Motivated by LovePastor Lutzer | January 22, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
What is it that distinguishes us from the world? Is it faith? Contentment? In John 13:35, Jesus answers this question: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Supernatural love runs counter to every fiber of the human nature. This is how the early church matured and expanded, and it is how we can grow as well.
Faith is essential to our growth, but the day is coming when faith will no longer be necessary. Love, however, will abide forever. Love is at the heart of it all.
What is it that should distinguish us from the world? Good question! Is it that we should have more money than the world? No. We don’t, and we shouldn’t. Is it that we are more content than the world? Well, we should be, but that’s not the distinguishing characteristic. Jesus made an amazing statement when He said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, by the love that you have for one another.” It’s the kind of love that is visible enough for the people of the world to see. It is so counter-cultural that people pick up on it.
Now the minute we begin to speak about love, many of us become a little bit nervous. We’re nervous because we know that in church history oftentimes love has become everything, and therefore truth has been swallowed up in the presence of love. So you have all these people who say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you believe; it doesn’t matter how you live because, after all, God says, ‘Just love one another,’ and love covers all kinds of things, including truth.”
For example, in the early centuries there was a big debate on what to do with people who, during persecution, lapsed and denied the faith. When the persecution was over they wanted to be welcomed back into the church, and people wondered whether they should be. On the one hand you had those who said, “Of course, we should welcome them back as long as they confess and repent.” After all, the man upon whom supposedly the church was built, Peter, whom some believed to be the first pope, denied Christ under pressure, so who are we to deny forgiveness and restoration to those who do? Others said, “Wait a moment. If we allow these people back into the church, we will be dishonoring martyrdom. And furthermore, what a witness and what a testimony to young people who say, “Well, when persecution breaks out, I can deny the faith and they’ll have me back; no big deal.” So you had the truth people and you had the love people, and it basically put tension in the churches, and almost split the churches. Truth versus love! The Bible says that there must be both. The truth must be spoken in love, but the balance is difficult.
Well, today the pendulum is going to swing in the direction of love. Love! First Corinthians 13 is the chapter, and with your Bibles open, as I know all of yours will be, we want to begin the chapter by looking at the last part of chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul, at the end of the chapter, lists the various gifts in order of importance, and he puts tongues last. By the way, the next message in this series is 1 Corinthians 14. It’s on the doctrine of tongues, so if you wonder what all that is about, show up next time.
So the Apostle Paul says that and he asks in verse 30 of chapter 12: “Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? (The obvious answer is no.) Do all interpret? (No.) But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Paul says that what he’s going to write in 1 Corinthians 13 is greater really than all the gifts. It’s more excellent than being a good prophet or being a good teacher, or even the supernatural gift of tongues that we shall talk about. It is more wonderful than that. It is the way of love.
So because this is a chapter on love, would you let me take your hand today and let us lovingly take a tour through this very famous and wonderful chapter? In verses 1 to 3 the Apostle Paul says that love is necessary. He says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…” I don’t think anybody has ever spoken with the tongues of angels. Paul is just speaking hypothetically. He says, “Even if you could speak with the tongues of angels and you have not love…” He doesn’t say, “I sound like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He says, “I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.” That’s what I am if I exercise a supernatural gift without love.
And then he continues: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…” I want to stop there for a moment because as I was looking at this I thought, “What if we here at The Moody Church were able to hire someone on the staff who had prophetic powers and understood all mysteries and had all knowledge?” Could you imagine how busy his counseling sessions would be? People would sign up from all over the country. At last we have somebody who understands all mysteries, somebody who has all knowledge. He has the gift of knowledge. He would know exactly what to say in this situation. Wouldn’t he be wonderful and awesome?
And then if he came also with the gift of faith so as to remove mountains! Wow! We’d say, “That is really, really an important staff member and shouldn’t he be honored?” Paul says, “If he can do all that, and has not love, he is nothing. He is a zero.” Ouch!
And then Paul continues on something that really almost confuses me, and this is difficult to get your mind around. Now he says something else. Verse 3: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” If I give away everything I have and I’m willing to be a martyr… I thought that that was the quintessential example of what love is. Love does. Love gives, and love sacrifices.
During the days in France during persecution… Whenever I travel in Europe I always like to go to the places where the persecutions took place. In England this past summer I wanted to go to Smithfield. I wanted to go to the prisons where the Christians were kept. There is something about that that fascinates me, the fact that there were so many hundreds and hundreds in England, not to mention in other countries, that were willing to give their lives for the Gospel and the Bible. In France, during times of persecution, when Christians were being martyred sometimes they sang choruses so loudly that the authorities hired a band to drown out the singing of the martyrs on their way to the stake. Paul says, “You know, even if you did that, and had no motive of love, you would be a nothing.” And I want to say, “Paul, this is tough to take,” but it’s God’s Word.
