The love chapter of Scripture is not really the best choice of a reading at any and all weddings. What we have here are some radical principles of conduct that pertain to the Christian. The passage is not talking about love; it is talking about Christian love. Of course, any wedding where there is a commitment to love in the name of Christ, where there is love to Christ, at such a wedding the reading of this chapter of Scripture is definitely appropriate.
The context of this chapter is concerned with the place of extraordinary gifts at the Corinthian church. With all the “goings” on, the church is called to seek the better gifts (12:31a). That is, they are to pursue the more useful gifts, even if these are less attractive. They should not over exaggerate the place of the more attractive but less useful gifts (love is in the background already versus me, myself, and I in the limelight or “having it my way”).
As he is about to explain what is meant by more and less useful gifts, he says, “But I will show you an excellent way” (12:31b, the word “more” is supplied in the KJV). In effect, he says he will do this first before expanding on the various gifts and their relative merits (cf. 14:1f.). He is saying that he will show them an excellent way to pursue the better gifts. That is the way of love.
Love is a way to seek, obtain, and use the better gifts. It is the way to them and the pathway on which to carry them.
This focus on the gifts is clearly part of something greater. Something excellent, love, puts them into perspective. So Paul’s concern is not about the gifts in isolation from all else or in separation from our relationships, our possessions, or our dignity. Thus he cites particular gifts that are scooped up by this excellence but he broadens out to the whole of life to contexts where gifts may or may not be present. (Love is like a huge end loader that scoops up everything in its path; the gifts are one thing in particular.)
So if we want balance on the gifts and moreover if we want a balanced life, then love is the way. If we want to avoid extremes and hit a meaningful center, then we need to look again and often at 1 Corinthians 13. Here an excellent way is mapped out before us. So to begin this series, let’s consider the excellence of Christian love by noting its importance, its definition, and its necessity.
I think it is safe to say that there is nothing more insisted upon in the entire Bible than love. Take for example the theme of God’s will that is brought to us in Scripture showing us what God requires of us (per the catechism, Q 3, the Bible teaches us what we are to believe about God and what duty He requires of us). The entire “will of God” can be summarized in ten words. To what am I referring? I am referring to the fact that all of man’s duty to God is summarized in the Ten Commandments. But the Ten Words are summarized in two commandments. All the law hangs on the two precepts of loving God and your neighbor (Matt. 22:40). Each division of the law is summarized in particular by love (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). If you want to know how to love God, you can look to the brief and pointed summary found in the first four commandments. If you want to know how to love your neighbor, you can look to the guiding summary of the last six commandments.
There is no essential antithesis in Scripture between law and love. Tension between these principles occurs where there is abuse and misunderstanding. Legalism and antinomianism are extremes to be avoided but they do not testify to some essential inner tension between law and love. Remarkably, love is itself a law, a commandment and the laws define how to love.
Thus with Edwards we have to say, “love appears to be the sum of all the virtue and duty that God requires of us, and therefore must undoubtedly be the most essential thing-the sum of all the virtue that is essential and distinguishing in real Christianity” (Charity, 13).
This speaks of an importance that is difficult to overstate. The way of love is the way of excellence.
It is this spirit that is commended to us by the work of Christ. The redeeming love of God in Christ gives us a supreme motivation to love because it is “the most glorious and wonderful exhibition of love that was ever seen or heard of” (C 19). There we see God’s love for His enemies for whom He sent His only begotten son into the world (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:7-10). There we see the love of Christ for the Father demonstrated in obedience to the Father’s will as the bread of His life. His food and drink was to love God in absolute submission to His authority. He tells us that He only spoke what was given to Him by His Father in heaven (Jn. 17:8). And He only did what the Father showed Him: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (Jn. 5:19).
Love is the essence of the new order of things defined by a new commandment: “love one another as I have love you” and thus show that you are my disciples (Jn. 13:34-35) It is a main item in the great high priestly prayer of our Lord: that they may be one (Jn. 17:21-23).
Finally, we should remind ourselves of the importance of love to fulfilling man’s chief end. You will not earnestly seek to honor and glorify someone you do not love. It is thus important in connection with and vital to man’s chief, ultimate, and supreme end, which is to honor and glorify God. Love for God is underneath, behind, above, and in front of the love of 1Corinthians 13.
Thus whole Bible Christianity accents the importance of love and in so doing accents the excellence of Christian love. To be Christ-like in our love is to live by the OT and NT as our bread of live on the authority of our risen Lord (the Bread of life).
It is a challenge to back up from the famous love text and ask, “but what is love?” We can say it is patient, kind, humble, meek, and so forth. But these seem to be fruits of love or attributes of love. Using a sliced pie as an illustration, we may say that all these things are slices of the pie. But then we ask, “but what is the pie as a whole?” Given that something baked has this ingredient and that fruit in certain proportions, we may call it apple pie. Likewise, from all the fruits or ingredients what definition can we give of love? We have titled it Christian love. So what is precisely intended by calling it Christian love?
We can best answer this in a cumulative manner.
1) It is something excellent as we have seen.
It is an excellent way. It is a way of life that takes in the gifts but it takes in much more as well. It is a way of life, a pathway for seeking, obtaining, and exercising the gifts in a proper way of the highest quality of excellence.
It must therefore be associated (and defined) by the narrow way of which Jesus spoke. Thus, involved in the excellence of Christian love are the guiding principles of the law of God that define love for God and for the neighbor. It is a high and noble road.
2) Thereby we learn that Christian love is a wholehearted affection for God as my king that is demonstrated concretely in my walk before God and in relation to my neighbor (I think I am influenced by the Puritan, Watson, in this definition). Christian love means loving God in the neighbor. It is a wholehearted choice to serve God in all earthly things (cf. Matt. 6:24, 19-21).
3) It must therefore be the outflow of the saving and sanctifying love of God in Christ by the Spirit. We must come to this conclusion due to the great stream of fruits that flow from this fountain, fruits of good from what was formerly a corrupt tree with moral inability. From the corrupt tree comes only corrupt fruit (Matt. 7:18). So the heart must be made into a good heart, a heart of flesh instead of stone (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:25-26).
4) Being loved we are enabled to see the Lord’s glory and to thus love Him for who He is as well as for what He has done (cf. “Jesus I am resting in the joy of what thou art; I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart”). Thus we want to image and emulate Him. We see for example His loving work in the six days of creation serving man and we are stirred up to likewise do our work as a service to others in love for them. In this way we are like our Father in heaven (cf. creative, working, and serving others to give them the joys of life in God’s world).
5) In this light, we can give a slight adjustment to the title of the book by Edwards in a way that is in keeping with his over all presentation. That is, when we speak of charity or better love and its fruits we are talking about God’s saving and sanctifying love that produces appropriate fruits. This chapter gives us a look at the love of God reflected in redeemed image bearers. It is the love of the triune God displayed in the lives of saved sinners. Hence the matchless excellence of this love. It is Christian love, Christ-like love. It is godly love, God-like love. It is spiritual love, Spirit-like love. Defined like that we have to be impressed with the excellence of this love.
God’s love is the root of a tree that bears delicious fruit. Love must therefore be a principle implanted in the heart by Love from above. Consequently love is something given in the gracious action of God’s redeeming love. We love Him because He first loved us. His love is causal of our love. It is a divinely produced love associated with saving faith as the gift of God that is being referred to in this chapter.
It is the key to genuine faith, a faith that works or the obedience of faith because as Paul states, faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). “True love is an ingredient in true and living faith, and is what is most essential and distinguishing in it” (C 13).
Furthermore, love for God grows as we see His majesty and excellence with the eyes of faith. Then He is loved in the beauty of His holiness and thereby a similar motive generates love for holiness sake and thus a holy love that reaches the depths of the soul and extends to the neighbor near and far (cf. C 5). You cannot be loved by God without loving God and you cannot love God without loving your neighbor. This is the fullness of love toward which the Christian strives, even if with acknowledged frailty and weakness. Hence the excellence of Christian love.
By His gift of saving love, our eyes are opened to the perfection of God, to His excellence and thus a stream of love flows out from our hearts to God, to His people, and to mankind. God’s love and His perfection displayed in the doctrines and promises of the gospel in the saving of sinners are “like so many cords which take hold of the heart, and draw it out in love to God and Christ” (C 22).
Some people want go out in a blaze of glory but without love accent must be placed on the fact that they merely “go out.” There is no glory for them beyond the temporal things of this life. There is no actual glory in the temporal final act even if they sparkle and dance like a comet across the canopy of heaven. They have their day in the sun but their story is “a tale told by an idiot that signifies nothing.”
Even suffering is vain without love (cf. giving my body to be burned, 13:3). How it probes the heart to go through great troubles and deep waters. And a common resource is to know and affirm that there is a purpose for it. Well, we know that God has His sovereign purposes and they are good. But if we are without love (Christian/saving love and sanctifying love born of the Spirit and under girding conduct) then we suffer for no good end in our personal existence, the end of suffering here is only yields more suffering hereafter.
We have come to a profound and sober fact. Here we have the necessity of love to give life meaning, dignity, and value. Love is necessary to give these things to our lives per our gifts, possessions, and our very bodies for time and eternity.
In other words, the following questions are answered in 13:1-3. a) How can I have meaningful communication and in that way a sense of meaning in my basic relationships of life (v. 1)? How can I have relationships that have real, true, authentic meaning and significance? (Note that the basic relationship is man’s relationship with God through Christ by the Spirit). b) How can I be something rather than nothing (v. 2)? How can I have importance, even greatness? Is greatness something impossible for me? Is its utter opposite my only possibility? c) How can I have a profitable life? How can I make gains in life, even gains of great value (v. 3)?
The answer to all of these questions is found in one word, love.
This must be unpacked as to what is meant by love in all its ingredients. But whatever its fruits may be, it is the key to a life that has significance, dignity, and value.
That is, the text presents the issue with an impassible valley between a life worth living and a life that is worthless. It is a contrast of all or nothing. Without love there is no significance, no dignity, and no value to being alive. “Whatever performances or seeming virtues there are without love, are unsound and hypocritical” ( C 9).
This reminds of the words about Judas to the effect that it would have been better that he were never born. The context is not the larger picture of God’s purposes as if God might have done it a better way. It is the relationship between being born and perishing. It is better to have never been born than to have lived and then to experience eternal punishment.
What men trust amounts to nothing without love, to absolutely and utterly nothing.
Love is the most excellent principle to such a degree that without it all the important things of life that men seek are in vain (C 3). It is the great and essential thing (C 2).
It is important that as Christians, as Christ-like ones, that we do not contradict our profession in our practice. Consider your steps that you may follow in His steps. Consider how you may be like your Father in heaven who shows His love to just and unjust alike by giving them rain and sunshine (Matt. 6) and abundance of the earth (Acts 14).
Consider what a great absurdity and contradiction it is for a person to profess to be a Christian but make no earnest pursuit of a life characterized by love. It is as if one would speak of dark brightness, or false truth! (C 23).
We can fill out this exhortation in four steps.
1) The excellence of Christian love is a blessing. It is a blessing indeed and beyond compare to see the saving and sanctifying work of love going on in your soul. This is the core of Christianity. It is a great privilege, the greatest privilege and gift beyond all the extraordinary gifts. They are not saving. But the work of love in your heart by the love of God is a saving gift.
We should weigh this blessing in the brightness of the day and fix our eyes on it with deep gratitude.
2) It is amazing even astonishing. It is awesome to think of God’s work of love in the heart. This astounding fact should cause us to consider what kind of people we ought to be.
If you are a Christian, then you have been gifted with saving love. Thus, how love ought to flow from your heart to God and in obedient submission to Him it ought to flow out to all around you. Per Edwards: “When a fountain abounds in water, it will send forth streams;” thus “as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labour of love is the main business of the Christian life” (C 25).
3) This is challenging to have the pursuit of Christian love with its excellence as your main business. Excellence is a powerful word. It implies something that is obtained by striving; it is an extremely high ideal. Professional tennis players are often people who began practicing when five years old. A well-known player practiced every afternoon when he was six years old. This included holidays and he began winning tournaments at age seven. It’s the old proverb at work; “practice makes perfect.” Thus the excellence of love a) indicates that it is something very desirable, noble, high, and worthy. It is a surpassingly high goal. It is also b) something difficult. It makes demands and it takes much work, very hard work. So get to work!
4) Cultivating the excellence of love is enriching. How can I have a life that is meaningful and that communicates meaning? How can I have a life that has music in it and that communicates music (versus noisy clangs)? How can I have personal dignity, nobility, and even greatness? How can I have a life that is worth something, that is valuable and profitable? It is found in the saving and sanctifying love of the triune God. It is found in that love being reflected in me personally and thus in all my relationships in this world. We can see why this love has such depth and extends so far. It works in us from the inside out and it turns the world right side up.
Last time we looked at the theme of love as an excellent way. In the big picture, love is the way to live a life that communicates meaning that has music, significance, dignity, and value. Without it you are nothing and your life has no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3). And in context, love is an excellent way to seek, obtain, and use spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). But it is something much larger than the gifts. Love in this chapter has to be seen as a product of redemption (cf. the good that comes from formerly corrupt trees). Thus it is the love of the triune God being reflected in the lives of redeemed sinners that is the subject of this famous chapter. That reflection includes love for God with the whole heart and love for our neighbors, as we love our selves. Love for God is a wholehearted affection for God as my king and therefore it includes loving God in the neighbor since our King requires this of us. Thus love in 1 Corinthians 13, in the big picture, refers to God's love that produces love in us for Him and others.
Today we turn from the big picture to specifics. We will now concentrate on the manifestation of love in and through us. Interestingly, the first specific Paul mentions is patience (13:4). As we will see, it is fitting to begin here in describing Christian love, the love displayed by redeemed sinners being made in the likeness of Christ. I have two points: 1) a definition of patience, and 2) an illustration of patience.
What first comes to mind when you hear the word patient? What does it mean to be patient? Very often emphasis is placed on the context of suffering. A patient in a hospital is one who suffers some ailment. Thus being patient is a way of dealing with suffering. In this connection we often speak of the patience of Job (Jam. 5:11, but the word James uses is a noun related to the verb, endures in 1 Cor. 13:7, not our word patience in 13:4).
When I first think of patience, I think of time. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, we hear him make this plea, Have patience with me and I will pay you everything (Matt. 19:26). It is almost equivalent to saying, just give me some time (twenty years worth). To be patient is to be willing to wait for something. When you have patience, time is viewed as an ally not an enemy. There is some delay and some passing of time that must occur before a goal is reached or something is obtained. So it involves waiting. But the passing of time and waiting while time passes is not all there is to patience because patience is a way of waiting. Intuitively, we know there is such a thing as impatient waiting or waiting impatiently. It has to do with how we wait for something and being willing to wait is an aspect of patience.
How is patience shown in the parable? Time is given with mercy. The person is not made to pay. His huge debt is forgiven. He is given much more than an extension of time to pay the debt. He is given all of his time to use, as he will, without obligation.
But as a recipient of patience, what does he then do? He goes to a fellow servant that owes him a small debt. This person begs him to be patient (pleading for time, perhaps a few days). The unforgiving servant is harsh and unmerciful. He receives patience beyond measure and he gives impatience without mercy.
The point of the parable is to show us how patiently God deals with us and therefore how patient we ought to be with others. God's loving patience super abounds toward us despite our sins against Him. Hence the fact that we are recipients of such loving patience should restrain us from being harsh and it should constrain us to be lovingly patient with those who sin against us.
So there is a person to person (human to human) dimension to patience that is rooted in our relationship to God. Or should we say, rooted in God's relationship to us showing patience toward us (divine to human). But this is not the whole story. Patience is also something exercised toward God. There is a human to divine dimension.
Obviously, there is something distinct here. Patience in the relationship of man to God must be different from the patience that God shows us, and that one man shows to another. We do not give God time to pay a debt. There is no element of forgiveness or mercy in how we relate to God. Nonetheless, the Scriptures speak of patience in relation to God. That is why the title for the message today is Love is patient toward God (and next week, Love is patient toward men).
Patience is a virtue intimately connected to God's dealings with man by covenant. It is a way of waiting that is associated with faith since we are called to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Heb. 6:12). The promises of God are being fulfilled across the pages of human history. This is God's way: He makes covenant and then He fulfills His covenant in stages over time. The very 6-1 pattern of creation indicates that the Creator is a covenant making and covenant keeping God; it shows that history has the principle of God's covenant making and keeping woven into its very fabric.
What then does it mean to be patient toward God? It means to wait for God to keep His promises in the way, time, and place that He as Sovereign Lord chooses. That is, it means to wait calmly in obedience without complaining. Thus to be patient is to wait for God, to wait for God to keep covenant, to wait calmly in obedience without complaining about what He sees fit to do. This becomes clear when we compare the book of Hebrews with Genesis regarding the patience of Abraham.
Do you remember how long Abraham waited for the son of promise? It was twenty-five years (cf. Gen. 12:4-7 with 21:5). Abraham was promised a child and ultimately redemption in Christ (He saw Christ's day and rejoiced, Jn. 18:56). But there was a long delay in which he and Sarah went childless. He was promised a son and the redeemer to come through his wife Sarah. They got old waiting for the promise, so old that it seemed ridiculous, even a laughing matter, to Sarah who lied to the Lord about laughing at His promise (Gen. 18:10-15). When a son was born to her and Abraham in their old age, they named him Isaac, which is he laughs for he was their joy and laughter (Gen. 21:1-7).
The writer of the book of Hebrews says, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised (6:15). He did not simply wait; he waited patiently.
So our question becomes, what is this patience related to waiting, what way of waiting is being described? No doubt some of what is involved is suggested by the gap between promise and fulfillment. What's going on? Why is there a gap? Why doesn't God give what He promises immediately? The time between is school time. It is a time for learning obedience through testing by trials and by suffering.
We always look to the Genesis account to see Abraham's faith most clearly. But what shall we say about his patience? A good exercise that I recommend is that you read the Abraham narrative (Gen. 12:1-25:11); it is roughly thirteen chapters. A good approach is to read these chapters with the patience of Abraham in mind. Some observations can be made to summarize the narrative.
1) The Genesis account nowhere mentions the term patience in describing Abraham's walk with God.
2) Actually, it may surprise you to find that very little is recorded regarding the responses of Abraham. We do see him in action as in the mini war to save Lot (Gen. 14). But we have little regarding his responses to God; we have little given that he lived for nearly two hundred years as the friend of God (Isa. 41:8). So, we are dependent on the commentary given in the book of Hebrews by the Holy Spirit to fill out things we need to know.
3) We do have one place where Abraham's thinking is exposed to us in Genesis. The one place that I found (there may be others), was immediately after the giving of the covenant of circumcision. God restated the covenant and gave the command of circumcision (Gen. 17:1-16). Then Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?' (17:17). Abraham believes but his faith needs strengthening. He focuses on the practical and seemingly impossible problem of age. So he thinks that his son Ishmael is the solution (Gen. 17:18). God reiterates the promise and accents the place of Sarah: Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call his name Isaac (Gen. 17:19).
In the end, what is Abraham's response? We have no words or thoughts cited. What is recorded is that On that very day (Gen. 17:23) Abraham obeyed the command regarding circumcision.
4) What was Abraham's response when God gave His promise again and Sarah laughed then lied about laughing (Gen. 18:1-15)? No response is recorded. But immediately afterward, Abraham dialogues with the Lord concerning the destruction of Sodom where he says (by way of his questions) that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (Gen. 18:25). This showed his faith in God and in His promise.
5) Finally, with the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21), the way is paved for Abraham's greatest trial. When Isaac was a young teen, (some time later, Gen. 22:1), he was to be surrendered to God in sacrifice, literally on the altar. What the surrender called for is highlighted in how Isaac is described: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and sacrifice him (Gen. 22:2). In other words, take your joy and laughter and put it to death with a sharp knife. Take Isaac and kill him on the altar of sacrifice. This is a severe test, a deep and fiery trial of his faith (if cut off from its context, this has to be a most horrifying scene that is contrary to all that is biblical, right and good in family love of parent to child and child to parent).
He has now waited some forty years for the promise of many descendents (for a son through Sarah and many children through him). Isaac was special and caused his father to laugh. Suddenly, out of the blue, as a young teen, he is to be killed by the father that loves him dearly! And you no doubt remember what happened. Abraham marched to Mount Moriah and there would have killed his dear son had the angel of the Lord not stopped him. He was so firm in the act that he in fact offered him to God there on the altar and then took the knife to complete the offering (Heb. 11:17).
What responses are recorded to the command of God regarding the sacrifice of Isaac? Let's follow the narrative. a) He obeys without delay. Thus, early the next morning he took Isaac and wood for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about (Gen. 22:3). b) He speaks to his servants telling them, We will worship and then we will come back to you (22:5). c) He speaks to his son saying, Yes my son? and God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering my son (22:7-8). Besides saying, Here I am a couple of times (22:1, 11), nothing more is told us concerning his responses of thought, word, or deed.
What are the ingredients of patience that we can learn from these accounts? I see at least three things.
a) Nowhere in this account or in the entire history of Abraham is there any mention of complaining. In other words, he was not impatient, which is identified as a sin of speech in the book of Numbers (21:4-5). If you think about Israel in the wilderness, one thing that probably comes immediately to mind is their continual grumbling, murmuring, and complaining (against Moses and against the Lord). Israel here is a classic embodiment of impatience that teaches us about patience. They are not like their father Abraham who displayed great patience in the trial of his faith over many years. Actually, the trial/testing/proving/developing of his faith spanned his entire life. If we read the story of Abraham noting the trial of his faith and especially the fiery trial of Genesis 22, we never hear him complain or lash out at the Lord. In the remarkable account of the sacrifice of Isaac, we see Abraham on the outside very composed and obedient. We hear no complaining.
b) Moreover, the writer of Hebrews tells us what was going on internally: he reasoned that God would keep his covenant because He was able to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:18-19). He was not filled with fear, panic, agitation of soul, and mental turmoil though the trial was profound in its fiery depths. Instead, he reasoned (to engage the mind settles the soul). He reasoned that God. He concentrated on God's promise, trusted His matchless power to keep His word, and he straightforwardly submitted himself to the will of God in this context without complaint and with a calmness of soul.
In the way of faith and patience, Abraham received the promise of the covenant. With patient calmness of soul, he received his only begotten son and with him the promise of Christ, the only begotten son and final sacrifice for sinners.
c) In the context of the covenant, to be patient means to do what God requires of us without complaining against God for what He decides. It means to do our work of loving service (Heb. 6:10) It is to avoid being sluggish but looking to the promises (Heb. 6:12). It means to obey and do what God requires without agitation of spirit but with a calm and content heart waiting for Him to bring His covenant to realization in His time and in His way.
