August 25, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
Love is the Greatest!
1 Corinthians 13



ILL:  Did you know that on an average day, 3,522 fifth graders fall in love? 

Sam Levison once said, “Love at first sight is nothing special. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle.”

What is love? Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.  Love isn’t just a feeling; it isn’t something we fall into.  Love is something we do.

So how does love behave?  Today we’re going to read about it in the Bible in the famous love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

Introduction and offering:

What is love? Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.  Notice the first three words: “love is doing.”  Love is much more than a feeling; it’s action and behavior.  Love is something we do; it’s the way we treat people.

ILL:  Sociology professor Dr. Elaine Walster has studied the differences between “passionate” and “compassionate” love, and interviewed or observed more than 100,000 persons. She found that, for most couples, intense passion—the feeling we associate with love (“falling in love”)—lasts six months to two and a half years.  

Feelings are temporary.  They come and go.  But love is more than a feeling; it’s action.  It’s doing what’s best for others, even after the passion has passed, even when you don’t feel like it.  Love isn’t something you fall in.  What do we call something you fall into?  That’s a hole.  A hole is something you fall in; love is something you do.  Love does. 

So how does love behave?

This summer we’ve been working our way through 1 Corinthians in the New Testament. Today we come to chapter 13, which is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible.  It is Paul’s famous hymn to love.  This is often read at weddings—how many of you have heard it there?  But Paul didn’t write it for weddings—he wrote it as part of a discussion on spiritual gifts. 

It seems that the Corinthians were really into speaking in tongues.  They prized this gift above others, and wore it as a badge of spirituality.  But as we’ll see in chapter 14 next week (you won’t want to miss the discussion of tongues and prophecy), they used the gift selfishly, without regard for how it affected other people.  In other words, they weren’t loving.

So Paul lays out “the most excellent way,” the way of love.  Whatever you do, do it with love.

The Big Idea: If you’re going to excel at anything, excel at love!

What do you wish you were really good at?  What one or two things come to your mind?  Tell someone next to you: “I wish I was really good at…”

  • I wish I was good at golf. 
  • I wish I was good at speaking Spanish. 
  • I wish I was good at playing guitar. 

But most of all, I wish I was good at love!  I wish I excelled at love, at doing what was best for others no matter what it cost me!

If you’re going to excel at anything, excel at love!  That’s the Big Idea.

1. The necessity of love. 1-3


Let’s pick it up with the last verse of chapter 12.

12:31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Paul is writing to correct their abuses of spiritual gifts, and at the heart of those abuses was a lack of love.  There was a lot of selfishness, ego and pride involved.  So Paul is going to call them to “the most excellent way.”  Notice that it’s not love vs. spiritual gifts.  It’s not either/or.  It’s both/and.  Eagerly desire spiritual gifts and live in the way of love.  Spiritual gifts are important, but if they are practiced without love, they are useless.  That’s how he begins chapter 13. 

1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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 do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…”.  Speaking in tongues is the gift of speaking in a language you never learned.  For example, on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit filled the first believers, they spoke in tongues—specifically, in the languages of men.  Many in the crowd recognized their own languages being spoken.  “We hear them telling us in our own languages the mighty works of God,” they said.  Those are the tongues of men. 

ILL: I’m trying to learn Spanish right now.  Buenos dias, mi amigos. Espero que este sermón te inspire a amar más.   Glori a Dios! 

Tongues of men. 

What were the tongues of angels?  Some people believed that angels had their own heavenly languages, and that the Spirit could inspire us to speak them.  Evidently some of the Corinthians believed they were speaking in the tongues of angels. 

Paul says, “Either way, if you speak with the languages of earth or of heaven, but you don’t have love, you’re just making empty noise.” 

Then Paul dials it up.  Even if you have the gift of prophecy, even if you understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and even if you have all faith, so you can move mountains—notice the “all, all, all”—but if you don’t have love, you’re nothing!   Imagine someone with mountain-moving faith—they believe and miracles happen.  Or imagine someone with such profound spiritual insight that they understood all mysteries and all knowledge.  Most of us would say that these are spiritual giants!  But Paul says that without love, they aren’t even midgets—they are nothing!

Then he dials it up again.  If I give all I possess to the poor, but don’t have love, I gain nothing.  Is giving to the poor a good thing?  Absolutely!  Jesus repeatedly called His followers to care for the poor, and the early Christians were known for their love of the poor.  But there is a way to give to the poor that expresses love, and another way that expresses pride or superiority or even contempt.  If you give without love, it doesn’t count.

