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No Greater Gift: Love for Another
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Track 6 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series
Running time: 19 minutes, 54 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, October 10, 2004
6th sermon in a 17 part series
"No Greater Gift: Love for Another"
"Being in Him Means Being His Church"
(1 Corinthians 13:1 - 13)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

Possibly one of the most famous of all the texts of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13. So the question becomes, what do you say about a text that people have heard a dozen times before, at every wedding they may have ever gone to. Well you could discuss the text. You could just simply parse it into three nice even pieces and kind of take a look at it. That's a temptation.

You could look at the first three verses and you could certainly talk about the superiority of love. How it is supreme, preeminent above all of those other characteristics. It wouldn't be hard to begin the process of contrasting how love makes all other gifts of the Spirit worthwhile. If you don't have love and yet you have all those other things going for you, you really don't have anything, he says.

Richard McBrian says it this way; "If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. For example; justice without love is legalism. Faith without love is ideology. Hope without love is self-centeredness. Forgiveness without love is self-abasement. Fortitude without love is recklessness. Generosity without love is extravagance. Care without love is mere duty. Fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated or informed by love."

We could spend some time talking about the superiority of this great excellent gift we call love and how it enhances every other gift that's brought to the table, no matter what your gift might be.

If we were going to divide this text up, we would probably look at verses 4 through 7 and we would talk about the characteristics of love. Love is patient. Love is kind.

And frankly, what we would end up doing is taking each one of those and probably highlighting some of the key words that get our attention and I suppose those words would be the ones that speak to us most clearly. There are some rather interesting words in here. Love is patient. It has to do with being able to wait. It reminds you a little bit of trying to chase a wet watermelon seed on a piece of linoleum. It's patience. It keeps no record of wrongs. It's an accounting term and I suppose we could go back and play with those kinds of images of how love prevents us from keeping that running list of everything that people have done in their life that has somehow offended us. The counselors call it "gunny sacking". When you store up all of those things so you can bring them out at the appropriate time when you need them. If we were looking at this text and trying to just kind of mark it off into pieces, we would talk about the permanence of love (verses 8 through 13). Everything else seems to leave. It fails. It succumbs. Love, instead, lasts. In fact, it's the only one that lasts. The greatest of these is love. There are three that abide; faith, hope and love. But even those don't last long. Faith will eventually be swallowed up in sight. Hope will be swallowed up by the fact that we no longer need it because we'll be there. But even after the coming of Jesus, love will continue to exist because it will be the hallmark of heaven.

Well, we could do that. We could take a look at that text. We could mark it off into three nice divisions. We could talk about love's superiority, its characteristics and its permanence. That's one way of getting at this. You could, on the other hand, just try to take this text and put it back into the context of 1 Corinthians. That certainly would be a wise and valid thing to do for those of us who believe that the Bible fits in a context.

If you look at the last verse of 1 Corinthians 12. In fact, Paul never quite finishes his thought. He says, eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. And immediately he begins to talk about love. Here in the midst of 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 both of which have to do with the excesses going on in the Corinthian church and their misunderstanding of how to appropriate their gifted-ness and to use it in the context of worship, he sandwiches in the midst of those two chapters this great statement about how to love people. Well, in fact, you can just kind of walk around both sides of this text and you could talk about it in its context. You could ask, what does love have to do with 1 Corinthians 11 where women are told to wear veils and to be silent in 1 Corinthians 14 or, where men are told not to have long hair because that's not customary. And you could ask, what does love have to do with that?

You could back it up a little bit into 1 Corinthians 8; 9 where people are disrespecting one another over their personal values of what they should eat and what they shouldn't eat, whether it's okay to have meat sacrificed to idols. Talk about our personal liberty. And you could back love into that and you could say, I wonder how love impacts the way I treat my brother when my brother disagrees with me.

You could back it up into those chapters, in 1 Corinthians 5; 6 where we get into the immorality of the congregation. How one brother is suing another brother, and Paul is saying, people who love one another don't sue one another in the kingdom. It's just a violation of the way things are done.

We could back it up into the immorality in the church. How man is living with his father's wife. Um, and say, love doesn't do those kinds of things.

You could back it up into 1 Corinthians 1; 2; 3 where he talks about the immaturity of the church and he talks about how people are selecting certain people. Some follow Paul. Some follow Apollo. Some even follow Jesus. And he says, people who love don't do that. That's a distinct possibility. You could look at 1 Corinthians 13. You could back it into this text and you could say essentially, you just don't demonstrate love the way the Corinthians were demonstrating love. It's just not the way things were.

Why, if you were to do that, you probably would spend some time looking at some parallel texts. You might jump over to Ephesians 4 where Paul says, in the text that was read this morning, speak the truth, but speak the truth in love. That's how we condition the way we say the things that we say to one another. Even when the things that we're saying are true. They're always conditioned by loving people. We might take a look at 1 John 4:19 where we are told that we're to love one another, but we love one another because Christ first loved us. That's how we love one another.

Maybe we would look at John 13 and be reminded that there is a new command that Jesus gave that is not really a new command, but is a new command; Love one another. Or maybe we would parallel it with a text over in Romans 5 where God has poured out his love in us. He has poured it into our hearts by way of his Holy Spirit or maybe we would look at 1 Thessalonians 4 and be reminded that we really don't need to be taught how to love, because God has already showed us how to love in Christ. If we were to look at the text in the context in which it is given what we would say, is that love seems to be that which conditions every action, every decision that a Christian makes in relationship. We could do that if we were trying to figure out how to get a hold of this text.

We might try to deal with the heart issues in this text. That would be one way to get at this text. I don't know if you noticed those along the way, but, there is one rather thorny issue in 1 Corinthians 13. It comes down in 1 Corinthians 13:8.

