Power in the Pursuit of Love – 1 Corinthians 13 in Context
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Copyright 2016 Joshua Nickel
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1. The All-Purpose Chapter
2. The Overlooked Chapter
3. Patience – The Power Fruit
4. Kindness – Heaven’s Entertainment
5. The Poison of Envy
6. The Emptiness of Boasting
7. The Bread of Sincerity
8. Kingdom Etiquette
11. Love’s Forgetfulness
12. How to Say “Amen”
13. Love and Power Are Better Together
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Love never fails.
In other words, love always works. This is a biblical truth. “Love never fails” is a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:8.
It’s always the right time to love. Love is always appropriate. In fact, one of its characteristics is that it does not behave inappropriately. According to 1 Corinthians 13:5, love isn’t rude.
1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter all about love, and it’s a chapter that, like love, always works.
Like love itself, 1 Corinthians 13 seems to work no matter where it shows up. It’s often read by itself. It can be read at weddings or funerals. It can be the source of a Christmas sermon or an evangelistic message.
1 Corinthians 13 has been taken out of its context and applied to diverse situations because it can be. It’s versatile that way.
Thomas Jefferson cut up the words of Jesus and made a collection of the sentences he liked. He wasn’t the first one to rearrange the words of the Bible. Almost since the four Gospels were written, people have been cutting them up and sticking them together to make one big Gospel.
You wouldn’t want to tamper with the words of the Bible in a deceptive way, but if you were in the mood to experiment, you could do a similar thing with 1 Corinthians 13. Cut it out and smooth out the edges, and you could put it anywhere in the New Testament.
You could stick it in the middle of Philippians or Ephesians. It would fit.
I think it would be great in 2 Timothy, as Paul’s last bit of advice to his spiritual son.
You could put it in the Sermon on the Mount, or make it a speech that Jesus gave at the Last Supper.
You could put it in the book of Revelation. You could have an mighty angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying, “Love is patient, love is kind…”
It would be beautiful.
But as versatile as that chapter of the Bible is, let’s consider where it has in fact been placed for us.
1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14. If you didn’t know that, you could have guessed. Anyone could have guessed that. But perhaps not everyone could guess what these chapters are about. Perhaps some people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 but don’t know anything about the chapters that come before and after it.
These chapters are about spiritual gifts. In them, Paul tells the Corinthians how to share their gifts with one another. He encourages them to continue to seek these things as eagerly as ever, but to let love govern all that they do.
So chapters 12 and 14 are about the pursuit of power, and chapter 13 is a safeguard. The Corinthians were pursuing spiritual power, but they needed to practice love in their pursuit.
That’s how it may appear at first, anyway.
If we look closer, we will see that these chapters are not about love in the pursuit of power. Not exactly. They’re about power in the pursuit of love.
Love is the main thing. It’s what the Corinthians needed to pursue. They were right to seek power, but power was to serve their pursuit of love, not the other way around.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts,” Paul said (1 Corinthians 14:1).
The Corinthians were called to the pursuit of love, and so are we. They were to desire the gifts. They needed them. They needed power in their pursuit of love, and so do we.
The pursuit of love is a great adventure. It’s exhilarating. It’s rewarding beyond measure.
It’s also hard work, but that work pays off in countless ways.
Love makes everything easier. If we work hard at love, everything else we do will be easier. If we neglect love, everything else will be harder.
Let’s not neglect love. Let’s pursue it. Let’s do the one hard thing that makes everything else easier.
As I said in the previous chapter, love fits into many contexts because it’s not rude. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches this about love.
At the same time, it also teaches that love doesn’t put itself on display or insist on its own way. For this reason it’s apt to be overlooked and forgotten.
It’s easy to leave love behind.
The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians can be just as easily neglected as love can. It can be taken out of context and read by itself, but it can also be skipped altogether. Chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians work well without it.
The following passage is the end of 1 Corinthians 12 and the beginning of 1 Corinthians 14. I removed chapter 13. I just had to change few words to stitch 12 and 14 back together. Read it and see if you can spot the seam:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”
When chapter 13 is removed, the transition from chapter 12 to chapter 14 is still pretty smooth. 1 Corinthians would still make sense without its thirteenth chapter. It’s easy to leave love behind.