1) Patience is a duty
We need to make this point clear because in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is basically descriptive versus being imperative. Take a look, he says, here is what love is, this is what it looks like. The idea of duty stems from the fact that Paul's whole point in this chapter is to show us an excellent pathway for our footsteps. This is the narrow way that Christ spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount. The excellence of love is the way to obtaining the gifts and using them.
Description serves to map out the duties of love. Here is what love looks like; now that is what you are to look like in your conduct. There is the pathway; now walk in that way. Description is for subscription. Knowledge is for action; all Christian learning is for obedient learning and should be pursued to that end. We should always be looking for how to improve our conduct based on what we learn from Scripture.
Thus 12:31 governs every description like an overlay. If you think of each fruit of love as a separate page, the overlay of 12:31 can be placed on each page where it adds the dimension of duty to the picture. Excellence, excellent graces, Christian virtues are placed before our eyes in all their perfection to aid us and inspire us in the way of duty.
The extreme height of this duty is not a discouragement. It is helpful to have clear goals and to know that this goal and that goal are required of me by the Lord. That He requires it is all the assurance I need to know that He will be my helper and my rock of strength.
Very specifically then, it is your duty to cultivate the Christian virtue of patience toward God. We need to have a sense of duty and diligence. It is like pondering a road map very carefully so we can travel in the right direction.
2) Patience is rooted in Christ
This answers the question, How could Abraham show such patience toward God?
It was the fact that he fixed his gaze on the Lord Jesus. Somehow, Abraham saw the day of Christ and rejoiced (Jn. 18:56). This is interesting language when we remember that Isaac means laughter and joy. Abraham saw the greater Isaac in his son Isaac. He embraced the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed that He would be the promised offspring of Eve who would bring restoration from all the effects of the fall.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, cultivates patience. To be patient we must fix our gaze on Him not on the stormy waters surrounding us.
3) Patience focuses on the covenant keeping God
Abraham focused on God's righteousness, His promise, and His ability as the Sovereign Judge of the entire earth. By imitating his example, we are enabled to wait for God's time, place, and way of fulfillment without complaining and with a calm spirit within.
Did Abraham ever see his descendents like the sand of the sea? Did he ever possess the land? Did he ever see the blessing of the nations through his son and his greater son? No. But he did come to see God and to know Him better and better. He and all the patriarchs died not having obtained the promises (Heb. 11:13). Abraham was content to have nothing of this world for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).
This is the outlook toward the future that we should likewise cultivate. No doubt we all have things that we desire deeply and that we thought the Lord would have given to us by now in our lives (life time goals, the salvation of the unsaved, etc.). So we pray, work, long, wait, and wait still longer. He is righteous and He is able. He will keep His promises. To this end the Lord assures us by adding oath to promise (Heb. 6:16-20).
4) Patience is first and foremost a matter of love
This specific fruit of love, loving patience, is rooted in our love to Christ. It is how we love Him. We long for Him. O Lord Jesus how long, how long, shall we shout the glad song, Christ is returning, Christ is returning, hallelujah, amen. Love means that we will look to our God as the covenant keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So we wait patiently. The key is waiting for Him to act; looking for Him to act. In other words, patience is a way of waiting with love for God because we wait for Him.
In the big picture, to be loving is the way to live a life that communicates meaning, that has music, significance, dignity, and value. Without it you are nothing and your life has no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Love in this chapter has to be seen as a product of redemption because of the good fruits here that come from formerly corrupt trees. The love of the triune God is being reflected in the lives of redeemed sinners. It is reflected or manifested in specific ways. The first specific cited by Paul is patience (13:4).
On one hand, patience is a virtue intimately connected to God's dealings with man by covenant. It is a way of waiting that is associated with faith since we are called to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised (Heb. 6:12). So being patient is a way of loving God.
On the other hand, patience is a love fruit that has a human to human dimension involving patience toward sinners in the church and outside the church (toward sinners and sinner-saints).
Thus there is both a vertical direction and a horizontal direction to the patience of love. Today I will discuss two things about the horizontal direction: a) patience in ministry of the word, and b) patience in life in the world.
As we take up our duties in relation to others, the vertical direction must always be present in the back of our minds. In relation to God, patience means to wait for the Lord to keep His promises. It means to wait calmly in obedience without complaining. We thus wait upon Him as Sovereign Lord for His way, time, and place of covenant keeping. Therefore, there is a time between; there is a now and a not yet to the coming of the kingdom.
The time between the comings of the Lord Jesus is a time of promise and waiting for the fulfillment of promise. In the middle, we are given reiteration and confirmation of His promise by means of the preaching of the word.
Here patience applies to the flock in a distinctive way and it applies to the minister in a distinctive way. It relates to how I give and how you receive correction, rebuke, and encouragement in the preaching of the word (2 Tim. 4:2). The same thing applies in different ways according to our stations in life (with nuances peculiar to each).
1) Let's begin with loving patience on the part of the flock. Again, patience is oriented to how you receive correction, rebuke, and encouragement in the preaching of the word both publicly and privately (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20). So what is distinctive, at least, what is cited and stressed in this connection for our instruction? Distinctive in a patient receiving of the ministry of the word is to receive it without complaining and whining (expressing dissatisfaction in a grumpy manner). It is a Christian grace and the mark of a godly church.
A key text is Numbers 21:4-5. Impatience showed itself both against the Lord and against His servant Moses who led God's flock by the word and prayer. Expressions of discontentment, dissatisfaction, and resentment cause distraction and lead to divisions. Thus patience is having a contentment of heart looking to the Lord of the covenant who has ordained the foolishness of preaching to confound the wise.
You need to be patient with me and I think you are. This is one of the joys that I have in serving you. I have never heard a discouraging or complaining word from any of you over the course of my labors on your behalf. This is remarkable to me because I know that I am a sinner and that I fail you in many ways. It is remarkable because you put up with me even though there are things about which we no doubt disagree. There are things I do that you would not do, that you do not like, or that you would do differently if you were in my shoes.
There has been constructive criticism. This is truly appreciated both in its fact and its manner. What I sense is that you are willing to wait. You are willing to give me time to do my work and you give time for the profit to come. You are looking for the benefit that God will give through the means He has appointed. You are waiting for the seed that is being sown to grow into a full harvest. You wait for it to grow by the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
You are waiting for the coming of the Lord with patience like a farmer who values the means as well as the ends (Jam. 5:7). Valuing the means God has ordained is a key to patient reception of the word preached.
It may be the case that at times the preaching of the word goes beyond preachin' to meddlin.' It may be painful to receive correction but you do not complain. I sense that you are taking up the word preached with a determination to understand it and to live by it. Patient receiving of the word seeks for obedience in all learning. It includes a willingness to change.
By your patient spirit, I feel loved and I am encouraged in doing my work. Biblically there is a full circle here because in the end it is to your advantage when you promote my joy as I watch over your souls (Heb. 13:17). Instead of complaining against me in your speech I sense that you are helping me by your prayers. For this I give thanks to the Lord Jesus. You are to be commended. This is pleasing to the Lord. Just consider how He judged Israel for their impatience sending fiery serpents so that many died (Num. 21:6f) and what He tells us of His anger at Israel's complaining (Num. 11:1, His anger was kindled and the fire of the Lord burned among them).
2) On the other side of the equation, what do you think would be most appropriate in the patience of the minister of the word (2 Tim. 4:2)? What is peculiar or distinctive here? What sin might commonly surface in this connection? Specifically, what element of patience is particularly called for?
One answer to this question or one way to answer it is to think through the grow seeds grow line in the children's story of Frog and Toad. Toad got very impatient with the seeds he planted because they did not immediately spring up. Applied to preaching this may come out in the minister’s disappointment with the fact that things he preaches may seem to fall on deaf ears. It is difficult to see spiritual growth; it is like the pot that takes forever to boil.
I deeply desire the blessing of the Spirit and the fruits of righteousness in your lives. But I have to ask myself, What if you don't see my point or don't agree if you do see it? What if I am right and feel deeply convinced of your need on this, that or the other thing, but you do not see it? (cf. Sabbath keeping for example). What then does patience contribute to correction, rebuke, and encouragement with careful instruction? It seems to me that of the associated graces and virtues, the ones most needed and perhaps tested here are gentleness and steadfastness. When lovingly patient, the servant of the Lord will not be harsh, unreasonable, quarrelsome, and demanding (2 Tim. 2:24f). He will not give up easily but will press on toward the high mark of due diligence, carefulness, and faithfulness waiting for God to give repentance.
I think that this is most difficult for a minister if he does not fix his focus on the sovereign dealing of our covenant Lord with His church. Again, that is the true resource and strength. Over the years some of the deepest afflictions that I have experienced have been in the context of serving the Lord's people (with my expectations, naiveté, and failings mixed in of course). I suppose it goes with having something that you deeply care about so the disappointments can be profound. Still, God is faithful and we have a worthwhile cause seeking His honor and glory above all else and amidst all the confusion.
Waiting for God (while trusting in His sovereignty, righteousness, and wisdom) is a foundation for patience in the context of ministry of the word for both pastor and flock.
Patience is fundamental in our mutual relationships in the body of Christ as we help one another by warning, comforting, and upholding the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). Any of us may be any of these things at one time or another, so we need a one anothering that demonstrates great patience. This is filled out in Ephesians 4:2-3, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Patience is needed in order to bear with one another. Interestingly, we have to admit to a tendency to irritate and injure one another. In this context of the people of God, we are to exercise patience toward sinner-saints.
We have given some thought to patience in the ministry of the word and in the life of the church. Let's now turn to patience in life in the world.
Now we need to think about how love is patient toward unbelieving sinners (with implications here for patience toward sinner-saints as well). The hard truth is that love applies in our experience with those who sin against us. Attention is placed on how we are to love those who hurt and injure us.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul puts patience in the context of hardships, sufferings, beatings, and afflictions (1-6). A trick here is to learn how to be patient with complaining, grumbling, and impatient people (Jude 1:16, the ungodly are harsh grumblers, malcontents who follow their own sinful desires; note the three elements of impatience that imply three elements of patience). And Paul relates his experience to all that seek to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:10-11). Evil people may injure us as they either oppose the gospel or simply pursue their sinful ways. There are many ways that people may hurt us deeply as you can well imagine (just think of something that probably just happened in your life). However, a contrast applies to Christians: But as for you (2 Tim. 3:14). Christians follow Paul's teaching/living and thus his patience in relation to evil people (2 Tim. 3:10f.).
Love in this context is patient. Patience is the way we show love to sinful people at the very point where they cross our path and cause us grief and pain. This can be stated negatively and positively.
Negatively speaking, the patience of love means that we bear injuries without retaliating in thought, word, or deed. Perhaps, the best passage on this point is the teaching of Jesus on nonresistance (Matt. 5:38-39). We have to interpret this passage within the flow of thought of the Sermon accenting the inner man of the heart, the use of figurative language, the contrast with Pharisaic mis-interpretation, and common sense. Jesus is not being literal. He is not saying that if someone literally knocked the teeth out of one side of your mouth you are blessed if you turn the other cheek and let him knock the teeth out of the other side as well. This goes against the principle of self-defense and the promotion of life in the sixth commandment.
The problem is that the Pharisees took the eye for an eye principle of civil justice and applied it to personal vendettas. Thus, Jesus is not denying the eye for an eye principle of civil justice but He is denying the practice of personal retaliation. And the figurative language makes the powerful point that we are to be so far removed from personal retaliation that it is as if we were to literally turn the other cheek to our physical harm. In other words, turning the other cheek is going to an extreme physically, a point farthest removed from hitting back to harm your opponent. This serves to illustrate and drive home the point of how far we are to be removed from retaliation in the spiritual man of the heart. We are not only to be removed from returning physical harm for physical harm but we are to be so far removed from retaliation that we do not return evil for evil in any way in thought, word, or deed. That is what patient love is not; it is without retaliation of any kind.
On the positive side, patient love is calm, gentle, and forgiving.
a) It means that the one who owes us is not made to pay. We are willing to give time with mercy. We are willing to forgive, which is the driving point of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21f.).
b) Furthermore, if you do not retaliate in thought then your inner spirit is not filled with ill will wishing for revenge with malice boiling in your heart. One thing that will not be present in your soul if you are gripped by malice and ill will is calmness. You will not be at rest or have peace within. Patience means that you will endure afflictions at the hands of sinners with a calm spirit.
c) Finally, it means that your responses to people will be gentle. Gentleness is an outward expression of an inward calm. If you do not lash out in retaliation, what do you do? You respond with deliberation and great care even when you must confront and reprove. Our Lord guides us to this way of love when He speaks of logs in our own eyes and specks of sawdust in the eyes of others. You must be gentle in the process of removing something small from someone's eye.
In summary then we can say that stated negatively patient love responds to injury without retaliating in thought, word, or deed. Stated positively, patient love responds to injury with calmness, gentleness, and forgiveness.
How can we have a calm spirit when injured and hurt by others? This could be frightening when we reflect on man's cruelty. And no one likes pain though sometimes by our own folly we may appear to be gluttons for punishment. So how can we endure injury that causes us very personal pain? How can we bear it without retaliating in deed or thought? How can we bear it with a calm, gentle, and forgiving spirit? These questions raise some very important perspectives.
1) First, we need know that the Lord is with us.
This will enable us to be calm. It is by remembering what our Lord has said that grounds what we can say in the middle of it all. He has promised, I will never leave you nor forsake you so that we may confidently say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Heb. 13:5-6). Ponder, meditate on, and cling to this fact, the Lord is with me in this.
2) Second, we need to know that the Lord is in control.
When others hurt you, remember that ultimately this has come from your Father's hand. That is a remarkable point that does not excuse people for their wrongdoing. When others afflict us as they pursue their sinful ways, they are accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, God is working out His purposes governing all things without fail. He is working all things in accordance with His will and for your good (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28).
This means in the end that how we react to the wrongs that strike us personally and painfully is first and foremost a reaction to Lord. It is not simply a reaction He sees (that is before Him). It is a reaction to Him. It is absolutely imperative in this present evil age that we fix our thoughts on this fact. No one can do anything to afflict us unless the Lord so designs it (In the words of the hymn writer God says, I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.).
3) Third, we need to know that the Lord will right all wrongs.
Thus, the Lord is not pleased with the sins of men against us. These are sometimes difficult thoughts to keep together. Here is a rich complex of thoughts: that injury at the hands of men is from the hand of God and that it displeases the Lord who will take vengeance in His appointed time. He says that He will repay (Heb. 10:30). We are not to try to make this payment. It is His job and not ours. He will right all the wrongs!
4) Fourth, we need to know that the Lord gives us warning.
The harshness of the unforgiving servant is severely punished. The Lord tells us that we will be judged according to how we judge others; the way we measure the sins against us is how our sins will be measured (Matt. 7:2). Will it be with exactness, precision, and harshness without mercy? Then that is how God will measure our sins. If you forgive, the Father in heaven will forgive you. However, if you do not forgive sins and injuries against you, then you will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:14-15).
5) Finally, we need to know that the Lord Himself is our great example. Just think of what the Lord Jesus endured, how He endured, and for whom He endured injury at the hands of sinners. His own received Him not. He was faulted by all, opposed on every hand, challenged by the religious leaders, and hated without just cause. The Lord of glory was simply in their way. He was a rejected stone cast aside by the builders of God's house in Israel. More than once the people tried to kill Him. Finally they succeeded by a mockery of civil justice. Even His friends forsook Him: Friends through fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress. Many hands were raised to wound Him. None would interpose to save. Nonetheless, with a calm soul and a determined heart, our Lord went as a lamb to the slaughter. On the cross He prayed that those who afflict Him may be forgiven. His patience was perfect. This excellence of His love in this regard is our example (1 Tim. 1:16) and God's patience is our salvation (2 Pet. 3:15, count the patience of our Lord as salvation).
We may reason in our hearts that the call to this excellence of loving patience is unrealistic. Some may say that we are talking here about evil acts of evil people on one hand and evil acts against me personally and painfully on the other hand. This is a double-barreled hurt that I cannot tolerate. J. Edwards asks some powerful questions to stop such rationalizing. I will paraphrase them somewhat (Charity, 92-95; the full text is well worth your reading).
Are these so-called intolerable injuries against you more than what you have offered to God by sinning against His matchless perfection? Do you not hope for patience from God for your intolerable acts against Him? When God is patient toward you, do you greatly approve of such mercy? Should you not imitate God in being patient toward others? Should God use all your objections to this grace against you? Did Christ give you a worthy example to follow? Is it a more provoking thing for men to tread on and injure you, than for you to tread on and injure Christ by disobeying Him by not pursuing the excellence of loving patience?
Thus, in the church and in the world, loving patience is an excellent way, so walk ye in it.
May the patience of our Heavenly Father, the example of our risen Lord, and the peace of the Holy Spirit be with you all, amen!
The text (1 Cor. 13:4) combines the patience of love with its kindness: love is patient and kind (as in Gal. 5:22). These are two aspects or elements of love that are presented in explanation of what love is (cf. the subject love is repeated here, love is patient, love is kind; except for a variant after the word envy, the term love is not used again until v. 8). Then comes a list of eight things that love is not (4b-6a). Of course, from what love is not we learn what it is by implication to its opposite. And from what love is, we can infer nuances of what it is not. The negative is like a dark background that helps you see what's in the foreground more clearly. Paul shows us this interplay between the negative and the positive in verse 6 where he begins with the negative and then moves to the positive (showing the implication of the positive that is contained in the negative statement).
The list and the way it is set up show the fullness of the subject under discussion. Paul is concatenating. He is squeezing volumes into a few paragraphs (four to be exact). Such fullness justifies the effort to understand a specific virtue in light of the entire Bible, and by thinking carefully and logically.
Thus, two important things need to be kept in mind as we work our way through this famous love chapter. a) Each dimension of love presented needs to be appreciated in its uniqueness. Each element of love is a distinct reflection of the love diamond. b) Also, the virtues of love are interdependent. They overlap with one another and they imply one another. One reflection of the diamond implies the reality of other reflections and it implies the diamond as a whole.
Therefore, we have two overall goals. We want to find a good definition of each love fruit. Such defining should reveal as much as possible the distinctiveness of each grace. And at the same time, we want to see how the graces overlap and imply one another. Otherwise, we will fail to see the richness and fullness of each grace.
These goals are important because this richness and fullness for learning and living is what true disciples seek. Remember, if you understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love then you are nothing (v. 2). Without love, communication is ultimately meaningless (a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, v. 1); your sacrifices, however great, gain nothing (v. 3). Therefore, learners show themselves to be Christ’s disciples by their love, which means they learn with the immediate goal of obedience and with the ever present ultimate goal of glorifying Christ.
To that end, let's consider the love fruit of kindness this morning. If we put these words together literally we can come up with a title for the message: loving-kindness. I have two main points: an explanation of loving-kindness and an exhortation to loving-kindness.
So what is kindness? As a love fruit, what is the nature of loving-kindness? Three words will cue our answer: comparison, definition, and pattern.
When we unpack patience toward sinners and note that it means we do not retaliate in thought, word, or deed, we discover that instead of being harsh it involves being gentle and kind. So we ask, what is the difference between kindness and patience? The answer is that patience has the context of being injured particularly in mind, it is a reaction to the sins of others against us. And in this context, patience shows itself in kind thoughts (good will), kind words, and kind deeds despite the fact that someone has hurt us deeply. Kindness here is being viewed from the perspective of patience in the face of injury.
When the kindness quality of love is the subject of attention, let's say viewed in itself, it is concerned with contexts larger than that of being injured. Here kindness is the whole pie and one slice of the pie is kindness in relation to those who afflict us. To say it is the whole pie is to say that it is the subject now being considered. To switch analogies, this means that we are looking at love as a diamond again and we are now looking at the kindness reflection. If we look deep into the diamond from this angle we will see that it includes a response to the sins of others around us and against us. If you look into the diamond, into the patience reflection you see kindness in there. If you look into the kindness reflection you see patience in there. But they are different reflections or sides of the diamond each with its own hues and accents.
Hence, there is much more to kindness than a response to sins against us; it has many applications where our response to injury is not the point (it may, for example, be a response to someone else's suffering).
Kindness can be described by explaining its core, its independence, its universality, its comprehensiveness and its spirituality. At its core, kindness is doing good to others. It is doing good to others from the heart (from a heart of good will); it means to do good to others in thought, word, and deed. This is the core or center of loving-kindness.
Kindness has an interesting independent quality about it. It means to do good to others in a way not dependent on their character, conduct, or responses to you. Its universality simply means that no one is excluded in principle. We are to extend loving-kindness to all that come across our path in need. That is the neighbor as defined by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The comprehensiveness of kindness refers to the fact that love seeks to do physical, temporal, emotional, and eternal good to others. By this fruit, we do what we can to promote their physical and emotional well being, their wealth, and the safety of their entire selves before God in the final judgment.
But let's not leave out the spiritual depth that applies here. We should not have a specialist mentality about a person's total health and well being. That is, we should not think that the physical needs of the body are the exclusive responsibilities of the medical doctor and the emotional needs of man are the exclusive responsibilities of the head doctor. That is a sacred/secular way of thinking. It is not a Christian way of thinking. My point is that spiritual laws, principles, and graces apply to our physical, temporal, emotional, and eternal needs. It is not as if the physical/temporal/emotional is over here and the eternal is over there. It is not that the former means that a person is non-spiritual or secular and the latter means that he is spiritual or sacred.
All of the areas of human need have a spiritual dimension. For example, we pray for daily bread in conjunction with praying for the hallowing of God's name (cf. the Lord's Prayer).
If we are kind, we will promote the good of others in any way that we can, whether inward or outward, temporal or eternal as the Holy Spirit enables us through His words in Scripture (i.e., the spiritual applies across the board). For example, it is not the job of the church to have wealth and prosperity seminars. But Christians should be alert to opportunities to help others with work by recommending to a job. It is a marvelous opportunity if one has a business and can put others to work. This issue of a weekly paycheck is a spiritual matter as an outflow of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. the implications of the 8th commandment, work to eat, and the workman is worthy of his wages, etc).
In this light a great quote from Edwards is made even greater. He stated that to be instruments of spiritual good is to do to others greater good than if we had given them the riches of the universe (Charity, 97). Of course, this does not exclude giving of our material possessions; it simply puts it into perspective as a sacred duty.
If I asked you the following question, how would you reply? Loving-kindness has what pattern? If it follows a pattern, then what might that pattern be? Reach as high as you can to answer this question. Once you do, I think we will have the same answer. God's kindness is the pattern. If you the six and one pattern of creation came to mind, you went in thought to a superlative example of God's loving-kindness in making a habitable place for man to live (in the work of the six days) and promising rest with Him at the end of our work on earth (the rest of the 7th day that is enjoyed week by week in fellowship with God is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest).
