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The Sunday Sermon – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3


Love’s Foundation

1st Corinthians 13:1-3

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.


Paul has ended chapter 12 by exhorting the Corinthians to desire and cultivate the better gifts.  But there is one gift, given to Christians by the Holy Spirit, which is the very best of all, which is the highest gift obtainable.  It is the gift of love!  Like all the other gifts of the Spirit, it is given at conversion, and it is common to all Christians, and it will promote unity in the church when it is applied.  The question is, will we be willing to allow God’s love to operate within us, and to overcome our own innate and carnal desire for self-advancement and self-promotion?  In this, perhaps the most beautiful passage in the Pauline writings, let us see:-

The Essence of Loving Faith

Love and Charity!  Three times Paul uses the phrase, “And have not charity.”  The AV is misleading here.  The word charity, to us, seems to suggest that Paul is arguing that the greatest gift of all in the church, is giving time or money to good causes.  Such is the meaning of the word charity.  Now, while charitable activities may be an outworking of the love that indwells the Christian, that is not what Paul is dealing with here.  The Greek word rendered charity by the AV is the word agaph, agape, which simply means love.  But it is not just any kind of love.  It is a very special kind of love indeed!  Let’s try to understand a little about this special love.

  1. It is not passionate love!  The Greeks had a word for physical love, the love between a man and a woman.  That love is called eros love, and it can be good, or it can be bad!  It never occurs anywhere in the New Testament
  2. It is not affectionate love!  The Greek word is storgh, and it refers to the kind of love a parent has for a child.  Again, this form of love is not a New Testament concept.

The kind of love that is so common today is a combination of these first two types.  Sexual love and sentimentality mixed up together, so couples find it so easy to ‘fall in love’ and then subsequently to ‘fall out of love’ so very quickly.  There is television programme that promotes this kind of love called Blind Date.  On the air, boys and girls are matched up together and then sent on a free holiday, in the hope that love might blossom.  Of course it rarely does, for the basis of of the questions that are put to the contestants are simply smutty references to sexual attraction.  They hope for ‘love at first sight’ but what usually happens is that the initial surprise and sexual attraction soon wears off and they find that they are otherwise incompatible.  The world has romanticised love to a point where.

  1. It is not brotherly love!  There is a type of love that is an ‘endearing’ love.  The love of a brother and sister, a husband and wife, a very deep friendship.  A love that really cherishes the other person.  The Greeks called this kind of love phileo love (filew).  In Revelation 3,  the Lord address a church at a place called Philadelphia, the city of ‘brotherly love.’

So, what kind of love is this?  It is no wonder that we find this love so difficult to understand, and no wonder that it is such a difficult concept for the modern thinker.  Agape is a word which occurs over 20 times in the New Testament, but which is virtually unknown in Greek language outside it!  It is as if the Holy Spirit has given us an entirely new term for an entirely new type of love!  No other common word for love would be suitable!  No other love is quite the same!  Let us examine this marvellous love…

1)      Agape love was supremely demonstrated on the Cross! Agape love loved us when we were totally depraved in sin!  Our whole lives and beings were affected by sin.  Sin had corrupted our minds and our emotions and our will, and left us lost and ruined before God, and totally unable to have any fellowship with Him.  Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Agape love is the expression of unconditional election!  We were the enemies of God!  We did not deserve His love, or His mercy, we deserved to be punished in everlasting darkness.  Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.   On the Cross, God demonstrated His love for, when Christ died for people who were unlovable!  That is agape love!

2)      We receive this agape love when we are saved by God’s grace!  This selfless love of God for us becomes our personal experience when we are converted!  We have spoken much of the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption.  Here is another aspect of that work.  When we are saved, the Holy Spirit who indwells us brings with Him God’s selfless love, and pours it out into our lives!  Romans 5:5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.  The Amplified Bible in 1st Corinthians 13:1-3 passage refers to this love as ‘God’s love for us and in us.’ (You will immediately be aware that every Christian ought to have this love, and that again it ought to be a cause of unity among the brethren!)