Then the highest of all: even if you make the ultimate sacrifice, and you give your life for the gospel—either as a martyr or in a life of sacrificial service and hardship—even that doesn’t count without love. 

Paul hammers home the absolute necessity of love. A little later in this letter, Paul writes:

1 Corinthians 16:14 Do everything in love.

Here is this week’s memory verse.  Let’s say it three times.  Now say it to your neighbor.  Don’t you feel great?  You just memorized a Bible verse!

Do everything in love.  Do what is best for others—let that be your motivation in everything you do.  Do everything in love.

First, the necessity of love.

Second: the character of love.  (We’ll spend most of the rest of our time on this.)

2. The character of love. 4-7


4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love does.  Paul wants to make sure that they understand how love behaves, so he describes it in beautiful detail.  Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.  Love does.  Love is action. 

Paul uses 15 verbs to tell us what love does.  A grammar lesson: verbs are action words.  Love is a verb!  Love does.  And Paul uses 15 verbs to tell us what love does.  Before we unpack these 15 verbs, I want to go back to our definition of love. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you.  Where did I get that definition?  How do I know that love is doing more than feeling? 

First, God commands us to love.  The great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—with all we’ve got—and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  God commands husbands to love their wives, and wives their husbands.  God even commands us to love our enemies!  Here’s the thing: you can’t command feelings; you can only command action. 

  • I can command you to jump, but I can’t command you to feel jumpy. 
  • I can tell you to smile, but I can’t command you to feel happy. 

You can’t command feelings, only action.  In the same way, when God commands us to love Him, our neighbors, our spouses, and our enemies, He isn’t commanding us to feel something, but to do something.

Does that mean that there are no feelings involved?  There are lots of feelings involved in romantic love—but those come and go.  If you really want to feel something good for someone, do something good for them, and then you’ll feel good.  Don’t wait for the feelings—love does, and then feelings follow.

So first I know love is doing because it’s a command.

Second, I know what love is because God has shown us in person.  This is the gospel—the good news that God loved us, that He did what was best for us no matter what it cost Him.

John 3:16 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.

Notice that God so loved that He gave: He did something.  He gave His one and only Son so we could have eternal life.  He did what was best for us—and did it cost Him?  Everything.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

How did God demonstrate His love for us?  Here it is again: Christ died for us.  And He died for us “while we were still sinners.”  In other words, God didn’t say, “Clean yourself up and I’ll love you.  Get good enough and I’ll love you.  Come to me and I’ll love you.”  No.  God loved us while we were still sinners, while we were still rebelling against Him.  He did what was best for us when we were completely undeserving.  One more:

1 John 4:9–10 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. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent Jesus.  This is love: and He points to Jesus who gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  When the Bible defines love, it points to Jesus.  Do you want to know what love is?  Look at Jesus on the cross.  That is the ultimate expression of love.  God did what was best for us no matter what it cost Him.

That’s where I got this definition of love.

Love is doing, so Paul describes it with 15 verbs. As we go through these, remember that many of them are aimed at the Corinthians who were behaving in a very unloving way towards each other.

Love is patient.  The Greek verb, makrothumeo, is used of being patient with people, not things.  Literally, it means, “long suffering”.  It means we are slow to anger, and we can endure a lot and not give up on some one. 

ILL:  No one treated Abraham Lincoln with more contempt than did Edwin Stanton. He publicly called him names like “a low cunning clown” and nicknamed him “the original gorilla.” Lincoln said nothing. Later, Lincoln made Stanton his war minister because he was the best man for the job. The night came when Lincoln was assassinated in the theater. Stanton stood in the little room where the President’s body was taken and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.”

Love is patient.

Love is kind.  To be kind is to be thoughtful, considerate, to care how others feel.  The Greek word comes from a root that means to be useful.  The kind person thinks, “How can help you?”  The opposite of kind is mean.  Mean people suck.  Love is kind; love is useful and helpful.

Love does not envy.  Or is not jealous.

Have you ever felt jealousy or envy toward someone?  I have.  I’ve been jealous of other people’s success.  When I was just starting out here at Life Center, and I was learning how to pastor and how to lead, it was slow going.  And I had friends who were very “successful” very quickly.  Their churches were growing and mine wasn’t, and I was jealous.  I wanted to be successful too.  Author Gore Vidal admitted, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”  I understand that.

