In Max Lucado’s book, ‘He Still Moves the Stones’, he retells the story of the paralyzed man whose friends carried him to Jesus.
Whether he was born paralyzed or became paralyzed, the end result was the same: total dependence on others. Someone had to wash his face and bathe his body. He couldn’t blow his nose or go on a walk. When he ran, it was in his dreams, and his dreams would always awaken to a body that couldn’t roll over and couldn’t go back to sleep for all the hurt the night dream had brought.
What he needs is a new body, any man in half his mind would say. What he needs is a God in heaven to restore what tragedy had robbed: arms that swing, hands that grip, and feet that dance.
When people looked at him, they didn’t see the man; they saw a body in need of a miracle. That’s not what Jesus saw, but that’s what the people saw. And that’s certainly what his friends saw. So they did what any of us would do for a friend. They tried to get him some help.
…But by the time his friends arrived at the place where Jesus was, the house was full… One said he had an idea. The four huddled over the paralytic and listened to the plan to climb to the top of the house, cut through the roof, and lower their friend down with their sashes. It was risky – they could fall. It was dangerous – he could fall. It was unorthodox – de-roofing is antisocial. It was intrusive – Jesus was busy. But it was their only chance to see Jesus. So they climbed to the roof….
Jesus was moved by the scene of faith. So he applauds – if not with his hands, at least with his heart. And not only does he applaud, he blesses. And we witness a divine love burst.
The friends want Jesus to heal their friend. But Jesus won’t settle for a simple healing of the body – he wants to heal the soul. He leapfrogs the physical and deals with the spiritual. To heal the body is temporal; to heal the soul is eternal. The request of the friends is valid – but timid. The expectations of the crowd are high – but not high enough. They expect Jesus to say, ‘I heal you.’ Instead he says, ‘I forgive you. ’They expect him to treat the body, for that is what they see. He chooses to treat not only the body, but also the spiritual, for that is what He sees. They want Jesus to give the man a new body so he can walk. Jesus gives grace so the man can live. Remarkable. Sometimes God is so touched by what He sees that He gives us what we need and not simply that for which we ask. It’s a good thing. For who would have ever thought to ask God for what he gives? Which of us would have dared to say: ‘God, would you please hang yourself on a tool of torture as a substitution for every mistake I have ever committed?’ And then have the audacity to add: And after you forgive me, could you prepare me a place in your house to live forever?
And if that wasn’t enough: And would you please live within me and protect me and guide me and bless me with more than I could ever deserve? To heal the man’s body took a simple command; to forgive the man’s sins took Jesus’ blood. The first was done in the house of friends; the second on a hill with thieves. One took a word; the other took his body. One took a moment; the other his life… So strong was His love for this crew of faith that He went beyond their appeal and went straight to the cross.[i]
The great need in every time and place has been the same: love. For love acts beyond what any expects. It gives what is needed and more. Without it all the noblest of acts have a hollowness and shallowness about them. All the knowledge in the world cannot replace love as the deepest need of our lives. As we evaluate the world in which we live, we may state that the church needs to exhibit the supernatural in order to get the attention of our fallen society. It is true that this will certainly get the attention of some. But the question is, will it make an eternal difference in their lives? For some it will, but for others, even miracles won’t affect change in their hearts. Even the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus was not enough to open the hardened hearts of some. There is something that each of us can be involved in that may not attract the attention of the crowds, but will certainly impact the lives of individuals we encounter day by day. It is allowing God’s love to flow through our lives. The kind of love that each of us needs can only come from the hand of God. Only He can love us enough. The best that each of us can give to one another falls far short of what each of us needs. We need something that we don’t deserve. The problem is that we need it over and over again. God never tires of us in our need.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church; it was a gifted church with much going for it. In spite of this there was something lacking that was undermining their effectiveness of ministry to each other and the world around them.
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.[ii]
All the giftedness in the world cannot compensate for the lack of this one very important ingredient. Paul in addressing their problems and challenges zeroes in on the heart of the issue. What is motivating their lives? What compels them to do what they are doing? Without the love of God as the compelling force in their lives the church would continue to struggle and be ineffective. What is true for them is equally true for us. Jonathan Smith, author of Gulliver’s Travels, writes: “Often we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”[iii]
In 1 Corinthians 13, we discover the essence of what Christianity is all about. Sandwiched in between the two chapters on the function of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit is the essence of what Christianity is all about. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul focuses in on three aspects of love that not only reveals to us the nature of God who dwells within us, but also the impact of His nature ministering through us.
