1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 6
Peanuts cartoon - Lucy standing with her arms folded and a stern expression on her face. Charlie Brown pleads, “Lucy, you must be more loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place.” Lucy angrily knocks Charlie Brown to the ground. She screams at him, “Look, Blockhead, the world I love. It’s people I can’t stand.”
I’m sure we all feel that way from time to time, and some of us feel that way most of the time. I’ll bet some of us feel that way right now. Loving the world in general isn’t that difficult; loving the people around us can be a major challenge. That’s why we need to know what love is and what it looks like in the nitty-gritty of life. Love is difficult to define but easy to describe. I looked up “love” in the dictionary and found 18 definitions. I read them all and didn’t feel a bit more loving! Perhaps the truth is closer to this: You’ll know it when you see it. Love is better seen than defined.
Love is not primarily a feeling but an action. We live in an age that honours personal feelings above almost everything. We do what we want when we want because we “feel” like it. If we don’t “feel” like it, we don’t it. Read 1 Corinthians 13 - complete absence of any stress on personal feelings. The kind of love Paul is talking about is seen and experienced and demonstrated. It may start in a feeling of compassion or pity, but it never ends there.
We saw that love is indispensable - more important than eloquent communication, spiritual gifts or personal sacrifice. If we have all the attractive traits of true religion but don’t have love, we have nothing at all.
A New Way of Loving
Paul now begins to describe what love looks like - 15 short phrases that, like a prism held up to the sun, show us the full spectrum of love. Many people think this is the most beautiful and complete statement on love ever written. If you take these verses seriously, you are sure to be challenged, convicted and prodded into a new way of living and a new way of loving. We will look at 11 descriptions of love - 3 are positive and 8 are negative.
1. Love’s Choice v. 4
i. Love is patient
It is “never tired of waiting.” Greek word - “long-minded.” Love is slow to give in to resentment, despair or anger. The word means to have patience with difficult people rather than having patience in difficult circumstances. It describes the person who has been wronged, who has it within his power to get even, but chooses not to use that power.
American Civil War - Edwin Stanton was outspokenly critical of Abraham Lincoln. He called him a gorilla and a clown. Although he knew about it, Lincoln never retaliated. When the time came to choose someone to oversee the war effort, Lincoln chose Stanton. When asked why, he simply replied, “Because he is the best man for the job.” After the president was assassinated in April 1865, Stanton stood weeping over Lincoln’s body and declared: “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Patient love won in the end.
ii. Love is kind.
Word means something like “sweet usefulness.” Love is quick to help others and eager to reach out to those in need. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it, or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Mark Twain called kindness “a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can read.” Absolutely right - everyone can understand the language of love. It is truly the universal language, understood by people from every nation - the rich and the poor, the old and the young, both male and female. Kindness is a universal language for it does not speak to the intellect, but directly to the heart.
iii. Love does not envy.
This is the sin of those who think others have too much and they have too little. By contrast, love is generous. It does not begrudge others their gifts. How do you respond to the good fortune of others? If they do better than you, if they prosper when you don’t, if their family seems happy while yours is torn apart, how will you react? If they achieve what you cannot, if they gain what you lack, if they win where you lose - the truth will come out. Can you lose gracefully? Can you walk away without bitterness?
If you live long enough, you’ll probably find someone who does what you do better than you can do it. You’ll meet people with your talents and your gifts - only much more. What will you do then? This is one test of love. If you live long enough, you are certain to find people who are less talented and less gifted than you, yet they seem to catch all the breaks and end up ahead of you in the great game of life. How will you respond when an inferior person passes you by? This is an even sterner test of love.
iv. Love does not boast.
It does not brag, is not pompous or conceited. It has no exalted opinion of itself. It is not eager to gain the applause of others. Word means something like “windbag.” The person who must continually talk about himself in order to impress others.
Sometimes we would be better off saying nothing at all. Once upon a time, a tortoise wanted to spend the winter in Durban but he knew he could never walk that far. He convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vice-like jaws in the centre. The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, “Who in the world thought of that?” Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the tortoise opened his mouth to shout, “I did!” Sometimes it’s a good idea to keep your mouth shut.
v. Love is not proud.
Love is “not puffed up.” Love does not have an inflated opinion of itself. It is not filled with hot air. As I think about the truly great people I have known, they have all (on one level at least) seemed rather ordinary. They dressed and acted like real people. When someone has to dress or act or talk like they are somebody special, it’s because they’re trying to convince themselves. With those who are truly great, what you see is what you get, which is how it ought to be with all of us.
2. Love’s Refusal v. 5
vi. Love is not rude.
