This passage is well-travelled ground, beloved. Yes, but it is here we have been lead together. So let's take a fresh look. We pick up the context of this, the famous "Love Chapter," back in chapter 12, verse 25-27:
Verse 1- "Though I speak
with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become
as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
Maybe you speak in tongues, beloved, or you've hear others doing this. My Methodist background leaves me rather ignorant on this subject. But I do definitely learn from Paul in this letter that many at Corinth, including Paul, WERE able to speak Heavenly languages at various times. Paul describes it in Chapter 14 as something unique between God and the speaker. A gift from the Lord, a privilege, and quite a thrill! Now, I've never spoken in tongues. I stammer sometimes when I try to speak in church, but that's not a spiritual gift, believe me.
In my case, however, like many others the Lord has called to it, I write and share Gospel music. It's not always easy and fun, but there are moments of inspiration that I wouldn't trade for anything they might have out in Hollywood or Nashville. But Paul is saying to me that ANY gift or any activity that you take the Love out of is empty and negative. Would you say a prayer for me, beloved? I need to serve Christ's Body of Believers with my musical efforts, meager as they can be. And I need to focus on Love for others through the music, but not on the music itself.
Did you pray? Well, I'm going to say a prayer for you now. If you are a believer, the Lord has gifted you somehow. And if you are not born again, you have a gift or two just waiting for you out yonder in your future. Mix in a lot of Love with your gifts, beloved. Paul goes on:
Verse 2 "And though I have
the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge;
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have
not love, I am nothing."
This same principle applies to other individual gifts like prophecy and special understanding of the mysteries of the Holy Scriptures. But also, it applies to our common faith in God. In summary it applies to all the gifts and to all of us at all times: the lack of Love always means defeat, no matter how holy the outer trimmings or our behavior may appear. Surely Paul can't take this idea any further, right? Wrong, beloved:
Verse 3 "And though I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing."
This is just how weird human beings can be, and Paul knew it. It is possible to be unloving, while we are loving, or at least trying to love. This sounds impossible, but I've witnessed it, and to tell he truth, I've done it.
Once when my sons were very young they were fighting and name-calling at the dinner table. Well, Mother and I gave the standard lecture about being polite and kind to one another. And then it got real quiet...soon a small voice was heard saying softly to his brother, "Pass the bread, sweety dumb-pants." Unfortunately alot of us are craftier at hiding our true motives. We should know better by our age, but we still will try to do the right thing outwardly with the wrong heart on the inside. I can sometimes fool people in this way, but none of us can hide our inner feelings from the Lord for He knows and sees all we hide from each other. We might as well drop the act in front of Him, and, as scary as it can be, be ourselves before Him and trust Him to fix what needs fixing in us.
Now, after looking at some of the counterfeits, we will be taught what
Love really is from the Lord's perspective:
Verses 4-5 "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not, love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;"
If this is true, and it's ALL true, then love must be the hardest thing on earth to do. At least it has been for me. This is as opposite of the Worldly credo as you can get. Why, this passage should come with a warning bigger than the one on the tobacco products. If you try to go this way, which we could easily call Christ's Way, you WILL meet resistance. You may have to suffer. Jesus suffered. But, you know, we must never leave Christ suffering on the Cross in our memories. He was crucified actually by our hate and for His Love for us all, but today, He is greatly Glorified by those who have come to Love Him. If you can put into practice what this passage is trying to tell us, your Love will glorify you too, even as the life of Jesus shows.
Consider the life of Paul. He was chosen by God, we believe, to write this section of the Bible and this message in particular. We've talked about this before, he had been a murderer of Christians. Then He found faith in Christ, was turned around and learned to follow the Way he is describing to us. Hasn't Love glorified Paul's life and transformed it? If anyone should be held in contempt by the Church, both then and today, it should be Paul. He's even going to say that about himself in I Corinthians 15:9, just down the road from where we are. But Paul's heartfelt Love for the Church is how we all recognize him today, isn't it? Living the Way of Love transforms your very identity. In summary, God's Love ALWAYS glorifies the Lover in the long run. But what was the first thing Paul mentions about Love? Look at the first phrase in verse 4 again. It means Love MUST be patient. If you want immediate results all of the time, well, you might as well stop reading this now, and join the World in looking for a different kind of love.