To be fair, 1 Corinthians 13 does seem to interrupt Paul’s argument. Some people think it was an pre-existing poem that Paul found useful and stuck in the middle of his letter.
It comes between two chapters that are about the same thing: spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 gives a general overview. Chapter 14 takes a closer look at two gifts in particular: tongues and prophecy.
Our understanding of 1 Corinthians 13 also suffers from the way we’ve learned to follow an argument. When we read a passage of teaching like 1 Corinthians 12-14, we tend to look for the main point at the end. We expect the argument to build to a conclusion. We also pay attention to the beginning.
For us, the middle is the least important part.
Paul and the Corinthians had a different approach. They were familiar with something called chiastic structure. This is the name given to a certain kind of literary pattern that was common in their day.
The outline of an chiastic passage would look something like this: A1, B1, C1, D, C2, B2,A2. With such a structure, the middle of the argument is the centerpiece.
You may have seen the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you have seen it, you certainly remember it. Indiana Jones enters a temple, passes several booby traps, gets all the way inside and steals an idol. Then he comes back out the way he came in, passing by the same booby traps that are now trying to kill him.
He gets out alive. But getting out alive wasn’t the point. We went in to get the idol. The thing in the middle is what’s important.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, love is the important thing in the middle. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is about power in the pursuit of love, not power for power’s sake.
The Corinthians were meeting together to seek God. They wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit together, to hear from God and to be led by Him.
Paul encourages them to continue this, but to do it for the right reasons. If they have the right reasons, they’ll have the right attitude.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul gives them what today we might call core values. He tells them what common goals should define their culture when they meet together. He tells them what it looks like when a community is pursuing love together.
The pursuit of love creates an atmosphere the Holy Spirit is happy to visit. It gives Him room to work.
Let’s take a look at these core values one by one.
“Love suffers long…”
There are nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. They are sometimes classified into three groups: the knowledge gifts (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, discerning of spirits), the speech gifts (prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues), and the power gifts (miracles, healing, faith).
Behind all power gifts, and gifts of every other kind, lies the power fruit. The power fruit is the manifestation of love known as patience, also called longsuffering.
Galatians 5:22-23 includes patience/longsuffering in its list of the fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Patience—the power fruit—is indispensable. When seeking the Holy Spirit, we need to wait on God. We wait on God for His gifts, and then the gifts empower us to keep waiting for something greater.
Spiritual gifts encourage us to look for that day when they will no longer be necessary. When Jesus returns, there will be no lack of any kind. We will have the Giver in His fullness.
We see this pattern in 1 Corinthians 1:4-8:
“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (emphasis added)
“Eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” means looking expectantly for Christ’s return. The gifts of the Spirit are a foretaste of the age to come. They are not meant to satisfy us but to increase our longing for that age.
So we wait on God, who then empowers us to wait for even more.
But waiting on God is the easy part of patience. We also need to be patient toward one another. This is more difficult. You might even say that it’s other people who put the suffering in longsuffering.
We really do need God to empower us to be longsuffering. Just how much power we need is indicated in Colossians 1:11. There, Pauls prays that the church might be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy…”
“All might, according to His glorious power.” That’s a lot of power. That shows us that if we aspire to be patient, God will give us all the help we need. We’ll not only get there, we’ll get there with joy.
In Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul exhorts the church to walk “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Longsuffering means bearing with one another. Wherever people are zealously seeking the gifts of the Spirit, there’s going to be some immaturity. Love tolerates immaturity. In other words, love bears with the lack of love in others.
This bearing with others only increases as love increases. The more love someone has, the more sensitive they will be to the lack of love in others. The more sensitive they are, the more longsuffering they will need. (I assume it works this way. I haven’t arrived at that point yet.)
Bearing with one another in love is a key to creating an atmosphere where people are free to seek the gifts of the Spirit. But don’t forget that love itself is the goal. It’s easy to leave love behind at this point and to bear with one another for the sake of seeking the power of the Spirit.
This is not the same thing. We are to “bear with on another in love.” The love makes all the difference. If you bear with people, they will know that they are being tolerated. If you bear with them in love, they will know that they are being loved.