You and I might be able to say this: Though I sing in the choir, though I volunteer for Sunday school, though I am willing to be on the parking committee and miss some Sunday services, though I am a greeter, though I am an usher, though I am involved, though I am generous… Paul says, “If you do it all and the motivation isn’t love, and you don’t know anything about the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, it amounts to zero.” “Love,” Paul says, “is necessary.” Could that be any clearer?
Second, the Apostle Paul says, “Love is special.” It really is very special. Talk about contrary to human nature! Now, Paul doesn’t define it. I want to say, “Paul, give us a definition of love,” and Paul is saying, “No, I’m not going to give you a definition of love. I’m going to describe it to you.” And maybe the only way that love can really be defined is through a description, and so he gives us two positives, eight negatives, and then he picks up some positives again.
Look at what he says. He says, “Love is patient.” It is able to endure without retaliation. It is patient. “Love is kind.” It pays back hurt with kindness. It’s not this kind of a response that says, “You do this to me and I’ll show you a thing or two and I’ll do that to you to get even.” Love doesn’t have to get even. It is irrational.
Then the negatives come. “It is not envious. It delights in the success of others. Love is not jealous. Love doesn’t say, you know, ‘Somebody else is more successful than I,’ and you resent it, or they have more money than you do, or they have a better family than you do. No, no, no, you rejoice when there are those who are above you and those blessed more than you. That’s what love does.
And also, it does not boast or brag. Have you ever met a braggart? They can’t stop talking about themselves. Maybe you’ve heard the story about a man who just spoke about himself, talked about himself all during the meal, and it was almost to the end and he said to his friend, “Well, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” (laughter) You’ve met the kind, haven’t you? I hope you didn’t marry that kind, but they’re out there. Love isn’t like that. Love isn’t the braggart.
“Love is not rude. It is not arrogant.” It is not rude. And that word rude is used elsewhere in 1 Corinthians to refer to someone who leads a woman along. He pretends that he loves her. He gives her ideas in terms of their future, and then he just drops her. He acts in an unbecoming way. Love isn’t like that. Love doesn’t do those sorts of things.
Love does not insist on its own way. Love can enable a man to go along with his wife’s idea even if he believes deep in his heart she may be wrong and he is right. Love says, “I don’t need my own way.”
“Love is not irritable.” It doesn’t lose its temper in heavy traffic. And by the way, don’t you ever lose your temper in heavy traffic if you have an “I Love Jesus” bumper sticker. Alright? (laughter) Don’t do that. It’s better that nobody knows that you know Jesus. Love is not irritable. Love can let somebody in your lane even though you have a right to continue going because you are not irritated.
“Love is not resentful.” It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs—no private file of personal grievances that is stacked up for years that can be accessed with a click of a mouse. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing. It doesn’t get on the phone and say, “You won’t believe what So-and-So did, but it’s just like them, isn’t it? Did you hear about this?” Love does not slander. Love does not spread stories even if they are true, if they are negative about people. “Love prays. Love endures. Love protects. Love does not rejoice in wrong-doing.” Therefore, it never spreads wrongdoing or talks about wrongdoing unless it’s to people who are part of the problem.
You’ll notice now the positive qualities again. It bears all things. It believes all things, always giving people the benefit of the doubt. It hopes all things. It hopes for the best. It endures all things. Let that sink into your soul. It endures all things. Now I do want to put a parenthesis there and say that if you are being abused then go for help. But love has a way of enduring beyond natural rational expectation.
And then you know, of course, that as Paul ends this it is very clear that this is not the kind of atmosphere that you have in the offices in the loop. Have you ever noticed that? And this is not the kind of atmosphere that is in most homes, though it should be a part of Christian homes. This is a supernatural kind of love that runs counter to every fiber of our natural born nature. Supernatural love!
Paul then says also that love is eternal. It’s eternal. You’ll notice it says in verse 8 and following: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away.” All those wonderful sermons, all the cassette tapes, all those CDs—they’ll be gone. Boom! Thank you very much!
