Love - Not a vague things but definable 2

Text 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 Time 28/09/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about Christian love. We have emphasised the importance of love and said that, for the Christian, it is absolutely essential. We have also said that it is not something vague – a warm feeling or something like that – no, it can be defined.
We began by saying last week that (positively) true love is marked by patience and kindness and (negatively) that it does not envy or boast or get puffed up with pride.
We drew these points from verse 4 where Paul begins to describe love by personifying it. Now what I want to do today is to focus on verses 5-7 where we learn some more about what love is. There Paul says 10 things altogether, all very briefly. Five statements are negative and five are positive. So we say
1. Five more negative things never characteristic of love. Are you turning from them?
1. Love is never rude - Are you? It is not rude says Paul of love at the beginning of verse 5. It doesn't act in an unseemly way the old versions say. It is a rare word and it refers to not dishonouring a person. This follows on from not being envious, proud or boastful. There is a selfishness and a lack of sympathy about being rude or disrespectful to another person and that is quite out of step with being loving. Paul has already said (12:23) by way of a picture of the body as being like the church that the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty. He will go on to speak about doing things in a fitting and orderly way. Here he highlights the honouring way that love acts.
I heard a story about John Wesley. He was once travelling about and had as one of his companions an army officer who was intelligent and agreeable in conversation but with one serious drawback – he couldn't stop swearing. At a certain point they changed vehicles. Wesley took the officer aside and, after expressing the pleasure he had enjoyed in his company, said that he had a favour to ask of him. The young officer replied, "I will take great pleasure in obliging you, for I am sure you will not make an unreasonable request." "Then," said Wesley, "as we have to travel together some distance, I beg that, if I should so far forget myself as to swear, you will kindly reprove me." The officer immediately saw the motive and felt the force of the request and smiling said "None but Mr Wesley could have conceived a reproof in such a manner." And so without being at all rude Wesley was able to deliver a loving rebuke and spare himself and everyone else this man's rudeness.
Sometimes people make excuses for their rudeness. “Someone has to tell him”. “I speak as I find”. “I like to be upfront about things”. If we love people we will not be rude to them.
2. Love is never self-seeking - Are you?
Next love is not self-seeking. It does not insist on its own way says the ESV. We have already suggested that selfishness, which is all about me, is the very opposite of love, which is all about others. In 1 Corinthians 10:24 Paul has said No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Philippians 2:4 is similar. There we are called on not to look only to our own interests but also to those of others. Rather, like Paul himself, we must (32, 33) not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God but try to please everyone in every way. For says Paul I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Our greatest model here and all the way along, of course, is Jesus Christ himself as Philippians 2 makes clear. He did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Those who follow him ought to be like him, especially in this respect. We have been bought with a price and we are no longer our own anyway.
Here is another searching question then – Am I self-seeking or am I able to put others first? If I am a Christian then, as it has been put, I am third. God must come first, then others and myself last.
3. Love is never easily angered - Are you? it is not easily angered,
Here is another test for love. We can call it the temper test, although anger can come out in different ways – some blow up, some just sulk. Love, says Paul, is never easily angered. He does not make the mistake of saying that love is never angry. One can imagine circumstances where the right and loving response might be anger. What Paul protests against rather is an attitude that quickly flares up at the least provocation. That is not in harmony with love at all and is a good test of whether we really love or not. Whenever we become angry or we are tempted that way, it is good to ask ourselves if we are right to be angry and if we think we are then we should consider whether we are handling that anger rightly.
It is good to speak to ourselves sometimes – the first sign of coming to our senses my old minister used to say. Why am I angry? Is it really all about nothing at all – just a misunderstanding perhaps? Or am I getting angry about something that is really quite trivial in the end? Am I angry because this impugns God's honour or is it just another case of me being selfish? Am I in danger of being more angry than this really merits?
I think all these virtues remind us of our Saviour. Think of what Peter says of Jesus on trial (1 Peter 1:23) When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He is our example as well as being our Saviour.
So what about anger? Is it one of the things stopping you from being a loving person, your anger? If so, we need to repent and look to the Lord for help.
4. Love never keeps a record of wrongs – Do you?
The NIV has it keeps no record of wrongs. The old versions say it does not think evil. The word used does have the idea of reckoning up, as in a ledger, however, and so the idea of keeping a record of wrongs or counting up mistakes is what Paul is talking about.
You know how in a relationship people are tempted to bring up the past. “That's what you did last time”; “This is what you always do”; “you've done it again”; “I knew you would do that”
Or sometimes it is worse than that “I'll never trust him again” “I owed you that” “you deserved that” “you had it coming”.
Now Paul is saying that if we really love then the keeping of accounts, totting up the number of times a person has wronged us, will have no place.
Now I don't think the Bible wants us to be stupid. If someone is in the habit of punching you in the face, remember to duck next time! However, as far as we can we must let a person start each time with a clean sheet and not hold his past over him all the time. Give him the benefit of any doubts as far as you can.
