1 Corinthians 13:4-8

May 8, 2011 | Brian Bill

How many of you need to make an “I’m sorry” phone call to your mom today?  I’ll be picking up the phone this afternoon.  Moms teach us so many things.

  • My mother taught me MEDICINE: “If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they’re going to stay that way.”
  •  My mom taught me about GENETICS: “You are just like your father!”
  •  My mother taught me about my ROOTS: “Do you think you were born in a barn?”
  • My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION: “Just wait until your father gets home.”
  • She also taught me RELIGION: “You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
  • And the all-time favorite thing my mother taught me was JUSTICE: “One day you will have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you.”

Actually, I’ve been blessed because our daughters are turning out to be more like their mom…and that’s a good thing

Our word for today is love.  Since this is Mother’s Day, this has great application to moms, but in a general sense, we all need to learn to love more fully and more completely, whether we are dads or moms, or children or grandparents or siblings.  I’m aware that Mother’s Day is a difficult time for some of you.

  • Maybe you want to be a mother but you can’t be for some reason
  • Perhaps some of you have not had the best mother in the world
  • Some of you have had a mother who has died
  • Some of you mothers have lost a child to death
  • Some of you mothers feel the pain of a wayward child 
  • And, some of you are flying solo as you work hard to nurture your child’s faith
Choosy moms choose love because love is a choice

Do you remember that commercial for peanut butter that goes like this – “Choosy moms choose Jiff?”  I want to state a deep truth that runs counter-cultural and is even counter-intuitive for many of us. Here it is: Love is more an action than an emotion.  Choosy moms choose love because love is a choice.

My mind went to Deuteronomy 30:19 this week: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  The challenge for me is this: Will I choose life so that I and my children will live?  Will I put love into action even when I don’t feel like it?

This past Sunday night during our small group we were talking about how to apply last week’s sermon.  One of our group members shared something very profound.  I called her this week to make sure I heard it right and to ask her permission to share it.  This is basically what she said: “I saw some things growing up related to someone harboring bitterness and a lack of forgiveness.   I am a lot like my parents but I don’t have to do like they do.  I can choose differently.  It’s still a choice.  You ultimately choose how you will be.  I am like my parents but I am different because of my relationship with my true Father.”

I’ve been rolling this around in my head all week: “It’s still a choice.  You ultimately choose how you will be.”  What she’s really saying is this: Love is more an action than an emotion.

In the famous “love passage” that is read at most weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 helps us understand what love is and what it looks like in daily life.  This crown jewel of the Bible establishes the fact that love is not primarily an emotion but an action.  The kind of love that you and I are called to demonstrate must be seen and experienced.  Love is a choice.

When Paul wrote this chapter, he was not thinking about weddings or romance.  Chapter 13 comes right in the middle of a lengthy discussion on the use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12 and 14.  All sorts of disputes and divisions plagued the Corinthian church.  They argued about which gift was the greatest; they were selfish, they were taking each other to court, and they were impatient with others.  Sounds like some of our families today.

When the writers of the New Testament looked out on the world of their day they saw people who talked about love but seemed to know little or nothing about the sort of love that the Holy Spirit was revealing to them.  The Greek words in general use were not adequate: one had too many sexual connotations, another meant merely natural affection, and the third meant brotherly love.  

So when they wanted to write about love they needed a new word for a new idea.  The love that the New Testament writers had in mind was supernatural love, or agape love.  It’s a selfless and unconditional commitment to imperfect people.  John Stott writes, “Love is the willingness to surrender that which has value in our life to enrich the life of another.”  Agape is a love for the utterly unworthy, a love which proceeds from a God who is love.  

It’s a love lavished upon others without a thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not.  It proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than from any merit in the beloved.  It has little to do with emotion and lot to do with action.  If love were a license plate it would read: U B4 ME.

The Practice of Love

We see in verses 1-3 that love is preeminent and in verses 4-7, Paul challenges us to practice it.  It’s not enough to just acknowledge that love is essential; we’re called to exhibit agape love in our lives.  In John 13:34, Jesus challenges us, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  This is not a suggestion; it’s a command.  In the Greek, these verses make up one long sentence filled with verbs, or actions.  In fact, there are 15 characteristics of what love looks like when it’s lived out.  We’re going to go through 11 of them very quickly and then camp in the final four.

Let’s read verses 4-7: “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.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  As we go through these action words, forget about anyone else right now and resist thinking that so-and-so needs to hear this.  Ask God to apply these verses directly to you. 

  • Love is patient.  This word basically means “someone who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so.”  It carries with it the idea of perseverance, of hanging in there and waiting for God to do His work.
  • Love is kind.  The meaning here is to “show oneself useful.”  Love volunteers to help others when they’re in need.  

One of the most practical books that I’ve read on family relationships is by Gary Chapman called, “The Five Love Languages.”  The main thesis is that the best way to be kind to your spouse or child is by using the love language that he or she speaks.  One of the concepts is that each one of us has an emotional “love tank” that needs to be filled by other family members: “The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love.”  Love is a choice and any family member can start the process.  If you’re married, try to determine which language your spouse speaks and then do whatever you can as often as you can to communicate in this language, whether you feel like it or not.  If you’re a parent, figure out your child’s love language.  Here are the five languages:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

After describing what love does, now we hear what love does not do.

  • Love does not envy.  Instead of wishing I had what you have; love helps me to celebrate what God has given you without being jealous of it.
  • Love does not boast.   This word literally means a “braggart” and can also mean, “wind-bag.”  The fruit of love does not brag about what I have or what I’ve done.  
  • Love is not proud.  The word here means to “blow or to puff.”  Pride has no place in a believer’s life because everything we have is by grace.  If you think you are always right and need to have the last word, you are not living out love.
  • Love is not rude.  The Greek word means that love does not “behave in an ugly, indecent or obscene manner.”  Love does not needlessly offend.
  • Love is not self-seeking.  This is the polar opposite of agape love.  True love does not seek to build up self but rather puts others first.  
  • Love is not easily angered.  A person who is living under the influence of love is not “prone” to violent anger or exasperation.  Phillips paraphrases this by saying that “love is not touchy.”
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs.  This is an accounting term meaning that we must not add up and itemize the failures of others.  Don’t get ‘historical’ with your family members by digging up the past.  Instead of remembering everything that’s ever been done to you, wipe out those wrongs by forgiving and by refusing to hold your family member hostage to what he or she has done in the past (we’ll talk more about this next week).  Are you keeping score?  It’s time to let it go by choosing to forgive.  
  • Love does not delight in evil.  This phrase could be translated, “has no memory for injuries.”  Love doesn’t think about evil things that were done to it.  
  • Love rejoices with the truth.  The word “truth” here is the opposite of “evil.”  Instead of locking into the vices of your spouse or your kids, love celebrates and applauds their virtues.

Even though you might not feel very “loving” you can still act “loving” toward your family.  Your feelings may follow your obedience, or they may not.  Regardless, you and I are called to live out love in our homes because love is more an action than an emotion.  U B4 ME.

For these next four descriptions I want to use some images to help us get a picture of what love looks like.

  • Love always protects.  [Hold up Blanket]  I like how the New English Bible translates the first part of verse 7: “There is nothing love cannot face…”  The Berkeley Version puts it this way: “It covers up everything…”  The image here is of a blanket that covers, or hides things.  It’s related to the word for roof – a covering that offers protection.  It’s also used of keeping something undesirable from coming in.  Instead of exposing blemishes and sins in our spouse or kids, true love covers them with a cloak of love.  1 Peter 4:8 challenges us to, “Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”   Love protects other people and doesn’t broadcast bad news.  It doesn’t nitpick or nag.  Proverbs 17:9: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
  • Love always trusts.  [Point to Cross]  The cross reminds us that we can believe because of all that Jesus has done for us.  We can forgive because we’ve been forgiven.  We can trust because God trusts us.  The idea here is that we don’t lose faith in our spouse even if he or she has messed up or hurt us.  It means we refuse to reject our child when he or she messes up.  Love believes the best that is possible.  We resist the temptation to think the worst and we treat family members as innocent until proven guilty.  We delight in giving second and third chances or 3,000 chances, because that’s what God gives us.

Do you know that people tend to become what we believe them to be?  Our children either live up to or down to our expectations.  When we think the best we communicate that God can do some great things in their lives.  Jesus did that with impetuous Peter when he said, “You are a rock.”  To a woman wiped out by sin He said, “Your sins are forgiven.”  To another caught in adultery, He said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  There is huge power in believing the best about someone.

