Bible Study 2022
Love: The Greatest Thing
Let’s turn in 1 Corinthians 13. It has been determined by some to be the deepest, the purest, and the strongest aspect of spiritual life. It is highly instructive; and critical for all of us. So let us read it, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge,
And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Whether you’re serving in some invisible category of ministry in the life of the body of Christ, the context in which you serve must be love. Agapē love does not mean romantic love, it’s not sentimental love, and it’s not physical love. There is a word, eros,- that’s the love based on sexual attraction. Then there is phileō, that’s the love of friendship. And then there’s agape, that’s the love that just gives.
So, agape is biblical love. We’re talking about selfless sacrifice. God so loved the world that He gave the greatest gift ever given by anyone. And Jesus, in the upper room with His disciples says in John 13, He loved them to the max. He loved them to perfection. Before He went to the cross, He washed their dirty feet. Jesus says, “No greater love has any man than that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Paul in these opening three verses, shows us that without love, no matter what we do, it adds up to nothing. Verse 1: “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” It was a supernatural ability to speak a foreign language, right? These Jewish believers spoke other languages so other Jews heard it in their own language.
He is saying, in a hyperbole, “If I did speak in the languages of men, and even the language of angels.” “If I could transcend my limitations, and even get in to angelic conversation, it really wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t done in love.” Smashing cymbals, gongs is a cacophony of meaningless noise. And what he says is, “If that’s what you’re doing, it’s just pure paganism.
Second, prophecy without love is nothing. Prophesy means to speak the truth of God from Scripture. Verse 3, “The one who prophesies speaks to men for edification, exhortation and consolation.” This is the gift of prophecy. Preachers with no love are many, but they are all nothing. To preach for self-glory, fame, personal success and pride, is to wind up being a nothing.
In verse 2, knowledge without love is nothing. Now you can see the hyperbole, right? Nobody has understood all mysteries, no one has all knowledge, and here we see the hyperbole. Mysteries are things unknown to man, hidden until revealed by God. If I spoke it all, and I knew everything there was to know and could correlate them all, and I had not love, I’m a zero.
There are people who are highly educated, who are very wise and knowledgeable, gifted communicators, and are self-satisfied, self-promoting, and distant from people and seemingly indifferent and uncaring and in God’s view, they’re nothing. 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge without love is impotent.” Whether it’s a mission field or pastoral ministry, do not lack love for your people.
And fourthly, faith without love is nothing. In verse 2 again, “If I have so much faith that I could move mountains.” Jesus, in Matthew 17:20 said if you had the faith of a mustard seed, you say to this mountain, “move”? And that’s an analogy. Jesus said see what you could do if you put your faith to work. Put your faith to work, and move whatever the obstacle is that is in your way.
Verse 3, “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” It’s describing the ultimate acts of benevolence. It’s all absolutely meaningless unless it’s motivated solely by love. Now here is the ultimate sacrifice. “If I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
There have been Buddhists who set themselves on fire. And if you do that, and you’re not motivated by love and your martyrdom would be meaningless. So, what you have here is a very solemn testimony to the importance of love. However great, however sacrificial, however significant, it is the inside of that deed that our Lord is concerned about, and the inside must be love.
Love is patient, that’s an adjective. Love is kind, that’s an adjective. Love is not jealous - that’s a negative adjective. Actually, the term kind, the term patient, and the term jealous, are all wrapped up in verbs, because love can only be described in action. Love is understood by how it acts, not by how it feels. There are fifteen characteristics of love and they are all pictures of love in action.
It’s about patience with people. It describes the person who is extremely slow to anger, who virtually never ever gets angry, no matter how people treat that person. The spirit that never retaliates, that never seeks vengeance. The Christian, marked by love, loves in return when hurt, when insulted, when injured; and when in a position that some might deem gives him a right to revenge, he never takes it.
The story of Israel is the record of God’s patient love toward a rebellious, disobedient, sinful and disloyal people. If God were at all impatient, Israel would have been destroyed and all promises cancelled long ago. If Christ were not patient, the church would have been put out of existence, and all of us who have sinned against the very Christ who loves us would be assigned to condemnation.
The patience of God, as we learned in Romans 2:4 is meant to lead us to repentance. Romans 9:22 says, “God is even patient with vessels fitted unto destruction.” This is a powerful feature of love, and it is not weakness. Anybody can cave in and get mad and retaliate. Anybody can desire vengeance, but genuine love forgives seventy seven times seventy times a day.