“As for tongues, they will cease (the gift that everyone in Corinth wanted, the one that we will talk about next time); as for knowledge (that is the gift of knowledge), it will pass away.” Why? It’s because we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes (when we are in the presence of Jesus) these things will not be necessary. They are only glimmers. “We see through a mirror dimly,” he says. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I began to understand the value of things, and the things that I considered to be important as a child no longer are as important to me as an adult. And I now begin to see more clearly what reality is. And when the perfect is come we will finally know even as we have been fully known. Verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
This gives us hope—that when we get to heaven we are going to find an answer to many of our questions. And the knowledge that we have in our hearts, the desire that we have to be able to understand, indeed God may grant it to us. I also believe that when we get to heaven we won’t have to wear nametags. We’ll know each other intuitively just like Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. I don’t think they had to be formally introduced: “Now this is Moses, and this is Elijah, and be sure to keep them straight!” I don’t think so, because at that time we’re going to have knowledge that we do not have today. And notice that the text says (I am in verse 13): “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love,” because the day is going to come when faith is going to be unnecessary. Faith is going to give way to sight. Hope is going to be unnecessary because hope will be reality. But what’s going to abide forever is love. That’s what God says is the more excellent way. Love is at the heart of it all.
Now as you look at this, you are aware, of course, that we’re talking about a supernatural kind of love. That’s why it is so important to realize that love is the distinguishing mark of the church because we don’t have this kind of love naturally. There’s a big difference, and you must contrast human love and divine love. Human love is dependent upon the one who is loved. I love you because you are lovable. I love you because of what you do for me. I love you because of the way in which you make me feel. I love you because I think that you can help my career. I love you because of what you do for me. That is human love.
And there are two things that attract us to other people. The first is appearance. If you were born beautiful, and I’m looking over the congregation right now to see that indeed there are some of you who fit into that category, you had all kinds of advantages. When you were a little child your mother got stopped in the supermarket because people wanted to look at you and to see you smile, whereas the rest of us just had to keep on going in the shopping cart. (laughter)
Beauty is a tremendous advantage. It is also in our culture a tremendous curse, particularly for young women who get lured into relationships because of their beauty. One time I was speaking at a college and I was explaining this in more detail, and I said that beauty is a curse, and I explained what I meant. And I am told that later one of the young women went into a room, looked into the mirror, and said, “Oh God, if beauty is a curse, would you smite me with it, and may I never recover.” (laughter) We’re attracted to people who are beautiful.
And then the other thing, of course, is personality—people who just ooze charisma. We’re attracted to them, particularly the charmers. You women, you know the charmer. Oh he makes you feel so good. Of course, you don’t know that there’s a good chance that he’s actually concealing all kinds of hidden motives and insecurities and even anger. But you don’t know that. You say to yourself, “Oh, he just loves me to death. He just loves me to death.” And what you don’t realize is that it is human love based upon the one who is loved. He loves you because of what he thinks you can do for him.
The Song of Solomon is a poem about human love, and husbands, you can read this to your wives. It’s found in the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament. “Behold you are beautiful, my love. Behold, you are beautiful. Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down from the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one of them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and you mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like the halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.” Are you enjoying this? (laughter) “Your neck is like the Tower of David, built in rows of stone. On it hang a thousand shields, and all of them the shields of warriors.” That’s human love.
You say, “Well, is there anything wrong with human love?” Of course not! It’s what makes the world go ‘round. It ensures the existence of the next generation. There’s nothing wrong with human love, but there is one problem with it, and that is it cannot endure the storms. That’s the problem with purely human love.
Many years ago I was preaching in Peoria and a woman came up to me after I preached, and she showed me her arm, which was still scarred. And she told me this story. She said that she was burned on 80 percent of her body. She had terrible scars all over. It was a wonder that she didn’t lose her life. And when she was in the hospital her husband came and saw this very marred and scarred deformed body, and he said, “You know, you are not the woman I married.” And he left her and divorced her to marry someone who was healthier and more beautiful and had a better body. That’s human love.
Human love says, “As long as you are doing something for me I can love you, but when you stop doing things for me and when you stop being the person I thought I married, when you begin to cause me difficulty, and when hardships come into the marriage, I’m out of here,” because human loves says I can only take so much. It is only divine love that endures. It’s the love of 1 Corinthians 13.
Many years ago there was a song that said, “I don’t love you anymore. To waste our lives would be a sin, so release me, dear, so that I could love again.” And we might add “and again, and again, and again” because what human love always does is it sees a better deal somewhere else, because human love is saying, “What’s in it for me? Who would benefit me the most?”
I want you to contrast this with divine love. Divine love is based on the lover. Divine love says, “I can love you even if you change because the love of God is coming into my heart. It is shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit, so I can put up with you. And I can endure all things,” as we read in the text, “because the love is coming from God.”
And that’s the kind of love that God had for us. It says in Romans 5: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—(but now notice) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He loved us when there was as yet no response whatever from us. He went on loving us anyway, and set up a scheme of salvation that would eventually capture our hearts. But He loved us when we were in rebellion. He loved us when we were very, very unlovable, and He loved us anyway. (applause)
That’s why divine love is the fruit of the Spirit. You read 1 Corinthians 13, and what do we have? We have a discussion here of what the fruit of the Spirit looks like. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy! It’s supernatural. It comes from above. It is not generated by your nature or my nature. It comes to us from God, and that’s why we can love.
