The Power of Love – 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ~ Message One, verses 1-3

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The Power of Love, Part 1

1 Corinthians 13: 1-3

Bruce A. Hess

If you would, please take out the word of God, open it up and turn to 1 Corinthians, the book of 1 Corinthians, in the New Testament. If you are relatively new to the Bible, if you can find the Gospels, then you next have the book of Acts, then the book of Romans, then the book of 1 Corinthians. We want you to turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter number 13.

This morning we are launching a new series of messages that we have entitled, ‘The Power of Love.’ We are going to be looking at 1 Corinthians 13, verses 1-7.

Now, there are some people who have identified this chapter as the finest chapter in Scripture. There are people who say it is the most beautiful passage in the New Testament. In particular, they are talking about verses 4-7, where it says, “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast”  (and on). This is a passage of Scripture that is very popularly quoted and recited. This passage of Scripture has been the focus of calligraphy and a lot of different artwork that has been done over the years.

Frequently, this passage of Scripture is a core element in a wedding ceremony. So, how many people either have been to a wedding that had it recited, or you had it in your own wedding? Let me see some hands out there. See, there’s a great number of us. So, this is a passage that has come before us many times. We could call it the ‘love passage’ of the New Testament.

You know what is interesting? When you start talking about love, when you look at our culture, there is a very shallow and superficial understanding of love. You can see this shallow, superficial understanding of love reflected in many of the novels that are out there, and many of the movies that are out there. Also, yes, in many of the songs that are out there.

I just want to think about that idea of songs and the concept of love. I want to highlight some of the classic songs from our culture that talk about love. The first one, 1965, a song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, sung by Jackie DeShannon and that song is the song, ‘What the World Needs Now.’ Part of the lyrics of that song goes this way:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only there’s just too little of

Not just for some, but for everyone

A song about love. Most people don’t know that was actually a protest song written in 1965, protesting the Vietnam War. But that is a song of love, that is a classic that is out there. There is another song of love I want us to remember. It is a song that was written by John Lennon in 1967 and sung by the Beatles. That is what song??  ‘All You Need is Love,’ exactly. ‘All you need is Love.’ In the song it talks about love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need, I counted that phrase thirty-six times. Love is all you need. Then, I counted again and the word ‘love’ appears in that song, ninety-eight times, ninety-eight times!

You know what is interesting about that song? We are left with a hanging question and the question is—what is love?? I mean all you need is love, all you need is love, love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need. What is it? We are left hanging. That is never answered in that song at all.

Then, another classic song in our culture comes from 1955, from a movie of the same name. And that is the song, ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing.’ You know, just that phrase, ‘love is a many splendored thing.’ Later, that became the title of a TV soap opera [melodramatic shows about intense interpersonal situations] and I think the kind of love they were talking about was a little different kind of love than we are going to be examining as we go through Scripture.

You know what is interesting about this, love is one of the most prominent words in the English language and yet—interestingly enough—it is maybe one of the most misunderstood words in the English language. Like every arena of life, we need divine perspective about love. We need God to open up this concept to us. You know, there is a very simple statement made in 1 John 4:8 and here is what it says, “God is love.” God is love. Now, look at that statement for a moment. Don’t answer out loud, but what does that really mean, God is love?

Well, I think what it means, in part, is that love is a core aspect of God’s character. Love is who He is. He is, God is, love, a perfect example of true love. God is love. So, if we want to learn about the true nature of love, what should we do? We should listen to Him. We should learn from Him. So, as we launch this series that we have entitled, ‘The Power of Love,’ let’s do that very thing. Let’s listen to Him and let’s learn from Him.