Love does not envy.  Instead, love rejoices with those who rejoice.

Love does not boast. Bragging or boasting is very selfish—it is self-promotion, it is self-glorification. Love is others-centered, not selfish.

If love doesn’t boast or brag, what does it do?  Instead of promoting self, love promotes others.  Instead of saying, “Let me tell you how great I am,” love says, “tell me about yourself.”  Or even more, love says, “Let me tell you how great you are.”  Love builds others up rather than puffing up itself.  1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “Love builds up.” 

Love doesn’t brag about itself; it’s interested in others.

Love is not proud. Love is not proud for the same reason that it doesn’t boast: love is others-centered rather than self-centered.

The word “proud” is a fun word in the Greek.  It is phusioo, and it comes from the Greek word phusa.  A phusa was a bellows, a device that pumps air.  Phusioo means “to puff up”.  It came to mean pride—to be puffed up with self-importance.  To be proud is to have an inflated sense of your own importance.  When someone is proud, we say they have a big head.

ILL: John and Gene are friends of mine.  Whenever one of us would get a little full of ourselves, one of the others would do this: swelling head.

Spell “pride”.  PRIDE. What’s in the center of pride?  I.  When we’re proud, we’re self-centered—it’s all about me!

Spell “love”.  LUV.  What’s in the center of love?  U.  When we’re truly loving, we’re focused on others, not ourselves.  Love is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others. Some translations say, “love is not rude.”  Love is not ill-mannered, does not act unbecomingly, or dishonorably.  What is the opposite of rudeness?  Courtesy.  Respect.  To be rude is to be intentionally discourteous, disrespectful, dishonoring of others.

Now where is the one place in the world that we are most likely to be rude? Home!  We are most likely to be rude to those we love most!  Why is that?  Because home is safe, so we let down our guards and let it all hang out!  We vent our frustrations, we express our irritability, we are cross, and short-tempered and ill mannered because…it’s home.  It’s family.

ILL: A couple once spent the weekend at our home. We had a good time except for one thing: the way they treated each other. They treated Laina and me with every courtesy, with a great deal of kindness and respect; but they were very rude to each other: they talked with a nasty tone of voice, they always sounded angry or irritated with each other. It was so embarrassing that I finally talked with each of them separately, and pointed out what they were doing. Guess what their response was? Surprise! They were so used to treating each other rudely that they weren’t even aware they were doing it. The second half of their stay was much more enjoyable! They were a couple of lovebirds!

Love is not rude. Let me recommend that this week you try treating each member of your family as if he or she were a guest in your home.

Love is not self-seeking.  It does not insist on its own way.  One of the marks of immaturity is insisting on your own way.  I thought you’d enjoy this:

ILL: Introduction to property law from a toddler’s perspective:

If I like it, it’s mine.

If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.

If I had it a while ago, it’s mine.

If I say it is mine, it‘s mine.

If it looks like mine, it’s mine.

If I say I saw it first, it’s mine.

If you’re having fun with it, it’s mine.

If you lay down your toy, it’s mine.

If it is broken, it’s yours.

Selfishness is part of our human nature and shows up shortly after we bust out of the womb! But love is not self-seeking. 

Love is not easily angered. Love isn’t easily provoked, is not irritable, doesn’t get annoyed or upset with others, doesn’t fly off the handle. Love is not thin-skinned.

I don’t even want to talk about this one.  It just makes me mad. 

The Greek word here is paroxuno, which literally means, “to make sharp, to sharpen.”  Then it came to mean, “to stimulate or spur on; to irritate or provoke.” Imagine someone poking you with a sharp stick or a pencil. That would be—irritating.  That would be paroxuno.  But love is not easily provoked.  It has thick skin.  It can handle a lot of sharpness without flying off the handle.

What provokes us?  Sharp tongues, sharp tempers, sharp comments, sharp tones, sharp attitudes, sharp actions.  Other people’s sharp edges and sharp corners poke us and irritate us. In fact, some people are like porcupines—they’re prickly, they’re sharp everywhere.  Love makes you able to hug a porcupine!

Love keeps no record of wrongs.  Have you ever had a friend that kept track of all your failures, and reminds you of them?  Love doesn’t do that.  Love doesn’t keep score of your failures; love forgives.