3)      This agape love never ends!  Now this is an aspect of this love to which we shall later return, but it is sufficient to note, at this point that there is a vast difference between God’s love and the love of man as detailed above.  We have noted that man’s love often changes and fails.  God’s love never changes!  God’s love never ends!

4)       Agape love is the most marvellous gift that any Christian can have!  Jesus said that there was no commandment greater than this, that  (Mark 12:30-31) Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. Paul agrees with this he says, 1 Cor. 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.


But let us pause there for a moment, to remind ourselves that Christian Love, agape, is a totally different manner of love from the love that is understood by this present world.  And because of this difference, although the believer may be living out these verses, and earnestly seeking after love in his life, he may be totally misunderstood by the world!

Please allow me to illustrate this difference in understanding.  There is a secular radio programme here in Northern Ireland which goes out every weekday, and which takes phone calls from its listeners.  I think it would be true to say that the presenter of the programme would not be a friend of evangelical Christianity.  Sometimes a believer will come on the line, and begin to speak of why he or she cannot accept some form of other religion as an alternative way to heaven.  The presenter will become very frustrated by this.  He will say, “But as a Christian, are you not required to love others, your brother, your neighbour, even your enemy?”  The listener will be equally frustrated by this response!  To him, the epitome of loving your neighbour is to win that neighbour for Jesus, to witness to him, to go to all lengths to evangelise him, to make sure that he is not left to perish in the darkness of false belief!  He wants to love his enemy with the love of God, agape love!  But to the presenter, to love your neighbour would be to love him with the love of the world, to accept him as he is and to allow him to live as he wishes!  The Christian in these circumstances is often portrayed as a bigot or intolerant of others.


So, in agape love we have the very essence of Christianity!  The Love of God, demonstrated on the Cross for unworthy sinners, then poured out into the heart of the believer at conversion, then becoming the motivating and empowering factor in that believer’s Christian life, so that we in turn as we reflect the love of God for us, show that selfless love for an unlovable world!  That is love!  That is true Christian believing!


The Emptiness of Loveless Worship

Now, let us apply the lessons we have learned about the nature of Christian love to the situation at Corinth, which we know so well.  In their desire to demonstrate how gifted they were as individuals, the Corinthians demonstrated that this form of selfless, self denying, self effacing love, had little part in their worship.  They had received, by faith, the Holy Spirit into their lives, they had experienced the love of God being ‘poured into’ each one of them.  Now it was their turn to show that love to others!  But they did not!!!  How could they express love for the Lord in worship, and at the same time not pass that love on to others?  Not only did they not love their neighbour, let alone their enemy, but they didn’t even show love for their own Christian brethren!  How empty their worship must have been!  How meaningless!

1)      A hypothetical question!  Paul describes it in verse 1.  These Corinthians prided themselves on their use of the gift of tongues.  Paul reasons with them.  What if you could speak all the languages of men?  What if you could speak even the language of angels in heaven?  What would be the point, what purpose would it serve, having these great gifts, if there is an absence of agape love?

2)      A hypocritical outcome!  Such a gifted person would be nothing other than a hypocrite!  He would be a great man in the local church, he would be recognised as the most spiritual man in the assembly, but he would be a hypocrite!  Without love his worship would be dead, ritualistic, godless worship!

3)       A harsh comparison!  Paul uses a comparison here that these people will understand full well.  The emptiness of pagan worship, with its clanging cymbals and its sounding gongs!  Such were the sounds of the worship of the pagan temples!

As always, Paul is being very straight with the Corinthians.  No matter what great contribution to the worship of the church you make, you may be great preacher, a wonderful administrator, a fantastic singer, a gifted leader of men, but you are worshipping into the wind; your worship is an empty meaningless ritual, if you do not have within you a sincere love and passion for others, both your fellow believers and the lost and dying world of sinful men all around you.