If you have your Bibles open to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, I want to read verses 1-7 and invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read these verses. Paul is writing these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and he says,

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable, or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

You know, when we lay this passage before us, when we hear it as a group—we  are going to be participating in looking particularly at verses 4-7 over several weeks—I  think some of us, and I know I can struggle with this too, we’re thinking: yeah, that is a pretty part of Scripture. Yeah, I know I’ve heard that, you know verses 4-7, at weddings. I think sometimes on the interior we are thinking, yeah, I know that:  love is kind, love is patient, love is not arrogant, yeah, I know that, I know that. I think if we are truly honest, sometimes I think we are so familiar with these verses that we sort of tune out just a little bit. We have to stifle a subtle, spiritual yawn. I mean, couldn’t Bruce have taken us to something new? We’re going back to a passage that we are so familiar with. You know, the reality is I need to hear from God on this subject. I think all of us need to hear from God on this subject. I think all of us need to be reminded of what this is talking about. Thus, we are going to jump into 1 Corinthians, chapter number 13.

Now, as you look at this passage you can divide it really into two sections. In the first three verses he wants to talk about the Indispensability of Love. Then, in verses 4-7, which we are maybe most familiar with, he wants to unpack the Character of Love. He is going to give us an in-depth description of the character of love.

We are anxious to get there, but before we get to verses 4-7, I want us all to take out our Bible study hats. Are you ready to do that? Take your Bible study hat, put it on, because before we get to verses 4-7, we want to answer the question, why is this even here in 1 Corinthians? I mean, something is happening here. What is the context of this discussion about love? Which leads us to today’s plan, what we are going to do today.

First, we are going to look at The Spiritual Backdrop of this. There is something going on. We are going to take a look into it. Then, the second thing we are going to do today is, we are going to look at verses 1-3 and the Indispensability of Love. So, that is our plan. Sound like a good plan? Shall we do it? Alright!

Let’s start off by looking at The Spiritual Backdrop of this section of verses. Before we get into looking at the verses in particular, I want to share with you a quote that comes from Gene Getz. This is a great quote, it’s a great summary. Here is what he says:

“Satan’s greatest attack throughout church history—from New Testament times until today…”  So, think about that. Satan’s greatest attack! I really believe this is true, throughout church history, from New Testament times until today…[his greatest attack] has been what? …“has been to sidetrack Christians onto peripheral issues, resulting in creating disunity, bickering, selfishness, and pride.”

That is very, very true. The greatest attack from New Testament times until today has been to sidetrack Christians onto peripheral issues, the result being there is disunity, bickering, selfishness, and pride. I want you to know, that describes the church at Corinth! And, that describes something that we must guard against, we must guard against it. When you look at the Corinthian church, they were a troubled church family, they truly were. If you go all the way back to the first chapter, he is starting to write to them and he says to these believers, he says, you are blessed, you have embraced the message of the cross, you have embraced salvation in Christ, you are recipients of the grace of God and God has gifted you to minister to one another and to minister to other people. He writes to them in that first chapter, your eternal destiny is secure.

But in many ways, they were spiritually ‘out of whack’ [chaotic, confused, all over the place]. For example, they struggled with spiritual pride and arrogance; expressed in that they would spiritually brag about following the popular spiritual leaders of the day. In fact, in chapter number 1, in verse 12, he says, some of you are running around and you are saying, I am a follower of Paul, I am a Paul-ite. Then there were others running around saying, you know, Paul, (as Pastor Mark took us through 2 Corinthians), he wasn’t that impressive as a speaker. Other people saying, Paul is ok, but I am an Apollo-ite. Now there is a guy who can really speak in a powerful way! Then, other people were running around in the church and they were going, no, no, no, see those guys aren’t even one of the original twelve, I am a Peter-ite, that is who I am!

You know, we can do much the same today. You have people running around and they will say, well, I’m an RC Sproul-ite, or I’m a Tony Evans-ite, or I’m a John McArthur-ite. As this was going on in the church, the most ‘spiritual’ among them was going, ahem, excuse me, but I am a Christ-ite!! I just wish you were as spiritual as me.