THE FIRST ASPECT OF GOD’S LOVE REVEALING HIS NATURE WITHIN US IS ITS PREEMINENCE
If we are truly filled with the presence of God, the main characteristic that will flow from our lives is love.
A. The Evidence of God’s nature in our lives is love.
God’s very nature is love and when God’s nature is flowing through our lives, the evidence will be love. Paul calls this the fruit or result of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.[iv]
When we are filled with the Spirit we by nature are keeping God’s law, which is to love Him and others.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.[v]
This is the nature of mature faith. Love is the end result of faith in God. That’s why when explaining the nature of God’s law, Jesus pointed out that love was the highest of all the commands. It is the essence of keeping the law. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Do we love God with the totality of our being? Do we love God with our mind, our energies, time, and effort? The greatest sin is the sin against love.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.[vi]
The Corinthians were caught up with wisdom, eloquence and the gift of tongues. However, they were critical, judgmental, immoral, and greedy; lacking the true evidence of a vibrant faith, which is love toward God and others. In dealing with the problems in the Corinthian church, Paul zeroes in on the proper motivation for life and service, namely love. This word love needs to be defined in our culture because we use that word without thought. The word love is found in the Greek language expressed by a number of different words, with different shades of meaning. This particular word that is used in chapter 13 is the Greek word agape. It was a word that the apostles borrowed and gave a new meaning.
Whereas the highest concept of love before the New Testament was that of a love for the best one knows, the Christian thought of love as that quality we see on the cross. It is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought whether they are worthy or not. It proceeds from the nature of the lover, not from any attractiveness in the beloved.[vii]
Human love focuses on the object as having to be worthy of that love. Whereas with God’s love, it flows from the character of the lover, regardless of the worth or value of that which is being loved.
Agape is the word used almost exclusively in the New Testament when it uses the English translation of love. It is the word we get our English word, ‘agony.’ It means the actual absorption of every part of our being in one great passion. …It is a word that speaks of complete self-denial. …It is always used when the will is involved rather than the emotions. That is why in regard to the Christian attitude to his enemy, this is the word the Lord used: ‘You shall love (agape, agonize over) your enemies.[viii]
Stephen Olford tells of Peter Miller, the Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
‘No, Peter’, General Washington said. ‘I cannot grant you the life of your friend.’
‘My friend!’ exclaimed the old preacher. ‘He’s the bitterest enemy I have.’
‘What?’ cried Washington. ‘You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.’
And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata – no longer an enemy but a friend.[ix]
B. Love above all.
We notice that each of these things that Paul enumerates have value. It is a great thing to communicate the gospel, a wonderful thing to speak in tongues, but apart from love they are merely noise. God works and uses people despite themselves. Our ministry gifts and the results of ministry are never an endorsement to a life. Jesus explains this clearly on the Sermon on the Mount.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’[x]
Take for example, Balaam, that Old Testament false prophet who spoke the truth regarding Israel. Though he longed to die the death of the righteous, he perished in his sinful condition. The apostle Paul reminds us that whatever we do must be prompted and motivated by love. We must speak the truth in love.
…Balaam was a prophet, but he had no love, and therefore he betrayed his prophetic office. Caiaphas, the High Priest, had discernment for he knew that one must be slain for the nation, but he was without love and he became a leader among those who crucified the Lord of glory. Judas Iscariot had knowledge, all that he could acquire at the master’s feet in three years, but he had no love, and he betrayed the Lord.[xi]
C. Right actions but wrong motivation is without value.
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.[xii]
Why would someone do this if not motivated out of love? There are other motivations. A person deceived by a false religious system might lay down their lives for their cause. People may give all in hopes of meriting a reward. We need to live in the strength and motive of Christ’s love. Why love? What is the value? Because all that is done without love is only noise and worthless in the eyes of God. All that we do must be out of love for God, which brings glory to Him.