God's kindness is our pattern for kindness even in this fallen world. Speaking to unbelievers Paul says that God gives rain and crops in their seasons to give man the enjoyable things of life (Acts 14:17; cf. Rom. 2:4, His witness extends a overture of grace inviting sinners to Himself; cf. His outstretched hands, Rom. 10:21). This is part and parcel of His call to sinners to seek Him and live. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us of the Father's love that sends the rain and sunshine on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:43-48). There is loving-kindness that is common to all (cf. common grace and common goodness). His kindness is our pattern and it has independence in that it does not rest on the character, conduct, or responses of others as is clear in the therefore you of verse 48.
However, it should be noted that God's kindness has limits that reveal His severity. Paul tells us to consider His kindness and His severity, kindness to you and severity to others (Rom. 11:22). Therefore we have to balance the fact of His common goodness with His special goodness to His covenant people.
The OT has many occurrences of God's abundant kindness to His covenant people (cf. the same Greek word for kindness in the LXX). In Psalm 25:7, the Psalmist pleads to be remembered according to God's love that he grounds in the fact that God is good (for you are kind). God is great in kindness that is public and protective (Ps. 31:19-20). His bounty is abundant (Ps. 65) and includes atonement (v. 3), awesome deeds of righteousness, giving of joy, and the blessing of the water cycle (vs. 5, 9, 12). But we must not miss two things. 1) His kindness is parallel with holiness, which reminds us of God's severity. 2) His kindness is shown in election (v. 4; cf. the good figs versus the bad figs, Jer. 24:1f).
In Ephesians 2:7, Paul refers to the riches of God's grace in kindness toward us in Christ. His loving-kindness appeared in the Savior and when it did, He saved us (Titus 3:4). Thus, it is not based on our character, conduct, or response to God. We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). His goodness to us generated our response and cannot be based on it in any way.
We follow the pattern He sets when we do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith and when we seek their good despite their character, conduct, and responses to us.
Let me exhort you to show kindness to all men everywhere seeking their physical, emotional, temporal, and eternal good. In a word, my exhortation is, Go about doing good as Jesus did and thus follow in His steps. Do so with a spiritual depth that opposes a sacred/secular worldview. Do so after God according to the pattern He has laid out in front of us.
1) Go about doing good because of God's fatherly goodness to you. Note the exhortation in Titus 3 to every good work in speech, demeanor, and common courtesy that is based on the fact that we ourselves were once foolish. But when Christ appeared He saved us by doing good to us that we do not deserve (work of the Spirit, justification, entitlement, and hope, Titus 3:1-7). Because He has been good to you, go and do good to others.
2) Go about doing good because you are the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Bring some of His heaven to this earth. Thus imitate God, as dearly loved children live a life of love as Christ loved (Eph. 4:32-5:1)! What a packed statement!
3) Go about doing good because in this way you show that you are children of God. Show you are children by doing good to others whatever posture they may take toward you.
Do good to those who persecute you. Pray for them who despitefully use you. Do good to the thankful, the unthankful, the good, the evil (whether directed toward you or not), the friend, and the enemy. All of these things are in Luke 6:27-36: do good to those who hate you (v. 27), bless, pray, turn the other cheek, go extra mile, practice the golden rule (v. 31). What credit do you have if you do good to those who are good to you? That is, what can be credited to your account as a child of God that shows you are God's child? Doing good to the enemy leads to great reward and then, Jesus says, you are sons. Namely, you demonstrate sonship and daughtership to God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Loving-kindness is a good work and its takes work (cf. the delicacy of trying to tell a mature adult that they have lice in their hair!). There are many pitfalls and responses to us will vary.
One translation renders 1 Thessalonians 5:15 in this way, try to be kind. This exhortation is preceded by many references to Paul's example (2:1ff.). It is an example worth following. It is for ministers and for all believers. A case in point within this context is 2:9-12. Consider Paul's kind-heartedness (his heart attitude) and loving kindness (in outward actions). These things lead up to the final instructions of his letter (5:12-15) and the crisp exhortation, don't pay back but try to be kind to one another and to every one (5:15). Thus seek to be kind, make that a determined goal of your life. Make this a conscious goal in life: try to be kind!
I close by noting that ultimately loving-kindness begins with the love of Christ for us. On that basis, live a life of love and go about seeking to do good to everyone but especially to the household of faith.
As we study the description of love given to us in 1 Corinthians 13, we should look to the Lord in earnest prayer and to ourselves with careful self-examination. It is very important to a healthy Christian walk that we endeavor to learn with a sense of need driven by an awareness of the subtlety of sin (personalized, this means "my sin"). Therefore, we cling to the work of Christ in His life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and the sure promise of eternal life. That is the bottom line for disciples who prove that they are His disciples by their love.
So we want to understand what it means to love and part of doing that is seeing love against the dark backdrop of sin. Today, then, we will consider love in its opposition to envy under the title, "Love is contrary to envy." To develop the relationship between love and envy, I will ask three questions: a) what is envy? b) How do we overcome it? c) What positive dimension of love is implied by envy?
As something opposite of a loving spirit, what is it? What is the sin of envy?
At the very center of this evil is excessive desire. It is an attitude of the heart. It is a motive deep in the inner man. Additionally, it is excessive desire for something that you do not have. It may or may not be focused on material possessions. What is desired in this way may be some kind of notice and the inflation of the ego.
But this is still incomplete because envy does not function in a vacuum. If we liken envy to some warm coals, what is it that fans the coals into a flame? We all have the tendency to be envious as part of our sin nature. It is there, perhaps latent or dormant, just like the calm smoldering of warm coals. We should acknowledge this fact of its presence. But to my point, what fans it into turbulent flames? Envy is stirred up by comparing what we want but do not have with what others have. There is an "each other" dimension to envy (Gal. 5:26). It is personal: Scripture tells us to avoid envying one another. It is a person to person issue.
The hallmark of envy, its distinguishing feature, is oriented to this personal comparative aspect. I am envious when I dislike someone because he or she has what I want but lack in some comparative way. How this dislike manifests itself depends on many factors whether others are in some regard above us, equal to us or below us (in rank, annual salary, age, standing, and opportunities, etc.). Thus envy may manifest itself in a host of ways.
It is an internal attitude that underlies many external evil acts. This sin that is contrary to love is denounced in lists of evil practices that are very onerous and odious. In Galatians 5:26 envying is associated with provoking. Envying and provoking are acts of the sinful nature (5:19) along with things like enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions (5:20). Envy lies behind enmity or malice and it drives strife, quarreling, angry fits, and dissension. And Paul gives a very pointed warning to the effect that "those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (5:21). In this light, Edwards says that envy is "ranked among the abominable works of the flesh" and it is thus a "hateful sin" that Christians practiced before they were redeemed; it is a sin that they should now confess and forsake (Charity 117). We don't want to go down this road. Give envy an inch and it will take a mile (sow to the wind and you will reap a whirlwind). From the Corinthian letters we can put it like this: If you associate with envy you will rub shoulders with strife, quarreling, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (cf. 1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20).
The account of Joseph and his brothers in the OT (Gen. 37ff) gives a very revealing picture of the nature and manifestations of envy. In a word, this example shows that envy is a major obstacle to loving-kindness. Note how the comparative element leaps from the text: "his brothers saw that their father loved him [Joseph] more than all his brothers" (v. 4). Their hearts were filled with envy (jealousy, v. 11) that manifested itself in hatred and non-peaceful speech (v. 4). Remarkably, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. What an ugly sin to lack peace in your speech toward someone. Their speech stirred up quarreling, strife, and dissension. What they wanted was something good in itself, the love of their father. Having that desire was not wrong. It was not wrong to have that desire in a deep and consuming way. Sin enters the picture when what they want but lack is given to their brother and they dislike him for it. The wants in question may be okay in themselves. But when we step off the path of righteousness in jealous pursuit of our wants we sin. When our wants are enflamed, unsettled, and stirred up by the knowledge that others have what we want, then we tend toward envy in attitude and action. Then our attitude is such that we cannot rejoice in their joy in some good that we want but lack in a comparative way.
1) If we think of an envy tree, what holds the tree in place, what roots it to the earth? It is held in place by pride. The comparative aspect helps us see how envy is rooted into our conduct. Pride is "the great root and source of envy. It is because of men's hearts that they have such a burning desire to be distinguished, and to be superior to all others in honor and prosperity, and which makes them uneasy and dissatisfied in seeing others above them" (Charity 121).
How does it branch out? It involves attitudes like malice and bitterness and various actions that overflow in tearing others down. This leads to various branches on the tree of envy such as hating them, wishing for their demise, and being glad when they fall. In our actions, we may tare them down with the hidden agenda of raising self up.
2) An example can be taken from my tennis playing. I want to win at singles. But here I go each week for "my weekly beating" as if I am a glutton for punishment. But another player wins in singles all the time (or 99% of the time). An envious spirit shows up when I have feelings of dislike for this person because he does what I want to do but cannot do. An envious spirit would include thoughts like being happy to hear that he has tennis elbow or upon hearing that he dropped some weights on his foot, I say to myself, "I hope he broke it good."
3) Comparison with covetousness will help us see what envy is clearly. Envy overlaps with coveting, excessively wanting what others have. But as we have seen the hallmark of envy is comparison by which we become acutely aware of the relationship between what others have and what we want but do not have. Like coveting, envying involves being discontent with what we have. We are discontent in a way that takes us down a path of sin in thought and deed.
When we covet we have excessive desire for something that belongs to another. We may covet their spouse and their possessions. Coveting leads to adultery and theft. But the excessive desire of envy is not so much that we want something that belongs to another (to move it from their home to ours). It is an excessive desire that is inflamed by a competitive or comparative spirit. We want a higher salary, more success, more friends, and more praise than someone with whom we are comparing ourselves. We want to race ahead of them. We want to excel above others within our circle of influence. And we dislike it if we are unable to do so while someone else is able to do so. At the point of such comparison and dislike of their success we have an envious spirit.
4) Consider the scenario of a college graduate. Imagine that you have a child that finishes college and gets a better paying job than you have, that took you twenty-five years to get. Will you be envious? You will probably not be envious of someone so close to you because this case involves either your love or your pride. But the temptation to envy commonly occurs when someone inferior to you in education, experience, or prestige has a child that graduates from college and gets a salary far above what you get from the same company where you work. The desire to excel can be so aggravated that you find yourself disliking the young graduate. You may wish for his down fall. You may speak ill of him telling others about his faults. You may even do things that help him fall. If he does fall, you will experience a cruel sense of joy (cf. Charity, 123-125).
5) Finally, envy may exist in matters spiritual like preaching the gospel out of envy (Phil 1). This is a subtle and perverse aspect of the sin of envy because spiritual growth involves advancement in righteousness. If we seek to grow in righteousness and at the same time we dislike it when others appear to grow in righteousness at a faster pace than we do then an area in which we most need growth is the area of envy. Its scope is such that any area of need and want could become an occasion for envy.
The coals are there warm and ready to be fanned into a flame. And we should call it sin without making excuses or covering it up.
This command is given in many places in the NT and it has quite a bite given the evils with which it is associated. It is also commanded here in the context of the love chapter (cf. 12:31), that shows that Paul is commanding by description. The love that He describes is the excellent way in which we are to walk. Weighing this fact will help us find the proper stance to take in this field of battle.
It is a command to believers to put off a style of life, of the inward life (of attitude and desire). And a command to believers comes with a promise of grace to help in time of need. So consider the fact that part of the true spirit of this command is that it comes with promise. In this way we can take our stance with confidence and hope that God will be our strength and shield.
Labor to absorb it into your heart and soul as a foundation for diligent application. Again, here is the duty: we are to throw up a red flag whenever we feel malice in our hearts toward those who prosper in ways we seek for ourselves but cannot prosper for the time being. The duty we have is to check responses that arise from seeing this disparity. Turn your thoughts away from comparing your progress with that of others, and set your mind on things above. Guard speaking out of such comparison (bite your tongue).
He made Himself poor (humbling Himself) that you may be made rich. Note that your state in life as to outward affairs is temporary. You are a pilgrim on this earth, just passing through. Your citizenship is in heaven. Ponder the fact that you have riches untold in the storehouse of things new and old. In this light, be assured that Christ will see to it that you receive this inheritance in glory when the very creation is delivered up into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. You really do not need to bother yourself with comparative attainments in possessions or honor on this earth. These are as God gives them. And the attainments and glory that matter most are promised with certainty. Consider His example and follow in His steps trusting in His promises.
One of the most important related virtues is that of humility. Put in the form of a prayer this simply means that you say, "Lord, I submit myself to you. I accept the limits you place on my life in relation to others. I know that you know best. So if I want to excel in some area but cannot do so, I leave that in your hands. If you choose to give what I want to others and not to me, then so be it. Your will is most important. Not my will but your will be done. I resign myself to your plan as it unfolds perfectly in every detail. I commit myself to the doing of your will of precept and commandment" (cf. the song, "My Jesus as thou wilt").
Focus the fact that how you deal with what you attain in relation to what others attain is a double submission to the authority of your sovereign Lord. On one hand, it is a matter of submission to His command to avoid envy. On the other hand, it is a matter of submission to His Fatherly love accepting what He gives and withholds. Disobedience in the sin of envy is both rebellion and ingratitude rolled into one. We honor Him by submission to His providence and precepts, and we arrogantly dishonor Him when we do not submit to His providence and precepts.
This is a reminder of consequences. Edwards compares the envious person to a caterpillar that delights in devouring the most flourishing plants and trees (Charity 126). A consequence of envy is that it retards prosperity by wasting energy in quarrels and dissension.
Furthermore, envy is not only hateful in itself but it brings great discomfort to the envious person. Edwards cites the Proverb that says, "envy is the rottenness of the bones" (14:30). It is like a powerful cancer eating away on our vital organs. It is thus offensive and full of corruption. Therefore, it is nothing other than foolish self-injury "for the envious make themselves trouble most needlessly, being uncomfortable only because of others' prosperity, when that prosperity does not injure themselves, or diminish their enjoyments and blessings. But they are not willing to enjoy what they have, because others are enjoying also" (127). Its foolishness should cause us to abhor it and shun its excuses as we seek the spirit of Christian love that will lead us to rejoice in the welfare of others (127).
We get perspective here when we remember that desires are good. Strong desires are good as well, even consuming desires. This is the dynamic of the positive that is implied here. We are to have a consuming passion for holiness and righteousness in our daily living born of a deep longing and earnest desire to please the Lord Jesus and glorify His name.
This is the hungering and thirsting for righteousness that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. This has to mean that we cultivate a good diet on His word taking it into our hearts by memory, study, and understanding for application. It involves crying out for wisdom in prayer to the Lord and seeking to have all that we have in dedication and devotion to our risen Lord.
We thus sell all that we have for the kingdom and its righteousness (Matt. 13:44). But, lo and behold, we still possess things. "Sell all" means that we give it all away in exchange to receive it back with every earthly thing tied and connected to the kingdom. Thus in all earthly things (food, clothing, job, money, skills, accomplishments, and possessions) we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first (Matt. 5:19-21, 33). This is the passionate priority of our living across the board of all that we have and desire to have. What you want you want for His glory. Your wants are subject to His will and honor.
To not be satisfied with what we have so far attained in our Christian walk is not a sinful desire but the good kind of strong desire, and zeal. It is a consuming passion for the things of Christ. Like our Savior, accepting and doing the will of God becomes our food and drink.
How do we cultivate this kind of wanting and desiring? One way is to look deep into the value of the kingdom. When you see it you will seize it. When you see it as a treasure, you will seize it as a prize.
Be like a squirrel that climbs down a one-sixteenth of an inch wire to get some sunflower hearts, doing what it takes to get what he wants. Focus your desires and wants on Christ and His kingdom righteousness. Seek first and foremost to do His will of precept, surrender to His will of sovereign decree aiming at His glory in promoting the good of others. That is love.
With this heavy-duty obstacle to loving-kindness removed, with envy countered, we can then deeply desire the good of others and go about promoting their good in every way we possibly can. And by this obedience, the good that we passionately desire above all other things is the glory and honor of Jesus Christ our risen Lord.
Another aspect of the dark backdrop that puts love brightly in the foreground is pride. Thus, Paul says, "love …does not boast; it is not arrogant or rude" (1 Cor. 13:4-5). This is perhaps one of the most important considerations in living a life of love that has abiding value and true meaning. It is the key to becoming a Christian and receiving the sure promise of the glories of heaven. The Christian life begins with the eyes facing downward and the lips saying, "God, have mercy on me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13). Like the prodigal we will claim only unworthiness before the Lord: "I am not worthy to be called your son" (Lk. 15:21). Those who are poor in spirit are the ones who have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God (Matt. 5:3).
In the Christian life, it is radically important that we carefully weigh the danger of a proud spirit because this is something greatly opposed by the Lord. The Lord arrays Himself in battle gear against the proud! He resists the proud (Jam. 4:6). I realize that Romans 8:28 is in the Bible (that is, that God works all things for good in the lives of His people). But I do not want good to come to me by the Lord arming Himself in battle array against me. That tells me that I will find the good but it is going to be through a lot of unnecessary pain. When I am lying on the battlefield with my enemies trampling all over me, I may then recognize that the one who knocked me down is the Lord. This is one warning you do not want to miss as we are cautioned against a proud spirit as backdrop in the pursuit of love.
Therefore, my topic for today is the call to humble love that is found in Paul's three-fold description of pride. I have two points: the description of pride and the exhortation to humble love.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, Paul mentions three things that love is not: it is not boastful, it is not arrogant, and it is not rude. If we think of these three things as dots on a canvass and we draw lines that connect them, then the picture that emerges is a sketch of pride. This sketch will enable us to put humble love into bold relief.
Love is not arrogant. Arrogance refers to pride as something deep within the inner man of the heart. It is distinctively a way of thinking about yourself. This stress of thinking is strikingly evident in Romans 12:3 where Paul refers to thinking four times in the same verse. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" is literally, "do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think so as to think soberly." He is warning about pride. We are not to think a certain way regarding ourselves. Namely, we are not to have too high a view of ourselves. Pride is first a matter of attitude and thought. It is a view of one's self. But it does show up in a corresponding manner of life.
This is a self-knowledge issue. As it has been put, self-knowledge is like a window to correct knowledge of the world. If self-knowledge is blocked then a true knowledge of the world is blocked. Thus pride is a mindset in which we do not see ourselves in proper perspective: we have too elevated of a view of self.
Love does not boast. Contrasted with envy, boasting looks at what we have whereas envy looks at what others have and we want but lack. When tempted to boast, we are concentrating the wrong way on what we have attained or obtained in prestige, accomplishments, or possessions.
Being boastful refers to self-applause showing that the proud person wants the elevated view he has of himself to be shared with others. In applauding oneself, praise is being sought from those who hear. The proud person wants others to see, hear, and acknowledge his accomplishments.
This proud quest for praise may be religious (or as it is in truth, sacrilegious). It was the religious leader who praised himself in prayer and was condemned. The poor man who humbled himself was justified (Lk. 18:14a). Thus Jesus said, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 18:14b).
Interestingly, boasting applies to our work when we do what we do and speak about it without stating our dependence on the Lord. Boasting is speech that lacks something, that lacks this acknowledgement. Therefore, it is boasting if you speak of going to work, doing this and that, getting gain, and eventually retiring without acknowledging your dependence on God (James 4:13-17). You ought to say, "The Lord willing." If you do not do so somewhere in your speech over time, then your speech is boastful (thus, "you boast in your arrogance," v.16). You are living out of the spirit of independence. This is the assertion of human autonomy and self-sufficiency where you tacitly claim to be the master of your fate.
Thus, boasting is not just praising self and seeking the praise of men. It is failing to speak of God's sovereign rule over the affairs of your life. It is failing to confess that God made you to differ from others in natural gifts, abilities, and attainments. It is pride to not acknowledge that all the distinguishing advantages you have come from God (1 Cor. 4:6, "who made you to differ? What do you have that you have not received? Then why boast?").
Love is not rude. Do you intuitively connect rudeness with pride? Rudeness is a wrong view of oneself coming out in contexts where superiors are present. By superiors I simply refer to the fact that we are all under God ordained human authority structures. It begins with the relationship we have to our mothers and fathers. We are commanded to honor them (cf. the 5th of the Ten Commandments). The principle carries over to all authority structures that God has ordained for life on this earth. There may be some gray areas here as to how we carry out the fifth commandment in its true spirit and intent. But it still has a vital relevance that should be sought after diligently.
In contexts where we relate to those in authority over us (mom, dad, police, governors, elders, and pastors, etc), rudeness expresses wrong thinking about ourselves. You operate in such a way that you show that you are full of yourself. You think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. That is what often drives disrespect, poor manners, and the lack of common courtesies (cf. Titus 3:1-2 where submission to authority includes courtesy that shows maturity).
Consider the case of the mother that taught her daughter to call her by her first name. The child is obedient to do this. She even "honors" her mother by respecting mom's wishes in this regard. Probably, the parent seeks in this way to build a bond of friendship with the child by closing the distance between them. This is trying to establish a kind of equality by removing the title, mother, and replacing it with a first name basis. If it is wrong, and I think it is wrong, it is not the worst thing that could be done. It is well intentioned and many other things may balance it. However, because of the fifth commandment, which is an important guideline for us to follow, the wrong thing is being cultivated. Instead of cultivating equality by first name familiarity, parents ought to instill a sense of respect for the authority that mother and father have by God's appointment. In other words, they should cultivate a sense of the inequality that pertains or better they should cultivate a sense of the authority that parents have as mother and father. A helpful way that this is done is in the manner of address.
There are gray areas in how this applies to various authority structures in various cultures and contexts. But on balance the spirit and intent is to express respect for those in authority over us (cf. the disrespect of calling the president of the United States "slick Willy" even though he may not have carried himself honorably).
Even table manners show a respect for others that involves giving place to them, it involves yielding to their wishes, and putting them first. Teaching children to speak when spoken to instills respect for adults. Listening when someone else is speaking is courteous rather than rude. In the college classroom, sometimes I have to remind the students that carrying on side conversations when someone is speaking is rude.
In this connection, is it rude to refer to the pastor by his first name? Some pastors make a point of establishing a first name relationship. Is that the right way to go? Let me give you some thoughts on this. This is somewhat delicate and I aim to be as moderate in my conclusions as I can be.