Love “does not behave itself unseemly.” Covers a lot of territory. On one level, it means that love is not bad mannered. It does nothing of which it will be ashamed later. Love is true courtesy. It is polite, considerate and careful of the needs and feelings of others. Love is quick to make others feel at ease. Love has good manners!
“Courtesy is love in the little things.” That seems to say it all. As a practical application, remember that you don’t have to say everything you are thinking. “I’ve just got to say this.” No you don’t! And you probably shouldn’t.
Sarcasm is the main evidence of a lack in this area. How many times do we make some comment and then try to cover up by saying, “I’m just joking.” We make too many jokes at the expense of others and then try to laugh it off. The truth is, you weren’t joking or you wouldn’t have said it in the first place.
vii. Love is not self-seeking.
It takes no thought for itself, does not demand its own way, and is not stubborn about things that don’t matter. Love never says, “My way or the highway.” Love says, “Let’s do it Jesus’ way.” Love serves and doesn’t worry about who gets the credit.
viii. Love is not easily angered.
This is the quality that seems to come too close for comfort. Love is not easily provoked, is not quick tempered, does not blow its top and is not irritable. By contrast, love is good-natured, easy-going, and quick to forgive.
We tend to look on this as a minor problem - being quick-tempered is just a matter of temperament, personality or family background. We excuse it - “That’s just the way I am.” Well, that may be the way you are but it’s not the way you’re supposed to be. Some people excuse their bad temper - “Sure, I lose my temper, but it’s all over in a few minutes.” So is a nuclear bomb. A great deal of damage can be done in a very short time. Even small temper “bombs” can leave behind a lot of hurt, especially when they explode on a regular basis. Your temper is a sign of what is in your heart.
ix. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love “thinketh no evil.” It does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not brood over injuries suffered. It is not suspicious of others, not cynical about good deeds done by others and is not quick to remember a personal offence done by others.
Many people keep mental lists of the wrongs they have suffered. They never get over what happened. They dwell on it, they live in it and they let the past shape their present and their future.
But true love has a bad memory of wrongs done to it. Love is quick to hit the Delete key. Love is always ready to say, “I’m putting that in the past and I’m not going to bring it up again.”
3. Love’s Outlook v. 6
x. Love does not delight in evil.
It takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, is not glad about injustice, and is not happy when evil triumphs. Love takes no joy in hearing evil openly discussed. Love is never glad to hear bad news about another person. Love never says, “Well, they finally got what they deserved.” Love is never happy to hear that a brother or sister fell into sin. Love does not enjoy passing along bad news.
This goes against the grain of modern life. “Bad news sells” - good news goes on page 20. We want to hear the latest gossip about celebrities. True love isn’t like that. It turns away from cheap gossip and rumours. Even when the rumour turns out to be true, love takes no pleasure in the misfortunes of others.
xi. Love rejoices with the truth.
Flip side of the previous phrase. Love takes joy in what is true, good, right, holy and pure. Love cheers whenever the truth wins. It is glad to know that suspicions were unfounded. Love believes the best and is glad when the verdict is “Not guilty.”
How can we live this way? How can we truly love without envy, without a quick temper, without seeking our own interests, and without thinking evil of others? The answer is, we can’t. In ourselves we have no power to live this way. That’s why it doesn’t work to say, “Let’s go out there and try to love everyone we meet.” We will never talk ourselves into loving like this. This isn’t some kind of rah-rah competition where we try to prove our love by our enthusiasm.
Sooner or later we have to admit the truth. “O God, I hate my husband. I hate my wife. I can’t stand my children. My parents are driving me nuts. I hate the people I work with and I don’t like the folks at church. I don’t love my neighbours and I can barely stand to see my own family. O God, help me. I don’t love anyone right now. Even though no one else knows it or sees it, I’m an angry person, filled with bad thoughts and completely lacking in any kind of love. If you don’t help me, I will never love anyone because I know I can’t change the way I am. Lord God, please help me. Change me. Let your love flow through me. If you want me to love others, you’re going to have to do it through me because I can’t do it myself.” That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer.
I also think it helps to replace “love” with “Jesus” in this passage: “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus does not envy, Jesus thinks no evil, Jesus is not quick-tempered, Jesus does not rejoice in what is evil.” If we want to love, we need more of Jesus in our lives. Let his love fill your heart. If you will come close to Jesus, his love will begin to fill your heart and you will find yourself filled with supernatural love for others. Your life will begin to change as Jesus becomes pre-eminent in your heart.
1. How and where are these qualities of love evident in our church? Mark 3 and discuss.
2. Where are you strong and where are you weak? How do you measure up? Circle 3, share them if you can and begin to pray about them.
Which 3 qualities stand out as the greatest need in your life right now? Write down 1 practical step you can take in each of those areas this week. Ask God to help you grow strong in love. May God help us to live in love this week. Amen.