THE SECOND ASPECT REVEALING THE NATURE OF GOD’S LOVE WITHIN US IS ITS CHARACTERISTICS
What does God’s kind of love look like in a life? How is it fleshed out in our lives? Here in 1 Corinthians, we have a beautiful picture of God’s love being expressed through certain qualities or characteristics. These are the qualities that Jesus is working into our lives.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, 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.[xiii]
This is a beautiful description of the nature of God’s love. It is the true fruit of genuine faith. When we are filled with God’s presence we become this channel of Divine love to others.
These first two clauses, ‘Love is patient, love is kind,’ represent respectively love’s necessary passive and active responses toward others or difficulties in general. The first verb pictures long forbearance toward them—indeed, it is difficult to improve on the KJV’s “suffereth long”; the second pictures active goodness in their behalf. In Pauline theology they represent the two sides of the divine attitude toward humankind (cf. Rom. 2:4). On the one hand, God’s loving forbearance is demonstrated by his holding back his wrath toward human rebellion; on the other hand, his kindness is found in the thousandfold expressions of his mercy. Thus Paul’s description of love begins with this twofold description of God, who through Christ has been shown to be forbearing and kind toward those who deserve divine judgment. The obvious implication, of course, is that this is how God’s people …through Christ and the Spirit are to be toward others.[xiv]
Am I patient and kind toward others, particularly those who have no reason for me to demonstrate that to them; to those who oppose me, persecute me or antagonistic to my way of life? How many find waiting difficult? We are impatient. Waiting for God’s time is critical in life. The power of exhibiting patience is one of the virtues and an expression of God’s love that ought to be fostered in our lives. Anthony Thiselton explains how critical patience is in relationship to others and to life.
Many examples of great things or events simply cannot be rushed: examples of great music; a growing oak tree; and the maturing of a thinker, scholar, or artist. So why does our “postmodern” era ever demand instantaneousness? Why do we demand instant solutions, instant success, instant cures or answers? Would genuine love for the other seek premature closure of what troubles or challenges the other? How important in pastoral work is judging the right time for action (or inaction)? Since God chose to make time, along with space, a dimension of this world, can love fail to respect its timings? Temporal virtue is grounded in God. God will give us time for what God wills; if he gives no time, has God willed it?[xv]
After looking at the two positive expressions of love, we find what love is unlike. We need to remember that Paul is defining love in the context of the Corinthian behavior that he has been addressing throughout this letter. We now come to what love is not.
1. Love does not envy. Alan Redpath shares, “Only love can see the inequalities of life and remain content with its own place.”[xvi]
2. Love does not boast. This is certainly demonstrated by Jesus. He who was in the very nature and image God laid aside His Divine rights and prerogatives and came into our world in obscurity. “Who thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:6).”
3. Love is not proud. The evidence of true spirituality is humility. There is a proper recognition of our spiritual weaknesses and inabilities. There is no greater way to deal with pride than to have a vision of God (cf. Is. 6). That is what happened to Isaiah the prophet in the sixth chapter of his book, and he was transformed.
4. Love does not dishonor others. It is not rude. There is a great need to be courteous, concerned about others, not self-focused. People who are rude are people who are blind to those around them. Love is more concerned about those around them than they are about themselves.
5. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not selfish rather selfless. Love is outward focused, not inward focused. People who are always focused on their needs are immature. That is the nature of a child. The child grows up thinking that he or she is the center of their universe. When we finally grow up, we discover a greater center, and are now free to serve.
6. Love is not easily angered or offended. Love can be indignant about sin, but is not bad tempered. Jesus was indignant with the attitude that his disciples had about children. The disciples saw them as a nuisance. Jesus saw them as in need of love, concern, attention and spiritual formation.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for have him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.[xvii]
7. Love does not keep records of wrongs done against them. Here we are speaking about giving others new opportunities. Are we willing to forgive? Are we willing to let others move on? Now let me preface this with this caution. Forgiveness does not mean trust. Trust may have to be regained. The scriptures say that we ought not to let the sun go down on our wrath. It is a lot easier to address things when they are small than allow things to grow into great offenses. God forgives and scratches from the record.
8. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love does not delight when others fail or fall into sin, but rejoices in what is right.