First, let's talk about children. Children should be taught to respect mom and dad and by extension to respect adults, office holders, and thus pastors. Just as young children should not go around calling adults by their first names, likewise, they should not refer to their teachers at school or their pastors at church by their first names. What about teens, are they to avoid a first name familiarity with their teachers? What about college students ranging from young people to much, much older young people? Are they to avoid a first name familiarity? I am not sure on how insistent that we ought to be on this point. But I will say that when students refer to the instructor in terms that show respect for his learning and his position in the classroom (obviously with a respectful tone and hopefully with a respectful heart) they honor the teacher and they cultivate a healthy learning environment. The instructor is thus not treated as my best friend but as an educated person that is helping me overcome my ignorance. A tone is set that encourages teaching by the teacher and learning by the student. By analogy, I would say that referring to ministers as pastors acknowledges the God appointed office they hold and it sets a tone that encourages pastors in their labors and that encourages disciples of Christ in their learning under pastoral care. The idea of being under pastoral care involves humble submission in the context of gospel preaching and teaching (cf. 1 Thess. 4:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; Heb. 13:7, 17).
Second, let's distinguish between heart submission and "nouns of address." If church members do not value the principle of submission to their pastors, then they have a problem of pride. That is the case because submission is a matter of humility, of humble love. Furthermore, if they can never bring themselves to address the pastor as "pastor," it may be due to a spirit of pride. However, one may have respect without cultivating it in nouns of address (as in the mother/daughter example cited above because of other things that have a balancing effect).
Third, let me speak to this in a subjective way. I feel honored when you refer to me as your pastor and when you address me in this way. Without question, I feel more honored to be addressed as pastor than to be called Reverend, doctor, or by my first name. When you call me by my first name I gladly own our friendship. Our friendship is very important to me and I highly value it. But when you call me by my first name I do not feel honored as your pastor. It is not that I feel dishonored, probably because I am honored to be your friend. In the use of first names, being honored as your pastor is simply not in the picture; it’s a different ball game. However, when you address me as pastor, it is like a call to attention for me; it gets my attention in a very endearing way. It is a reminder to me of my office and when you use this noun of address, it is a polite way of telling me that you think of me in this way, namely, as your pastor, yours personally. This is a little thing that goes a long way on the path of encouraging me. It removes fog from the road and serves as an invitation to me to be your pastor in the best way that I can. It is encouraging to me. By your use of this title, I feel respected, honored, and encouraged in my work in the gospel (cf. Heb. 13:17). It is one way that I feel loved by you (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12).
Using a person's first name is a lesser and an external matter. The real issue is the cultivation of honor, avoiding obvious and offensive rudeness, and thus cultivating love. Calling me "pastor" is a polite way for you to affirm my calling before our risen Lord and to push me forward in serving you in a personal way. As I mentioned before, this may be a little thing but "little things mean a lot." I may have stated this somewhat poorly but there is a relationship of some kind between pride in the heart, speech (like boasting), and courtesies that express and promote God ordained authority structures.
As we have stated before, the description of love is given to unpack the duty of following the excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). The duty is like changing clothes. We have the duty to our risen Lord to take some things off and to put other things on. We are to infer to the opposite of pride. In this way we are to turn from pride to humble love. Here are some inferences we can draw in this connection.
1) Commit your greatness to God. A text in Jeremiah states this point succinctly: "Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not" (Jer. 45:5).
The opening section of the love chapter shows us how to be somebody (cf. the "I am" phrases). What the proud person wants is only obtained by turning away from pride to humble love. By humble love true meaning is given to who I am. If I really want to be someone great, I must pursue the excellent pathway of love. Here is the opposite of pride: I must leave it to God to give what greatness He chooses, how it will be made evident, and when it will become a reality in my experience (in the now or in the not yet). So, the exhortation is, "go the way of humble love." Put your personal ambitions aside. Leave whatever greatness shall be yours in the hands of the Lord to give as He pleases.
2) Let your "yielded-ness" be evident to all. Pride shows up in seeking the greatest regard. An arrogant person has a certain "air" about him; he has his nose in the air. His ideas are the best and are to be followed by everyone else. The exhortation here is to yield to the wants, wishes, needs, goals, desires, and perspectives of others as much as you can (in little things and in larger things). This is especially true in the life of the church and in the Christian home. It is a great quality of humble love to have husband and wife trying to out do each other in yielded-ness: "you go first, let's do what you want, no not what I want but what you want." In this connection, it is a difficult problem when one party gives and the other only takes: the proud person says, "yea, me, what I want is most important."
3) Replace scorn with kindness. To scorn is to belittle by words, gestures, or actions, to make people feel small or unworthy in our presence. It comes out in sneering ridicule (directly or indirectly given). Sometimes we learn how to improve when we are scorned but it still hurts (I recall becoming aware of how I spoke by being ridiculed for using words like "chimly" for chimney and "tager" for "tiger" as in the Detroit Tagers). Thus, by kind words and deeds protect the feelings of others. This exalts others while curbing self-exaltation.
4) Express a teachable spirit or be teachable. Stubborn pride leads to contention because the stubborn person wants everything to go his way and if it does not then he will make things difficult for others.
Here is a needed caution. When you disagree with pastoral exhortations or correction from others and you say to yourself (and perhaps to others), "I disagree" be careful, you think you stand but you are in danger of falling. If you say, "I don't need this," then mark it down, you probably need it in a big way. There is something there for you that you need. But you will never tap into it if your stance is characterized by an unwillingness to take a hard and possibly painful look at yourself. Here is a valuable perspective by which to guard the heart: whenever you find yourself in a spirit of resisting something, of hand waving, and of throwing up barriers to block full consideration of something, then at that very point you need to humble yourself before God and others.
Let me say something more about "I disagree." It is usually a sign of need. It can be ostentation in a subtle way. Other people are informed that I do not agree with x or y. What does this contribute to the discussion? It often simply polarizes and ends discussion if any were about to take place. My view is placed out in bold relief over against "so and so's" view. The accent is on "my" view. It is totally different if a) reasons are given for my view and reasons are given that justify rejecting the other view. It is totally different b) if discussion is engaged with the person I disagree with. If I am unwilling to engage hearty interchange and godly argument then the "I disagree" phrase is a smoke screen for closed mindedness.
For example, let's say you disagree with my preaching on some important areas of the law of God in relation Christian living. We can all agree that that is a legitimate posture for you to take and you are a believer-priest with no authoritative pope over you. We gladly and enthusiastically grant that as Protestants in the reformed tradition. However, if you disagree with your pastor-teacher and never engage him on that point then something is wrong, perhaps seriously wrong. This is a case where seeking out different views (seeking discussion with those who disagree with you) is most relevant for the valuable exercise of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17). Ultimately it helps both parties and humble "one anothering" love will so engage (cf. how a sparring partner advances a boxer).
Open-mindedness goes hand in hand with humility. Unwillingness to compare with empathy (looking for the good) shows how narrow mindedness manifests a proud spirit. A good question to ask ourselves when confronted and the "I don't agree" phrase comes out is, "Do I have a pride problem, am I thinking of myself more highly than I ought?" A humble person will oppose taking the hard line first with inflexibility.
Hence there is a two-tiered problem here. a) In particular, there is the issue of correction regarding whatever it is that is on the table. For example, when those close to us have some problem with our conduct and they tell us about it, this is a correction that ought to be received, pondered, and carefully weighed to whatever benefit we can get. b) But in general is the issue of pride. Which is worse? Most likely, the worse thing is the general disposition of pride, especially when the particular issue arises directly from pride and is driven by it. Even if the correction is inaccurate and unfair, it is evident that the proud spirit that is aroused is the most important real problem.
Thus, willingly receive teaching, admonition, and correction. Recall the fact that pride makes us uneasy when we are exposed. It may make us angry. Humility will dispose us to accept and even prize correction. It is seen as the work of a friend in kindness (Ps. 141:5; Prov. 12:13, 18). Peter directly says "clothe yourselves with humility" (1 Pet. 5:5-7; he weaves humility before God and before man into the same fabric of godly conduct).
1) Admit your need to the Lord. Swallow your pride. Own up to the hidden man problem like Augustine did: "Yes, Lord I wear a mask looking in the mirror of your holy word. Take me from behind my back where I have placed me and show me how foul I truly am. Let me see this sin squarely but in light of the healing balm of the humble love of Christ who gave Himself for me." This is how we are exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God without being reduced to shameful things and shattered into a thousand pieces. Again, recall that Jesus said, "he that humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 18:14).
2) The ultimate remedy to pride is to give all glory to God. That means to turn away from self, from autonomy, self-applause, boasting, and rudeness.
a) To give God glory is to acknowledge your comparative smallness before Him admitting that you are finite and sinful. In Genesis18:27, Abraham says, "I am but dust" in contrast to God whose throne is in the heavens. With Job, the humble person says, "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes"(Job 42:6). This attitude "before God" is the most essential thing. Say, with the Psalmist, "not unto us, not unto us, but to your name give glory."
b) Hence the flip side of this is even more important. You are to confess His comparative greatness (His incomparable greatness) by submitting to Him, praising Him, seeking His will in your daily life, and seeking to glorify God in everything you do. For example, consider Psalm 139:1-6 and the Psalmist's confession of sin and ignorance before the Lord whose knowledge is "too wonderful for me, it is high and I cannot attain unto it." Also, consider how God is independent needing nothing whereas we totally need Him "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:24-26).
c) So humility begins with knowing God. If you get a true view of the sovereign majesty of God manifest in the work of Jesus Christ the risen Lord, then you will worship. You will worship Him, praise Him, and seek to honor Him in all you do. It presupposes the belief that man is created by God to be His image. We can never have a proper view of ourselves without a proper view of the Creator/creature distinction and relationship presented in the Bible. Humility is a comparative thing. Comparing is where we often get into trouble yet this is exactly where humility comes into play. It is a matter of how we see ourselves in relation to God and from that perspective how we see ourselves in relation to others.
3) Subject yourself wholly to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way to greatness, exaltation, peace, and rest of soul (cf. Matt. 11:28-30).
I close with the following thoughts from Edwards:
Distrust yourself. Rely only on God. Renounce all glory except from him. Yield yourself heartily to his will and service. Avoid an aspiring, ambitious, ostentatious, assuming, arrogant, scornful, stubborn, willful, leveling, self-justifying behavior; and strive for more and more of the humble spirit that Christ manifested while he was on earth. Earnestly seek, then, and diligently and prayerfully cherish, a humble spirit, and God shall walk with you here below, and when a few more days shall have passed, he will receive you to the honors bestowed on his people at Christ’s right hand (Charity, 155-56).
The words of our text (1 Cor. 13:5b) are translated in a number of ways: love seeks not her own, does not insist on its own way, and is not self-seeking. A very literal rendering that goes right to the heart of things is, love does not seek the self. You can see how this leads to the translation, not self-seeking. Therefore our topic for this morning and next Sunday is Unselfish Christian Love. This week I will develop some perspectives on the unselfishness of Christian love and next week I will discuss the motives that drive us down this road. Now let's take up some perspectives on unselfish Christian love in two main points: what the text does not teach and what it does teach.
If we think of the text in terms of the notion of self-love, then we can make this twofold claim: acts of self-love are not eliminated but neither are they maximized.
We cannot remove all self-seeking from human life. There is some self-seeking that is proper. This is so for the following reasons.
1) Otherwise, we would have pie in the sky Christianity that is of no earthly good in that it forfeits responsibility we have for ourselves. We are to take care of ourselves. We are not to be dependent on others for all our needs. We have to and we ought to look out for ourselves.
2) Furthermore, we cannot eliminate all self-love because it is presupposed in the great commandment of love in the call to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:34-40; Lk. 10:25-28, 37). This is not commanding love for yourself but it is building on the fact of self-love. It is a given that is presumably something natural and normal.
3) But as commandments go, a form of self-love is implied in the true spirit and intent of the sixth commandment. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others (A 68) and The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth therunto (A 69). A good exercise would be to compare the historic reformed confessions on the sixth commandment looking for this point of self-love.
4) The golden rule begins with what we want to develop a pattern of lawful action (Matt. 7:12).
5) Finally, consider how promises and threats in Scripture fit into this picture. They would make no sense if they did not presuppose a principle of self-love that is natural, legitimate, and even essential to being human. We are promised blessings and thus happiness. We are threatened with curses and thus misery. We can only make sense of the Scriptures that do this on the assumption that appeal is made to an appropriate self-love.
Having said that we must still try to do justice to the fact that we are being pointed away from self-seeking acts of self-love in some significant way since the text does say: love is not self-seeking and there is no qualification cited.
This fact should be self-evident because the text directs us away from self-seeking acts of self-love; that is precisely what love is not. However, it is not obvious to those who call themselves Christian hedonists. There are many good things stressed by Christian hedonists but I detect a major oversight in their doctrine of maximal pleasure in the Lord.
The oversight is right here in our text. Namely, our personal pleasures are not the point; they are not accented. Some obvious limits are imposed on acts of self-love when Paul says, love is not self-seeking. As a matter of fact, if we pursue Christian unselfishness instead of self-seeking selfishness, we will forego or part with some happiness. Hedonism in principle accents the pursuit of pleasure to the maximum and Christian hedonism seeks that maximal pleasure in God (that it is in God is a good point and important to remember). Are there limits to the pleasures of heaven? they may ask. But the text tells us not to seek our own pleasure and happiness; it tells us that Christian love is somehow distinct from self-love.
An important parallel passage is Romans 15:1-2, which likewise speaks of not pleasing ourselves. Accordingly, if we seek to please others by promoting their best interests (their good, 15:2) we will at times be misunderstood and may even suffer for the sake of righteousness. What the gospel tells us promotes the good of a human being is very different from what we, as sinners, think is best for us. So to serve other people in the way of the gospel often costs a lot in emotional energy depletion. We risk some troubled waters if we rock the boat promoting the good of others. We may do what pleases our neighbor objectively (that is, what is for their ultimate benefit) while they are not pleased subjectively (that is, they do not see the benefit and dislike our efforts on their behalf). We may then wonder if we didn't forgo some of our own pleasures needlessly. But then we must remember that seeking our pleasure to the maximum is not the goal. Our pleasure, what pleases ourselves, is not what we focus on (Rom. 15:1-2). Sometimes serving others brings tension and sleepless nights. So be it. We are not our own and we seek not our own things.
To broaden out a little more for fuller perspective, I want to make a couple of more comments in critique of Christian Hedonism as represented in the writings of John Piper, especially in his book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 1st ed., 1986, 2nd ed., 1996). My comments hub around this complaint: Christian hedonism with all the good it represents is a misplaced emphasis.
1) First, pleasure is something good in itself and it is something we naturally seek. We need no commandment to seek it. What we need is guidance on how to seek it. Therefore, we are directed in passages like Romans 15:1-2 to look away from our pleasures to limit them and not maximize them.
2) Second, Christian hedonism makes pleasure the key to everything including worship. However, not all aspects of worship are pleasurable. For example, preaching on eternal punishment is not pleasurable and the saints may go away from such preaching sobered rather than glutted on joy (glutting oneself on the feast of worship is an emphasis in Christian hedonism).
3) It is surely a misplaced emphasis to speak of glutting oneself whether on food or pleasure. Doesn't moderation apply to us both physically and emotionally?
4) Although many other things could be said, I limit my comments here to this final point. Regarding pastoral joy, Piper says that if a pastor does not seek after his highest joy in serving his flock then he does not care for the flock properly (a pastor who does not seek to do his work with joy does not care for his flock. Not to pursue our joy in ministry is not to pursue the profit of our people, p. 225). He uses Hebrews 13:17 as support. However, if you read the text carefully, you will notice that nowhere is the pastor directed to pursue his joy in serving (let alone a maximal/hedonistic joy). As a matter of fact, the joy of the pastor is left in the hands of the flock. That may be risky but the pastor serves the flock not for the joy he can get but for the benefit he can give. The risk is that the flock may be ornery and bring the pastor much grief. He serves nonetheless. His pleasure is not the standard of his service. He is not told to seek his joy in serving in this text. That he leaves in the hands of the flock and by faith in the hands of God. In the bigger picture, it seems to me that instead of serving for the joy this text directs us in the opposite direction. Serving is encouraged in pastoral labors by the joy the flock gives to the pastor and being encouraged by that joy pastoral work brings advantage to all.
To get at the teaching here we have to keep what is not being taught in mind. Let's work into this in stages.
Since self-love is not eliminated, then one way to view the text is in terms of the enlarged heart (enlarged so as to include others within it). Edwards speaks of the Christian heart as enlarged instead of contracted. A Christian is big-hearted rather than small hearted. What are you, big hearted or small hearted? Here is one test to find the answer.
A person of selfish spirit is ready to make much of the afflictions that he himself is under, as if his privations or sufferings were greater than those of anybody else…A selfish man is not apt to discern the wants of others, but rather to overlook them, and can hardly be persuaded to see or feel them.
But a man of charitable spirit is apt to see the afflictions of others, and to take notice of their aggravation, and to be filled with concern for them, as he would be for himself if under difficulties. And he is ready, also, to help them, and take delight in supplying their necessities, and relieving their difficulties. He rejoices to obey that injunction of the apostle (Col. 3:12), Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness…. (Charity 168).
The no you principle of yielded-ness takes a humble spirit because it includes submitting to the wants, needs, and perspectives of another. But it also demands an unselfish spirit. Such is needed to not seek self (not putting what I want first and foremost over what you want; not what pleases me but what pleases you; let's do it your way so I can sing, I did it your way.).
To seek the things of others in this sense is far a field from envy or pride. We are not seeking what others have and we want but lack (as in envy). We are not seeking the things of others to display what we have (as in pride). To seek the things of others is to promote them, to promote their good by supplying and advancing what they need. That is the decisive point of Romans 15:2, Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. What we focus on is the goal of advancing the happiness, safety, and welfare of our neighbor.
Thus if you infer to the opposite of self-seeking love you correctly think about others seeking love. It is the seeking of the things of others versus seeking ones own things. But this is only partly true. We need to broaden our perspective still further.
The opposite of self-seeking in the most fundamental sense is not others seeking. It is seeking the things of Christ. Note the opposite of self interest stated in the book of Philippians: They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:21). The most important contrast to self-love is Christian, Christ centered, love. We seek the interests of others because in the most radical way we seek the things of Christ.
Without this quest for the things of Christ, you are a person without love and thus without meaning, dignity, and value (1 Cor. 13:1-3). That says a mouthful and it is very important. This is one of the places where Christian love stands in direct opposition to every other kind of love. There is a seeking here that defines a Christian in contrast to a non-Christian. What it involves is fourfold: it involves radical subservience, regulation, commandments, and insistence.
a) Seeking the things of Christ involves a radical subservience. Unselfish Christian love means that all our interests, pleasures, longings, and comfort zones are viewed as subservient to something higher and governing. In this place they are sought (not necessarily abandoned) by living a life of love in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If sexual pleasure is sought, it is sought in the Lord within marriage in a bond of loving mutuality. Even the most intimate things serve the one with whom we have to do (Heb. 4:13, no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account). Money is sought in order to have the things of life as a good steward before the one who owns all. Money is a means by which we serve God in all buying and selling. Money is shared with others to promote the gospel. It is used to secure the necessary bread for daily living. Hunger is satisfied to the glory of God.
A classic verse begins with whatever you eat or drink (1 Cor. 10:31). It is not simply a metaphor for something else like hungering for righteousness; it is literal eating and drinking that serves the great goal of glorifying God. Emotional rest and physical refreshment are sought in a way that pleases the Lord. So they are sought for the enjoyment they give but that enjoyment serves a higher end, which is to live a healthy life of love to Christ. Take vacations for example. Why do you go on a vacation? What do you do on vacation? Christian love that is not self-seeking means that answers like vacations are for rest and relaxation are tied to a higher goal: the rest that vacations provide is needed so I can be a better servant of Christ.
b) It involves regulation not elimination. Self-love operates within the framework of Christian love. You may drive defensively to work because you are avoiding pain seeking the protection of yourself by promoting your own safety. You work to earn money and pay your bills to have food, clothing, and shelter. This enables you to satisfy your appetite and to keep yourself comfortable whatever the weather. What is it that distinguishes Christian love from self-love? What turns the self-love into godly, Christian love? It is not the elimination of these things. Rather, it is the regulation of them that transforms them. It is their regulation by a higher principle by the higher principle of devotion to God and therefore devotion to others for His sake that transforms them.
So as we pursue the matter of self-love seeking our own happiness, we also seek the glory of God and the happiness of others. We add others-love to self-love. But what is most important here is the ultimate resource. What is sought in this seeking is the main thing. Something higher is sought, something that governs all the self-seeking and relegates it to a truly subordinate place. This something higher is the seeking of the things of Christ (Phil 2:21).
Thus, love that does not seek its own things has a distinct context. It does not mean that Christian love gives no consideration for the needs of the self such as food for the stomach or clothes for the body. This verse (1 Cor. 13:5b) does not teach that the every day seeking to secure the needs of the body is ruled out. It means that all these pursuits are subservient to a higher goal. They are pursued in the name of Christ (whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him, Col. 3:17). This is another way to live a life of love in devotion to God with the whole heart, mind, and strength (the greater of the two great commandments). So self-love remains but it is limited, structured, and guided by love for God as primary. Love for God is seeking to please Him.
c) Seeking the things of Christ involves commitment to God's commandments. This involves earnest commitment to His commandments in their true spirit and intent. The commandments define good works that glorify God. They also lead to love for others in that they direct us to seek the needs of others and they tell us how to do so. So, on the bottom line, the motivation is not self-love or self-seeking because all self-seeking that remains is guided by a higher principle that governs all actions. What is done is therefore not done for self but for God (and by His command for others). This is the key to disinterested love.
But consider this about the promised joys. Why are they sought and how are they sought? They are sought in the pursuit of the greater end of gratitude, praise, and the glorification of God. Therefore how they are sought is guided by the revealed will of God found in Scripture in general and in the law in particular. Thus joy is not sought maximally but in the way of faithfulness to God to honor His name. It is left to God to give the joy He promises in the timing and the amount as He chooses. We thus risk all happiness that may be at our fingertips leaving it in God's hands to give. We do this in faith and love.
d) It involves persistence and insistence. Let me try to draw out an analogy from my experience with hornets. If you are an animal/insect rights advocate, you may want to block your ears. It may surprise you that I learned an art as a bricklayer. It was the art of killing hornets with a trowel. This was something I learned quickly working under overhangs where hornets liked to nest. I would get them before they got me. Why was I insistent in this way in my work as a bricklayer? It was because I was dedicated to avoiding pain remembering the sting on the thumb I received years ago. I was so insistent that it became second place for me to raise my trowel like a sword whenever a hornet came near. This should be our attitude toward unrighteousness. It should become second place for us to raise the sword and do immediate battle with sin and the pain it brings in its wake.
There is self-love in this struggle without question. But if going into a hornet's nest were commanded by the Lord leaving it to Him to protect us, then in we go with no trowel in hand. And this is exactly what the Lord often expects of us. We are sent into the midst of wolves and into hornet's nests sometimes. In this we do not seek our pleasure but obedience. We must commit out safety to Him (cf. Prov. 29:25-26; 25:8). By positive application, love insists on doing the will of God from the heart and to love others out of the resource of this devotion to God, even if they come at us like hornets. Seek not your own things but ask, seek, knock for kingdom righteousness. Persist in and insist on the things of Christ. This is love pure and simple.