Love is kind. It gives benefits to others. So it finds a way to extend kindness instead of vengeance. It seeks the well-being of those who harm him. The root for the word kind is useful. It is a usefulness in behalf of someone else. The idea is that even though one is injured, even though one is mistreated, even though one is hurt or harmed, patience is exhibited and usefulness is given to the offender.
He doesn’t picture love in the realm of affection, but in the hard surroundings of a sinful, selfish group of sinners in a church, who have all come out of a bad world, and have all had bad influences on their already depraved souls, who are by nature selfish. Isn’t every good gift that He gives to His own a gift of grace? We must remember that we are given something that we do not deserve.
Even heaven’s kindnesses will be by grace; we will not have earned them. Jesus said to the Jews in Matthew 11, “Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest. Take My yoke, and learn of Me; for I am humble, I’m meek, I’m lowly: I’ll give you rest for your souls.” Coming to Christ is coming to the kindest being of all. He is kind to everyone.
The model of kindness is God, and God’s forgiveness and God’s outpoured grace to undeserving sinners. Churches flounder in division and discord and animosity. There was a story about two men going two directions on a cliff - and they met. They tried every possible way to get by each other and they couldn’t, until one man lay on the ground and the other walked across him.
And that’s the way it works in the church; love is willingness to be walked on if it serves someone else. It’s not about a battle for your rights and what you think you deserve, but rather, it’s a battle to see how useful you can be to others, even those who offend you. Love is not jealous. This is the first of eight negatives. In the Corinthian church there was jealousy over spiritual gifts.
They were fighting over which were the more or less honorable functions in the church. Verse 25 says, “There should be no division in the body, but the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you’re Christ’s body.” Love looks at people’s gifts completely differently.
When love sees someone who is popular, fruitful, gifted, loved, adored, appreciated, love is glad. Jealousy hates the fact that that person is so gifted and so well-received, and wants what that person has. And so, jealousy burns in the heart and leads to criticism, where behind the scenes the jealous person has to tear down the beloved and fruitful and faithful person; it’s meanness of soul.
Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is outrageous; who is able to stand before jealousy?” James 3:14 says, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.” It is absolutely inevitable that if you’re jealous, you lie. About what? About whoever it is that you want to replace. You’re in the business of tearing down.
Paul in jail said, “Some preachers are jealous of me. They see this as God-ordained imprisonment, for the expansion of the gospel,” which is what it was. How could they be so jealous of this faithful man of God, so greatly gifted and blessed, and yet who suffered to greatly? His response was. “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice.”
Love does not brag. That’s selfish ambition. It’s not talking about an inner attitude; it gets all the way to the action. This is the arrogant person. This is the one who always calculates everything to make himself look good and you look bad. C.S. Lewis said that this is the greatest sin, self-centeredness, conceit is the same as pride. There’s something that goes with it. Love is not arrogant.
Love does not behave rudely. Rudeness is disdain for someone else. It is a kind of out-of-line behavior. It describes behavior that is out of order morally. When they came together in the church, everybody was rudely trying to top the other person with his ecstatic gift. God is not the author of confusion. He is the author of peace and order, as in all the churches of the saints.
Love behaves graciously, not gracelessly. It treats all with a redeeming deference. There is no thought of self but only of others. And the only thought is what is suitable, what is honorable, what is elevating; never demands satisfaction for self, is never rude or corrupt at the expense of others. Love yields all personal rights. Only humble people love. Love does not seek its own.
Love is not selfish. That’s such a beautiful virtue, to be completely indifferent to yourself. Love, even when it acts, acts on behalf of others. It is edifying. The word means to build up others. Self-elevation is the opposite of love. Love never demands recognition, never demands applause, doesn’t demand consideration, doesn’t care whether it’s honored, whether it’s elevated.
Jesus, all the way from Bethlehem to Calvary, never insisted on His own way, never insisted on His own rights. He lost Himself in the lives of others in Mark 10:45, “The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, but He’s come not to be served, but to serve.” And there in the garden He says, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Love always and only thinks of others.
Love is not provoked. Paul in Acts 17, was irritated or provoked about the idols. But Paul never retaliated to all the injuries that came to him. When it comes to personal things, love bears all injuries suffered at the hands of others without exasperation and without irritation. When somebody or your spouse offends you in some way, don’t be angry. Don’t be provoked.
And if it leads to some kind of uncontrollable conduct where you lose your temper, where you get bitter and angry or where you burst out, it is sin. What they do to Christ will cause righteous indignation. What they do to you will only cause unrighteous indignation if you do not overpower the wrong. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Don’t be easily angered, irritated, or defiant. There is a lot more about love. Let us pray.