The Effect of Loveless Service

Not only is our worship meaningless and empty without love, but also ‘Christian service’ of any kind in the church is pointless if there is no evidence of this special kind of love in the servant!  How can a man be an evangelist, if he does not have agape love for those whom he is calling to Christ?  How can a man be a pastor, if he does not have agape love for his flock?  A missionary? A deacon?  A Sunday school teacher?  A prayer partner?  Any ministry in the church is rendered useless if it is not accompanied by love.   Let me illustrate how agape love will affect a man or a woman’s service in the church.  A man was frequently asked to open the service in his church in prayer.  It seemed as if he was so very well able to express the needs of the congregation before a loving and caring God.  One day, someone asked him how it was that he could pray so well, and so meaningfully in public.  He replied, “I know all my friends in the church.  I rise to my feet, and I spend a few seconds looking at them, and I remember all their problems and all the difficulties, and all their weaknesses, and my heart just goes out to them in love!  And then, I tell our heavenly Father all about it!”  No one did that in Corinth!  In Corinth, selfish giftings and abilities, albeit that they were God given giftings, were considered to be more important than love, so every man sought to exercise his own gift first, with no consideration whatsoever of others!  Look at the tragic waste of loveless service, as Paul mentions some examples in verse 3:-

  • Preaching without love! And though I have the gift of prophecy.  We have noticed before, that prophecy is the forthtelling of God’s Will in any given situation.  In the early church, there were prophets who heard directly from God, and relayed that message to the church.  But there is no extra biblical revelation to the church today.  God has finally spoken to us in His Word.  There is nothing more to be said, this side of eternity, and so the office of ‘prophet’ a foundational ministry in the church is no longer relevant to the church today.   But there is prophecy!  The prophecy of today occurs when a faithful gospel preacher takes the Word of God and applies its message, the message of the Lord, to the modern situation.  That is proclaiming God’s Word and God’s Will!  Well, preaching without LOVE is a waste of time and energy and effort!  A preacher may have all the eloquence, all the charisma, all the stature, all the ability, but without LOVE he might as well sit at home.  Loveless preaching, preaching that demonstrates no concern for the souls of others, is the very blight of the church!
  • Theology without love! and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge.  Here it is again.  Paul is describing a man who has great knowledge, and can stand in the pulpit, perhaps, and quote all the great sources, and make reference to the Greek text, and quote learned doctors of the church and great commentators, and show what a wonderfully learned person he is, and he will gain much praise from his hearers, and much accreditation from his denomination.  Such a man is utterly useless in the pulpit without love for lost souls! Maybe he becomes so aloof in his ability to preach that he begins to look down on simpler souls.  He would have become a true Corinthian!
  • Faith without love! and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains. This man may have a passionate faith!  But without love for others, his faith is dead!  Our love for others is the motivation for our Christian good works, and James said, James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
  • Charity without Love! And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor.  A man may practice great acts of charitable giving!, and Paul assumes that there is the possibility that he may be doing so in a loveless manner.  He might give with contempt of the person receiving the alms, he may give only out of duty, he may give with a high hand, he may give with what William Barclay calls ‘a smug moral lecture.’  Such giving is not selfless Christian love!  Wouldn’t it be great if Christianity just consisted in being nice to people, and supporting worthy causes!  It is much much, more than that!  A true believer gives to others out of selfless love, not to be seen by others, receive acclaim or obtain forgiveness or salvation.
  • Self-sacrifice without love! and though I give my body to be burned.  Here is the ultimate example.  Someone may even become a martyr, and that martyrdom might be the product of pride rather than the product of selfless love.  What a waste of a life!


Let us ask ourselves a very important question.  “What am I without love?”  Paul tells us at the end of each of these three verses.  He says

  • Without Love my worship is meaningless! I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
  • Without Love my life is purposeless! I am nothing.  (Note, it is not just my ministry or service that is nothing!  It is me!)
  • Without Love my success is pointless! it profiteth me nothing.

In our next study, we must go on to look at the characteristics of this selfless Christian love!


From → Sermon Notes

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