Love does not delight in exposing the weaknesses of other peop1e. It will weep over sin and be brokenhearted over failure; it will condemn the sin, but love will always yearn to cover and protect the person who has fa1len.[xviii]
You may recall the incident where a woman was caught in the very act of adultery and brought to Jesus. Too often we are quick to throw stones. Jesus didn’t condone her sin, but neither did He condemn her, but forgave and instructed her to go and sin no more. When Peter denied Jesus, the Scriptures state that Jesus looked at Peter and then he remember the words of Jesus that before the rooster would crow twice, he would deny Jesus three times. What did Jesus communicate in his look? It was a look of love and forgiveness. That is what broke Peter’s heart, and why he wept so bitterly.
9. Love always protects. Here the idea is of inviting someone who has been exposed to the rain to shelter under your roof or umbrella. Peter points out that ‘Love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8).” Love is concerned about restoring others.
10. Love always trusts. Love believes the best, rather than suspicious.
11. Love always hopes for the best.
12, Love always perseveres.
Do we fail to live at this level? Humanly speaking it is impossible to maintain. We can only have this love in operation in our lives to the measure that God, the Holy Spirit is ruling and reigning in our lives. If we are still endeavoring to remain in the driver’s seat, we will fail. If we will surrender to God and His ways, His love can come to us and through us.
THE THIRD ASPECT REVEALING THE NATURE OF GOD’S LOVE WITHIN US IS ITS PERMANENCE
Love has an eternal quality to it. It is one of the few things that is permanent. Not only is it permanent, but it never fails. Love always accomplishes its purpose. Love overcomes evil. The gifts all pale in comparison to love. We can bring all kinds of arguments and wisdom to convince someone of the validity of Christ’s claims. We may win all kinds of arguments, but people may refuse to come to Christ. Yet love never fails in reaching the hearts of men and women. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will surrender to Christ. Judas Iscariot was loved to the very end by Jesus, but love did not fail. Jesus loved him to the very end. Jesus did not allow His betrayal from stopping Him from loving the betrayer.
Paul relates three things here about love. First, love never fails. Secondly, love is the real measure of maturity. Thirdly, it is eternal in nature. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love never ends. It is permanent. Whereas gifts, knowledge, and a host of other elements fade away, there are certain virtues that continue. Faith, hope and love. But as the apostle Paul points out, the greatest of these is love. Love lives beyond the limits of time. Love lives beyond the earthly life of the lover, it lives in our memories.
Love never fades from our minds. Love overcomes evil. Jesus gave his heart to you and me that we might live. He gave his life. May we open our hearts and give our hearts to those in need. Love is giving our utmost, our best for the highest good of another. We quickly come to the realization we do not and cannot love like this. We need God’s love to come into our lives and flow through us in order to love like God; unconditionally. Where does it begin? In answer to prayer.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[xix]
The more I have of God, the more of His love is within my heart. But once you ask Him in, you have Him. Yes, but we can have a greater measure of God by giving (surrendering) a greater measure of ourselves to Him. We have as much of God as we have given ourselves to Him. Let us surrender to Him anew and afresh today. May His love reign in our hearts so that we may serve Him and others of His love.
[i] Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones, (Thomas Nelson, 2013), 117-120.
[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iii] Jonathan Smith, Gulliver’s Travel, as quoted by Warren Wiersbe, Be Wise, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 130.
[iv] Galatians 5:22-23.
[v] 1 John 4:8.
[vi] Mark 12:28-31.
[vii] Leon Morris, I Corinthians, Revised Edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 177.
[viii] Alan Redpath, The Royal Route To Heaven, (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1960), 157.
[ix] Leadership Magazine, Loving Enemies.
[x] Matthew 7:21-23.
[xi] Alan Redpath, The Royal Route To Heaven, 159-160.
[xii] 1 Corinthians 13:3.
[xiii] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
[xiv] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle To The Corinthians, Revised Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 705-706.
[xv] Anthony Thiselton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical & Pastoral Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.
[xvi] Redpath, The Royal Route To Heaven, 164.
[xvii] Mark 10:13-16.
[xviii] Redpath, The Royal Route To Heaven, 165.
[xix] Ephesians 3:16-19.