You see, every time we pray, as we are taught to pray, forgive our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us we are really committing ourselves to not remembering what people may have done against us. If God is willing to wipe the late clean we should be too. We want God to forget our sins against him and so we must forget what others have done against us. Sometimes that is easy but sometimes it is not. It is hard sometimes to forgive.
Have you heard that expression “I will forgive but I won't forget”. That is not the right attitude at all. Forgiving includes forgetting as far as we can. Of course, there is also “I can forgive but I can't forget”. It is hard to forget sometimes. There is a story that the Dutch woman Corrie Ten Boom once told. She was finding it difficult to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept going over the incident so that she couldn't sleep. She called out to God for help to put the problem to rest. “His help” she wrote “came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor, to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks." 'Up in the church tower,' he said, nodding out the window, 'is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there's a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.' And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force - which was my willingness in the matter - had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether ...”
Forgiving and forgetting then? Is that how we go about it? That is the way of love. Love is never resentful. It is not censorious but thinks the best of others whenever it can. It remembers when it points the finger that four are pointing back to oneself.
5. Love never delights in evil – Do you? Love does not delight in evil. The final negative prepares us for the first positive. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It is a sort of summary statement. Let's begin with the negative. Love does not delight in evil. It is not happy about anything evil. Still speaking of love as a person then Paul says that if it is evil then love will have no delight in it. It will not want to be involved. Obviously love does not try to hurt or injure anyone. Love is never happy either when it sees vices in other people; it can find no delight in their being found guilty of wrongdoing. To hear someone else accused of sin is unpleasant, especially if it proves true. Malicious gossip holds no attraction. We are especially grieved to hear that a minister or someone else in the church has fallen into sin. Love does not desire even that an enemy - a persecutor or slanderer - should do evil or disgrace and ruin himself.
Clive James the Australian writer and critic is very ill and has terminal emphysema. He once wrote a poem, mostly in jest I suppose, about his enemy. It begins

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.
It is quite funny but not a poem a Christian would want to write.
Here is a fifth negative then. Are you ever happy when something evil happens? Why? How can that be compatible with love? Yes, we are glad when persecution comes to an end? When our tormentors are removed? But would you be glad to hear of Richard Dawkins or someone like that dying without repenting? Surely not.
2. Five more positive things characteristic of love. Are they things seen in you?
The five negatives are followed by five positives and perhaps we can be more brief with these now that we have built up a good picture of what love is like.
1. Love rejoices with the truth – do you? but rejoices with the truth. We have said that love never delights in evil. In contrast, Paul says not that love rejoices with the good but with the truth. The point is that whereas love does not delight in the vices of others, it does rejoice in their virtues. If anyone does anything that us at all likely to be pleasing to God then we should be glad. As long as good is done and the truth is defended and advanced we should be happy.
Take the hymn book by way of example. All the hymns in this book are good. They are all worth singing. They are not all by Baptists by any means. They are not all by Reformed writers. You could imagine someone putting a hymn book together perhaps and saying we need more Baptists in here – less Charles Wesley and John Newton more John Fawcett and Anne Steele. Well that is not only foolish but unloving. What matters is the truth of the hymn not whether the writer was a Baptist or not. The same extends to who is a successful preacher or evangelist or which churches have large congregations.
Love is always glad to see the gospel going forward by whatever means. Remember what Paul says in Philippians 1. Some people were preaching the gospel in love he says but others were preaching out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? he concludes The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Is out love of the truth making us more loving people? Is it giving us the breadth and loving attitude we should have?
This positive is followed by four more very brief positives – Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. So finally
2. Love always protects – do you? It always protects. The old versions have “it bears all things” but the word used is one that refers to a roof or covering and the idea is more likely to be in line with what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Now when it comes to covering up sins there is a wrong and aright covering up of sins.
The Roman Catholic church and others have rightly been criticised for cases where they covered up the child abuse committed by several of its priests. However kindly meant that action was it has simply meant they have gone on to abuse other children in other places. That is clearly not right.
On the other hand, there are situations where it is right and loving to cover up a person's sins. Take situation such as if a young woman finds she is pregnant but unmarried. What should her parents do when they find out? (I am assuming the relationship is good enough for her to tell them). Throw her out? No not at all. They help her all they can. She may be in a position to marry. The character of the wedding is not going to be what it might have been otherwise but the best can be made of it. May be marriage is not appropriate and the young woman will quietly give birth – perhaps it will be better for her to move elsewhere. Love always protects.
Once again such a statement test us. Are we covering up the sins of others in an appropriate way? Love will put up with a lot. There are difficult questions. Here is a minister and from time to time he gets drunk. Does the church sack him? Do they give him a final warning? Or do they try and persevere with him and help him as best they can out of love?