“…and is kind”
Ephesians 2:7 tells us that God has made us alive in Christ so that “in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
The ages to come are not going to come to an end, and neither is this display of kindness that God has planned for us. His kindness towards us never gets old. We have already begun to experience it, and we will continue to do so in the ages to come.
Kindness is the entertainment of heaven, and when kindness is displayed on earth, it get heaven’s attention. When kindness is our goal—for love’s sake and in Jesus’ name—the Holy Spirit will give us the power to reach that goal.
We need to show kindness, but we also need to recognize and receive it. This is not as easy at it sounds. Kindness is sometimes misunderstood and rejected.
We have to remember, first of all, that being kind does not necessarily mean being nice. By nice I mean careful not to offend anyone. If we want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit we can’t be afraid of offending people. Offending someone might be the kindest thing we can do for them.
Also, kindness doesn’t rule out correction. Kindness does, however, create an atmosphere where correction can be painless and effective.
Ephesians 4:15 expresses God’s will for His saints. They “should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”
Here we see that speaking the truth in love plays an important role in the spiritual growth of the church.
In the previous chapter we saw that we are not just to bear with one another, but to bear with one another in love.
The same lesson applies to speaking the truth in love. People will know if the love is really there or if you are just “speaking the truth.”
It is possible for the Holy Spirit to speak correction or rebuke. There’s a time and place for that. That’s why the atmosphere of kindness is so important.
Suppose for a moment that you are already known as a critical person, always complaining and finding fault. What would happen if the Holy Spirit gave you a word of correction to share with the church? Would they believe that it’s from God or would they think you were just having a bad day?
But what if you are always patient and kind in dealing with people? They will be more likely to listen to correction from you.
The Holy Spirit changes people by loving them first. That’s how He deals with us, and we can’t expect Him to deal with others any differently.
“Love does not envy.”
This list just took a negative turn. So far, Paul has named only two positive attributes of love. He now begins to list several things that love doesn’t do.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Love is simple when it’s done right. If we were to master just being patient and kind to one another, the rest would take care of itself. Love would prosper in our midst.
But although love is simple, it’s not easy. It’s a hard path, and there are many ways to wander away from it. We need to watch out for the lack of love. We need all these warning signs that Paul gives us, beginning with envy.
When love gets left behind in the pursuit of power, envy is often the first sign. Fortunately it’s an easy sign to see if you’re looking for it.
Imagine the Holy Spirit heals someone and your first instinct is to be upset because He used somebody else to do it. That’s a clear indication that something is not quite right.
Now bear with me in this totally hypothetical situation. Imagine your next instinct is to deny to yourself that you are experiencing envy. After all, you shouldn’t be, you don’t want to be, and you’d better not be. But denying it is not the same thing as dealing with it.
Dealing with it is simple. Just add love. Love doesn’t envy. It takes less than a second to add love, and no one needs to know that you had a brief moment of envy.
Remember, however, that simple does not mean easy. The only way you’ll do the ugly work of dealing with envy is if love is your goal. If power is your ultimate goal, envy will stick around. It may go into hiding for a while, but it will not go away.
If you’re serious about dealing with envy in your heart, you will begin to notice more of it than you did before. Don’t accept it, but don’t be surprised. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of the sinful nature.
Many people live daily with crippling amounts of envy and think nothing of it. They’ve grown accustomed to it. Envy is not unusual. What is unusual is that you can immediately recognize it and kill it. Thank God for that.
The church is the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:26 gives us the sign of a healthy body. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
This is what it looks like where envy is lacking and love is present. When this is our goal, the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be at work among us, strong and free.
“Love does not parade itself”
The word that Paul uses here has been translated many ways. For example: love doesn’t boast or brag, it doesn’t parade or strut, and in the King James English, it vaunteth not itself.
Another word I’d like to add to the list above is ostentatious. The Merriam-Webster definition of this word is “displaying wealth, knowledge, etc., in a way that is meant to attract attention, admiration, or envy.” If we think of wealth in this case as the wealth of spiritual gifts, this makes a good definition.
You can see how this starts a downward spiral. Being ostentatious causes other people to envy. These people either get discouraged or they themselves become ostentatious, leading to more envy. And so the cycle continues.