With Edwards it can be said that the way to secure your wants, needs, and safety for time and eternity is to not seek them. Do not seek your own things in any governing or final way. Instead, seek Him. Seek the Lord Jesus Christ, His kingdom and His righteousness. Do not seek your own happiness as the governing standard of your life. Instead seek the interests of Christ by pressing ahead on the pathway of glorifying God and promoting the happiness of others along the way. He promises to bless you along the way on your journey and the journey will take you to heaven and to joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Thus the bottom line of Unselfish Christian Love is to love God in the neighbor staking your happiness in the will and loving care of your risen Savior. Love one another as I have loved you, this is my new commandment I give (Jn. 13:34; it is His commandment, Jn. 15:12). This is duty of all Christians that has a special application to husbands (Eph. 5:25). That it is His command informs us to look to Him in taking up the duty of this commandment. It is His command that we love as He loved. His commandment is surrounded by love, flows out to us from His heart of love, and it commands that we love like He loved! He has the authority to command obedience. But His commanding authority is drenched with love. The one who loves you personally commands you personally. What He commands is love. And the definitive example for our love is His love for us: love one another as I have loved you. Out of a heart of love He commands that we pursue and cherish unselfish Christian love.
Last week we began a study of the phrase: love is not self-seeking in 1 Corinthians 13:5b (cf. the flow of thought, vs. 1-5). This gave us the topic of unselfish Christian love. Today we will consider unselfish Christian love again in two ways: 1) A summary of this love, and 2) Motivation to this love. The danger zone of getting too full of ourselves needs a red flag; we need to learn how to get out of ourselves, out of the box of our own narrow interests and concerns. This summary and these motives should help us get out of ourselves.
We keep things in perspective and hopefully in balance when we consider what the text does not teach in order to see clearly what it does teach.
It does not teach that the self (your self) must be rubbed out of the picture of the Christian life. Actually if no consideration were given for what you will eat or how you will pay your bills, you would be irresponsible and thus un-Christian in your love rather than Christian. Furthermore, it should be obvious that self-love and seeking our own happiness is not maximized. It is just the opposite. Seeking our own happiness, joy, and pleasure is restrained by true love because love is not self-seeking.
So what does the text teach given that self-love is neither eliminated nor maximized? It teaches that all acts of self-love are limited, regulated, and governed by two higher principles. The first higher principle is that of seeking the interests of others (seeking to please others not ourselves, Rom. 15:1-2). But the second higher principle is the ultimate opposite of self-seeking, which is seeking the things of Christ (Phil. 2:21).
Clarity may be served by emphasizing three things: submission, ultimacy, and disinterest. 1) First, it is a matter of submission. The self is not sought in any way except in submission to Christ. This is Christian or Christ-centered love. It is Christ that is sought not the self. Christ regulates all legitimate acts of self-love. Thus our joy, for example, is not maximized but balanced by His design in a rich and stable way along with the other fruits of the Spirit such as peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23). What we do for our own happiness is not self-regulated. It does not flow in its own channel or march to its own drumbeat. The very self is in submission in all things if there is love. Lack of submission to Christ and His sovereign authority, rule, and governance results in inordinate self-love (love that is out of whack and out of balance).
2) Second, it is a matter of what is ultimate. In Christian love, what we do for our happiness is done for something higher than our happiness; it is done for someone regarded higher than our happiness. It is done for Christ to please and honor Him however that may delimit our happiness.
3) Third, this is what is meant by disinterested love as writers like Jonathan Edwards use this language. Disinterested love means that I find my happiness in its limitation and regulation by Christ both by what He requires and by what He gives or withholds. For example, Edwards says that Christian love transcends self-love because it is comparable to a plant that is transplanted into the soul out of the garden of heaven. Thus of unselfish Christian love he says,
It is not a branch that springs out of the root of self-love, as natural affection, and worldly friendships…But as self-love is the offspring of natural principles, so divine love is the offspring of supernatural principles. The latter is something of a higher and nobler kind than any plant that grows naturally in such a soil as the heart of man. It is a plant transplanted into the soul out of the garden of heaven, by the holy and blessed Spirit of God, and so has its life in God, and not in self. And therefore there is no other love so much above the selfish principle as Christian love is; no love that is so free and disinterested, and in the exercise of which God is so loved for himself and his own sake, and men are loved, not because of their relation to self, but because of their relation to God as his children, and as those who are the creatures of his power, or under the influence of his Spirit (Charity 174, italics mine).
Why does Edwards say that Christian love is transcendent of self-love, contrary to it, and truly distinct from all natural love? His answer is that this is so because this love has its spring where its root is-in Jesus Christ:
But divine love has its spring where its root is —in Jesus Christ; and so it is not of this world, but of a higher; and it tends thither, whence it came. And as it does not spring out of self, so neither does it tend to self. It delights in the honor and glory of God, for his own sake, and not merely for the sake of self; and it seeks and delights in the good of men, for their sake, and for God’s sake (174-175, italics mine).
For Edwards, the higher and nobler principle to which the Christian submits himself is love for God. And so it is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mk. 12:30). Therefore, if you give yourself to God (and all pursuits of self-love to Him) with your whole heart, then that means you hold nothing back (love so divine…demands my soul, my life, my all). Instead of seeking the self or seeking yourself and your own interests, the self and all it represents about you is made an offering to God:
This shows how much a principle of true love to God is above the selfish principle. For if self be devoted wholly to God, then there is something, above self, that overcomes it; something superior to self, that takes self, and makes an offering of it to God (176).
These considerations give us a summary of Christian love. It is others-seeking love that is Christ centered because He is loved first with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. What He wants is paramount and guides all our wants; what He seeks governs what we seek. Thus, Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).
This leads us to the next point. What motivates such marvelous, transcendent, and heavenly love? Since it is out of this world (transcendent) then any motivation in the direction of love must take this into account. With this in mind we now turn to the motivation of unselfish Christian love.
I will focus on the command and the example of Christ. How different it is for someone to command (lead, advise, or suggest) without giving a good example from someone who commands while showing a good example at the same time. Our Lord commands from the resource of the greatest and best of examples.
Jesus cut the chase and made the point in clear and unmistakable terms: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn. 15:12). This is a duty of all Christians that has a special application to husbands (Eph. 5:25). It is like a double duty for husbands, a duty doubly enforced: be a Christian and be a Christian husband in meaningful and down to earth deeds of unselfishness.
Interestingly, law and commandment inescapably govern the Christian life of love. When it says to live a life of love you can be assured that law and love are automatically tied together. This is so because the call to love is itself a command. Therefore, any suggestion of a law/love tension or a duty/love antithesis is foreign to the Bible.
That it is His command (i.e. my commandment) informs us to look to Him in a special way in taking up this duty. His commandment is surrounded by love, flows out to us from His heart of love, and it commands that we love like He loved! He has the authority to command obedience. But His commanding authority is drenched with love for you personally. The one who loves you personally commands you personally. What He commands is love: love one another as I have loved you. Thus He commands that we take up the duty implied in the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He commands that we walk in this excellent way, that instead of self-seeking we are to be others seeking because He commands it (this letter is His word through His apostle, cf. The Normative Status of the Written New Covenant, 3-17-2002).
Out of a heart of love He commands that we pursue and cherish unselfish Christ-like Christian love.
How does the command of Christ motivate? It begins when we consider who He is. He is God the incarnate Son and Sovereign Lord. Then consider His love for us. It is very personal. The Sovereign Lord who personally commands us is the one who personally loves us. So we say, Lord what will you have me to do? He says, love in the excellent way of 1Corinthians 13. Then we say, So be it Lord, love is what I will cherish as your disciple. Seeking you, then the pathway of unselfish love is what I will seek. This is a prayer of submission to Him (with confession, a sense of need, and great resolve).
The lover of our souls commands that we love. How can that not affect us and move us to this duty of unselfish love?
Without fear of contradiction, I believe that we can talk about the motivation to this kind of love if we are referring to the example of Christ. Tied to our text (1 Cor. 13:5b) this means that we find motivation by considering the seeking of Christ. That is, He did not seek the self or His own things but the things of others, even us. Meditate on the fact that this includes you and me. It includes all who believe and confess that He is the risen Lord of glory (cf. Rom. 10:9-10). Romans 15:1-3 guides our thoughts to His example (not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor…for Christ did not please himself). The reference to neighbor here shows that the weaker brother example is a case in point of a general rule of Christian love (it goes from love your neighbor to love this weaker/brother neighbor). He commands love by calling us to follow His example: love as I have loved you! So let's now reflect on how He exemplifies what He commands.
1) He sought us as unthankful enemies. While we were yet sinner/enemies Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). The best description of our plight comes to us from Scripture. Reflecting back on our state in sin and depending on our individual histories, we have difficulty seeing just how bad things were. To be more accurate, we have difficulty seeing just how sinful, rebellious, and hateful we were toward the things of God and the gospel. But before our conversion we were among those who would not come to the light because of our evil deeds and our desire to avoid exposure (Jn. 3:19). This is the important fact that accents our need of saving grace and saving love.
Consider the hidden man point of Augustine again in this connection. He hid himself behind his back. We need to face this truth about ourselves. We need to be alert to the fact that remnants of sin remain in us and we must do battle continually (not hide ourselves from ourselves). Look to Him who fought sin unto death for you and then go forth to do battle with the sin of selfishness for Him. This battle with selfishness is a battle we engage following Jesus above. We are following in His steps that lead us assuredly home to heaven above to be with Him. Along the way, we are thus encouraged to love the unthankful, including the enemy.
2) And He sought us without expecting repayment from us. He knew full well that we could never repay Him (Charity 179). Therefore, Christ's love for us in no way depends on our love for Him. Christ loved us without any love on our part toward Him. Here is an example of the independence of the love that we are to have toward others. It is altogether out of context to think that love in any way depends on how others benefit our self-interests and our self-love. Consider how Christ loved you. Now go and do likewise for others.
3) He sought us actively. As lover of our souls, Jesus made our interests His own and came to our aid. Jesus is the Good Samaritan of Good Samaritans (cf. Lk. 10:25-37). He did not simply feel and own our pain. He did not just make some light efforts and small sacrifices for us (179). No, He took action and denying Himself He undertook the greatest efforts and the endured the greatest sufferings for you and me. As Edwards put it, He gave up His own ease, and comfort, and interest, and honor, and wealth; and became poor, and outcast, and despised, and had not where to lay His head, and all for us! And not only so, but he shed his own blood for us, and offered himself a sacrifice to God's justice, that we might be forgiven, and accepted, and saved! (179). We were the ones in need. He considered our needs and made it His determined goal to see to it that our needs would be met.
Therefore, if He so loved you, then you ought to so love others. A fitting response to the love He exercised on your behalf is for you to consider the wants and needs of others. Have compassion, empathize with others, and get into their shoes to understand them. Don't pass them by on the other side like the religionists of Jesus day who could not bother themselves with the interests of the neighbor in need. As a church and as individuals, we should constantly be asking ourselves, How can I be neighbor to those around me in need?
So commit yourself to unselfish love. Take up the interests of others. Take an interest in their struggles, wants, and needs. Make their interests your own. Consider their need for safety and well being both now and forevermore. Then be active on their behalf.
4) His seeking was ultimate. What do I mean? The answer is found in what Christ did and did not seek. He did not seek the self. He was not self-seeking. He did not seek His own things. Instead, He sought the things of the Father. He came to do the Father's will fully and completely. He sought the things of the kingdom of God. His very food was to do the will of His heavenly Father. He had a supreme goal out in front of Him toward which He relentlessly applied the most strenuous efforts. As He loved us by seeking the Father supremely so we are to love others.
Therefore, seek the things of God first and foremost above all other things. In other words, Christian love is not rooted in self-love. It is not self-seeking. Rather, Christian love seeks God through Christ by the Spirit. Finding Him leads inevitably to seeking the things of others.
Here we are motivated by Christ's example to fulfill the duty of Christian love. He shows us what true unselfish love is and He stirs us up to follow in His steps. His love not only clarifies what true love seeks but His example draws on our hearts and pulls us down the same path. It is motivating to ponder these things. When we see His love we are moved far beyond self-love and we are moved to put all self-love within the framework of Christ centered Christian love, God-centered and Holy Spirit centered Christian love!
1) First, a pointed comment can be made. It is unbecoming of Christians to display a selfish spirit. We are loved by Christ in such a matchless way and are joined to Him to form one body. It is extremely perverse to name the name of Christ and alienate others by selfish motives. Selfishness is radically ill fitted; it is radically un-Christian. It is contrary to the tone and tenor of Christian faith. The Christian seeks others, especially those in the body of Christ, because He seeks Christ and His kingdom righteousness above all else.
This applies to all men to whom we are to do good. But it especially applies to the family of God. Our Lord Jesus gave Himself for His church to bring many sons and daughters to glory. So act in love for one another as He loved you. How much we ought to be helpers and comforters to each other in the body of Christ. The hand will move itself from the flame but it will also aid in removing the feet from the flame. The feet move themselves from a fire but they also move the hand away from the fire.
It is the risen Savior who moves us to this unselfish Christian love by His command and His example.
2) Second, some provoking questions can be asked.
Do you love the Lord Jesus though with a feeble love?
Do you believe that He is worthy of all your love and of the best you can be and do for Him?
Are you grateful to Him for what He has done in love for you?
Do you want to please Him?
Do you think He should be honored by all, above all, and by you?
Are you a member of His flock under His marvelous care?
Are you His disciple learning to live under His authority?
If your answer to these questions is yes, then there is only one life for you to live and one pathway for you to tread. Live a life of love following in His steps. Make this your prayer and commitment (“I give myself away, tis all I can do”). Cherish an unselfish spirit. Seek the Lord Jesus in all your seeking. Look away from your self and live a life of unselfish Christian love.
Turning to 1 Corinthians 13:5c (love is not irritable, love is not easily provoked), we should note that Paul cites an aspect of anger that implies the larger biblical picture of anger. We are going to discuss that larger picture by means of a group of words related to anger (being ready to be provoked, anger, wrath, etc.). As we do this some questions arise. How can we characterize the sin of anger? What is the opposite of anger that Christian love displays? At the bottom of it all is the question, What is the difference between proper and improper anger? These are some of the questions we want to try to answer today as we discuss Loving versus Unloving Anger. My outline has the form of two questions: 1) what is meant by unloving anger? And 2) what is meant by loving anger?
Per Ephesians 4:26 (be angry and sin not) we know that there is such a thing as being angry without sinning. Presumably, that is in the backdrop (by implication) in 1 Corinthians 13:5c, which is telling us to display loving rather than unloving anger. At present we want to know when we step out of bounds from loving to unloving anger.
Sinful anger refers to being upset when people wrong us; that is, it is being unduly or excessively upset when people wrong us. There are many evils in the world. When we see them directed at us and feel personally impacted, we are naturally provoked. When evil strikes us, then from the depths of our being we will oppose it earnestly and passionately. We will be outraged. But this outrage is wrong when it ignites too fast, lasts too long, harbors too much, and goes too far (this is like four boundary lines that box anger in).
1) It ignites too fast (cf. the translation, love is not irritable). We are talking here about the inner passions of a person's temperament. Undue anger is to be temperamental rather than even tempered. It is to be primed and ready to fire up like a small engine: with very little pressure, a pull, and a tug and the emotions are running, smoking, and vibrating at a noisy pace.
2) It lasts too long. We step out of bounds when the opposition we strongly feel is kept burning in our souls. If prolonged, proper anger will become improper anger. It is like any emotion or appetite that we have by God's creation (thirst, hunger, etc.). They are all good in themselves. Sin occurs when we leave the path of moderation in all things.
It may help to inquire as to when we cross the line. One way to put it is to say we cross the line when we sleep on it. To sleep on it is good advice for many things but not for anger. If you sleep on it you let it grow and take deeper root in your soul. That is the point of Ephesians 4:26b, do not let the sun go down on your anger. Being upset until you are fit to be tied may occur in the storm of affliction by the evils of others. But you must get this feeling of outrage in check; the boiling pot should cool as the day passes. The fire should not be allowed to blaze day after day. This seems to be one way for us to know that we have stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. We have moved from godly rage to sinful anger when our anger is prolonged (proper action prompted by anger should continue as in due process but not the anger; cf. how inflammatory language stirs up anger and how dissension, conflict, riot, and war are enflamed).
3) It harbors too much. That is, the sin of undue or improper anger occurs when a person harbors ill will or the desire for revenge (cf. the overlap with impatience). Emotions may be just as strong whether internalized or externalized; things are out of order when the passions are so stirred up that you can't concentrate on your normal occupation. This is being preoccupied in heart with malice, which is to desire harm to come to others because of the wrongs they have committed against us (or because of envy, or because they cross our selfish paths, or because they hinder self-exaltation). At least, that is how we perceive it; we are certain that they have wronged us (though we may misperceive due to envy, selfishness, or pride).
Sinful anger is lacking self-control regarding inner passions. The point here is similar to one of the fruits of the Spirit, self control (Gal. 5:23). Things are out of control when we hold grudges desiring revenge on the personal level (Lev. 19:18). This is God's territory and we are to keep out (Rom. 12:19). Thus, we are to bless and curse not (Rom. 12:14, never wish evil or harm).
4) It goes too far. Compare the eye for an eye passage in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:38-39). Why should we take this metaphorically instead of literally? The eye for eye phrases go with the turn the other cheek phrases. Turn the other cheek is not a call to suffer bodily harm in ascending degrees. It does not call us to submit to having the teeth knocked out of one side of the mouth after the other. It is not a call to become toothless by a lack of wise self-defense. The sixth commandment implies the appropriateness of protecting ourselves from bodily harm. Jesus is giving an as if parallel. In the spirit of this commandment be as far removed from taking revenge of any sort as is the case in this physical but metaphorical/as if example. This extreme example given for sake of illustration only shows how extreme we should be in the control of our anger and the spirit of retaliation. The point is do not vent your anger in any kind of revenge in thought, word, or deed.
Jesus speaks against hitting those in the forehead with a two by four who have hit us on the cheek with the clenched fist. Do absolutely nothing, He says. This is total non-resistance on a personal level (the Rabbinical tradition had blurred the distinction between the civil and the personal levels). You are to stay as far away from retaliation as possible. This is not intended literally because self-defense is legitimate and may include striking someone. Jesus is speaking of the abuse of personal vendetta taking that was cloaked in the use made of the OT law of an eye for an eye. Jesus is teaching us about control in the fullest and most loving sense: control your anger in thought, word, and deed!
For short, it emulates God and it opposes evil.
Again, the key passage for this fact is Ephesians 4:26, be angry and sin not. It seems that there is validity in saying love is angry or that love is properly angry. Some anger is proper (good, righteous, and just). It does not offend God. Rather than offending God, proper or righteous anger emulates God. He is the standard of good conduct and the entire Bible reveals Him as the God of justice and anger who forcefully displays just anger. In parables, Jesus pictured God as a king who severely punished those toward whom He was angered and enraged (Matt. 18:34; 22:7; Lk. 14:21). And I am sure that you remember the anger of our Lord using a whip and turning over tables in the temple court. So we must speak about two things at the same time in this connection.
1) On one hand, we must say that God is love. He loves the just and the unjust alike. This is called His common love because it is common to all, whether believer or unbeliever. His love to unbelievers is shown to them in the rain and the sunshine. He stretches out His hands to sinners like He did to disobedient Israel inviting them to fellowship (Rom. 10:21; cf. Ps. 19:1-6; Acts 14:17).
2) On the other hand, we must say that God is angry at the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11, as a righteous judge). What an awful and fearful truth this is (Ps. 76:7, Who can stand before you when you are angry?). Fallen sinners store up wrath for themselves for the day of God's wrath when there will be wrath and anger issuing in trouble and distress for every human being that does evil (Rom. 2:5-9).
Here we have a very difficult doctrine of Holy Scripture, the doctrine of eternal punishment. It is simply numbing. It is something we want to suppress or block out of our minds. The God of love is also a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29) and it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands (Heb. 10:30) for all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). For most Christians (for me for sure), this is a difficult teaching that gets more and more difficult as thought progresses from people in general to people we know to people we love. It is almost unbearable. There is such a thing as Godly anger and it is truly a frightening truth. It is a hard truth that can only be fully embraced at the feet of Christ.
Before leaving this thought, we should comment on the way of salvation or protection from the wrath of God. In Romans 2, there is a contrast between those who do evil and those who do good (vs. 9 and 10). What does it mean to be people who do good? Clearly, doing good does not mean that we are saved by our good deeds for that is emphatically not the case (Rom. 3:20; 4:1-6). Doing good has a context of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as risen Lord (v. 5, cf. the opposite of being unrepentant). Righteousness from God comes through Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22). Those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is the risen Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). To know that the Lord is not angry with us but savingly loves us is a wonder of wonders. We offend God every day but every offense is covered by the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 3:24-25a) if we are among those who trust in Him.
So is there such a thing as loving anger? Yes. Christian love and righteous anger go together. This may be a difficult fact but it is a fact nonetheless. Therefore, if we image God as we should, then at times we will display loving anger that emulates God.
Edwards has some interesting comments in this regard. He says that anger is earnest and more or less violent opposition against evil, real or supposed (Charity 187). It is not anger to earnestly/forcefully oppose some things like suffering. We can think of suffering as natural evil and it is surely proper to oppose it. This forceful opposition of heart and soul is usually not called anger. It is directed against natural evil. Righteous anger is directed against moral evil not natural evil. Loving or righteous anger is not just disliking something or having the rational judgment in your mind that it is wrong. It refers to the fact of being moved and stirred up in your spirit about the wrong you perceive. It is to have strong feelings about it (cf. moral outrage). It is a passion of the soul or inner man of the heart that affects our emotions in various ways.
The father, who is upset with his child, even outraged at the child's bad conduct, displays loving anger. He feels deeply and has strong opposition to the wrongs but he has a good will toward his child desiring the child's best interests, good, and welfare. Proper anger is opposed to evil in an earnest way.
A positive implication surfaces at this point. We learn that love is a deeply felt passion for good. Ultimately, what we seek most passionately is Christ (the ultimate opposite of self-seeking, 1 Cor. 13:5b) and because of Him we seek the good of others and the point here is that we thus seek goodness in others. We pray that it will be displayed in their lives. We pray for God's will to be done on earth as in heaven (cf. the Lord's prayer, Matt. 6:10). Christ requires an attitude of good will in the heart for He told us to wish well and pray for the blessing of all even our enemies (Matt. 5:44). To be filled with good will is a way of describing a passion that opposes evil and promotes good in the lives of others. Ultimately, this is sought in the spread of the gospel near and far.