3. Love always trusts – do you? always trusts This is no surprise. We have hinted that this is the loving attitude from time to time. We have also tried to say that this does not mean that the loving person is stupid and easily taken advantage of. It is only the simple person who believes everything (Proverbs 14:15). Nevertheless, there is a trusting attitude connected with love. It is an optimistic attitude, an attitude that is well disposed to the object of its love. Surely anyone who knows anything about love must see that trust is basic to love. If I don't trust a person how can I say I love him?
Here is a couple who have had troubles. The husband has hurt the wife but they are back together and they are trying to make a go of it. Now if she does not trust him not to hurt her again there can be no future for them. Have you ever done that thing when you sway right over until someone catches you. You can only do it with someone you really trust, someone you know cares for you.
Trust and love go together then. No trust, no love; no love, no trust.
4. Love always hopes – do you? always hopes Faith and hope often go together and here they are together here with love, in which both are essential. Hope is more than optimism. It is something God gives. Who would give this world a hope when we see some of the things that happen. But if God gives you hope then there is real hope. Somebody has written that “Hope is averse to sourness and gloom. It takes sunny and cheerful views of man, of the world, and of God, because it is a sister of love.”
Trust and hope also go together. If you really love, you will go on hoping.
5. Love always perseveres – do you? always perseveres. My mother used sometimes to say, exasperated with her son “ I give up”. She never did though. Why? Because she loved me. And I you love someone you will not give up on them. You will persist in loving them. All around us people are giving up; we must not.

Love - Not a vague thing but definable 1

Text 1 Corinthians 13:4 Time 21/09/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

Love me do, PS I love you, She loves you, Can't buy me love, And I love her, You've got to hide your love away, It's only love, All you need is love.
They're all titles of Beatles songs from the 1960s. It has been calculated that The Beatles used the word love 613 times altogether in their songs (more than any other word but the, a, and, me, I and you!) In 1965 they had a song that went

Say the word and you'll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I'm thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?
It's so fine, It's sunshine
It's the word, love …

Give the word a chance to say
That the word is just the way

It's the word I'm thinking of
And the only word is love
It's so fine, It's sunshine
It's the word, love - Say the word, love (4 times)

I mention this as an example of how love is such an important subject to so many people. I could make the same point from the current Top 40 almost as well (I know as I have checked).
We've begun to look at 1 Corinthians 13, the famous New Testament chapter about love. We just looked at the first three verses last time. You may remember how we used the illustration of
A woman making cupcakes. She gets the butter, the sugar, the flour, the eggs and a little salt and flavouring and follows the recipe carefully but the cupcakes come out completely flat. Why? Because she didn't put any baking powder in! She missed out an essential, a vital ingredient.
And so there are Christians and they may be very clever and they may have many talents. They seem to work hard and seem to be very active and in many ways are very spiritual. But there is something missing. Everything is flat, as it were, because they lack the essential, the vital ingredient of love. All the ingredients are there bar one.
Love then is essential. But that raises the question of what exactly we mean by love.
Some of you will remember the famous 1981 TV interview with the newly engaged Prince Charles and Diana. Near the end of the interview the interviewer says “And I suppose in love”. Diana says “of course” but Charles says “whatever in love means”, which proved to be more than interesting given what came out subsequently and what happened in that failed marriage.
Prince Charles is often derided for not knowing what “in love” meant but there are no doubt many other people who would be hard pushed to define love or would even take the view that you can't define it. Some would make the definition so broad that you could never come to an end of it. One woman made a living producing cartoons, that first appeared in the seventies, all containing a statement beginning Love is …. Eg “Love is all about communication … taking one day at a time … when you never want to let go …” and most famously “… never having to say sorry.”
Western philosophy is interested in defining love. It often does so in psychological, evolutionary, naturalistic or mystical terms. People often (rightly) want to differentiate between physical, emotional and spiritual love.
Now Paul does not really give us a dictionary definition of love here in 1 Corinthians 13 but he does tell us quite a bit about what he (the inspired apostle) understands love to be. If you heard the apostle say 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 and turned to him (Prince-Charles-like) and said “Ah but Paul, what is love?” he would have none of it. In verses 4-7 he says some 15 things about love, personifying it to bring it alive - Love is patient, love is kind he says. That's the sort of person we can say is a loving person. He says of love It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud and goes on (5-7) It is not rude, 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, etc.
So away with any idea of love being some vague mystical, undefinable idea, some airy fairy notion. No, it is very definite, very practical.
Today we will just consider what Paul says in verse 4, where we find some five statements on the subject. The first two are positive, the second three are negative. It is good to examine ourselves in the light of these observations and ask ourselves whether we are truly characterised by love in our interactions with others. So
1. Two positive things that always characterise true love. Are they seen in you?
1. Love is always patient – are you?
Paul's first statement is that Love is patient. More literally, it is longsuffering or persevering. This suggests love even when there is a lot of provocation and when it goes on for some time. One paraphrase says “love is never tired of waiting”. Paul does not say Patience is love. People can be patient for various reasons – trying to catch a fish, waiting for a parcel. Patience is not always loving but love is always patient. This means that when people hurt us or there are afflictions from God's hand the loving person goes on loving. People may mock him or persecute him but he still loves, for the sake of Christ and his gospel, just as Jesus himself did. Such a person is slow to get angry when he is abused. He is not quick to be resentful. He is not eager for revenge when he is insulted. He does not resent being provoked. He is marked by forbearance, longsuffering, patience. He keeps loving and is always ready to forgive. He does not get agitated about things either. He is willing to let things go.
