FROM SUPERFICIAL TO GENUINE
The Journey to Deep – Part 6
1 Corinthians 13

First Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, is one of the most read passages out of the entire Bible.  Attend ten weddings and you’ll hear this read at more than half of them.  It is the most popular passage on the topic of love, and for good reason – God’s inspired Word records for us a lengthy definition so that we can understand it. 

Throughout the chapter Paul is going to underscore how love is the most important attribute.  Early on, you need to realize that the English language is very different.  I don’t know of a word that is more overused, abused, and misunderstood in our language than the word, “love.”  To someone who is from a different culture it’s got to be confusing to overhear our conversations.  Listen to the way we use the word.  We say, “I love to shop,” “I love my neighborhood,” “I love my friends,” “I love chocolate,” “I love to workout,” “I love Jesus,” “I love pizza,” “I love my spouse,” “I love football.”  You see the predicament that presents for a wife who is trying to determine just how much she is loved compared to pepperoni and a sports team?!

Through our constant use of the word, “love,” we’ve discounted the value of the word.  The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language.  I don’t believe that was a coincidence.  In my opinion, God in His infinite wisdom knows that the Greek language is a very technical and very precise language which allows us to really get the deepest and richest meanings out of it.

In the Greek language, there are four different words at your disposal, each specifying a certain type of “love” you are talking about.  There are three different Greek words used in the New Testament for love.  So, allow me a couple of minutes to give you a crash course in Greek.  One type of love mentioned in the New Testament is…

Eros: I love you IF.  This is a PHYSICAL love.  Eros was an intense term used to describe a physical desire and romantic sexual attraction.  It’s where we get the English word “erotic.”  We might say that there was this incredible chemistry – if you look a certain way, if you can make me feel a certain way – then you can have my love.  It is purely based on feelings, and it is conditional.

Romance is based on fantasy; love is based on reality.  Romance is based on externals; love is based on internals.  Romance is based on feelings; love is based on commitment…but love is a decision.

The second type of love mentioned in the New Testament is Phileo: I love you BECAUSE.  This is a BROTHERLY love.  The term phileo was like a close friendship or love that you have for your immediate family.  That’s where we get the name Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  It says that you are part of my family, my inner circle of friends, my coworkers in the same wing.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.

The third type is Agape: I love you IN SPITE OF.  This is an UNCONDITIONAL love.  While this is our goal in the way we love, this is how God loves us.  It’s an unconditional love, even with your flaws and shortcomings.  Despite the way you treat me, in spite of the failures of the past, I choose to still love you.

The Apostle Paul knew that some of those in the church at Corinth were being drawn to the excitement of some of these supernatural gifts that were helping to validate the gospel and build the church.  But they were overlooking the mashed potatoes and gravy in their quest for the excitement of an ice cream sundae.  The Corinthians seemed to think that speaking in tongues was the greatest gift while Paul leaned toward the gift of preaching and prophecy being more important because everyone could understand what was being said or taught.  But now, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he moves into something that is even greater and more important than either of those gifts or any gift for that matter…and that is genuine, unconditional love. 

So how do we make that transition from the superficial to the genuine?

Well, turn with me in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 13.  Paul concludes the section about these incredible gifts, and he segues into this chapter so that their appetite would be for genuine love and not for superficial displays that attract a crowd.

Listen to how the Apostle Paul transitions from talking about spiritual gifts and he gets the attention of his readers.  We’ll start with the last verse of 12 and then move into chapter 13.  Paul writes… 

But eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way.  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (vv. 12:31 – 13:3).

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF REAL LOVE.

I call this opening section the importance of real love.

You see, God knew that it would be easy to fall prey to the mystique and attraction of these supernatural gifts.  So Paul uses I Corinthians 13 as his answer.  You want the best gift – the most spiritual gift – here it is:  No, not tongues (speaking in a different language…even though that’s an unbelievable gift); no, not prophecy (even though Paul said I would rather speak five intelligible words by prophecy than ten thousand words in a tongue. (14:19).

No, not knowledge—knowing even the mysteries of life (that’s pretty exciting, especially for those who love mysteries – books or movies).  How about faith, that’s a good one…who could argue how important it is to have the gift of faith—a faith that could move mountains, that could heal folks who are sick, that could withstand the temptations of the evil one.  But Paul said, “Even if a person is willing to give their very life up for the Gospel – be a martyr for the faith – if they I don’t have love then they haven’t accomplished anything…”  Paul said the greatest gift is the gift that motivates all the other gifts to be used most effectively – the gift that is most excellent – and that gift is love.

One of Paul’s concerns for this portion of the letter is to help the Corinthians adjust their focus and emphasis from speaking in tongues to instead see how that relates to the overarching goal of love.  The benefit is that love has the ability to edify the Christian community. 

Let me paraphrase it another way: “Even if you say all the right things, without love you’re an annoying buzz on an alarm clock.  Even if you can whip through lengthy ‘To Do’ lists, if you don’t allow time to stop and love people then you are nothing.  Even if you’re a philanthropist who pours your time talent and treasure for others—if your motives aren’t pure and it’s not done out of love then there’s no gain with God.  In His eyes, it’s meaningless without love.

Paul tells it like it is, and says, “I don’t care about how impressive your resume is, if you don’t truly have that agape love for others then what does it matter?”  He says that in the big scheme of things if you only serve in the big ways, and not in the small ways, then you’ve missed the point. 

Mike Shannon, a Christian college professor and preacher, says, “Love is more important than gifts; if love is not in the equation then the sum is nothing.”  

The Message paraphrases this verse to say, “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Jesus said, in John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (NLT).

II. THE ATTRIBUTES OF REAL LOVE.

As the chapter progresses Paul goes on to share the attributes of real love.

So how can we determine what this real love is like?  Well, Paul lists a number of different characteristics of real love.  I’ve grouped them into four categories. 

The first is: Real love is THOUGHTFUL.  “Love is patient, love is kind” (v. 4a).

Superficial love has me at the center of it.  If I’m impatient it’s because I have my own agenda and I want things to be done according to my timetable and my plan.  But genuine love isn’t about me; it’s about the object of your affection.  It’s a thoughtful expression of kindness or concern.

A construction crew was building a high-rise across the street from a hospital.  One day while working, four of them were on the third floor.  They looked over and saw a little girl watching them out of a third story window in the hospital.  She waved and they waved back.  The next morning when they came to work, the little girl held a handwritten sign which said, “My name is Lisa.  What are your names?”  The next morning one of the workers had brought a piece of poster board and a magic marker from home.  The guys wrote, “Hi Lisa, our names are Bill, Terry, Bob, and Brad.  How old are you?” 

The next morning, they came to work and found Lisa waiting for them in the window with this written message.  “I’m 7.  How old are all of you?”  For several days the fellows looked forward to the notes from Lisa and then on the fifth morning the window was empty, no Lisa and no message.  At break time one of the guys went to the telephone and called the hospital asking for the nurse’s station on the third floor.  He asked if they could tell him anything about a little 7-year-old girl named Lisa who was on their floor in a room that faced the construction site, explaining about the notes they had shared with her for several days. 

One of the nurses who was familiar with the exchange said that Lisa had taken a turn for the worse and had been transferred into the Intensive Care Unit.  During lunch the men called a florist and had flowers sent to Lisa with a card wishing her well.  The next morning when the men arrived at work, they found a message in that third story window.  “Lisa has passed away.  Thanks for caring.”

Real love is thoughtful; it goes out of its way for others.  Take the time and initiative to get involved in someone’s life. 

But can I tell you something?  In all honesty it’s easier to be kind and loving to a seven-year-old stranger who’s sick than it is to be kind and loving to an overbearing boss, or an ungrateful teenager, or a sarcastic spouse.  But that’s how the world will see that there is something distinctive about Christians. 

Here’s another way: Real love is UNSELFISH“…It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered…” (vv. 4b, 5a).

Real love doesn’t envy.  It’s practical and stays focused on facts and not on fantasy.  It’s realistic and it’s a commitment to that relationship.  So the head doesn’t turn if something more attractive comes in sight. 

Paul goes on to say, “Real love doesn’t boast; it is not proud” (v. 4b).  That means that when you do something for the one you love or for some cause you’re devoted to, you don’t brag about it.  And why should you.  if it is genuine, your motivation was out of love and not for personal commendation. 

And since it’s genuine, Paul says, “It’s not rude,” it’s more polite putting their needs above yours because it isn’t self-seeking.  You’ve taken the spotlight off yourself and placed it on others.  

And real love isn’t easily angered.  Have you ever watched an older couple who have been married for 50 years?  They may argue about something momentarily or strongly disagree on something, but five minutes later, they are sitting by each other, laughing and holding hands.  How is that possible?  Well—they’ve forgotten what their spouse said five minutes before!!

No, here’s the real reason: they don’t sweat the small stuff.  They are committed to the relationship and there’s no need to argue over the trivial.  Now you play out the same situation with a couple in their second year of marriage and five minutes later they won’t be speaking or holding hands.  Why?  Because they don’t have years of experience—a firm foundation and a mature love hasn’t developed yet.

Paul goes on to show us that real love is POSITIVE (verses 5b-7).  “…it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (vv. 5b-7).

“Keeps no record of wrongs.”  What does that mean?  It means that if you say you forgive, you forgive.  You relinquish your right to retaliate.  So you can’t keep bringing that back to the surface.  If you truly forgave, you block that out and move forward. 

A husband once said, “Every time my wife and I get in an argument, she always gets historical.”  And his buddy interrupted him and said, “You mean she gets hysterical.”  And the man said, “No…historical—she always starts bringing up my past!!”

You say, “But if it is repetitive behavior or addictive behavior at times you have to demonstrate tough love rather than just wiping the slate clean.”  I agree, that’s not real love either.  But when genuine repentance takes place, you need to forgive and move on.

If you really want to take a personal inventory of how you’re doing in this area, then insert your name in place of the word love and read it aloud to your closest friend, your coworker, or a family member…and see if the wording makes sense.  So I would read, “David is patient, David is kind, he doesn’t envy, he does not boast.  David is not proud, he is not rude” and so on.  And if at any point in the exercise they laugh in your face, it may be an indication of a trouble spot for you!

The next category is: Real love is ENDURING.  “Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (v. 8),

Paul says that other things will fade and fail, but not love.  Real love never fails or ends; it never dies.  Paul expounds on this incredible concept.  He then makes a statement and unpacks it for us by giving us example after example which show the permanence of true love.  Prophecies will cease, speaking in tongues will stop, knowledge will become outdated with more learning—but love will never fail. 

We learn in 1 Corinthians 13:9: For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (vv. 9-12).

Paul says these miraculous gifts will cease because they are imperfect provisions for an imperfect world, rendered unnecessary when perfection comes.

And Paul’s reference to the mirror was perfect for Corinth because they were known for producing some of the finest bronze mirrors in antiquity.  Paul’s point is that our present understanding of God, as great as it is, is as nothing when compared to the real thing that is yet to be (New International Commentary of the New Testament; page 647,648).  It’s like having a picture of a loved one who lives out of state and having that individual right there in front of you face to face.           

Years ago Zig Ziglar said, “You drive past a movie theater and the marquee reads, ‘The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.’  You can pay, go in and watch for two hours—that’s Hollywood.  But the greatest love stories are never told, they are just quietly lived out for decades by people who are committed to each other, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”

I wonder if I could take a moment to honor some of you who excel in this arena—those who show the attributes of love.  Your real love is thoughtful, unselfish, positive, and enduring.  You say, “Well David, how do you quantify that?”  Good question, because in some ways love is subjective and relative. 

But I do know one way…if you have been married for 50 years or more, to me that is a pretty good indication that you excel in genuine love and being loved by someone.  Those people are our heroes, not the Hollywood couples who won’t be speaking to each other in five years.

Today I want to honor real love and show you what it looks like.  So, in a minute I’m going to ask two different groups to stand—those who have been married for 50 years or more, and let me add another group to honor—if you are a widow or a widower and you were married for 50 years before your spouse proceeded you in death then we want to honor you.  Those who are or were married for at least 50 years, please stand, and remain standing so we can acknowledge you.  (Pause to honor)  I mean this when I say it: You are our heroes.  And we desperately need some heroes like you.  We need some marriages that withstand the test.  And we need some relationships, some weddings, and some marriage vows that are viewed as being a covenant and not a contract until something better comes along.  Thank you so much for your example.  Your display of real love inspires all of us.

III.  THE EXPRESSION OF REAL LOVE.

Then here’s the last area I want to talk about, and that is the expression of real love.

I can read each verse of this chapter and you can nod your head in agreement, but there’s a tendency to skim and skip and tune it out the longer I talk.  You’ll notice on your outline page I left an area where you can put together your own list of … TANGIBLE WAYS I CAN GROW IN EXPRESSING REAL LOVE.