That is part of what was going on in the church. It doesn’t mean that you cannot have a favorite spiritual teacher or leader, but that doesn’t mean we should be dividing ourselves into sub-groups looking at one another pridefully—if you were really spiritual you would be doing what I am doing. No, no, no, if you were really spiritual you would be doing what I am doing!! It was a church that was spiritually ‘out of whack.’

We learn in chapter 3, he says to them, you are acting like spiritual babies, grow up would you! Grow up!! Then, in chapter 4, he says to them, you are viewing yourselves as having arrived spiritually. You think you are there. He includes there one of my favorite verses of all time, which is 1 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 7, “What do you have that you have not received?” Of course, the answer always is utterly nothing. Everything is a gift from God. What are you boasting about then? What are you boasting about??

In chapter 7, he points out that they had significant marriage issues. Yes, these issues of their attitudes and their actions were infecting their marriage relationships.

In chapters 8 and 9, he says that they were having conflicts over Christian liberty. What do I mean by Christian liberty? I mean arenas where the Scripture does not directly address, but people develop ideas, and then they think that is the ‘spiritual’ way to think. They were flaunting their convictions and they were looking down on other people inside of the church.

Then we come to chapter 12 and he begins to address this whole idea of spiritual gifts. In chapter 12 he starts talking about how they were proud of their spiritual gifts. See, what happens with the Corinthians was this:  they looked at some of the gifts as being superior gifts. In particular, the one they were really impressed with was speaking in tongues, which could easily be translated speaking in languages. Indeed, it would be a pretty cool thing to speak in an unlearned language–that would appear pretty powerful and spiritual. They were more into gifts that were superior looking, more spectacular appearing. And they began to think: I speak in this unlearned, foreign language, sorry you don’t. I’m a little more spiritual than you! They were de-legitimizing other spiritual gifts.

Now, when you look at chapter 12, basically the thrust is for them to understand—you have to understand this—you are a spiritual body together. There are many members of the body and the members have different functions, but every role is important. Why would you say speaking in an unlearned, foreign language is superior to everything else? Every role is important! That is true in the church, always has been true, always will be true. Every role is important.

Then, he comes to chapter 14. Part of the thrust of chapter 14 is, he says, your problem—here is the basic core problem you are having—is  that you are self-oriented. Now, I know there is nobody here today that is self-oriented or ever attempted to be self-oriented. But, theoretically, let’s assume maybe somebody might be like that, right? [sarcastic humor]  He says, you are self-oriented. You are focused on building up yourself. You suffer from self-focus. That is a problem by the way in marriage, if you have two people each focusing on self-focus.

He is saying, you are not to be focusing on yourself, rather what you are to be doing is building up others. It is a huge thrust in chapter 14. Over and over, he says this. He says in verse 3, it’s about their up-building others. The New American Standard Bible, I think uses the word, edification. Edification just means to build up. You have to remember, he says it’s about their up-building others, their encouragement of others. In verse 5, he says it is all about the church being built up. In verse 12, he says to them, strive to excel in building up the church. Then in verse 26, of chapter 14, “Let all things be done for building up.” It is about others, not about yourself!

In the midst of this discussion of chapter 12 and chapter 14, he decides to do a little detour. If you look at the last part of verse 31, in chapter 12, he says, “And I show you a still more excellent way.” I want to show you a still more excellent way than focusing on yourself, and that is learning to relate in the right way to other people. Really, what he was saying to them is: you don’t know what love really looks like, you truly don’t know what love looks like.

So, that is just a little bit of the background of things. That is just The Spiritual Backdrop to what we are going to be looking at. We want to move, this morning, into examining verses 1-3, of chapter 13, where we are going to look at The Indispensability of Love. I want you to know, as he gets ready to share this with the church at Corinth, it was a little bit like he dropped a spiritual nuclear bomb into their fellowship. He basically wants to stress to them that there is one key essential if you want to be fruitful in your Christian life. He is saying to them, if you miss this, you have missed the core of it all. What he is going to introduce them to might be called ‘spiritual mathematics.’ Do you like mathematics? Well, he is going to give us some spiritual mathematics.