A great example of persevering love for us is William Carey, the great pioneer missionary to India. His sister once said of him that whatever he began, he finished. Difficulties never discouraged him. His brother noted how he was ‘determined never to give up a particle of anything on which his mind was set ... He was neither diverted by allurements nor driven from its search by ridicule or threats’. In a famous statement Carey himself wrote, ‘I can plod. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.’
This was a feature of his life at many points.
First, there was his plod to get the whole mission to India off the ground. It is difficult to appreciate, at this distance in time, what a task it was to share his vision. Andrew Fuller remembered how Carey’s ‘heart burned incessantly with desire for the salvation of the heathen’. By 1788, he had already attempted to write a pamphlet setting out his arguments for bringing the gospel to the heathen. However, he felt incompetent to finish it and had no way of getting it published, anyway. He unsuccessfully tried to persuade others to write. Eventually his famous Enquiry appeared in 1792, the year he preached his equally famous sermon Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God from Isaiah 54. The ministers met the next morning and he was determined not to let another opportunity pass. ‘Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?’ he asked, gripping Fuller’s arm. At last persistence paid off. That day the Particular Baptist Missionary Society was formed.
Then, even when he reached India, it was nearly seven years before the first convert, Krishna Pal was baptised at the end of 1800. Sadly, many missionaries today would already have given up well before that point.
Over the years, besides a host of other work, Carey translated the Bible into Bengali, Ooriya, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. How did he do it all in that strength-sapping heat? From the time they reached India, his wife, Dorothy, was in a fragile mental state. There were also deaths (including his young son in 1794), many disappointments, a breach with the Society back home and many set-backs. Through it all he learned, in his own words, the need ‘of bearing up in the things of God against wind and tide’.
In 1812, a particularly devastating blow struck. The printing house accidentally burned down. Paper, new type, irreplaceable manuscripts - all were lost. His reaction is exemplary. ‘In one night the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the divine ways ... The Lord has laid me low that I might look more simply to Him.’ That Sunday he preached from Psalm 46 on God’s right to do his will, and our duty to acquiesce. He wrote to Fuller, ‘The ground must be laboured over again, but we are not discouraged ... God has a sovereign right to dispose of us as He pleases.’
And what about us? Are we persevering in doing good? Do we refuse to get tired of waiting when things seem to be against us? If we are then we have some idea of love. If not, we have reason to question whether we love at all. Persevering love is something we need today. It imitates God and shows how thankful we are to him. If we love God it will humble us and make us more ready to bear injuries. We will tend to see God's hand in our troubles too. This sort of meekness shows, as Jonathan Edwards puts it, true greatness of soul.
2. Love is always kind – are you?
Paul also says that love is kind. The word Paul uses is very like the word for Christ. It is a rare word and Paul may have made it up in this form. The idea is of being kind to someone, making yourself useful to them. Tyndale uses the word courteous. Again kindness is not love but love will always be kind. Love is good-natured, gentle, tender, affectionate. It is benign, well-disposed to others.
You know the name Barnardo. Dr Barnardo's is still a well known charity today. It was founded by Dublin born Thomas John Barnardo, who appears to have been a true evangelical Christian. He was born in 1845 and when he was 16, he decided he ought to become a medical missionary in China. He moved to London in order to train to be a doctor. He was always known as Dr Barnardo but the truth is that he never actually completed his studies at the London Hospital. During his time in London, Thomas Barnardo became interested in the lives of the poor. He was appalled by the number of people living on the streets of London and he witnessed the horrific effects of cholera, unemployment and overcrowding. He decided to put aside his plans to go to China and opened his first ‘ragged school’ to educate and care for poor orphans in 1867, in the East End. One of his pupils, a boy called Jim Jarvis, took Barnardo on a walk of the East End, showing him the sheer number of poor children sleeping rough. Barnardo was so moved by the sight that he decided to do something about it. In 1870, he opened a home for boys in Stepney Causeway, providing shelter for orphans and destitute children. A sign hang on the building said: ‘No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission’. He founded the Girls’ Village Home in Barkingside. It consisted of a collection of cottages and was home to 1500 poor girls. During his life Barnardo continued to open institutions that helped to care for poor children. By his death in 1905 it is estimated that his homes and schools cared for over 8000 children in more than 90 different locations.
This is an outstanding example of kindness, of course, but one that could be duplicated many times over in others. Kindness does not always lead to something big but it does mean to say that an attempt is made to help those in need.
Do you know those wonderful words in 1 John 3:16-18 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
What about us then? Are we kind people? Are we eager to make ourselves useful to others? If we are then we have some idea about what love is. If not, we have reason to question whether we love at all.
2. Three negative things that are never characteristic of love. Are you turning from them?
Secondly, I want us to consider three negatives
1. Love is never envious – Are you?
Paul says of love It does not envy. It does not get jealous of others. You can't love if you are busy envying others and thinking about what they've got. Love is about other people not about you.
The nineteenth century Scots preacher Andrew Bonar kept a diary that was published after his death. In one place he writes "This day 20 years ago I preached for the first time as an ordained minister. It is amazing that the Lord has spared me and used me at all. I have no reason to wonder that He used others far more than He does me. Yet envy is my hurt, and today I have been seeking grace to rejoice exceedingly over the usefulness of others, even where it cast me into the shade. Lord, take away this envy from me!"
F B Meyer had the same feelings when he saw how successful G Campbell Morgan was when he followed him at a big conference. "The only way I can conquer my feelings” he confessed “is to pray for Morgan daily, which I do."
In 1 John 3:10b-12 we read Anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love his brother. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? It was put of envy. Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.
Many a minister who is honest will tell you the same thing. When he hears of success in another church a little part of him is envious. He wishes it was him. And the people are not that different to their ministers. The temptation to envy others their successes is often there. It is not consistent with love though, is it? How can it be?
2. Love never boasts – Do you?
In 2007 a cartoon movie came out called Surf's up. It was a spoof on surf documentaries. One of the characters is a penguin called Tank “the shredder” Evans. In one scene Tank boasts about his success. The interviewer asks him what he likes about surfing. Tank is straight out with it
What is it about surfing that you love?
I love being the centre of attention … because it's really where I should be.”
Then he says
And I love the looks my ladies give me, you know? The little glint. I love that. I love holding the ladies. - You know what I'm talking about? - I think so.”
Sort of” says the interviewer. Tank then takes him behind a curtain to see his ladies.
Come with me” says Tank “Put this curtain in myself. These are my ladies. This is Jill. This is my lady, Amy. Little Suzie. Briana. - You know why we call her Briana? - No. It's a long story. Shaniqua. Helga. Miss Kitty. Jeannie. I dream of ... Theresa. … This spot? This spot is for my special lady, Lia. I'm gonna say that one more time. Lia. Oh, yeah. That's a sweet, sweet lady.”
Now all the while he is not talking about women but trophies.
He is finally interrupted by his mother shouting “Tank! Are you polishing your trophies again?”.
This is parody, of course, but there are some people who do more boasting than they do loving.
It does not boast. Love and showing off are inconsistent. Love never has a “hey look at me” attitude. It doesn't brag. Again, it just won't work. Love is all about someone else whereas boasting or bragging is all about pushing yourself forward. The two are incompatible.
Way back in Chapter 1 of this letter Paul had said to them (1:26-29) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
Here he reminds them that where there is love boasting is out of place. If we are boastful then we are not going to love.
3. Love is never proud – Are you?
The third and final negative is that it is not proud. It isn't puffed up with itself. One may not boast or show off but one can still be proud on the inside. This is no more consistent with love than the former because once again it is all about me and not about others.
Let's consider then. Are we arrogant and self promoting or are we those who truly love as we ought to in Christ.
Some final questions
1. Are we being patient with one another?
2. Are we being kind to one another?
3. Let's not envy one another
4. Let's not be boastful or proud – this is always inimical to love.
Let me close by quoting to you again from 1 John (2:7-11, 4:7-12)
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. … Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Love essential not optional

Text 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Time 14/09/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most wonderful chapters in the Bible, one of the most wonderful pieces anywhere for that matter. When my mother was a child she learned it off by heart in school. She could still recite it all the way through I think when she was older. She had learned the King James Version English, of course, which uses the word charity instead of love.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. … Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up …. “
I particularly remember when she would come to the part where Paul says
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Not only is it a wonderful poem but it is about love. That's why it is often read at weddings. Some of you will remember George Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Commons, reading it at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana and Tony Blair, the then prime minister, reading it at the funeral of Princess Diana. It is rightly famous.
It's important to remember, however, how it was written. It was not written for a wedding, or a funeral for that matter. No, Paul wrote it to a church with problems, where there were divisions and where they had wrong ideas about leadership and how the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit that were known then are to be used. They really thought, many of them, that the way to make progress as a Christian was to have more gifts and the more public those gifts the better. For some it was all about knowledge. Paul wants to show them a better way, which he does here and in other places.
We will just look at the first three verses this morning. In these verses Paul thinks first of the privileges and gifts a Christian may have and then of the things he may do to serve God, and says three times over but have not love – if I lack the essential ingredient of love – then, and he puts it different ways, first poetically I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal then more prosaically, I am nothing or I gain nothing. In other words, the vital ingredient in real faith, in any form of Christian service, the greatest element is love. Without that, it's useless. It's not true faith.
Here is a woman who decides to make cupcakes. She gets the butter, the sugar, the flour, the eggs and a little salt and flavouring and she carefully follows the recipe but the cupcakes come out looking completely flat. Why? She didn't put any baking powder in! She missed out a vital ingredient.
Or think of a woman who longs to be married and she marries a good looking, kind and rich man. The wedding itself is a fairy tale, the honeymoon brilliant, the home they move into fabulous. They may even have children. But there is one fatal flaw, one thing missing. He doesn't really love her. He doesn't beat her but she knows and she knows that there is no love in his heart for her. “I'd take him” says someone. But would you really want that? No-one would truly.
And so there are Christians and they may be very clever and they may have many talents. They seem to work hard and they seem to be very active and in many ways very spiritual. But there is something missing. Everything is flat, as it were, because they lack the essential, the vital ingredient of love. All the ingredients are there bar one.
Here is something for us to think about then. I want to say three things to you.
1. Even if you have the most astounding speaking gifts imaginable, if you lack love, it will leave you hollow and empty
1. Imagine having the most astounding speaking gifts you can imagine
I'm speaking to Christians now, those who have put their faith in Christ. One of the characteristics of the church in Corinth was that there was a lot of speaking in tongues or other languages. Certain people there had the gift of being able to stand up and give a message to the congregation directly from God. These messages would come not just in Greek, the common language of the time, but all sorts of other languages. Some people today think these were supernatural languages rather than real human ones. I think they were more likely to have been real ones. Possibly there were times when a person spoke in a language they themselves did not understand but it is more likely to have been a language they understood but most others didn't, that needed translation. Today the New Testament is complete and we have no reason to expect direct messages from God in languages human or divine, though some people believe that when someone jabbers in what sounds like a real language but is just gibberish (glossolalia is the technical term) it is a supernatural thing from God.
Well, regardless of all those arguments, imagine with me what Paul imagines - If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels he says. If I could speak God's Word in many different human languages or in the language of angels even, in a heavenly language. We don't know how angels communicate but it may be that they also have a language or languages, unintelligible to us but that they can understand perfectly well. I'm sure that they would speak with a fluency, a clarity and an eloquence beyond anything we have heard from men. Now imagine that you were so eloquent that you were able to speak not just with the eloquence of an earthly speaker but with a heavenly, an angelic eloquence. Imagine that you could preach, say, in such a masterful way that not only would other human beings sit up amazed and take notice but even the angels themselves. Imagine that when you spoke to people about the gospel and tried to explain it instead of getting tongue tied and feeling you were making a hash of it, you could speak with an amazing clarity and power that was utterly convincing.
There aren't many eloquent preachers today, perhaps, though there are some. There were certainly some in the past. Let me give you a more or less random quote from silver tongued Spurgeon, sometimes called the Prince of Preachers (1894, Sermon #2371)
Often, when I come in at the door and my eyes fall on this vast congregation, I feel a tremor go through me to think that I should have to speak to you all and be, in some measure, accountable for your future state. Unless I preach the gospel faithfully and with all my heart, your blood will be required at my hands. Do not wonder, therefore, that when I am weak and sick, I feel my head swim when I stand up to speak to you, and my heart is often faint within me. But I do have this joy at the back of it all - God does set many sinners free in this place! Some people reported that I was mourning that there were no conversions. Brothers and Sisters, if you were all to be converted tonight, I should mourn for the myriads outside! That is true, but I praise the Lord for the many who are converted here. … I am not preaching in vain. I am not despondent about that matter - liberty is given to the captives and there will be liberty for some of them, tonight! I wonder who it will be? Some of you young women over yonder, I trust. Some who have dropped in here, tonight, for the first time. Oh, may this first opportunity of your hearing the Word in this place be the time of beginning a new life which shall never end - a life of holiness, a life of peace with God!”
If you are a preacher, you long for such eloquence and all of us who truly believe long to be able to put the gospel over more clearly, more winningly, more compellingly. Now say you had that gift. “How wonderful” you may think.
2. Yet consider how useless it would be without love
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 – sounding brass and a clanging gong. If it lacks the vital ingredient love then it is useless. Gongs and cymbals make great loud noises because of the way they are constructed. Those who are empty of love are similarly very loud but empty of anything good.
Some of you like music. You have all sorts of music at home perhaps but what sort of music is it? Are there any gong concertos or cymbal sonatas? If you like brass music, it will be trumpets and cornets not just gongs and cymbals. Often jazz records include a drum solo. You will hear the cymbals and may be even a gong but it only works with the snare, the high-hat, the tom toms, the bass and nobody (not even drummers) wants a recording just of drums. Paul's point then is that to give real pleasure there has to be texture. Mere loudness is not enough. There has to be love.
So here is the question. Do you want to preach? Good. Do you want to be a better witness for Christ? Excellent. But do realise that without love then it is all of no use. There is no point being a great preacher, a great evangelist, a great Sunday School teacher, a great personal worker – if you don't love the people you're speaking to. Indeed the whole point of these things is to increase love, they are not ends in themselves. Love must be right at the heart of all you do. So whenever you think about doing such things, pray for love. Pray that you will not only be good at it but that you'll be full of love.