  • Love always hopes.  [Turn on Lamp]  Do you remember that motel commercial that always ended with these words: “We’ll leave the light on for you?”  To say that love always hopes means “to expect with desire.”  No matter how dark things are or how bleak things look; love maintains an attitude of hope that they can get better.  Having said that, there is no pain like family pain because it hurts the most and lasts the longest.  Some of you have lost all hope.  Love is a refusal to take failure as final much like Job did in Job 13:15: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.”  When we trust we find a tiny grain of evidence to rest on.  Hope rests on God alone.  

One way to demonstrate this is to say to your spouse, “I know we can make it because God is not finished with us yet!” Or you could say to your child, “You’re going to get through this peer pressure or time of teasing or outbreak of acne.”  Hope is looking at your family and being honest about the way things are right now but then saying something like this: “But I don’t believe we are going to stay this way.  I refuse to give up hope.  I’m going to leave the light on for you.”  Hold on to the hope found in Jeremiah 31:17: “There is hope for your future…and your children will return to their own territory.”

  • Love always perseveres.  [Point to Soldier Mannequin]  To persevere means, “to remain under” and continue despite resistance and opposition; to have tenacity in times of pain, suffering, loss and loneliness.  It’s actually a military word which means to sustain the assaults of the enemy.  It means that you don’t retreat and you don’t go AWOL.  Love holds fast to the people it loves.  That’s appropriate because the family is under attack from the evil one.   Love hangs in there with your spouse because your vows sealed you in a covenant with each other, but most importantly with God Himself.  

Verse 8 adds, “Love never fails.”  That means that absolutely and objectively not even at any time, never at all, does love fall down.  The sense is that love will never fall away or disappear; it never quits and is never used up.  I’m reminded of the title of a hymn called, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”

I came across this amazing true story from a wife who had been cheated on. “I asked him for my wedding ring,” she said.  “Why would you do a thing like that?” I wondered.  “When he moved out, I gave him my wedding ring as a sign that he had broken his wedding vows.  But recently I began to think about what that ring symbolized.  I realized that even though he has been unfaithful, we are still married.  When I asked for the ring back, he was surprised.  He was even more surprised when I put it back on my finger.  By wearing the ring, I want to remind him of what he has done.  I also want him to remember that he still has a wife.”

Love looks beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future.

Love endures what can’t be endured. Love means wearing the wedding ring as a final reminder of what has been lost.  Love means continually reaching out to your child even when he or she is making wrong choices and going the wrong way.  Love looks beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future.

Check out these words from an article called, “Never Give up Parenting a Difficult Teen” from “Teen problems usually have to do with hormones, immaturity and brain development.  They are fueled by struggles for independence, identity, and the testing of beliefs.  But all of this is just a phase!  That’s why in the midst of the turmoil, you still need to stick with them, even if you don’t feel your teen deserves it.  The goal during the battle is to keep your relationship with your teen alive…so decide right now, ‘I’ll never, ever quit.’”

1 Corinthians 14:1 says that we can’t just be passive about love, it’s something we must pursue: “Follow the way of love…” The word follow literally means “to hunt or pursue” and it’s in the present tense, which means it’s something we must perpetually pursue.  I like this paraphrase: “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it — because it does.”  Are you ready to go after a life of love?  Love is more an action than an emotion.  U B4 Me.  

Have you ever noticed that our feelings often follow our actions?   Here’s the deal.  Some of us wrongly believe that that because our emotions of love have changed that we can’t do anything about that.  Actually, doing the loving action is a good place to start.  When God provides the opportunity for you to act in a loving way to your spouse or family member, make sure you do it.  1 John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”  To paraphrase something C.S. Lewis has said: “Do not waste your time bothering whether you love your spouse or not; act as if you did.  As soon as you do this, you’ll find that when you behave is if you loved your spouse, you will presently come to love him or her.”

Living a Life of Love

Someone has said that “love at first sight is easy to understand.  It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle.”  I’m not sure it’s a miracle but it does confound the world when couples keep their commitment to each other and when families focus on staying together.  Here are some practical steps to put into practice.