By practicing kindness, we seek Christ by going about doing good. In loving anger, we seek Christ by going about promoting good conduct in others and doing so in earnest. This is the implication of opposing evil. It is loving anger with its best foot forward (the other foot opposes evil).
We may not be accustomed to this language of loving anger. We may prefer the terminology of righteous anger. But at the least, we must agree that righteous anger is part of what is meant by Christian love! Loving anger emulates God and opposes evil.
Application: some principles that help us curb anger
1) A soft response turns away wrath (Prov. 15:1). An angry response means we go from the frying pan into the fire by making matters worse. But it is encouraging in the direction of the control of anger to know that its control points the way to peace and calm. Love seeks this good for others; it seeks to curb the anger of others promoting their good conduct.
2) Sinful anger does not work the righteousness of God. It does just the reverse promoting unrighteousness. So be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (James 1:19; knowing why, v. 20). To be irritable is to be ready to be upset at the drop of a hat. When you catch yourself in an irritable mood and ready to explode, mark it down, you have strayed from the excellent way into by-path meadow as described by Bunyan in his Pilgrim's Progress. There is only trouble ahead, the trouble of giant despair and doubting castle with its dungeon, nasty and stinking.
We are cautioned against being quick-tempered, easily provoked, and easily upset. We should not boil and overflow immediately. The distemper that is set in motion easily is difficult to stop and it inevitably causes more problems than what initiated the anger in the first place: A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated (Prov. 14:17). Associated with anger is a quarrelsome spirit and it is better to live in a desert than to be around this kind of person: by irritability and quarrelsomeness you make others feel uncomfortable around you. It is better to live in a desert than with an ill-tempered wife or husband (Prov. 21:19). The folly of anger leads to many other sins (Prov. 29:22).
It is dangerous ground to walk on. For example, consider the case of the racquet-throwing tantrum. A few years ago, playing tennis with my son Adam and losing the match I reached a breaking point of inner frustration and in the heat of the moment I threw my racquet at the net. But it hit the very top of the net and sailed all the way to the back fence landing a few feet from Adam. That was a very awkward moment. He just starred at me, perhaps in shock. I felt a biting pain of conscience along with embarrassment. But more than that I cringe to think of what could have happened. What if I had hit Adam and harmed him in some way, what would I have felt then? Is it worthwhile to let the strong feelings of anger have their way when they only promise shame to myself and harm, even serious harm, to others? The embarrassment was bad enough but things could have been much worse.
Anger stinks. When I left Troy the other night and merged into traffic, I got a strong whiff of a nearby skunk. If you are moving in the wrong direction, the smell will get stronger and stronger until you can't stand it any more. I thought about anger by comparison. Anger stinks like that, the more that we move in its direction; the more pungent will be its smell. It is a suffocating stench. Don't go there. It does not work any good to your neighbor and it will only crowd out the fresh air of a healthy/godly life.
You will look foolish and bring embarrassment to those around you if not to yourself as well. The angry person acts unreasonably. Sinful anger has an I, me, myself, and mine cause. The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him (Lk. 15:28). Here we see the unreasonableness of anger. What does the older brother refuse but good food and good company?
3) Sinful anger merits eternal punishment. You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, 'is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt. 5:21-22).
What is the point of the parallels between crime and punishment? We have murder/judgment, anger/judgment followed by Raca/Sanhedrin, and fool/hell. A couple of things can be noted. 1) In the parallel of murder/judgment and anger/judgment, there is a movement from the outward act of murder to the inward attitude of anger. By this Jesus indicts the Jewish tradition for its failure to address the matters of the heart. 2) The parallel of saying Raca and coming into judgment before the Sanhedrin is saying fool and coming into eternal judgment. By this Jesus indicts the Jewish tradition for minimizing the judgment merited by anger in all its manifestations from hateful words to murderous acts.
We know this about sins in general and can apply it by logical inference to any sin in particular. But this text states the point unmistakably when it tells us that this sin merits the fire of hell. This is a most powerful incentive for the Christian heart with respect to sinful anger.
When I let anger run out of control, even when it is at first justified, I am indulging a deep inner passion that is wrong no matter what the wrongs that occasion it. The wrong I am doing merits eternal punishment. I earn that punishment by this sin. And none other than the Lord Jesus Himself tells me that. He warns us in the clearest of terms that the punishment of hell hangs over sinful anger. It is particularly the case that sinful anger arouses the righteous anger of the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
So, though I have forgiveness by the work of Christ who endured the wrath of God in my place, it is still the case that when I am sinfully angry, hold grudges, and desire to take revenge, I merit eternal punishment. The sin of anger is surely a hot potato in the hands of a Christian. We should remember this fact, sense the danger, and cast this hot potato quickly aside. Perhaps a way to state this is to say that the sin of anger arouses the anger of God in a profound way. If it were not for the shield of Christ we would be ground to powder by the millstone of God's wrath that grinds slowly but exceedingly fine.
In a very trying time of our life back in Pennsylvania, my wife and I had the added circumstance of getting stuck in the snow in our driveway. We dug the snow and pushed the car until we were both fit to be tied. She looked at me seeing the smoke coming out of my ears and said, Go ahead say what you feel, 'the damn snow.' This is like calling the lawn mower that is always difficult to start, the stupid mower. Of course, we say that mowers are not stupid but people are. And snow is not damned but people are. And that is why this anger language is so wrong. A little bother with some snow in no way, shape, or form compares with the reality of the unending punishment of sinners. The fact of judgment is one that we ought to face soberly, with respect, awe, and fear. Then use that awareness to pounce on and box in our anger.
4) Sinful anger involves direct opposition to the Lord. I have been angry with people and circumstances. No doubt this has been true of you as well. Sometimes evils, wrongs, and injustices initially justify this anger. But I tend to harbor anger, malice, and ill will in my heart. It goes beyond proper limits. It is a battle to hold anger within bounds. It always wants to push the envelope just a little more here and a little more there. This is a rocky road with many pitfalls. I need help. Surely we all need help.
One thing that helps in a powerful way is to recognize God's sovereign providential rule in my life. When I do this I must acknowledge that my continued (sinful) anger is all the worse because it is not just against people and circumstances; it is ultimately against my Father in heaven.
A triangle may help us visualize this great truth of Scripture. If you picture a triangle with one point at the top and two points on the bottom, then the points refer to God above and to the relation each person has with others under the rule of God. What this shows is that every relationship we have with others (every exchange, every action good or bad) is inseparably a relationship with God. We will all stand before Him and must give account to Him for how we have related to others. No interchange between people (good or evil) is outside of the controlling hand of the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
When I recognize God's providential rule over all my relationships then I know that to persist in anger, to harbor grudges, and to wish for revenge is to dispute with my sovereign Lord. It is opposing His will, His Fatherly care, His wisdom, His justice, and His love (just to begin the list of violations here). What arrogance! What shortsightedness! What rebellion is this in my heart against my Savior! How contrary to Christian, Christ-centered, love! This line of reflection and meditation before the Lord is a supreme help that prompts me to restrain anger in my heart, even when it is justified by the evil others do to me.
Earlier during Scripture reading we cited two passages (Rom. 4:1-8; Matt. 7:1-5) that must be kept in mind as we take up the last phrase in 1 Corinthians 13:5. (We should review the flow of thought by reading verses 1-5 by which we come to the final phrase love does not impute sin.) Briefly put, on one hand, what we have is the marvelous fact that God does not impute evil to those who trust in the risen Christ (per Romans). On the other hand, we have the forceful warning that the way we impute evil to other people is the way God will judge us (per Matthew).
So, keeping these passages in the back of our minds, I want to speak today on Love is not censorious or perhaps better, Judging others with love (i.e., judging righteous/loving judgment). My outline is based on the following questions: a) what is the unloving spirit cited? b) How does this unloving spirit manifest itself? c) What are some causes? d) How is it contrary to Christian love?
The language of the text is brief and straightforward. It simply states that it [love] does not impute evil (1 Cor. 13:5d). This is variously translated: love thinks no evil (KJV), love is not resentful (ESV), and it keeps no record of wrongs (NIV). Some things involved here are: anger regarding evil, objection to it, marking down the wrongs, thinking about them, and condemning the wrong doer.
If you take this too far you will end up with a very passive and wimpy love that hears no evil, sees no evil, and speaks or addresses no evil. Thus to understand Christian love properly from the negative here (what love is not) we need a context to shape things and help us narrow down and limit the field of reference.
In this connection, there are at least three things that furnish a context that we need in order to define the unloving spirit forbidden in this passage. From this negation, we can advance further in a positive understanding of Christian (i.e. Christ-like) love.
1) First, we know that there is a proper imputing of evil that regularly takes place by duly appointed judges in our civil courts. These judges are supposed to acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty assigning punishment appropriate to his offense (Deut. 25:1-2). And we are told in Proverbs that both the one who justifies the wicked and the one who condemns the righteous are an abomination to the Lord (17:15). Here we have wrongdoing that is identified, thought about, imputed, condemned, and even punished. It is proper to impute evil, for a frail human being to so judge another frail human being. As a matter of fact, we run the risk of displeasing God if this judgment of evil is not carefully thought about and appropriately punished.
2) This also applies in the second place to those who judge others in the process of church discipline. The NT gives us what is implicitly a court system in which witnesses voice their complaints, sinful conduct is judged, thought about, reckoned, and even punished where there is no repentance. This is difficult and serious. Per Matthew 18 and by a thoughtful process, a professing believer may ultimately be excommunicated from the church as an unbeliever. That means that love in the church is obligated at times to forcefully impute evil. It is to be done very carefully and prayerfully but it must be done. These things are contextual for understanding 1 Corinthians 13 and the description there of love that does not impute evil (and as we will see 1 Corinthians 13 is contextual for understanding judicial action).
3) In the third place, there is an imputing of evil that may take place on the personal level. In other words, it is not sufficient to say that 1 Corinthians 13:5d negates personal judgment but allows judicial action. Just think about it, proper judicial process in the church begins on a personal level where your brother sins against you and you go and tell him his fault (Matt. 18:15). Per Matthew 18:16, other personal witnesses will bring evidence of the wrongdoing; they are not simply witnesses of your going to the brother, they testify to identifiable, identified, and imputed evil.
This is just a matter of common sense. As Edwards puts it, Christian charity is not a thing founded on the ruins of reason. And therefore we are not forbidden to judge all persons when there is plain and clear evidence that they are justly chargeable with evil because their sins are plain testimony against them and sufficient to condemn them as wicked men in full sight of the world (Charity, 211). He states that it would be plainly against reason to judge well of all (Ibid.). Christians are not obliged to divest themselves of reason (Ibid.).
Thus, the fact of the judging of evil that may go on in civil courts, in church discipline, and on a personal/common sense level is the context of our text in its claim that Christian love does not judge others. There is a proper imputing of evil that is contextual for our passage.
All the above was needed to aid us in formulating a precise definition of the unloving spirit being described in 1 Corinthians 13. Once that is done, then a positive nuance of Christian love will become evident.
So again, what is the unloving judging that is forbidden here? The way the question is framed sends us in a specific direction. There is such a thing as an unloving judging that implies making judgments about other people in a loving way. Edwards gets us right in the middle of what is going on here when he calls unloving judging by the single word censoriousness.
To be censorious is to be marked by censure and to be critical. In these notions of criticism and censure you can detect the ideas of thinking about the wrongs of others, marking them down, imputing the evil, raising objection, condemning, and seeking punishment. It is done in a pointedly unloving way that is crusty, harsh, unforgiving, malicious, resentful, and negative. Hence the variety of things indicated in the translations: thinking evil, being resentful, and recording wrongs. The failures, inconsistencies, and sins of others are thought about in the wrong way, improperly and unfairly.
Censoriousness manifests itself in a number of ways.
1) First, it infers to the heart.
I am trying to think of why we do this. Why do we tend to make judgments about the internal state of the heart of those who are professing Christians? The best I can come up with at the moment is that we do this because of some animosity that is so deep that we reach as far as we can and go as deep as we can in our judgment of someone. Another reason may be an over confidence in our own spirituality whereby we take a harsh posture toward those whose conduct is inconsistent and inferior to our conduct (or so it may seem).
But we are on shaky ground when we try to reason from what we see externally to an assessment of what is going on internally. It is wrong to infer from what we see to the conclusion that so and so is not a Christian. It is a manifestation of censoriousness that is probably due to spiritual pride and immaturity (of course, the judicial process of church discipline is a different matter).
However, this kind of judgment is something that only God can render because the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). He discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart and no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13).
Thus, we should judge righteous judgment or righteously by comparing conduct with Scripture. Conduct that is inconsistent with Scripture is wrong and we ought to identify it as evil. But it is a totally different matter when we try to infer from what we see to the state of the heart.
2) Second, we are censorious when we infer evil without sufficient evidence.
That is, even what we see in outward action is insufficient grounds for the conclusions we draw. We too easily forget that our experience is limited. But we nonetheless try to reach firm conclusions. It is foolish to stab in the dark in this way.
3) Third, censoriousness occurs when we infer evil based on bias.
That is, the evidence or basis from which we draw our conclusions is exaggerated. The evidence of good that we see is overlooked and suppressed. The evidence of evil is thus given more weight in our assessment than ought to be the case.
4) Fourth, we are censorious when we infer evil with pleasure and delight. It is an unloving spirit that is at work in us when we have the attitude expressed in the statement, Now I have you by the juggler; you have finally put your head in the noose. There is a devious and vindictive quality here. It is a perverted hope that is glad to see moral failure and that wishes for severe punishment. The censorious person will try to help bring about this punishment by speaking about the evil so that others will know the gospel truth about so and so. But this is not gospel but gossip and slander (cf. the Westminster Larger Catechism, Qs 143-145).
At least these four things help us identify the sin of harsh judgment of others, of censoriousness, and of an unloving critical spirit. It is as if we are simply out looking for the evil. We dwell on it even without sufficient evidence. We exaggerate what appears to be evil and we downplay things that suggest something good about that person. Sadly, we find pleasure in the discovery of evil and talking about it. And perhaps worst of all, we tend to infer to the heart and to condemn professing Christians as unregenerate.
I have already begun to answer this question by the references made earlier to spiritual pride and immaturity.
We can cite some other causes as well. Just think of how both pride and envy are at work when instead of rejoicing with someone in their prosperity (whether material or spiritual prosperity) we go looking for inconsistencies in hopes of being able to put them in their place in the eyes of others. This is destructive criticism. We thus seek to exalt ourselves. The grid of our own envy and pride drives the way we assess actions, what we give attention to, and what we emphasize. When we are angry we impute evil as a way of bringing harm. Perhaps we are striking back because we have been deeply hurt. We do not have our own way, we can't say, I did it my way. But we want to do things the way we want to do them and other people get in our way, hinder our goals, and slow down or prevent our success. Other people are simply in our way. Because of them we fall short of our expectations.
All I am saying is that there are many causes of censoriousness and they are themselves bad fruit of a tree that has the taproot of selfishness, alleged self-sufficiency, and asserted autonomy (thus whenever we detect censoriousness in ourselves we should look for much more).
1) Edwards directs us to a number of ways that the critical-censorious spirit is contrary to Christian love (Charity, 213-214).
One is an application of the golden rule. We are to love others, as we love ourselves. Is it not the case that we are reluctant to judge evil of ourselves? Therefore, the way of love is to be reluctant to judge evil of others. The negative person that is hypercritical of others is an unloving person. You have to say to yourself something to this effect: for me to dwell on the evil actions of others and to publish these actions, to publicize them is unloving. I do not want my actions to be thought about and talked about in this way. It is wrong for me to do this; it is contrary to Christ-like, Christian love. Thus what you want others to do for you, you do for them. You want others to be kind, patient, forgiving, and respectful of you. So, the conclusion is obvious: Go and do likewise for them.
It is contrary to Christ, Christianity, love, and the golden rule to be judgmental, critical, negative, and thus censorious. It means that you go around in public in dirty clothes rather than being clothed with Christ (cf. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27, otherwise we go around in dirty clothes).
2) Furthermore, it is contrary to the good behavior to which you pledged yourself in Christian baptism (1 Pet. 3:16, 21). It is contrary to Christian love because it is contrary to Christ and to what is fitting of those who are under discipleship to Christ. As a matter of fact, disciples show themselves to be disciples by their love for one another that is not only loving as we love ourselves but it is also loving as Christ loved us (Jn. 13:34-35, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.)
1) First, Christian love calls for balance in all judicial processes.
Personal love applies to duly appointed judges because they are persons. They must impute evil without censoriousness. For Christians who engage in judgment on others as judges in the church, personal Christian love applies. It is a protection from injustice in the imputation of human sin, guilt, and punishment or sanction. Accordingly, this promotes justice! Those who judge righteously and not censoriously will be grieved at sin, they will seek the truth, and they will do their best to check their biases with great patience, deliberation, and fairness.
2) Second, this description of love (1 Cor. 13:5d) is a call to self-examination (recall that we get prescription from description here).
The censorious person is good at others-examination. The remnants of the sin of human autonomy abide in the hearts of Christians. This means that we must alert to this fact. And one way to do so is to tweak this identification and imputation of evil. That is, we need to mark it down, identify, and impute evil to ourselves admitting the tendency we have to be inordinately critical of others. We need to catch ourselves in the act. Do you dwell on the evil of others? Do you keep a record of the wrongs? Do you have delight rather than grief when you see, or think you see, the sins and faults of some particular person?
It is a serious warning that Jesus gives about how we judge: with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you again (Matt. 7:2). So, judge not lest you be judged (7:1).
3) Third, it is a call to Christ. It shows that we need a good dose of gospel medicine for this ailment. What we need most is Christ. We need humble submission to Him. Consider the judgment that was pronounced against Him. He bore the punishment of sin in the place of undeserving sinners. Give yourself away to Him, to be His. Cast yourself at His feet to do whatever He commands you. That's where you truly begin to deal with this sin.
4) Fourth and on the positive side, this is a call to judge others with patient love, with loving-kindness, with humility, with respect, and with consideration being willing to yield. Censoriousness and love are mutually exclusive. It calls us back to all the graces of the Christian walk; it calls us back to charity and all its fruits. This is a call to Christian, Christ-like love in all its fullness (this is not a low view of sin but a high view of love that is not divorced from reason).
Accordingly, we must remember that our sins and evil deeds have not been imputed to us. Instead, remarkably, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by the loving-kindness of God through faith (Rom. 4:1-8; 3:21-22). First Corinthians 13 describes love that imitates the love of God in Christ. Therefore, if you have been forgiven by the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and if you thus have committed yourself to live under the authority of the triune God, then your commitment must be to charitable judgment of the actions of others. You ought to feel the reasonableness of this duty flooding your soul. You have been judged by amazing and forgiving love. Now go and do likewise in honor to your risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today our attention is on 1 Corinthians 13:6, which states, “[love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” If we reflect on the key words for a moment we can come up with a title for this message. Rejoicing is the main verb in each clause on both sides of the contrast (“does not rejoice” but “does rejoice.”). So the notion of joy, pleasure, or delight has to be part of our title. I will use the term delight. The subject is love; it is “love” that delights in something a certain way and not in another way.
So we have “Love’s Delight” as part of the title for today’s message. But what does love delight in? Its delight is not in wrongdoing but in “right-doing” from which I get the idea of holiness. Thus my title for today is “Love’s Delight in Holiness.” Again, it will become clear that this love chapter is not talking about a superficial Hollywood version of love. It is talking about Christ-like, Christian love. Three things can be said about love’s delight in holiness: it is comprehensive, practical, and responsible.
Some commentators (cf. Lange’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 270) think that love must be seen here in terms of relationships so verse 6a does not refer to unrighteousness in general as done by Jonathan Edwards (Charity, 221-222). Instead, they claim it must refer to the specific evil of rejoicing in the downfall of another or simply rejoicing at seeing others sin (cf. Rom. 1:32, the sins of oneself and others are given approval). It is the thought of not rejoicing at the sins of others that was part of the reading from 1 Corinthians 13 in the movie, “A Walk to Remember.” This reading is thought to be more in keeping with the context (particularly with love’s relational orientation). However, some things can be stated that support the interpretation offered by Edwards.
1) First, there is a forward and widening movement of the passage from particular things to all things (from v. 4 to v. 7). Particular graces are cited (love is patient and kind, v. 4) followed by particular vices (what love is not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or censorious, vs. 4-5). Skipping over verse 6 for the moment, when we reach verse 7 particularization has given way to full universalization (the particulars have given way to universals, cf. “all things” that love comes to terms with, v. 7). In this flow of thought verse 6 has a sweeping and general quality akin to verse 7 (cf. “wrongdoing” and “truth”); it is moving in that direction. This indicates that Paul, in verse 6, is concerned with the big picture. He has cited sufficient details and now summarizes. He cited particular graces now he speaks to all graces in general. He cited particular vices, now he speaks to all vices in general.
2) Second, a shift in thought that is forward looking and widening is also indicated by the combining of internal attitude with external action that occurs in verse 6. Earlier, either an inward attitude (patience, envy, resentment, etc.) or an outward action (kindness, boasting, rudeness, etc) was cited. Now (v. 6) Paul connects rejoicing in the heart with righteousness and holiness (and “unholiness”) in the life. This suggests that Paul is concerned with a central attitude of heart that relates to all the specifics he has just cited and to those in the same categories that he has not cited. The ones cited are cases in point. To cover all the bases, Paul now generalizes. Lists could go on and on; some limiting is helpful and it is helpful to give direction with regard to things not listed.
3) Third, the forward movement of the passage would be compromised if Paul were concerned with envy again in verse 6 since he just mentioned it in verse 4.
4) Fourth, there is no reason to limit the scope of the vices and virtues in view. The contrasting breath of “unrighteousness” and “truth” with the specificity of censoriousness, irritability, rudeness, etc. is striking. It is evident that Paul is widening the territory to be covered, which necessitates general language of summary.
5) Finally, though the passage always has human relationships in view (i.e., an others orientation), it is clearly the case that the attitudes and actions cited are those of the loving or unloving person. Thus the context supports the idea that not only the vices and virtues of others are in view but our own vices and virtues are in view as well.
Thus Paul moves forward, widens, and generalizes. To take verse 6 as a reference to envy or to limit it to the sins of others is backward moving, contracting instead of widening, and narrowing instead of generalizing. To think that way goes in the wrong direction. Because of the flow of thought, we should agree with Edwards on the point being addressed here by Paul, namely, that “love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life” (Charity, 221). He summarizes Paul’s teaching in this way:
As if he had said, “I have mentioned many excellent things that charity has a tendency to, and shown how it is contrary to many evil things. But I need not go on to multiply particulars, for, in a word, charity is contrary to everything in the life and practice that is evil, and tends to everything that is good — it rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (221).