This is just for you.  I’m not going to put it up on the screen.  That’s just between you and the Lord.  But let me encourage you to put some time and real heart into it.  And then you may even want to sign it and make a covenant with the Lord that you are serious about improving the way you love and reach out to others.

First Corinthians 13:13 reads: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  It is an unconditional love.  It is to be the defining trait of the Christian.

While the “knock off” versions of love talk about “I’ll love you if, or “I love you because,” not agape.  Agape love says I’ll love you in spite of your past, in spite of your idiosyncrasies, in spite of your failures, your health, your appearance…the love is there.

So love is the greatest.  But some of you might press me a little bit deeper, and you might say, “Well, what makes love better than faith?  What makes love better than hope?  Why does love outlast them all?”

Well, let me try to explain.  Let’s start with faith.  There will come a time when faith ceases because in heaven it will become unnecessary and irrelevant. 

Hebrews 11:1 says, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” 

In other words, once you see, once you’re in heaven, once you experience that—once you see Christ face to face—you will no longer need faith.  It will be the culmination of your faith and you will never need it again—not even in heaven.  And so, it won’t last.

And as for hope, that’s what keeps us going in our lives right now today.  We hope for the future.  We hope for a long life.  We hope for our family.  We have all these different hopes.  But who hopes for what you already have?  So you won’t need it in heaven.  I don’t say, “Well, I hope that someday I can preach at First Church of Christ.”  Or “I hope that someday God will bless me with a beautiful wife and two great children.”  I already have those blessings from God.

Romans 8:24 says: For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?”

So someday in heaven we won’t need hope for we will have Jesus.  We will have forgiveness.  We will have salvation.  We will have heaven for all eternity.  Hope will be rendered obsolete.

But guess what, in heaven you will be there because of God’s unconditional love.  And while we’re there for all eternity, you will still be able to show love in heaven.  In fact, you’ll want to show love.  And the longer we’re there the more we’ll see that it just kind of goes with the territory.

Faith, hope, and love…but the greatest of these truly is love.

Jesus is our example in showing real love.  Throughout His ministry, time and time again, He expressed true love.  He showed it to a demon possessed man.  He extended it to an adulterous woman.  To little children who wanted to meet Him.  To a dishonest Tax Collector named Zacchaeus.  To a Samaritan woman who was living with a man and who had previously experienced five divorces.  He showed love to a thief on the cross…and the list goes on and on in the pages of the New Testament. 

Do you ever wonder where Jesus got the idea to express real love?  Well, it runs in the family.  God the Father is the One who determined the salvation plan that would allow us to experience heaven.  He expressed the ultimate love just as His Son did when He died on a cross.  I’ve often wondered which was more difficult, which showed more love…for the Son to lay down His life or for His Father in heaven to hear the distraught prayer of His son asking if there was some other way other than him dying; and yet the Father tells His own Son, “No—YOU are the way.  YOU are the one.”  Who hurt more?  Who loved more?

Calvin Miller said, “Never was a boy crucified but that the weeping father always found the nail prints in his own hands.” 

First John 4:9-10 says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Wow.  The reality is that the words in that verse should make us want to break into applause, they should motivate us to fall on our knees, and they should drive us to love people unconditionally because both God the Father and God the Son set the example for us. 

Look at the next verse in 1 John, chapter 4.  In light of God’s love and the cross and Christ’s sacrificial death, verse 11 says: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

That’s the love…that’s the way we are to act toward one another.  And by the way, both words are the word agape.  That’s the love we are to have for others—motivated by God’s love.  Christ’s love compels us to want to tell others the Gospel Story.  It changes us from the inside out.  Because when you come face to face with what true love is all about, you will never be the same again.

I had a conversation with someone recently who said that they had shared the Gospel with a friend.  And after this person shared it with this individual, the individual said, “That is too good to be true.”  And I say, “Yeah.”  It’s too good to be true, except for the fact that there is One who can truly love us unconditionally.

John 3:16…do you remember it?  Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

Oh, and by the way, guess what word Jesus chose to use when He said that verse.  “For God so “agaped” the world.”  He loved you in spite of your mistakes, in spite of your failures, in spite of your past – but He loves you too much to leave you that way.  And He longs for you to be in a right relationship with Him.

 

David Hall
First Church of Christ
October 24, 2021