The Bible says, “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, 2 Corinthians 10:17, see also Jeremiah 9:24)
To glory in the Lord is a healthy kind of boasting. This isn’t just a matter of saying the right words. This kind of boasting is known by its fruit.
Boasting in the flesh breeds phoniness. Boasting in the Lord breeds authenticity and true humility.
Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 12:6: “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.”
Here we see again that there is an healthy kind of boasting, which Paul could have practiced. He had some true things to boast about, and there is nothing wrong with telling the truth.
Yet he avoided even this. He didn’t want his reputation to precede him. He wanted people to get to know the real Paul.
People who come together in the power of the Holy Spirit ought to know each other. This doesn’t mean they need to know everything about everyone. But what they do know, they should know accurately and without distortion.
“…is not puffed up”
This is similar to the previous item on the list. In fact, it almost looks like a repetition. But Paul mentioned it separately, if for no other reason than that vanity needs a double warning.
This word does have a slightly different meaning, however. The previous word, which I called ostentatious, has to do with outward appearances. Being puffed up has as much to do with inward perception.
The one can be the direct result of the other. When people try to deceive others by putting on a show, they end up deceiving themselves.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 gives us the goal of becoming like unleavened bread. That means we should be simple and straightforward:
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Go to the store and buy coffee and potato chips.
Don’t just buy any coffee, though. Get a vacuum-sealed package of ground coffee. This is the kind where you can see the texture of the coffee through the packaging.
Hold the package in your hand and squeeze it. It’s solid. You can feel the coffee. You know exactly how much coffee you’re getting.
Now get a big puffy bag of potato chips. It’s like a balloon but more fragile. The bag is twice as big as it needs to be and it’s filled with air.
If you were to open such a bag for the first time, the lack of potato chips would disappoint you. You’d only be disappointed once, though. After the first time, you’d know what to expect.
Puffing ourselves up might cause excitement at first, but it leads to cynicism. People grow accustomed to empty boasting. They learn that the experience doesn’t match the hype. They lower their expectations.
Fortunately, potato chips aren’t sold by the size of the bag, but by the weight, which is written on the package. Where love is our goal, and power is exercised in the service of love, it will be the same with us. What we are and who we are will be as clear to others as if it were written on our faces.
“…does not behave rudely”
I said in chapter one that love works in every context because it is not rude or inappropriate. It fits in.
I also said, in chapter four, that being kind doesn’t mean not offending anyone. Love can be offensive.
It’s time to reconcile these two statements.
Every society creates standards that determine what is polite and what is rude. These standards differ from culture to culture.
Henry Drummond preached his sermon, The Greatest Thing in the World, in England in 1884. It was an exposition of 1 Corinthians 13, and it became a best-selling book.
When he came to the aspect of love that we are looking at in this chapter, Drummond defined it as courtesy. He said it was “love in relation to etiquette.”
He could say that because of when and where he lived. The Bible had influenced his society quite a bit. What was polite in his culture had close parallels to what is polite by Bible standards.
Not every preacher has this luxury. Paul certainly didn’t have this luxury in Corinth. In some cultures, sin is polite and holiness is rude.
The Holy Spirit defines what is and what isn’t appropriate, and His standards don’t change. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we follow the etiquette of the heavenly Jerusalem. When that matches the etiquette of the surrounding culture, it’s convenient. When it doesn’t match, we follow heaven’s code.
In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, not being rude means, above all, not being rude to the God. Love is careful not to offend the Holy Spirit.
The word Paul uses here was a word often used of sexually inappropriate behavior. This is essential. This is the fundamental way not to be inappropriate. But this doesn’t exhaust the meaning of the word.
Love is appropriate in many smaller ways, as well. As Henry Drummond said in his book, courtesy is “love in little things.” This includes little things like saying “Please” and “Thank you.” These can be some powerfully anointed words.
Don’t interrupt people and don’t ignore them. This was Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33:
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
There is one person, however, who always has the right to interrupt. That’s the Holy Spirit Himself.
It’s sometimes said that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. It does seem that way at times, but what does it mean to be a gentleman? It’s a human concept. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need to conform to our standards or etiquette.