If you're still with me, praise God, and let's move on:
Verse 6- "Rejoiceth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;"
When you really Love, and it becomes a part of you to Love, we are told here that you will become a fan of Love. In other words, you'll not only enjoy Loving, but you'll enjoy it when you see it in the lifestyle of other's too. Through Love and patience we can be drawn closer to other believers in this way, and will come to rejoice in their Love and ministry as we know we should, but sometimes don't. It doesn't end there either. At times it can be hard to relate to Jesus as being a perfect Person. The remedy is to try, yourself, to live out and give out some of Christ's Love in your own life. Doing that will give you an appreciation for the Savior that just reading about Him won't.
As a musician, I know I always seem to appreciate more watching or hearing someone play an instrument that is similar to one I play. I can relate to them, because I know what it's like to attempt to do what they are doing. It gives me a deeper appreciation for their accomplishments and much more sympathy for their shortcoming. Even the prisoners I occasionally visit at our local jail, I have noticed, seem to have a sort of general brotherhood. The way to get that way with Christ is by Loving, as He Loves, or, at least making real efforts in that direction. I mean, you may never raise the dead as Jesus did with Lazarus, but doing what you CAN for someone or group of folks, through faith in God, is, I've found, miracle enough. Sometimes it takes what seems like a true miracle for the Lord to just stop me from hating someone, even if I can't find it in me to Love them at that moment.
Are you a fan of Loving, beloved? None of us will ever equal or replace Jesus, but we need to be inspired by His exploits. That can't happen when we are total non-participants. Actions are required. Otherwise we can't even understand the concept of fellowship with Him or each other. In regard to this check out what Paul said to another group of believers about his bonding with Christ in Philippians 3:7 to 4:1.
Verse 7- "Beareth all things,
believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
My experience tells me that the Devil has twisted this verse. Many in and out the Church today seem to believe this verse means that one seeking to Love others is being naive. That they lack strength or common sense. That perhaps they have lost their "edge." But what the world calls an edge (usually the wrath of man driven by fear) God calls sin. Oh, we mustn't get discouraged! Sincere Love doesn't make us weak, not if we can keep at it. This verse is really about keeping at it. It isn't always easy, but continued good effort is what identifies God's kind of Love. Anyone can love briefly.
Verses 8-10 - "Love never
faileth, but whether there be prophecies, they shall fall, whether there
be tongues, they shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish
away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which
is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
The truth, Paul says, is that Love is strong. As a matter of fact, to love in Christ's Way is the strongest gift that anyone can possess or give. But Love has some public relations problems. That is the inability on the part all of us to appreciate it's true character and value. Down here on earth we are ignorant in many ways about God's Love. We are limited in knowledge and, really, it is we who are weak, especially when we hate one another or God. It is important, but hard, to keep all this in mind on a daily basis:
Verse 11- "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.
Paul was one who had tried to worship God through his own wrath and fear, which even led to violence. But Paul had grown up in Christ and become a real man, full of Love and willing and able to act on that Love and let Love restrain his actions. Paul isn't saying that he had become perfect, nor shall we ever be able to say that on this earth:
Verse 12- "For now we see through a glass (in a mirror), darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known."
There is a looking glass in Heaven that will reveal things to you about yourself that will somehow free you to Love exactly as Christ does. Now I don't fully understand it, but I believe we need to understand who we are in God's sight before we can truly Love others without reservation. We must wrestle with ourselves now and struggle to Love, but in Heaven, that wonderful mirror is going to remove the final barriers to our Love. Please, beloved, read I John 3:2. Could the Heavenly mirror be Christ's face? From that point on we will return His Love to Him, with abandon. I want to see you there on that day, beloved. Can you see what you would be missing if you weren't there? This isn't just about escaping Hell. It about being in the right place at the right time. Being ANYWHERE else will be Hell. Anywhere but with the Person Who can finally show you who you truly are. This is a mystery, but Love starts that healing process now, in ourselves and those around us.
Verse 12- "Now abideth faith,
hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
Heaven may be the farthest thing from your mind right now. You may not be ready to Love. I know, because that happens with me sometimes. But there is a process laid out here in this final verse that can start and restart our Love. Hate comes to us far more naturally than love. We need to take baby steps at times. The first step is faith in God to replace our doubts. More faith (a gift we need to ask God for every day) will give us hope to replace the fears that hold us back and motivate us to hate. If we can receive faith and have hope through faith and stop being so distracted by our own welfare long enough, Love becomes possible.
Love IS the greatest. It heals others and ourselves when we practice it regularly. It glorifies us in the end. Now, I won't lie to you, God's Love will cost you something, beloved. It's different for each individual. But the more we participate, the more we will come to value Love. I leave you with a little quote a friend recently shared with me when he heard me struggling to explain God's Love to a group of people: