faith. This characteristic has a twofold meaning. (1) In relation to God it means that love takes God at his word. (2) In relation to our fellow men it means that love always believes the best about other people. We make people what we believe them to be. If we show that we do not trust people, we may make them untrustworthy. If we show people that we trust them, we may make them trustworthy.
14. Love is always hopeful. Hope here means to expect to know! Love "knows" that God has everything under his control and rests in that promise. (Psalms 25)
15. Love always perseveres or endures through every circumstance. The verb used here (hupomenein) is translated to bear or to endure but what it really describes is not the spirit which can passively bear things, but the spirit which can conquer. (Philippians 4:13)
What a standard is presented here for us to live by.
There is afamiliar story that tells of two friends walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: "TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE."
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: "TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE." The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied: "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."
Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your benefits in stone.
3. Love Desired:
This chapter (13) is bookended by two fascinating encouragements about love.
So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. 1 Corinthians 12:31 NLT (A more excellent way)
Let love be your highest goal! 1 Corinthians 14:1 NLT
The writer ends this chapter with a beautiful word picture about love.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT
4. Love Displayed:
This is a time for reflection and response as we think seriously about the people we are struggling to love from those we live with to the people we interact and intersect with on a daily basis.
To really love we must follow the example and pattern of Jesus Christ laid aside His God-role and came to this earth to identify as one of us. We call in incarnational love meaning He came in the flesh and became one of us show that He might show us His love.
"Love isn't a one-shot sortie into someone else's need. It gets involved; it doesn't stay clean and separate." -- Paul E. Miller, from his book, Love Walked Among Us
Henri Nouwen was at the top of his profession:
“Everyone was saying I was doing really well, but something inside of me was telling me that my success was putting my soul in danger. I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. I woke up one day with the realization that I was living in a very dark place.
In the midst of this I kept praying, “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you, but please be clear and unambiguous about it!” Well, God was. In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said, “Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.” So I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society. It was a very hard and painful move.”
Nouwen left a successful and prestigious career to care for disabled adults. In order to love the disabled, he had to go where they were. To do that, he had to leave where he was. He humbled himself. He had to go low in order to love. Love and humility are inseparable. (illustration from the book Love Walked Among Us)
An Eight year old wrote about love and true love.
Love is when Daddy reads me a bedtime story.True love is when he doesn’t skip any of the pages.
I want us to take advantage of a few minutes of reflection today to think about the people we love and those we don’t. I want us to hold up our relationships to the light of God’s word and allow His Spirit to shape us and mold us. Push past the guilt and push past the anger and genuinely seek the power of God’s love to live in you.