Unrighteousness obviously refers to “everything that is sinful in the life and practice” (221) and truth in this context refers to “all virtue and holiness, including both the knowledge and reception of all the great truths of the Scriptures, and conformity to these in the life and conduct” (222). Therefore, love’s delight in holiness is something very comprehensive. Love’s distaste for unrighteousness is quite acute as is its taste for true righteousness. Love paints a picture of holiness with a very broad brush.
Pointedly, then, love does not rejoice at the appearance of envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, selfishness, irritability, or censoriousness. A loving person is not happy when these things show up either in one’s own conduct or in the conduct of others. But a loving person is happy at the appearance of patience and kindness. These are happy graces and love fellowships with them happily. From these particulars, Paul shifts attention to all acts of unrighteousness and all acts of righteousness. He stresses the fact that love does not rejoice in any acts of unrighteousness but it does rejoice in all acts of righteousness.
After a list of seven negatives, Paul opens verse 6 with another negative but this time we do not have to infer to the positive because Paul does so himself: Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (wrongdoing) but [it does rejoice] in the truth.
But there is something unusual about the inference that Paul draws. We can see something initially odd if we infer in a very direct and exact way. Doing this we go from not rejoicing in unrighteousness to rejoicing in righteousness. All we have to do is to keep the word rejoice (as Paul does) and then simply turn each negative into its opposite. In this way “does not rejoice” becomes “does rejoice” and unrighteousness becomes righteousness (not “un” or not “not” becomes a positive). Interestingly, Paul coordinates truth with righteousness by making it the opposite of unrighteousness. We should examine this association made by Paul; we should meditate on it because it is significant and suggestive. There is a superimposing of truth over righteousness.
Love is honest (i.e., true) in its outlook rather than deceitful. In that sense, its delight in holiness is true. But there is more here than the avoidance of deceit and hypocrisy. Truth is something to be lived. Love’s delight in holiness is extremely practical. Truth is something in which you walk. It is much more than something you know. There is an inseparable bond between knowing and doing in Scripture. Knowing is ultimately ethical; there is no knowing just for knowing sake. Learning is always ethically qualified.
Various perversions result when knowing and doing are disconnected. a) If you learn without doing, you have a form of godliness that contradicts the power thereof. b) If you do without learning, you have zeal that pursues the path of ignorance. The Corinthians were faulted for their zeal without knowledge (for one, it was necessary that tongues be balanced by prophecy and the knowledge prophecy imparts, ch. 14). But if we hear this indictment against them and go to the opposite extreme, then we will be long on doctrine but short on practice (on the other hand, we could have prophetic powers and all knowledge without love. In that case, we are nothing, 13:2). However, love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life.
The implication is that all seeking after truth (in any area and especially in Scripture) must be for doing. We are to learn in order to live. Learning is for doing; we must always seek the truth for obedience to the Lord. Hence emphasis on the sovereignty of God without a balanced emphasis on His commandments yields an untrue “Calvinism.” We must remember that to embrace Christ as sovereign Lord is to embrace the king who commands those under His authority. We do not believe in His sovereignty if we are not earnest about living under His authority. Thus, besides being diligent about attending to the means of grace, those who embrace the sovereignty of God in truth will also embrace the Ten Commandments in their true spirit and intent. Truth is a path on which the Christian walks (3 Jn. 3-4). This stands in contrast to those who do evil versus doing what is true (Jn. 3:20-21) or who by unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18), or who in unbelief take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:12), or by self-seeking do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness (Rom. 2:8).
A passage for further reading and study in this connection is James 3:14 where bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, and boasting are “false to the truth.” From the context (v. 13f), wisdom and understanding are connected with peace, gentleness and being open to reason.
Holiness that is “of the truth” or true holiness is a practice of life: per Edwards again, “love in the heart tends to holy practice in the life” (221). This kind of holiness is based on the grand teachings of Scripture known and received in a life that seeks conformity to them.
At this juncture, I am interested in the duty that is implied. Recall that Paul’s entire discussion of love is put before us as an excellent pathway on which we are to walk (cf. 1 Cor. 12:31b). So this description of love’s delight in holiness is a summons to duty. But how is it a duty? Is Paul telling us that unless we have delight in some act then the act lacks goodness? No, that is not where he takes us; he does not define a good act. Instead, he defines and delimits love. Love that is Christian and Christ-like rejoices in holiness in a comprehensive and practical way.
But again, this brings us to the question of how the loving person takes this up in a responsible way. Love’s delight in holiness is responsible and dutiful. But how is this so? We do not simply turn on the emotion of joy like turning on a facet. Surely this text is not telling us that we must have the right feeling in place first before attempting something good. We are not being told that there must be some measurable joy or affection in any act of obedience or it is not obedience but hypocrisy.
Granted, the parallel is made by some between being a cheerful giver and being a cheerful Christian. Without cheerfulness in the act of giving, the act is unacceptable to the Lord. Thus, likewise, some argue that without cheerfulness in any act of obedience, the act is unacceptable to the Lord. This view is actually a spin off of the teaching of Jonathan Edwards on the religious affections. But before saying anything else, we should put the parallel with giving in perspective. To be a cheerful giver means that we do not give grudgingly, that is, reluctantly with ill will or resentment. It is giving with the hands wide open and not being grieved at the prospect of letting go of some money or goods. Scripture does not tell us that sharing the gospel with a defiant neighbor or being patient when deeply afflicted must be done cheerfully in order for these acts to be acceptable to God.
Nonetheless, it is especially important that the one who does acts of mercy do so with cheerfulness due to the needs of the recipients who are often downcast and discouraged (cf. Rom. 12:8; also note that this text accents liberality as central in giving versus grief at parting with things). Thus cheerfulness in the acts of giving and of showing mercy is essential.
So how do we rejoice with true righteousness (or holiness of the truth, cf. Eph. 4:24)? We do not simply turn on the facet and have joy gush forth. This brings into view another basic fact that pertains across the board to these graces; namely, the fruits of love are fruits of the Spirit. They are, therefore, not something that we can produce. The Holy Spirit must produce them. Joy is something we cannot produce, not true spiritual joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). But we have responsibility to which the Spirit points us in Scripture. We must take up due means and processes looking to the Lord for the blessing of growth in charity and its fruits. Hopefully, so far in this series, the impression has not been created that we somehow produce these graces. Indeed, we have duties to cultivate them by God ordained means but we do not give life to the seed or growth to the tree of righteousness.
In this connection, we can answer the “how?” question by looking both in the NT and the OT.
This is taught in John 15:1-11. Actually a number of things are intertwined in this passage. 1) Foremost is the fact that there will be no spiritual joy without abiding in Christ for branches (what we are) cannot bear fruit of themselves but must abide in the vine (what Christ is, v. 4).
2) Second, abiding in Christ involves abiding in His word (7a, it is to have His words abiding in you).
3) Third, the fruit that He will bring about both glorifies the Father (v. 8) and proves our discipleship (v. 8b, the fruit manifests discipleship showing that learning the word truly and properly results in a fruitful walk to the glory of God).
4) Fourth, love results from abiding in Christ and in His commandments; we thus abide in His love (in Him and in His word). Doing this we emulate Christ and thus develop Christian, Christ-like love for when we abide in His commandments we follow His example: “just as I have kept my Father’s commandment and abide in his love” (v. 10).
5) Finally, there is a tie of love and joy; there is a joy of love. Specifically, the joy of love derives from the commandments. We know this because “these things” have been spoken, Jesus says, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (v. 11). In other words, by abiding in Christ (in Him personally by faith), by abiding in His word, by abiding in His love, and by abiding in His commandments (keeping them by striving to keep them), disciples abide in His joy and have His joy abiding in them. And this joy is experienced in a full and complete way.
Thus, returning to 1 Corinthians 13:6, we can say that love rejoices with true righteousness and righteousness of the truth by abiding in Christ, in His love, in His commandments. The joy is not a condition that must be met to perform a righteous act. Instead, it is an out flow of abiding in Christ.
The Psalmist captures this sentiment in the things that he puts in parallel with delighting in God’s testimonies and statutes (Ps. 119:14, 16). The parallels with delighting are: walking in the law (v. 1), keeping God’s testimonies (v. 2a), seeking God with the whole heart (v. 2b), having the eyes fixed on all God’s commandments (v. 6), storing up the word in the heart (v. 11), meditating on the precepts of the Lord (v. 15a), fixing the eyes on God’s ways (v. 15b), and not forgetting God’s word (v. 16).
If you observe the parallels with delighting in the law in the rest of the Psalm of the word (Ps. 119), you will find many similar indications as to what it means to rejoice in righteousness and truth in the earnest pursuit of holiness.
1) Delight means to have God’s commandments so in your mind and heart that they become your counselors (vs. 23b-24).
2) To delight in the law means to pray for instruction and understanding (vs. 32-35).
3) It means to speak of God’s testimonies (vs. 46-47).
4) Being taught and taking delight in the law involves progress in keeping God’s precepts with the whole heart (vs. 68-70).
5) It includes meditation (vs. 77-78).
6) It includes a determined effort to not forget the law and precepts (vs. 92-93).
7) Delight again means the Psalmist petitions for understanding by meditation for obedience (vs. 143-148).
8) At the end he adds singing of God’s word and commands to not forgetting them (vs. 172-176). This shows that though singing is an expression of joy its first place in worship is to serve the effort of not forgetting the word (cf. its subordinate place in serving the word per Col. 3:16 where it is the word of Christ that is taught by singing).
How then is rejoicing “with” true righteousness to be explained? In light of John 15 and Psalm 119, the notion of “with” makes a lot of sense. Truth (righteousness of the truth) is personified. It is a joyful person. If you associate with this person, he will affect you. When you are around a joyful person, the joy rubs off on you and you rejoice too. You rejoice along with the truth.
Bottom line: by taking up the means of abiding in Christ, in His word, and in His commandments you fulfill the responsibility of love’s delight in holiness. In pursuing the truth for obedience, you delight in holiness in a responsible way. This is the way to the joy of love as a fruit that you cannot produce but that is the gift of the Spirit. It is a gift we experience in the way of the means He has appointed. It is along this path that love’s delight, joy, and pleasure is comprehensive, practical, and responsible.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Paul gives a characterization of the excellent way in which we are encouraged to walk. What he describes is at the same time what he prescribes. These traits of love are goals for us to aim at in our lives as Christians. They are spiritual graces and can only be cultivated truly in the lives of those who trust in Christ as their risen Lord.
These graces are not presented to us in an exhaustive list. There is obviously a list of nine items but it is hardly exhaustive. Instead, first, we have specifics cited, specific virtues and specific vices (vs. 4-5). Each implies its opposite. But the way these things are stated leaves a definite and distinctive impact whether positive or negative. Second, we have a shift to generalization regarding all virtues and all vices with an accent on the heart attitude of delight or joy (love does not rejoice in unrighteousness in itself or in others but love does rejoice in righteousness of the truth or in true holiness, v. 6). Finally, in verse 7, Paul goes even farther than generalization to universalization by putting love in relation to all things. He does this by connecting love with four verbs: bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring. Each verb is followed by the word “all.”
The accumulation of verbs and the repetition that exists within the verse inevitably direct our thoughts to the fullness of love. That is the title of the message for today, “The Fullness of Love.” What we have here can be put on the table in open display if we consider three things: 1) a description of love that is given in this text, 2) actions of love that are cited, and 3) the interdependence of love that is implied.
Some translation decisions have to be confronted immediately. One translation question that needs to be resolved right up front as we approach this text (1 Cor. 13:7) is whether the word “all” should be translated “all things” (ESV) or “always” (NIV). Interestingly, the term ‘“all” has a range of meanings. It can indicate the highest degree of something as in the ideas of fullness, greatness, and supremacy. It may refer to each member in a class with varying degrees of scope: all humans, all the elect, or all at Ephesus (cf. all the people living in Allen Park, Michigan, which is a limited scope of a universal term).
One lexicon gives a list of meanings that includes “always”: total, whole, every kind, regularly, and always (Louw-Nida Lexicon). However, examples of the temporal use are rare and they occur in combination with other words as in “all time” or “through all.” It is this combination that yields the sense of continually or always. But if “all” stands alone (without being combined with a noun like time that it modifies or without a preposition in front of it like through), then major lexicons do not assign it the meaning of always (cf. Liddel and Scott Lexicon).
Important for us in our study is the fact that in 1 Corinthians 13:7 the word all occurs four times without modifying a noun or following a preposition. It simply occurs with each verb: [love] “bears all, believes all, hopes all, [and] endures all.”
Therefore, most translators supply “things” after each all. As an inclusive and sweeping adjective, all can be quite vague. Surprisingly, something as obvious as all can be very opaque. You have to supply something, some noun that it modifies. If you are reading along and you come to this series of verbs with all, you naturally ask, “all what?”
The answer comes in two stages. It comes in translation, and then it comes in interpretation. The main point that should be made about translation here is that translation should enable the reader to do interpretation without giving him either too little or too much. So let’s consider each side of this coin.
1) On one hand, clearly, the translation that uses “always” and omits “all things” gives the reader (who does not know Greek, etc.) too little to work with. It is too little because “always” is a weak translation of the word “all” and the result is that emphasis is placed on the notion of time (all the time, always) with regard to each verb and the actual fullness of the passage is remarkably reduced. Perhaps, we can say that the idea of “all the time” is a slice of the pie representing all things. Surely, “all things” is so general and universal that it includes all time conditioned things or more precisely all categories of time. What we might call “all time things” are categories of time that are created things (cf. Rom. 8:38, “things present and things to come” associated with v. 39, “other creations” or “anything else in all creation”).
2) On the other hand, it would be too much if a translator tried to retain both always and all things by having the passage read: “love always bears all things and it always believes all things,” etc. And it would be too much for a translator to try to nuance some difference between each all. Right here at this point of finding nuances is where interpretation by the reader kicks into gear. This is where we engage the Scriptures. At this point prayerful meditation is the task at hand.
So that is what we want to do now. We want to engage the text seeking to unpack some of what is intended by the paradoxically obvious but opaque mention of all things. We have every reason to go looking in this way because the adjective all occurs four times in this verse. At the least, we can say that we are being presented with a profound fullness by this universal language. This is the fullness of love. So let’s try to unpack some of this fullness to go from what might be like an initial morning fog into the light of a sunny day.
What we should do now is consider the actions of love one at a time trying to keep each individual in mind as we work toward a sense of their fullness together. An initial way to understand the four parts of this whole pie is to explain how we should work with the word all. It “is to be understood of all things to which the associated words can in any degree properly apply” (Ellicot, 253).
So we can approach the verse like this: our task here is to unlock four access doors to the meaning of love. All four doors lead to the same room. We have to first go through them one by one. Then we can grasp some of the fullness of love. This key takes us through each door by directing us to each associated word (bears, believes, hopes, and endures) to find all the things that can in any degree properly apply. Thus, what things can properly apply in any degree to bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring (ask the question of each one by one)?
We should first rule out a common misunderstanding about this verse in order to precisely identify what it means to bear all things.
1) The misunderstanding that is common here is that these words refer to “meek bearing of injuries from our fellowmen” (Edwards, Charity, 251). But Edwards gives a number of reasons to take this as a reference to “suffering in the cause of Christ” (252). First, there is no need to repeat the reference to patience that was already discussed (v. 4, cf. also the implication of avoiding anger by being meek and patient, v. 13:5c). Second, verse 6 indicates that now Paul proceeds to “traits of another nature.” He moves from specificity to generalization and summary (cf. love’s delight in holiness). Third, it is unlikely that Paul would omit the critically important fruit of love that involves suffering for the gospel. Thus love means that “those who live” because of the death of Christ “no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
2) What then is meant by “bearing all things”?
A couple of parallel passages help us fix on the point here. Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul spoke of “bearing all things” (1 Cor. 9:12). The ESV has “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” Because “endure” translates the word “bear” it would be better to use bear instead of endure, or an even better rendering is “we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (NIV). Bearing is applied to all sufferings, afflictions, and anything that must be put up with in order to further the gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1, 5). The all things that love bears can be pinpointed to all that must be faced, worked at, and suffered for the sake of God and Christ. This is a mark of a truly (spiritually) loving person.
We now can see how the key mentioned earlier unlocks the four access doors to love. You simply begin to think about all the things that properly apply in any degree to each verb from first to last. The first one opens the way to the gospel from the angle of suffering or putting up with all things and anything that must be borne for the gospel.
Believing all things must therefore follow in train. It is not referring to believing the best of everyone or of giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Rather, believing is related to all the teachings of the gospel no matter what they are or what they demand. All the things that are taught by Christ through His word in the sixty-six books of the Bible are embraced. This is conditioned by the flow of the text and the connection with bearing all things for the sake of the gospel. It is the gospel that is believed, namely, all things it teaches and to which it applies by good and necessary inference.
There are many difficult teachings that humble us and cause us to stop in our tracks, fall on our faces, and worship. One of these teachings is the awesome fact that God set His love on His elect before the foundation of the world. He will in fact save each one of them losing none and passing over the rest of mankind leaving them to the just deserts of their sin. Paul illustrates this point with reference to an elect remnant within Israel (Rom. 11:7). This is captured pointedly in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, form all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer” (A, 20). And we saw it in our Scripture reading earlier (1 Thess. 1:1-10).
Another difficult teaching is the fact that the penetrating holiness of the law that reflects the holiness of God is the standard by which the Christian guides his live in devotion to Christ for the glory of the Father (cf. Matt. 5:16-19). The person who truly loves is the person who believes all of Scripture and he believes it for dear life (cf. love rejoices in true righteousness, v. 6).
Hope in relation to all things means that love’s fullness reaches out from all things of the present to all things of the future as they unfold in stages toward the grand finale when all things will be delivered into the freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). A loving Christian is hopeful (full of hope like being full of faith).
We return here to the notion of time or constancy (cf. Edwards, 286, on the difference between patience, forbearance, and endurance). Enduring gives us the distinct idea of steadfastness, faithfulness, or perseverance.
There is credibility to the translations that have “always” in them (though “always perseveres” may be redundant). This point comes not from the word “all” but from the verb “endures.” If we use our interpretation key to unlock this door, we turn it by asking, “What things properly pertain to enduring in any degree?” In a way the answer is simple. Here all things refer to doing anything good that takes determination, resolve, steadfastness, faithfulness, or perseverance. Love clings tenaciously to whatever is holy, righteous, or good. It forcefully pursues whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent. It relentlessly strives after all these things to learn, receive, hear, see, and practice them. Thus, it goes without saying that this is the way of a repentant life. To say any more is to spill over to our next point on the interdependence of love.
Thus, in all that love bears, in all the suffering, love embraces all the teachings of God and the gospel of Christ even though they may issue in suffering and affliction; no matter what must be faced, love trusts in Christ. Also, at every point along the way in facing all things that come when the entire gospel is embraced/believed (when all things of the gospel are believed), love has hope, gospel hope that relates to all things of the gospel and all the trials that must be borne on the way. In all things that occur from all and for all that is believed, love looks out to the future that pertains to all the things that transpire in history.
The loving person is hopeful in bearing affliction for the entire gospel. Hoping is applied to all the sufferings for all the teachings cited already in the passage. But it has the larger context of all future events working from all present things and events, looking with expectation to the culmination of it all in Christ (cf. Rom. 8, etc).
Particularly helpful in showing the interdependence of these “traits of different nature” is 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. The theme of love is woven throughout the fabric of this passage (cf. chapter 2: brothers, v. 1, nursing mother, v. 7, and affectionately desirous, v. 8). Notice the interdependence of love, hope, steadfastness in afflictions that are for the gospel. The hope of these believers was fixed on the gospel that centers in Christ (vs. 3-4) who was raised from the dead and who is coming again to deliver us from the coming judgment (v. 10). It led to a labor of love that receives the gospel, holds on to it tightly, and exemplifies it on the pathway of life. We travel in the time between the comings of Christ looking and waiting, waiting and looking for the return of our risen Lord and final glory through the judgment.
Perseverance applies to bearing, believing, and hoping. Finally, Paul states that love endures all these things, that is, love perseveres in bearing all afflictions and efforts that come from faith in all the grand truths of Scripture, love perseveres in faith believing one truth after another, believing them all, holding them all fast whatever the afflictions may be that come in the course of life. And love perseveres in hope, in expectation with respect to all the suffering that comes from all the grand truths and in all the work, effort, and trails that come because of embracing all the things of Scripture.
1) These things call for Christian love in a powerful way. We at first want to say, “What does this have to do with me, for this is too high and lifted up?” But then we must say, “This is me; this all applies to me because I belong to Christ and not to myself.”
2) Thus, we are called to the repentant Christian life. All along this pathway we look to Christ and cling to His work on the cross for us.
3) Finally, we must acknowledge that this is a reasonable service given all the treasures new and old, which are ours in Christ. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. He is our elder brother and in Him we inherit all things. So, the fullness of love is such that whatever it takes, we say, “Lord I am willing to do bear all things for you, I will learn and live your gospel, I will fix my gaze on your coming, and I will do these things, all these things, with a relentless tenacity for the glory of the triune God.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I think that the best way to introduce the text for today’s message (1 Cor. 13:8-12) is to state how Paul develops the theme of love in 1 Corinthians 13 as a whole. We can get the big picture by thinking through the chapter with the following outline in mind: love’s indispensability, its beauty, and its permanence. Its indispensability is given first (1-3), its beauty is then presented (4-7), and finally its permanence is discussed (8-13).
Let’s meditate on each section for a few moments. We are told that love is indispensable to intelligible human communication for without it we are nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (v.1). It is indispensable to human dignity because even if I have gifts, knowledge, and faith without love “I am nothing” (v. 2). And it is indispensable to human value since without love “I gain nothing” in the pursuits and sacrifices of life (v. 3). Paul discusses the beauty of love first in particulars both positive and negative (4-6, love is patient and kind, love is not arrogant or rude, etc.). Then he states the beauty of love in a series of universals (love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things). The rest of the chapter is concerned with the permanence of love as indicated by the bookends of verses 8 and 13 (“never ends” with “abide”). After the preface (8a), there are two sections (8b-12 and 13). We are concerned today with verses 8-12; we leave verse 13 for separate treatment. My outline is twofold: a) the permanence of love declared, and b) the permanence of love compared.
We can begin with the permanence of love declared by asking this question: What new element if any is added to the endurance of love (1 Cor. 13:7d) when Paul says, “love never ends” (13:8a; some translations have “love never fails”)? We need to look back in the passage (at 7d) a little bit more in order to move forward (to 8a).