Here is the formula that he lays before them and before us today. Everything minus love equals what? What did you say? Nothing! Everything minus love equals nothing. That is the spiritual mathematics that Paul lays before them and before us.

So, here is what I want you to do. As we move into verses 1-3, I want you to hold on to your hats, because we are going to be looking at progressive hyperbole in these next verses. Hyperbole is when you exaggerate something in order to make a point, and we’re going to see progressive hyperbole employed by Paul here.

So, the first thing he is going to say is that Exalted Eloquence without Love equals…what’s the word? I’m sorry, what’s the word?? [audience responds] Nothing, exactly! It means that Exalted Eloquence without Love is nothing. We are a spiritual zero without love.

Look at verse 1. He says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” What is he talking about here? Well, if I speak in—we’’ll just translate it the way it probably should be translated, if I speak in—the languages of men, plural. The implication is, if I can speak (hyperbole) in all the languages of the world—every one of them. And if I could speak in the languages of men all across the globe, and if I could speak in the languages of angels.

Now, historically, some in the Christian world have looked at that statement about speaking in the languages of angels and they go, so now we know, we always wondered exactly what this practice of ‘speaking in tongues’ might be. It tells us here, right here, that speaking in tongues is speaking in a heavenly language. But If Paul were here, he would go, No, that is not what I am saying. He is using progressive hyperbole. He is taking things to the extreme. He is saying, if I could speak in all of the languages of the planet, and if I could even gab with the angel Gabriel, in heaven, but have not love  I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

You know, when I was working my way through this passage again, and I came across that little phrase, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” my mind immediately went to a Saturday Night Live [American comedy program] skit that was starring Christopher Walken and Will Farrell. If you’ve never seen that, go to YouTube and put in ‘More Cowbell SNL’ and it will come up. But what is happening is that Christopher Walken is playing this character where he is this music guru, who knows how to put songs together. And Will Farrell’s character is part of the band.

They are getting ready to record a musical number and Will Farrell has this cow bell and he is going, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, with the cow bell. It starts to irritate the band members and then they stop the recording and they ask Christopher Walken to come back out as they complain. But Walken’s character goes, No, I like that, I’d like to hear more cow bell. So, they go to the next tale and Farrell is bong, bong, bong, bong, you know, even bumping into the other band members and getting right next to their face, bong, bong, bong, bong. Then, finally, they interrupt the session again and Christopher Walken comes out and they are saying, This is nuts, this is driving us all crazy. And Walken’s character  goes, Hey, I want you to know, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cow bell.”

What an interesting picture that is. That’s what I think of when Paul says, if I could speak with all the languages of men and can even gab with Gabriel, but I don’t have love, I’m boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You know it’s, who needs boom, boom, boom, right in your face? It’s nothing!! It’s basically empty.

The second thing he starts talking about is Ultimate Knowledge in verse 2. He says, “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,” and then he wants to talk about Boundless Faith. How about boundless faith…or ‘super faith’? He says, “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains.” You know, if I have such faith that I could speak to the Rocky Mountain range and say move to central Oklahoma so that the town of Vale [a popular ski area] would just be a short drive away. If I could pull that off, what would that mean? See, the progressive hyperbole? He says without love it would be nothing! It would be a spiritual zero.

The fourth thing he brings up is the idea of Total Generosity, in verse 3, look at verse 3. “If I give away all that I have,” …if I’m not giving 10%, I’m not giving 20%, I’m not giving 50%, I’m not giving 90%, but I am giving 100% all the time. Then, he talks about the Practice of Outright Martyrdom in verse 3, “If I deliver up my body to be burned.”

You know, I think part of the spirit behind this last one is a lot like social media. You know what social media is like for most of us…I mean, social media really spends a lot of time where people are saying: Look at me, did you notice what I’m doing? The implication is, don’t you just wish you were me? Look at me, look at me. This is part of what the spirit here. If someone chooses to even be a martyr, the idea being that, hey look at me, look at what I did! I gave up my life!