Got an e-mail the other day from a former colleague. He has since moved into retirement. He's teaching in a church and he wrote and asked and said, "Could you just give us a little insight on 1 Corinthians 13. All that stuff about certain gifts ceasing when the perfect comes." Well, what is the perfect? Because if we could figure out when the perfect has arrived, then we would know when all of these miraculous gifts have ceased and if the perfect hasn't come yet, then we would know that the miraculous gifts ought to continue. "Quite frankly", he says, "we don't see much of the activity of the Spirit so maybe the perfect hasn't come."

Well we could walk into that kind of situation and we could say, "well I wonder what that perfect is?" Some people have said it's the New Testament. And so, when the New Testament arrives, well then, no longer do you need all those miraculous gifts because now you have testimony of Scripture. Unfortunately, that probably doesn't work very well.

Some people have thought it was the second coming of Christ, that when the perfect arrives, when Jesus returns, all of these things will disappear. And yet, there are things in this text that don't particularly lend themself to that interpretation either.

There are many that would hold that in the context of 1 Corinthians 13, if we learn how to love one another, then when we love each other adequately, then God doesn't need the testimony of miraculous gifts. It sounds a little like this in other passages of the Scripture. They'll know we are Christians by the way we love one another, not by whether we can speak in other languages or that we can prophesy and say things that need to be said or have some kind of miraculous knowledge, but we've simply learned how, in the context of human relationship to treat each other maturely and lovingly. When that kind of perfection comes, God no longer needs the miraculous to get peoples' attention. In fact, they would have so much attention drawn to the fact that they loved each other that you wouldn't need anything else. Personally, I tend to think that's what he's talking about, that when we become mature Christians that God no longer needs other kinds of things to demonstrate his presence. He simply demonstrates his presence in the way that we treat one another. And when I look at 1 Corinthians, I think there is some advantage to that kind of interpretation because it seems to me that one of the things that runs through 1 Corinthians--particularly from Chapter 8 on--where we get into these controversial issues, is this constant repetition of that whatever we do ought to be done to edify the body, to build the body, to build up one another.

For example, 1 Corinthians 12:7 even the issue of gifted-ness is done for the common good for how it will build each of us up. Well, we could look at 1 Corinthians 13 and do it that way. We could do it the way I remember it being done when I was first converted and I think it was at a church camp. I'm not sure the first time I heard it but I remember being impacted by it when I heard it. Just simply take 1 Corinthians 13 and put Jesus in there. Have you ever done that? You've probably done that in Sunday school at some time in your life. Come down here to 1 Corinthians 13:4 for example and just put the name of Jesus every place you see love.

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrong. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.

Well, that makes good sense. And then the speaker had the audacity to turn that around and ask me to put my own name in there. It doesn't read so well that way. Well, I'll put my name in there but you don't, because you're not me, so you'll have to put your own name in there. Alright? But this is kind of what it sound like when you do that. Chuck is patient, (well, that eliminates that!) We can't get any further than that one. Ah. . . . .I mean, how far do you get when you put your name in there? That becomes the question. And that's one way to look at this text and simply ask the question, "Can I put myself in here? Am I kind? Do I envy? Do I boast? Am I proud? Am I rude? Am I self-seeking?" That's one way to get at this text, simply to take a look at it and see if you can stick your name in it and make it fit.

Well, one way to look at this text is to let it stimulate your thinking about what it really means to love and then to begin to ask yourself, "Do you do that?"

I suppose it's been, oh goodness sakes, thirty-five years ago that I heard this definition of the word that's used in this text. Kenny Beckman defined love; the kind of love that this vocabulary word is a committed concern for another person's well being whether it be physical or spiritual without thought for what you're going to get in return. That's the kind of love he's talking about here. There are four different words for love in the first century. Two of them found their way into the New Testament and are very closely related to one another. Two of them didn't find their way into the New Testament. One of them is the word is eros, for erotic. That never made it to the New Testament. There was one rather simple word for friendship. That didn't get into the New Testament either although it doesn't mean that friendship's not there. This particular word is a committed concern for another person's well being. It doesn't make any difference whether it's their physical well being or their spiritual well being without thought for what you're going to get in return. And then you begin to ask yourself. "Does that describe my relationship with people?"

Mr. Dowling over at Lincoln Seminary has a famous sermon called "Love is Like That" and all it is, is about 25 minutes worth of illustrations in which he says, "here's the story. Now, love is like that! It doesn't do this. It does that." That's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians. I suppose if you're trying to get a handle on 1 Corinthians 13 that would be one way to do it. Just simply put yourself into that text and ask yourself, "Do I always do these things?" "Do I never do these things?" "Do I demonstrate a committed concern for another person's well being without thinking about what I might get out of it?"

Well, frankly, you could do all of those things and a whole lot more and you would still not have exhausted this incredible, magnificent text because it is so abundantly full. But see, love isn't something you talk about. It isn't even something you feel. Love is something you do.

It was Jonathon Swift, the satirical author of Gulliver's Travels who said, "We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough to make us love one another." Love isn't something you talk about. It isn't something you feel. It's something you do.

And the future of Madison Park Christian Church, the future of the faith of those of us who worship in this place and call ourselves Christians, the future of what God is able to do through us is not contingent on what we talk about. It is not contingent on how we feel. It's contingent on what we do and the one thing this text calls us to do is to Love One Another. To demonstrate a committed concern for each other that doesn't take into account what we're going to get in return, but just does what's best for the other person. And when we've done that, they'll know, they'll know we're Christians by our love for one another.

Will you stand with me?