To endure means to persevere, to “hang in there” and not quit. So it has a temporal quality in that enduring love abides over time. The accent is on the tenacity, perseverance, and relentless character of love that endures whatever must be put up with for the gospel (it bears all things tenaciously for the sake of Christ). It does so with a relentless pursuit of all that we are required to believe in Scripture (love clings tenaciously to all that is to be believed no matter what must be put up because of belief in Christ). And no matter what must be put up with for these beliefs, love remains steadfast in hope of Christ’s return (love perseveres in hopeful expectation regarding what is promised come what may in the present time of waiting).
By contrast the never ending character of love (it never fails or it never ends) highlights the temporal element in a most complete way. Instead of stressing tenacity it stresses eternality. Love does not just abide over time; it abides through time and does not end when history on earth ends.
What a welcome word this is in itself that beyond the grave, beyond our time on earth, and beyond history as a whole something very good and very great abides. That something is love. If you were to fill in the blank of the following, what should you cite: what good thing of your experience on earth should you want to abide (note the word should)? Our Hollywood media people would probably give the answer: “sex of course” (that’s what even angels want; some even give up immortality for it!). However, whether these media people say what they say just for the money it generates, or if they speak through their characters for artistic expression of their actual philosophies and vain hopes (or for both), they are dead wrong, the answer is not sex. Of course sexual pleasure is not an evil. Not at all; it is a good gift from our Creator. But the good that will abide is love.
This has to be ultimately a reference to the love of God as that love is reflected in the creation and especially in His new creation, the church. It is God’s love reflected in sinners saved by grace. The words, “love never ends” are the words of eternal life. They mean that God will never fail to love, to love us in Christ, and to reflect that love in and through us so that our love will never fail as well. This is mega-scale of a Psalm I love to ponder where the Psalmist says, “I awake, and I am still with you” (139:18). I am still with you, in your presence, because you are still there in your steadfast love.
So the gospel takes us to the other side of history and into eternity. Love is there too; it abides in time and beyond time. It never ends. Thus, although there is an overlap in the ideas that end verse 7 and begin verse 8, there is an accent in 8a on the eternal character or permanence of love. That is Paul’s declaration. Next we have his comparison.
After adding this nuance to the description of love, Paul indicates where he is going with this new thought. He now sets forth a very memorable comparison that has the well known lines about being a child and seeing in a mirror put over against becoming a man and seeing face to face. Let’s cover this material with a series of questions.
A survey of these verses will show that the comparison is between love and knowledge. Although the gifts of prophesying (v. 9) and tongue speaking (v. 8) are mentioned, it is evident that they stand in the background with knowledge in the foreground. Consider how this is the case.
In verse 8, knowledge is the “third man out.” It does not refer to a gift on a par with the gift of prophesying and the gift of tongue speaking. Some kind of gift of knowledge is apparently cited in 1 Corinthians 12: 8 where Paul calls it a “word of knowledge.” In that context a gift is plausibly in view (cf. 12:4 with 12:8). But the conclusion that a gift of knowledge is not in view in 13:8 rests on a number of things: a) the way knowledge is cited in contrast to 12:8, b) the internal distinctions within 13:8, and c) the connection of 13:8 with the references to knowledge and knowing in 13:9-12. This is just following the pattern of looking back, looking within, and looking forward with regard to 13:8.
Looking back to the contrast with 12:8, it is evident that in 13:8 Paul simply speaks of “knowledge” whereas in 12:8 he speaks of a “word of knowledge.” There is not enough in our passage (13:8) to conclude that the gift of knowledge is in view. Looking at the internal distinctions within 13:8, it is interesting that only one gift is referenced unambiguously, tongues. Prophecies are the utterances given by the gift or activity of prophesying. Looking forward, it is clear that a striking emphasis is placed on human knowledge and knowing throughout this section (cf. we know in part, v. 9; I thought like a child, v. 11; we see in a mirror dimly, v. 12a; we will see face to face, v. 12b; I know in part, v. 12c; I shall know fully, v. 12d; and I will know as I have been fully known, v. 12e). This argues that Paul’s real concern is to compare love with knowledge (and not with the various gifts).
Even if knowledge were thought of here as a gift (some kind of ability to utter knowledge), it would still be the third man out in the sense that it would speak more directly of that which is the product of these gifts than do prophecy and tongues. The product of prophesying, tongue speaking, and the knowledge gift, if included as a gift, is knowledge.
The contextual flow of thought puts love over against knowledge. It gets there by mentioning some knowledge giving gifts. It is easy to understand why the gifts of prophesy and tongues are brought up in Paul’s concentration on knowledge. On one hand, they are central knowledge giving gifts. They pave the way to a treatment of their product. On the other hand, knowledge by the gifts of prophecy and tongues was sought in a disorderly way (cf. the orderly way that is presented next in chapter 14). A hint in the direction of curing this abuse is given when Paul states that these knowledge giving gifts are provisional and temporary (they will pass away and cease, vs. 8-9). But the comparison has love on one side (8a) and knowledge on the other side (8b-12). Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul’s major concern in 8b-12 is with the provisional and temporary nature of knowledge. Paul tells us that knowledge is temporary in contrast to love due to the fact that it is incomplete, partial or literally “in part” (which occurs four times: v. 9, twice, v. 10, and v. 12). Thus the apostle says:
We know in part, v. 9a
We prophesy in part, v. 9b
“The in part” will pass away, v. 10
I know in part, v. 12b
It seems fair to say that in all these references Paul focuses on the partial, incomplete, provisional, transitory, and temporary nature of knowledge. Thus, to “prophesy in part” (v. 9) is to produce knowledge that is incomplete and “tongues” (v. 8) is short for the knowledge that is given to the church in this unique medium of speech.
By the parallels with becoming a man, seeing face to face, and knowing fully, “the perfect” is the state of things associated with the return of Christ. Although Edwards places the end of the special gifts at the time of the coming of the perfection of the church that occurred when the canon was completed (Charity, 305-306, 324-325), he still says that these words about seeing face to face are “most agreeable” with the state of the church in heaven (325).
It is the “in part” that will pass away. That is, partial knowledge will pass away. Even with the blessing of divinely revealed knowledge by means of prophesy and tongues, this knowledge is still to be earmarked as incomplete. Remember, eye has not seen and ear has not heard even half of what shall be revealed to the children of God.
1) Implication for the cessation/continuation debate
Without getting too far into the discussion over the cessation of the gifts, the major concern of 8b-12 yields the implication that this passage cannot be appealed to in defense of the conclusion that the gifts of prophecy and tongues continue until the return of Christ. As Gaffin puts it, Paul does not address the specific point at which prophecy will pass away (Perspectives on Pentecost, 110-112). What he does address is the passing away of the partial, especially that is, of partial knowledge, which is the product of prophecy.
Apparently, abuses at Corinth included not only a misconstrued relation between tongues and prophesy but the knowledge that derived from both was also misconstrued. Here Paul puts knowledge in its place in relationship to love.
3) The radical superiority of love over knowledge
Love never ends but knowledge is partial and knowing is necessarily incomplete and provisional. There is a superb quality to love that is such both in the now of history and the not yet of perfection. It is the same in essence on earth as it is in heaven. It is the same on the way as it is in glory. Since heaven is a world of love, then the way to have a taste of heaven now on earth is to love. On Paul’s lips, to love in this way means to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Without loving commitment to Him there is no true significance to your life, no dignity, no value, and no foretaste of heaven on earth!
In three ways, Paul lets us see some of the glory that shall be revealed to us. a) We have the analogy of a child becoming a man that pictures the present earthly state as one of immaturity that will ultimately come to maturity. Speaking, thinking, and reasoning like a child will set aside or given up (v. 11). Seeing through a glass or mirror dimly will be replaced with seeing face to face (v. 12a). Finally, knowing in part will become knowing fully “even as I have been fully known” (v. 12b).
1) We are encouraged by this love chapter to learn: knowledge is good. Knowledge of God in Christ by the gospel is of course not something bad. In this vein, Paul has already presented a balanced picture of love and knowledge. He stated that without love we are nothing even if we have “all knowledge” (1 Cor. 13:2; notice the focus on what I am with knowledge but without love). But lest we go too far in an anti-knowledge direction Paul subtly bonded knowledge with love when he contrasted wrongdoing with truth: “love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (13:6). Additionally, we are pointed to Christ as He is revealed in “all things” of the gospel (13:7, love believes all things). On His authority and promise, our Lord directs us to both the 39 books of the OT and to the 27 books of the NT as the things revealed concerning Him. That is where we go to find what we are obligated to know and believe. In other words, knowledge has a goodness that is desirable and that is therefore to be delightfully sought.
2) But as we have seen knowledge is for doing. If it does not come to terms with practical Christian living, it is sadly misconstrued. Love rejoices with truthful “right-doing” (v. 6). We learn in order to not simply delight in what fills our heads but to delight in obedience. We learn of Christ, from Him, and for Him. We learn in order to obey Him as our Sabbath King. We learn in order to delight ourselves in Christ.
3) The bottom line is that knowledge must be subordinated to love in order for it to function properly. It must be channeled to preserve and properly reflect its inherent goodness and value. It must be channeled and guided by love. Therefore, love must rule. Knowledge and knowing is not the be all and end all of daily life on earth. It is incomplete and must be ruled in every respect by love. Love rules, that is, Christ rules all knowing endeavors.
Given that knowledge can be misconstrued, Paul takes aim with a double barreled shotgun to make the important point that knowledge is inferior to love. It is incomplete and will become something remarkably different when the perfect One comes and with Him the perfect state of things. But love will not become something different when Christ comes. So love is something to grab onto with all your might for both now and hereafter. It is something most excellent. We should desire and seek it.
It is in this connection that passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and the principles taught therein should be like the governing window on a computer screen in which everything else is placed. Hence there is a rich value in spending much time studying these principles. And how we ought to humble ourselves before the Lord with the prayer that He enable us to walk more and more on this marvelous pathway. As we saw in a previous message, the Psalmist continually petitions the Lord to “incline” his heart to God’s word that he may obey God’s law (119:36; cf. 119:26, teach me, 27, make me understand, 32, enlarge my heart, 33, teach me, 34, give me understanding, 35, lead me in the path of your commandments, 36, incline my heart to your testimonies, 37, turn my eyes, and 38, confirm your promise to your servant).
This abiding quality of love as unending means that it is what should have the greatest importance to us. Specifically, in relation to all that we learn, love is to have priority and preeminence. It is for the sake of love that we are to learn and gain knowledge. It is for the sake of love that we are to use all that we know. This is just to say that we are to grow in knowledge but we are to do so, and this is critical, we are to do so for the sake of Christ and because of Him for the sake of others. This is Christian, Christ-like, love.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Today I want to complete the section of 1 Corinthians 13 that began with verse 8. We noted last time that verse 8a and verse 13 function like bookends tying “love never fails” together with “love…abides.” We titled the message last week, “The Permanence of Love.” This week’s message continues the same general theme and is titled, “Heaven: a world of love with faith and hope.”
There are two things that this passage teaches us: 1) we learn that faith, hope, and love abide in heaven. We get to heaven by faith in the risen Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10) and that faith will not end when we get there. 2) And we learn that love is superior to faith and hope in heaven. After discussing these two points, we will make some concluding remarks and applications.
Not all commentators understand 1 Corinthians 13:13 as a reference to heaven. It depends on how we handle the word “now” at the beginning of the verse. So let’s compare the alternate views on this point, defend the claim that heaven (the heavenly state of affairs) is in view, and explain what it means for these virtues to abide in heaven.
The two ways to understand “now” are in a temporal sense and in a logical sense.
1) The temporal interpretation takes “now” as a reference to the present time in history. This is the time between the comings of Christ in which the church is making her pilgrim journey to heaven having not yet arrived but valiantly on the way. If the verse is understood this way, then the picture before us is shaped by the passages of Scripture that speak of the end of faith in sight and the end of expectation in realization.
On one hand, we are pointed to the fact that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We must recognize the fact that there is a sense in which faith will give way to sight. The eternal that is now unseen (2 Cor. 4:18), but upon which we fix our faith and hope, will become sight. That which is sight unseen will become sight seen. The contrast of walking by faith and not by sight will no longer hold. Walking by sight in this connection is not something bad (as if a contrast between belief and unbelief). Sight here refers to the coming of perfection and seeing face to face; it refers to the experience of being at home with the Lord in glory (2 Cor. 5:7-9; in 2 Cor. 4:18 the state of things “seen” refers to the time of eternal glory).
That faith is used as the opposite of seeing shows us that it overlaps with hope. It is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). By faith we grasp the reality that is to come; we lay hold of it with certain assurance. Thus, to say “we walk by faith” here means that the realities of being present with the Lord and of the resurrection of His saints have not yet come. It does not mean that when they come faith will pass into non-existence. It simply and wonderfully means that when these future realities come to realization then they will no longer be grasped from afar by faith. It is not saying that faith will pass away but that what faith now lays hold of as future will be the believer’s eternal experience. It is not that faith passes away but that the object of faith comes (cf. Thomas believed while seeing, Jn. 20:29).
Why then is this time of not seeing a time of faith? Believing what is not seen accents the fact that now the certainty is grasped by faith even though the reality is still future and as yet out of reach. It is evident then that the temporal sense of “now” is not necessitated by the faith/sight language (though the contrast of faith and sight might push our thinking in that direction).
On the other hand, what has been said of faith per 2 Corinthians 5:7 can also be said of hope per Romans 8:24-25, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Obviously, we do not continue in a perpetual state of anticipation and expectation regarding something that we now see and possess. Specifically, this passage is talking about the resurrection of our bodies (the redemption of our bodies, v. 23). In this life and on the pathway of our present pilgrimage, we eagerly anticipate and confidently expect the full resurrection harvest that is promised in our present experience of the Holy Spirit as firstfruits. This has to be associated with the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits in that the Holy Spirit’s presence in us is the guarantee of our participation in the full harvest (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 1:13-14).
But does this tell us that when the harvest comes and we are raised in glory then hope will pass away? No, it is simply and wonderfully telling us that when the resurrection takes place we will no longer look forward to it with anticipation because it will then be a matter of realization. Like what was said of faith in relation to sight, when that which is hoped for comes, we will no longer hope for it. It is not that hope passes away but that the object of hope comes. Thus, there is no reason to restrict “now” to the present based on the notion, wrongly endorsed, that faith and hope are not permanent virtues.
2) What has been said so far opens the door to the other way of reading the verse. The logical sense of “so now” in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is translated “and thus” or “and therefore.” The idea is “so now in conclusion” rather than “so now here in the present.” Let’s see how this is defended and how it shows that heaven is in view by Paul.
The main consideration that supports the logical sense of “so now” is that Paul does not have the present in mind but the future because these three virtues are not the only ones that apply in the present. He says that faith, hope, and love abide in an exclusive way: “these three.” But Paul could not restrict the things that abide to these three if he were talking about the present (for in the present even partial knowledge abides). Further support is found in the fact that when Paul says that “these three abide” he states a contrast to the things previously discussed that do not abide such as partial knowledge. In other words, Paul has the heavenly state in view in contrast to the present state of seeing dimly like through an old mirror.
Therefore, we have to be discerning with respect to the overstatement that is made in some Christian poetry and hymns. Some interesting poetry misses Paul’s point of the abiding character of all three things cited here (Meyer, Commentary, 311, one is a Wesley hymn).
Faith will vanish into sight,
Hope be emptied in delight,
Love in heaven will shine more bright,
Therefore give us love.
Wesley makes a similar point:
Where faith is sweetly lost in sight
And hope in full supreme delight
[but love is] everlasting
This poetry overshoots by missing the significant fact that hope and faith abide in heaven, which leads directly to my next point of explanation.
Carson says some helpful things about hope and faith as “eternal, permanent virtues” (Showing the Spirit 75). With regard to hope, he states, “there is a sense in which hope is not merely the anticipation of the blessings to come, an anticipation no longer needed once those blessings have arrived, but a firm anchor in Christ himself. Our hope is in God, in Christ; and as such, hope continues forever, doubtless opening up an infinity of new depths of blessing, world without end” (74). So he asks the penetrating question, “Will we stop looking forward in anticipation to what is ahead once we begin to enjoy the new heaven and the new earth?” (74). The implied answer is obvious, “no we will not stop looking forward in anticipation.” With regard to faith he comments, “It is true that in one sense faith will be displaced by sight. But there is another sense in which faith is simply thankful trust in God, deep appreciation for him, committed subservience to him. Will there be any time in the next fifty billion years (if I may speak of eternity in the categories of time) during which the very basis of my presence in the celestial courts will be something other than faith in the grace of God?” (74-75).
Carson makes a great point here about “an infinity of new depths of blessings, world without end” that will continue out in front of us forever. There is a richness of glory beyond words. Or put another way, there is a richness to come in glory about which our words will be “in a perpetual state of beginning.” We will always find ourselves in the awesome wonder of knowing that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what God has prepared for us.
This sounds like an incompleteness of knowing akin to that developed in verses 8-12. But perhaps this informs us that the contrast of the now and the not yet is not exactly one of incompleteness to completeness but of very immature and dim incompleteness in contrast to mature and face to face “incompleteness.”
Incompleteness here is perhaps over stating in a way that does not keep in flow with verses 8-12. For in heaven, it is all there before us “face to face” but our grasp of the depths will be such that “an infinity of new depths” of glory will be forever at our finger tips. So, to try to avoid confusing knowing in part to knowing fully we have to stress the fact that the partial refers to a circumscribed and limited content regarding what may be known. Even with sixty-six books, what may be known objectively of special revelation is limited. But perfection will involve unlimited content as we behold the Lord in all His glory face to face. For Luther, our present state is like seeing the sun through a cloud because we cannot bear to look at the Lord’s brilliant majesty but the cloud will be removed and the Lord will unveil Himself (Cited by C. Brown, Miracles, 14).
This fact that hope abides into the unending future is a marvelous thought in itself. It is part of the blessing of heaven that the entry point is not a terminal point but a beginning point that opens a vast array of infinite blessings before our wondering eyes. Therefore, one of the good things of heaven is the fact that we will always have hope because there will always be things to anticipate, new depths to plummet, and new heights to scale. A fundamental quality of heaven will be expectation of greater things still to come. A profound experience of expectation will give a spring to every step that is taken in the heavenly realm.
Before this study of 1 Corinthians 13, I tended to think that the first step in heaven is the one that carries with it the greatest sense of anticipation and expectation. But this text shows us that our anticipation of the first step we will take in heaven is far lower and inferior to the anticipation that will fill our hearts to the brim beyond that first step. This is so because our expectation now is in part, immature, and dimly lit. Once we take that first step in glory into the presence of our Lord and to seeing face to face, then every subsequent step will be filled with face to face anticipation and expectation that is far superior to the dimly lit anticipation and expectation that we now have.
Love too of course will abide forever. This is what makes heaven, heaven. So heaven is a world of love with faith and hope. But love’s place is distinct. Let’s turn our attention to the other major point made in our text for the day.
Interestingly, in completing the story about love’s permanence, Paul adds the fact that faith and hope also abide in heaven. He adds this information in order to say a little more about love. At first it seems to weaken the distinctiveness of love that has been established in its comparison with partial knowledge. As he said, love never fails but partial knowledge will pass away; love does not have any “passing away” aspect to it. But immediately upon putting faith and hope on the same level with love in their permanence, Paul declares the superiority of love: it is the greatest of these virtues that abide in heaven.
What Paul says in effect is that although love is not the only virtue that is permanent, it is still the greatest among the greatest virtues. His conclusion is not that these three abide forever. Instead, given that these three abide, his conclusion is that love is the greatest. Support for its superiority has been already given in verse 7 where it is clear that faith and hope are acts of love. Because “and now” is an indicator of a conclusion, then the premise must have already been given. That premise could concern the eternal nature of all three but it is only love that is stated to be eternal in the previous context (8a). The premise then must be concerned with the superiority of love to hope and faith. This superiority is implicit in verse 7. Therefore, love has a priority in relation to faith and hope in that they are expressions of love (it is love that believes all things and hopes all things; cf. how love is in the forefront of conversion: we love Him because He first loved us, 1 Jn. 4:19).
Carson establishes this point of love’s superiority on two grounds. 1) Paul can imagine having faith without love but not love without faith. 2) Hope is expressive of love for love “hopes all things.” Hope contributes to love like “various colors contribute to white light.” So, “love is the all embracing virtue” and “Love is foundational, even of the virtues that characterize God’s people in eternity” (75; cf. it can be said that God is love but not that He is faith or hope).
1) Love excels in an extraordinary way. Paul has piled up considerations that force us to see the excellence of love. It is as if he has said, “This is an excellent way, it is the excellent way, as a matter of fact, it is the most excellent way. This can be seen when we discern the difference between love “endures” (v. 7), “never ends” (8a), and “abides (13)? Endures emphasizes its tenacity over time within history. That love “never ends” stresses its permanence for both time and eternity. To say it “abides” concentrates on its permanence for eternity. Thus, Paul compares it with other things that also abide (faith, hope) and states that it is the greatest. Thus even though other things may abide into the unending future, love still excels.
In every conceivable way love is excellent and thus is the way to walk now on the way to glory. Earlier Paul had compared love with the gifts (vs. 1-3) where even having all faith without love showed the indispensability of love in the life of faith. Thus in its relation to the gifts, in the greatness of its character or attributes with sweeping tenacity, and in the perspectives of time and eternity, love’s greatness is matchless.
2) This elevated description of love serves as powerful motivation to strive after love. We cannot sit still with folded hands if we grasp even the bare outline of the love that is placed before our eyes. We have to be moved, even constrained by the indispensability, the beauty, and the radical permanence of love. We have not seen even a glimpse or heard even a whisper of Paul’s description if we have no desire for this love stirred up within our souls (otherwise we are not listening; we just don’t get it). If by faith eye has seen or ear heard this elevated description of Christian love, then the heart must long for it, hands must reach out for it, and feet must walk in the pathway made straight by it.
3) In this light, we are exhorted to strive after the particulars of love that are described here in 1 Corinthians 13 (and elsewhere in Scripture, cf. Col. 3; Rom. 12). In love to our risen Lord we will thus pray for understanding, meditate and infer to the opposite, and apply these things where the rubber meets the road in the various roles we occupy in life.
Consequently, let me exhort you to pray this way for a better understanding of love. Being a matter of prayer reminds us of the challenge, our need, and how dependent we are on the enlightenment of the Spirit. We press forward in true humility when we press forward by prayer. I urge you to meditate on the word of God here regarding love. Chew on it, infer from the positives to the negatives and from the negatives to the positives. And earnestly apply charity and its fruits (cf. 13:4-7) where the rubber meets the road in your various roles in life as husbands, wives, parents, children, employers, employees, and brothers and sisters in the new covenant family of God.
So do these things, abound in them more and more to the glory and honor of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, the risen Lord (cf. Phil. 1:9-11).