Notice he goes on to say at the end of the verse, “…but have not love, I gain…” what does it say? “I gain nothing!” I am a spiritual zero. What is the spiritual mathematics formula? Say it with me. Everything minus love equals nothing. That is the formula.

You know what I think is going on here? I think there is an unspoken question behind all of Paul’s comments. The unspoken question is this:  what does it mean to be spiritual? What does it really mean to be spiritual? The message he is trying to communicate is that the spiritual life in any dimension, without love is fruitless. It is fruitless.

Now, let me ask you this question. Why does he throw all this stuff out there? I mean, why? What is the thrust and the goal of verses 1, 2 and 3? What is he trying to get done? I think what he is wanting the Corinthians to do—and what he is wanting us to do—is to lean into learning about the Power of Love. He is trying to get our attention. In other words,  I want you to listen to what I’m going to say in verses 4 and following.

Here is the core principle of what he is saying:  if we lack love there is nothing we can do in our spiritual life that impresses God. If we lack love, there is nothing we can do in our spiritual life that impresses God. It is a lesson that the church at Corinth needed to learn. It is one that we need to learn, and we need to be reminded of.

So, Lord willing, what we are going to be doing over the next four weeks is studying verses 4, 5, 6, and 7. We are going to be looking at the Character of Love. And we are going to look at it in some detail, and in a practical way, so that we can understand what the Character of Love is.

Now, having said everything that we’ve said this morning, I want to share with you some Life Response that I think we can have based on what we’ve looked at.

Here is the first thing. As we get ready to spend four weeks studying the character of love, I would say Let 1 Corinthians 13 Study You, as I let 1 Corinthians 13 study me. This is not just about a mental exercise here. This is about—what does this practically look like in my life? What does this practically look like in my relationship with my roommates, with my fellow students, with my parents, in our marriage, in our church? So, the first thing we can do, as we study these verses on the character of love is to Let 1 Corinthians 13 Study You. I need to let it study me, and you need to let it study you.

The second thing I would say by way of some life response is to Remember Love in the New Testament Comes in the Shape of a Cross. God is love. How was that put into flesh for us? Well, we look to Jesus. It begins with a cross. That is why we talk about the cross, we talk about what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf. For those of us who know Him, what is the central message that the cross communicates? What is the central message that someone climbing on the cross for all of the world communicates about love? Ponder that one, ponder that one.

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You so much, again, for Your Word. We thank You for how real it is; we thank You for how practical it is. We look forward, Lord, to You teaching us over the next few weeks. We would pray that You would, through the Holy Spirit, show us where we need to make some adjustments in our relationships with one another—inside the church; our relationships inside our families; inside of our marriages; all of us need to learn. Because, we understand what this spiritual mathematics is all about, and we don’t want to be men and women who operate in our life apart from the love that You have provided for us. Father, we know that we need You. We need You in this area. Teach us we pray. And, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

The Power of Love

Message 1, 13:1-3

1. Bruce mentioned three classic songs about love.  What other songs about love

    come to your mind?

2.  In chapter 13:1-3 Paul clearly emphasizes this principle:

     If I __________, but do not have love, it means nothing.

     Brainstorm a list of practices or actions that could fill in the blank.

3.  We all can have many different reasons for being tempted to boast about our self to others. What situations tend to most tempt you to be boastful?  Be honest!

4. When you come to church; small group; or a Sunday class, do we approach those times  more often with the mindset “this is about me,” or with the mindset “this is about serving others?”  Why is that?  What can we do to avoid the former and be more consistent with  the latter?

5. How does 1 Peter 4:10-11 apply to this discussion?

6. Bruce said that “Love in the N.T. comes in the shape of a cross.” What would you say that means?

7. Spend some time in prayer asking God to show how we can better reflect His love to others in our world.

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