There are some of you here today who don’t know that work of the Spirit, maybe because you’ve never trusted Christ as your Savior. That’s one reason, and I appeal to you to believe in Jesus as Savior. But there are others of you who trusted Christ as Savior, but if I may be so clear as to say that your heart is so full of resentment, of anger toward God and toward others. Your heart does not give the Spirit of God (that has been poured out upon His people) an opportunity to work in you, and therefore there is no help from God in the midst of your situation.
Many years ago when they went into the pyramids of Egypt they discovered that grain was buried along with the Pharaohs, and surprisingly, though this grain was thousands of years old, they took it and put it in some soil and gave it some sunshine and some water, and it grew. There you have the life in the kernel, but it is there. It cannot break forth. It is helpless. It cannot reproduce. Why? It’s because, as Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat falls into the grounds and dies, it abides alone.” Now, if we are willing to die to our selfish interests and die to our resentments, then we discover that the power of God and the love of God, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the blessed Holy Spirit of God, begins to do His work in us, and we love on a supernatural level and not just the natural level of love. That’s what divine love is.
And by the way, that’s the way the early church won the world for Christ in the paganism. One day, Bishop Sam Wale, who died in a hail of gunfire when Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Egypt in the early 1980s, told a friend of mine how Christianity captured pagan North Africa. He said that in those days there wasn’t abortion as we know it today, but people took babies that they didn’t want and they left them on the steps to die. If somebody came along and wanted a baby, they could pick it up. If not, the baby would just cry itself to death from starvation.
Now what should the church do? What they did is they organized “baby runs,” and they went into the highways and the byways looking for abandoned babies. And remember in those days they did not have baby bottles, so they brought them to nursing mothers who adopted these children as if they were their own. And the world took note and said, “Where in the world is all this love coming from?”
And then when the plagues came the Christians died differently, as I’ve mentioned many times. And that gave great impetus to the Christian cause because they died with hope. But furthermore, they would take these dead bodies (Many of the Christians were garbage collectors because they were marginalized. They were given the poor jobs.) that were trashed and would wash them and bury them, arguing that in light of the resurrection and final judgment, even the wicked have a right to a decent burial. And through acts of kindness they won the world. They gained credibility. That’s the way we’re going to touch the world, folks. That’s the way it’s going to be done.
You have heard me say that the world can out-entertain us, the world can out-finance us, the world can outnumber us, but let it never be said that the world can out-love us (applause) because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us. Supernatural love!
Some of you may be acquainted with the name Charles Weigle, though I wouldn’t expect you to be. He lived many, many years ago. He wrote the hymn No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus, and that’s why I know of him. But Charles Weigle was in Pasadena, California, one time at a Bible conference at where he was speaking, and one evening when he came into the meeting someone said to him, “Did you enjoy the rose gardens?” and he said, “Yes.” He thought that he had been seen, and that was fine. But then somebody else said, “Hey, did you enjoy the rose gardens?” And he began to think, “Wow, I wonder how many people were out there.” And then he heard it from others and he said, “How come all of you know that I was in the rose garden?” And they said, “It’s because you brought the fragrance of the roses with you.”
How are people in the loop tomorrow going to know that you’ve been with Jesus? That’s the question. How are people in your family and in your sphere of influence going to know that you’ve been in the presence of Jesus? It’ll only happen if we bring the fragrance along with us. And when we bring that fragrance, oftentimes we don’t even have to tell people that we belong to Jesus because they’ll know that we have brought His fragrance, His love, His caring, His concerns because our selfish interests have been put to death and we say, “Jesus, love through me; care through me; live through me.” That’s what 1 Corinthians 13 is all about.
Some of you who are listening to this,
the Holy Spirit has been working in your heart. You know that there are blockages to the love that God wants to have in your heart, and the blockages are deep and I understand that they are there. And I’m not being naive about our ability to put them away. All that I know is that if we do everything else and lack love, we are nothing.
Will you join me as we pray?
So what has God said to you today in this message? What do you need to say to Him today?
Father, would You, by the blessed Holy Spirit of God, do what my words cannot do? Would You untie the knots? Would you generate faith? Would You give life? Would You give hope that has long since died? And would You help all of us in a moment of real honesty to examine ourselves and ask: “Who do we hate, who do we dislike, how does 1 Corinthians 13 apply to us?” In those hearts in which You have begun a work, complete it we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.