2. Even if you have the greatest spiritual gifts, if you lack love, it will leave you as nothing
1. Imagine having the most astounding spiritual gifts you can imagine
Of course, we are not all going to be preachers or even successful witnesses. But there are all sorts of spiritual gifts. Paul thinks of some of them here. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, he says (verse 2) and if I have a faith that can move mountains.
As we've said, in those days before the New Testament was complete God spoke directly through people - sometimes in an unusual language but often in Greek, a language nearly everyone spoke. Now God doesn't speak directly today but we have a completed New Testament and we can read it for ourselves or read it together. Not everyone is good at reading in public but imagine you had that gift, you could read the Bible in public and people would find it a blessing to hear you read.
Or say you were not very good in public but you were able, as Paul puts it, to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge. People would come seeking your advice, asking for counselling. If people were seeking guidance, wondering what to do, they'd come to you for help. If husbands or wives got into trouble in their marriages they would come to you for counsel and you'd know just how to help them. Or perhaps people had hard questions about the Bible – why does it say what it says here. How do you reconcile these two passages that seem to contradict? Imagine if you could answer all those sorts of questions. Say you were a wonderful theologian and a very wise person.
Or what if your gift was great faith? What if you were the sort of person who when you prayed it seemed always to happen. People from all around would come to you and say, you must pray, because they knew that when you pray things happen. I'm not sure exactly how it would work but may be you could pray for sick people to be well or for money to come in for churches in financial need. Perhaps, you'd simply be able to say this one is going to get better or the money will definitely come in for this or that.
Some of us had the opportunity this summer to hear Don Carson. Dr Carson got his first degree in chemistry and mathematics then went on to get an M Div from a Baptist Seminary in Toronto and a PhD in New Testament from Cambridge University. He has written or edited more than 57 books including the massive The Gagging of God which won a 1997 ECPA Christian Book Award and a little book I once saw called Greek accents: A student's manual!
One of my father-in-law's teachers in Westminster Theological Seminary in the sixties was E J Young. You've probably not heard of him but he was a Hebrew expert. A former student writes how behind his knowledge of Hebrew lay a thorough knowledge of many other languages. A major Arabist of his day said Young could have been the world's leading Arabist if he'd focused on it. “Many of us were aware” he says “of Young's ability in languages. In my opinion, no one except Dr Young and the Lord God knew how many languages he could speak or read. From my contacts with him, I knew he could read well most of the modern Western European languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, etc. I also knew he was capable in most of the Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, … Ugaritic, Phoenician, Moabite, etc. I understand that he learned to communicate in Arabic during a transatlantic boat trip to Israel. In addition, I heard that he had learned to speak Korean from some of the students at the Seminary and was skilled enough in that language to correct the grammar in a Korean letter he had received - a thing he did, no doubt, with characteristic self-effacement and humility.”
Imagine being like one of those men. We can imagine it different ways. Paul's concern is not to answer questions about how these things – prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, faith – work. Even if we were sure exactly what he meant we could not be sure that it works the same way today. No, the point is that even if you were the best Christian you could imagine being in some area – the best reader of the Word, wisest counsellor, greatest theologian, best in Hebrew or Greek, greatest prayer warrior, the one with more faith than anyone – then that of itself would not make you a truly great Christian if the essential and greatest ingredient, love, was missing. And so we say
2. Yet consider how useless it would be without love
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.
Imagine you could just go out there and it was like some sort of supermarket and you could load up your trolley – Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, half a dozen degrees in theology, counselling skills, great faith, power to pray, whatever, pile it on. Then imagine walking to the till and wondering how much this is all worth, as it were. Then watch the girl at the till as she passes each item under the scanner. Perhaps there are 10 items, 20, 30, even more. Then you look to see how much has been rung up on the till. And what does it say? Well, you should know what it says. There's just a big fat zero. Nought. Nothing. Nil. Zilch. Why? Because as Paul makes clear here, without love it is all worth nothing. It is useless. You can do no good. You can achieve nothing.
So here is something to ponder. There are people who say that what we need today is miracles and healings and so on. But Paul says no. What we need is love. Do you want to read the Bible well? Good. Do you want to understand it? Excellent. Do you want to be wise in Christ, a counsellor, a prayer warrior, a person of great faith? These are all good desires. But what you have to realise is that gifts and graces are not the same and without love it is all of no use. There is no point being a great theologian, a great linguist, say, a wonderful youth worker, a man or woman of prayer – if you don't love the people you seek to serve. That must be central. $ Otherwise it is like wearing the right clothes but not doing the work. The whole purpose these things exist is to encourage people to love God and their neighbour. So whenever you think about doing such things, pray for love. Pray that you will not only be good at it but that you'll be full of love.