  1. Recognize how limited your love is.  One helpful exercise is to go through this passage and substitute your name every time the word “love” is used.  If you choke on some of these words or if others start laughing when you say them out loud…you have a pretty good idea of where you need some work.
  2. Sit down with your spouse and say, “There is nothing you can do that will ever cause me to divorce you.”  You might want to say it in front of your kids so they hear it as well.  Remember this: Your response is your responsibility.
  3. Love those who are close to us.  Someone has said, “To love the whole world for me is no chore; the only real problem’s my neighbor next door.” If we are not demonstrating love to those closest to us, how do we expect to do so in other relationships?   We are commanded to love no matter how inconsiderate our spouse is; no matter how unreasonable our parents are; no matter how disrespectful our children are; and no matter how selfish our friends are.
  4. Be the right person.  It’s more important that you “be” the right person than to wonder if you married the “wrong” person or that God gave you crazy kids.  Walk with Christ.  Get into a small group.  Recommit to your family.
  5. Make sure you have received the love of God. You cannot express love until you have first experienced it.  Romans 5:5, 8: “God has poured out his love into our hearts…But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Corrie Ten Boom was once asked how she could endure a Nazi concentration camp without bitterness, she replied, “There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.”

In his book called, “Bold Love,” Max Lucado tells the story about a mother and her four-year-old daughter who were trapped beneath tons of collapsed concrete and steel after the worst earthquake in the history of Soviet Armenia in 1988.  In the darkness, the mom heard her child cry out, “Mommy, I’m so thirsty.  I want a drink.  Mommy, I need a drink.  Please give me something.”  

But there was nothing for Susanna to give.  She was trapped flat on her back.  Feeling around in the darkness, she found a jar of blackberry jam and gave the entire jar to her daughter to eat.  It was gone by the second day.  “Mommy, I’m so thirsty.”  Susanna knew she would die, but she wanted her daughter to live.  She found a dress and made a bed for her daughter.  Though it was bitter cold, she took off her stockings and wrapped them around the child to keep her warm.  The two were trapped for eight days.

Because of the darkness, Susanna lost track of time.  Because of the cold, she lost the feeling in her fingers and toes.  Because of her inability to move, she lost hope.  A merciful sleep occasionally freed her from the horror of her entombment, but the sleep would be brief.  Something always awakened her: the cold, the hunger, or most often, the voice of her daughter.  “Mommy, I’m thirsty.”

At some point in that eternal night, Susanna had an idea.  “I had no water, no fruit juice, no liquids.  It was then that I remembered I had my own blood.”  Her groping hand, numb from the cold, found a piece of shattered glass.  She sliced open her left index finger and gave it to her daughter to suck.  The drops of blood weren’t enough.  “Please, Mommy, some more.  Cut another finger.”  Susanna has no idea how many times she cut herself.  She only knows that if she hadn’t, her daughter would have died.  Her blood was her daughter’s only hope.

That’s love in action.  And that’s the love that Jesus has for each one of us when He spilled out His blood to quench the cry of our sins.  Love ultimately isn’t about us; love is about Him!  An interesting assignment would be to read through 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute the name “Jesus” for every use of the word “love.”

Ray Pritchard writes: “How can we live this way?  How can we truly love without envy, without a quick temper, without seeking our own interests, and without thinking evil of others?  The answer is, we can’t.  In ourselves we have no power to live this way.  That’s why it doesn’t work to say, ‘Let’s give it the old college try and really go out there and love everyone we meet.’  We will never talk ourselves into loving like this, and the sooner we admit that fact, the better off we’ll be.  This isn’t some kind of rah-rah competition where we try to prove our love by our enthusiasm.

Sooner or later we have to get down to the bottom of things and admit the truth.  “O God, I hate my husband.  I hate my wife.  I can’t stand my children.  My parents are driving me nuts.  I hate the people I work with and I don’t like the folks at church.  I don’t love my neighbors and I can barely stand to see my own family.  O God, help me.  I don’t love anyone right now.  And even though no one else knows it or sees it, I’m an angry person, filled with bad thoughts and completely lacking in any kind of love.  If you don’t help me, I will never love anyone because I know I can’t change the way I am.  Lord God, please help me.  Change me.  Let your love flow through me.  If you want me to love others, you’re going to have to do it through me because I can’t do it myself.” 

That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer.  And if you pray it and mean it, you won’t be sorry.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?