ILL: Roy Grimm writes:

Our friends were out of town for the weekend and their 5-year-old, Luke, was staying with us.  At dinner, out of the blue, he said, “You know, one time I broke my mom’s lamp.”

I asked if she was angry when it happened. “She was disappointed,” Luke replied, which I assured him was understandable.  We continued for a minute or so, then Luke said, “But I don’t understand.  Mom says it’s all forgotten, but I still remember it.  Why can’t she?”

Because you have a nice mom, Luke.  Because love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs?  Do you have a list you need to burn?  A filing system you need to fling? Love doesn’t keep score of others’ sins.  Love forgives and forgets.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Because love wants the best for others, it rejoices when truth and righteousness win out, but never when evil or wrong does.  Love can never be happy when someone is wrong, or wronged. 

Love always protects. The Greek word is very interesting.  It is stego, and it comes from a root word that means “a roof, a cover”.  So the verb stego means “to cover, to protect by covering.”  Imagine getting caught in a sudden storm.  You run for cover.  You run for shelter.  The roof that covers you protects you from the storm.  That is what love does.  Love shelters.  Love protects.  Love covers.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Love covers a multitude of sins.  This doesn’t mean that love is a cover-up. Love doesn’t lie or deceive.  But love protects.  Love covers others’ failures and sins rather than exposing them.

Love always trusts. Love never loses faith.  Love always believes the best about other people.  Someone said, “Love is an agreement on the part of two people to overestimate each other.”

That doesn’t mean that love is gullible.  Love is not gullible, but neither is it suspicious and negative.  Love gives others the benefit of the doubt.  Rather than assuming the worst, love assumes the best about others.  Love believes in others and gives them a chance to prove themselves.

Love always hopes.  What is hope?  Hope is the expectation of good.  Hope looks to the future and expects something good.  It is the opposite of despair.  Despair looks at the future and wants to give up; hope looks at the future and smiles, confident that the best is yet to come.

Just like love believes the best about others, it also hopes the best for others.  It expects the best, not the worst.  Love never gives up hope.  To Jesus, no one was hopeless.  Jesus changed people—hopeless people that everyone else had given up on.  Is there anyone you’ve given up on?  Maybe it’s time to ask God for fresh love, fresh hope for that person.

ILL:  A man stopped to watch a Little League baseball game. He asked one of the kids what the score was. “We’re losing 18-0,” was the answer.

“Wow,” said the man. “But you don’t look discouraged.”

“”Why should we be discouraged?” the boy asked. “We haven’t come to bat yet.”

You might feel like you’re down 18-0, but love always hopes. 

Love always perseveres.  The Greek word is hupomeno, which combine hupo, which means “under”, and meno, which means, “to abide or remain”.  So it literally means, “to remain under,” then “patience, perseverance, endurance.”  The picture is of a person who is “under the circumstances”, buried by problems or trouble, but is hanging in there, staying put rather than running away—abiding under. 

Now there are two ways to abide under, to hang in there.  One way is to just passively resign yourself.  This is Eeyore endurance: “Oh well.”  The other way, instead of passive resignation, is to bear up under difficulties in a way that transforms them and triumphs.  That’s what this word means.  This patience or perseverance is triumphant fortitude, not defeated resignation! 

ILL: George Matheson is a man who lost his sight and who was disappointed in love.  He wrote in one of his prayers that he might accept God’s will, “not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise.”

That’s hupomeno: patience, perseverance.  Love always perseveres.  Love doesn’t give up when the going gets tough.  Love doesn’t quit.  Love is like the Energizer bunny: it just keeps going and going. 

Love never fails.  Which leads us to the last point…

3. The permanence of love. 8-13


8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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 the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a 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.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Many things will end; love won’t.  Spiritual gifts are temporary; love isn’t.  When will they cease?  When the perfect comes: when Jesus returns and we enter the new heavens and earth.  Spiritual gifts are tools that we use to do God’s work, but like scaffolding they will fall away when the work is done.  But love will go on.

Friends, the day will come when we will see Him face to face, when we will know fully, even as we are fully known.  Now we see dimly as a reflection in polished metal; now we know in part.  This is good to remember this and stay humble.  We know in part.  But the day is coming when we will see Him face to face.  Our faith will become sight.  Our hope will be realized.  And love will go on forever!

Love is the greatest!  If you’re going to excel at anything, excel at love!