Perhaps that expression should be modified to say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman except when He isn’t.
“…does not seek its own”
God wants us to experience the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants us to receive and exercise His gifts. But this is not our ultimate goal. Love is our goal.
So far we have considered some characteristics of love and some signs of love’s absence.
It’s easy to pursue these virtues and avoid these vices while still making power our ultimate goal. We may be careful to avoid pride and envy, careful to treat others with kindness and respect, and yet do all this for the sake of power.
If we do this we will indeed experience God’s power, to a degree. The Holy Spirit will not wait for us to be perfect. His gifts are just that—unearned gifts.
But too much power and too little love will lead to ruin.
Love, not power, must be our goal. Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts.” Yet it’s so easy for that to become “Pursue and desire spiritual gifts.”
This is why the virtue of selflessness is so precious. Selflessness can’t be pursued for power’s sake. It doesn’t work that way, not even for a few minutes. To even begin to pursue selflessness, you need love to motivate you.
Paul used an opened-ended phrase to describe selflessness. “Love does not seek its own,” his said. He left unsaid what exactly love doesn’t seek for itself. That can be many things. It’s up to us to fill in the blank.
Love doesn’t seek its own recognition, its own comfort, its own way, its own anything.
The selflessness of love makes everything easier. Faith is easier when you are driven by love to believe God for great things for others. Faith is harder when you are seeking great things for yourself.
The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Yet we will not receive the maximum benefit from God’s gifts if we are self-seeking.
James 4:1-3 even makes clear that there are some things that we will not receive at all if we ask selfishly:
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
It seems he was talking about material things, but the same is true about spiritual gifts. Selfishness closes our hearts from receiving the Spirit’s gifts. And if we have already received them, we will not put them to the best use.
It’s possible to ask for the Spirit’s gifts that we might use them to build our own kingdom. This is what I mean by seeking great things for yourself.
To ask amiss is not just to ask for the sake of our health and well-being. God Himself is interested in our health and well-being. To ask amiss is to ask for the sake of our fallen self-interests.
Things we seek for the sake of our own glory and honor are not the good gifts of the Father nor the great things of God.
In the end, they’re not great things at all. For the greatness of the gift is determined by the kingdom it serves. There are no great things in the kingdom of self, only petty things.
In the kingdom of God all things are great, for they serve the purposes of the Great King.
“… is not provoked”
If we would just focus on patience and kindness, the rest would take care of itself and love would take over. Love is more than patience and kindness, but that’s enough for us to get started. Once we get started, we grow.
Yet so many things can stunt our growth. There are so many stumbling blocks in our path. One of these is irritability.
“Love is not provoked” means love is not easily irritated. Irritability is a sign that patience is lacking. Paul had mentioned patience first on the list. Here, more than halfway through the list, he gives us a warning sign that patience has run out.
To be provoked once or twice is a momentary lapse of patience. To be easily provoked—to be irritable on a regular basis—is a chronic condition. If this persists unchecked, it’s bad for your health and it’s bad for the health of the community.
It creates fear and a reluctance to speak freely.
An atmosphere where the Holy Spirit is free to move is one in which people are in control of their own spirits.
Proverbs 25:28 says that “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.”
A city without walls is a city vulnerable to attack. A church or a meeting full of easily provoked people is in the same condition.
Provocation is a weapon. You can see this in politics. You can see this in other areas of life. Some arguments are not meant to persuade anybody, but to provoke the other side to anger. A provoked opponent is a weakened opponent. To be irritated is to be thrown off balance.
The enemy of the church knows this. Provocation is one of his devices. But, as Paul said elsewhere, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)
If we possess our souls in patience, as Jesus said (Luke 21:19), we will have the power of an unprovoked spirit.
“…thinks no evil”
According to at least one translation, this means that love is not resentful. (ESV)
Remember who Paul was writing to. These people met together on a regular basis to fellowship, worship God, and exercise their spiritual gifts. These same people were seeing each other day after day, week after week, or however often they met.
Resentment builds up in situations like this. It builds up, that is, unless it is dealt with.
Hebrews 12:15 warns the church to watch “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”
A single root of bitterness defiles many. Deal with bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment at once, before they take root.