3. Even if you make the biggest sacrifices a Christian can, if you lack love, it will be of no profit to you
Now you'd think that the point had been made and we could move on. But Paul knows what slippery customers we are so he says one thing more. And so I say to you
1. Imagine making the biggest sacrifices you can imagine a Christian making
In verse 3 Paul ratchets it up just one more notch. Okay If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, surely that will be enough. Surely Paul is not going to speak against someone who gives up everything for the poor or who dies a martyr's death? Well. Let's think about this. Here's a person who gives everything they possess to feed the poor. Perhaps their stand for the faith means that they are persecuted and they are even burned to death as a martyr.
There are some striking examples of this sort of thing in church history.
Do you know the name of Fred Charrington? Born in the East End in 1850, his father was a partner in the Charrington Brewery, one of London’s biggest brewing companies, and Fred was heir to a fortune of over a million. Educated at the best schools, he later joined the family business. When he was 19 he was converted. A year later, while walking through Whitechapel, he saw a poorly dressed woman with her children begging her husband to leave the pub and give her money for food. The furious husband came out and knocked her into the gutter. Charrington went to help and was also knocked to the ground. Looking up, he saw the sign above the pub and what name did he see? Charrington (his own). When I saw that sign,” he later wrote, “I was stricken just as surely as Paul on the Damascus Road. Here was the source of my family wealth, and it was producing untold human misery before my own eyes. Then and there I pledged to God that not another penny of that money should come to me.” And that's how it was. He left the family business to devote his life to helping the poor in the East End. He opened a school, led a fight to clean up the music halls and became an ardent worker for temperance. In 1870 he founded Tower Hamlets Mission and did many similar things to bring the gospel to people and help those being ruined by drink and drugs.
As for martyrs, you know how many died for Christ in Queen Mary's time. In Oxford there is a memorial to Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley. Latimer and Ridley died the same day (October 16, 1555). As he was tied to the stake, Ridley prayed, "Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies." His brother had brought gunpowder for the men to put round their necks so death could come more quickly, but Ridley still suffered greatly. With a loud voice he cried, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit ..." but the wood was green and his upper body would not burn. He repeatedly called out, "Lord have mercy upon me! I cannot burn … Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn." One of the bystanders finally brought the flames to the top of the pyre to hasten his death. Latimer died first. He famously said to Ridley, "Be of good comfort, Mr Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out."
In 2004 a BBC documentary on persecution in North Korea featured Kwon Hyok, a former prison official. He described a number of atrocities, including an incident in which 50 healthy women prisoners were selected and given poisoned cabbage leaves, which they had to eat despite their cries of distress. All 50 were dead after 20 minutes of vomiting blood and anal bleeding. Refusing to eat the cabbage would have meant reprisals against their families.
Kwon had been head of security at Camp 22. He described laboratories equipped respectively for poison gas, suffocation gas and blood experiments, in which three or four people, normally a family, were the experimental subjects. After undergoing medical checks, the chambers were sealed and poison was injected through a tube while scientists observed. Kwon described watching a family (parents and two children) die from suffocating gas, the parents trying to save the children using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for as long as they had the strength.
You hear of such things and you think “I couldn't do it”. Yet we want to be willing. But do you know that even to go to these lengths in our service to Christ could all prove to be useless in the end if we somehow failed to act out of love?
2. Yet consider how useless it would be without love
See Paul's words again. Even if I go to the extreme of giving all I possess to the poor or surrendering my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Again it is useless. It counts for nothing.
Do you see that? I know it's hard to imagine someone doing such things and not being motivated by love but it could be that they act motivated by pride or out of some misguided determination. If love is missing – love to God, love to our neighbour – then it really does amount to nothing. Perhaps now you see why Jesus warns that many will come saying they did this or that for him and he will say “I never knew you”. Judas performed miracles but there was no love in his heart.
We have spoken a lot about love without defining it. Paul does that in verses 4-7. He says Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, etc, etc. We will say more next time.
Over the summer I heard someone say that the word love never appears in the Book of Acts. I'm not sure what point those who cite this seek to prove (I think it is to do with how we present the gospel) but if you read the Book of Acts you will see that although the word may not appear there the idea is everywhere present, eg the way the early believers shared with one another and had everything in common. What we need is not to talk more about love but to be more loving.
In Galatians 5:6 Paul says The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Pray to be a better Christian – more able, more willing, more devoted but pray especially for love. Pray that God will fill you with love – for him and for his people, even for our enemies as we are commanded. Jonathan Edwards wrote that Christian love reflects “the sum of all the virtue and duty that God requires of us, and therefore must undoubtedly be the most essential thing.” Do you believe that? Surely this is what Paul is teaching in these verses. Let's live in the light of what he says. Not only is that right and good but it is a wonderful thing to be enjoyed and the most attractive thing in the gospel. Even if you are not a believer this morning I am sure you are drawn to what Paul speaks of here. It is wonderful. I wish it was seen more in us. Jesus says to his disciples All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. When we fail to love, the world rightly smells a rat and wants nothing to do with us. How different when we do.