Another translation of 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. (The Message)
It’s not only sins that aren’t kept score of. Love doesn’t keep shortcomings and failures in its archives either.
The church should be a community were people know the worst about you but think the best. Such a community is open to experience the power of God. Love’s forgetfulness makes room for the Holy Spirit to work among us.
Experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit together means dealing with human beings. It means ministering the holy things of God to the familiar people of earth. It means being served the gifts of heaven through weak vessels of dust and clay. In such a community, you are either forgiving or keeping score.
Choose to forgive. Forgive early and often.
Colossians 3:12-13 gives the church these instructions:
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
It says, “forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another.” We must forgive when we have complaints. This is a broad category. It refers to more than just sins.
It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s technically a sin. If you can complain about it you can forgive it.
“…does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.”
Joy in the truth is one of the marks of a newly reborn Christian. Increasing joy in the truth is one of the marks of a healthy, growing Christian. Complacency toward the truth is a warning sign. Boredom with the truth is great danger.
Consider Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
Here he is describing people who turn from the truth because they don’t like what they are hearing. This is a severe case of itching ears. This is the outright rejection of the truth.
The problem of itching ears isn’t always so severe at first. It can also afflict us when we want to hear the truth, but we don’t like how we are hearing it.
The Corinthians had this problem. Some of them had even criticized Paul’s preaching because he wasn’t a trained orator. He quotes his critics in 2 Corinthians 10:10: “‘For his letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’”
A little later in the letter he gives this defense: “Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.” (2 Corinthians 11:6)
Here he is asking to be judged by what he says, not by how well he says it. This should always be our standard. Love rejoices in the truth, not in the beauty of the presentation.
Eloquence is good. Speech training is good. But never sacrifice truth for eloquence. “The kingdom of God is not in word but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Without the truth there is no true spiritual power.
Remember the Corinthians’ situation. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
It’s great that everyone in their meetings had a chance to contribute something. But think about what that looks like in real life. Not every psalm is so lovely, not every teaching is so well-delivered, not every revelation is so new.
But is it true? If so, love can rejoice in it. Love can say “Amen.” This is the strength of love.
“…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Here we are at the end, and we haven’t covered all of 1 Corinthians 13. We just took a quick look at a few verses. These verses comprise a list telling us what love looks like.
This list is helpful when used right. The best way to use it is self-examination. A less profitable way to use this list is others-examination. Paul didn’t give this list to the Corinthians so they could more accurately point out each others’ faults.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is good for self-examination. It’s also good for self-preparation. Studying love will increase your desire to walk in love. It will also train you to recognize the proper love-response to any situation.
Let me add a few more words of caution here at the end.
Paul concluded this teaching on love by saying, “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). This does not mean that we should ignore spiritual gifts. It does not mean that we should minimize spiritual gifts or have contempt for them. If you do any of these things, don’t use 1 Corinthians 13 as an excuse. Love doesn’t replace spiritual gifts.
When Paul says “desire spiritual gifts” he means be zealous and enthusiastic about them. He is not teaching that the gifts will manifest by themselves without any effort or initiative on our part. The Holy Spirit wants to be desired. He wants His gifts to be welcomed and appreciated.
Some people think spiritual gifts are not worth the trouble. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” Some people think it’s less confusing just to forget about spiritual gifts altogether.
This wasn’t Paul’s advice. Confusion in the church isn’t the result of spiritual gifts. It’s the result of sin. Keeping spiritual gifts out of the church doesn’t do anything about the problem of sin.
Paul goes on to say, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It has often been pointed out that obedience to this advice has been mixed. A lot of churches are decent and orderly, but not as many churches do all things.
It doesn’t have to be this way and I don’t think it’s going to stay this way. We can do all things. God is ready, willing, and able to do amazing things among His people.
Not everyone believes this, but love believes it. Love hopes for it. And love is ready. Love can handle the power of God.
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1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a picture of love. It was given to a group of immature but enthusiastic Christians who were meeting together to seek and to share the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was given to them to provide them with proper goals, that they might have the right attitude when they met together. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 will benefit us today as much as it did the Corinthians in the first century. When love is given its proper place, power will not only be released, it will be used well.