Sunday School Lesson
The Greatest Is Love
Devotional Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13
1 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.
2 And 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.
3 And 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.
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. —1 Corinthians 13:13
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. List the characteristics of godly, self-giving love.
2. Explain why godly love is the defining feature of the truly spiritual life.
3. Propose one way that his or her class can express love as a group in a tangible way to another class or individual in the church.
A. Authentic Spirituality
Our world chatters about spirituality. While religion has negative connotations for many, spirituality is widely seen in positive terms. “I’m not religious, but I am very spiritual,” say many. If we were to accept such a distinction for the sake of argument, we would still have to ask how we can distinguish authentic spirituality from the inauthentic kind. What makes a person truly spiritual?
To get the answer to that question, we need to begin with a conceptualization of spirituality. The apostle Paul has done just that for us. His conceptualization is grounded in a most essential expression of God’s character: love.
B. Lesson Background
The Christians to whom Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians had come to equate knowledge with spirituality (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). They also had associated certain Holy Spirit-given abilities, such as the ability to speak in tongues, with spirituality (14:1-5). Do such things make a person spiritual? Paul’s answer is a qualified no. Things such as knowledge or the ability to speak in other languages are indeed gifts from the Holy Spirit (12:8, 10), but these gifts by themselves do not make a person spiritually superior. In fact, the very idea of being spiritually superior is unspiritual!
In the midst of that discussion of spiritual gifts—but really in the midst of all the discussions of church problems at Corinth—Paul offered an extended, lyrical discourse on godly love. This text, our lesson for today, is in many respects the climax of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthian church was rife with problems and divisions. With God’s kind of love, Paul said, the rivalries infecting the Corinthian church would disappear.
I. Supremacy of Love
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
A. Regarding the Tongue (v. 1)
1. 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.
Some in the Corinthian church exalt the ability to speak in other languages by the Holy Spirit’s power. Paul began to address that issue in the preceding chapter (lesson 12), and he finishes his discussion in the chapter that follows this one (lesson 13). In the verse before us, he launches an extended discussion of the use of that gift (and others) in the context of godly love.
Many of us are familiar with the Greek word agapē from its inclusion in the names of parachurch organizations and Sunday school classes. This word appears more than 100 times in the New Testament, and the King James Version translates it as love in the majority of cases (examples: 1 Corinthians 4:21; 16:24). In a minority of cases, it is translated charity as we see here. This use of the word charity should not be confused with the narrow idea of provision for the relief of the needy as the word charity is commonly used today.
To speak various human languages by God’s power is quite impressive. It appears that some Corinthians think, without Paul’s approval of their view, that their Spirit-enabled languages are heavenly, angelic languages. “Surely such a gift has to come from God, showing thereby that a person is truly favored by God” the Corinthians may be thinking.
But if such an impressive gift is exercised to exalt the person who is speaking, then it is done without God’s kind of love. In that case, the gift is no longer reflective of God or expressive of His will. It is no longer “spiritual.”
The person who would speak with the tongues of men and of angels in a loveless manner becomes like an inanimate object that makes repetitive sounds. A sounding brass may be a gong that is struck to make a loud noise; it also may be a large bronze vessel that is put in the corner of a public building to vibrate and so amplify the sound when someone delivers a speech. The tinkling cymbal is one of a small pair of metal pieces that are struck together, like castanets or finger cymbals, making a monotonous, meaningless sound in the process.
Any gift of the Holy Spirit is genuinely spiritual only when exercised with God’s kind of love. God’s gifts are wasted when they are used for purposes that do not reflect who God is.
On Being Multilingual
Alice Lapuerta, editor of Multilingual Living Magazine, grew up in a home where German, Korean, and English were spoken. She, her husband from Ecuador, and her three children now live in Austria. As a result, their children are being brought up in a trilingual environment of German, Spanish, and English.
Lapuerta notes the various challenges of being multilingual. One challenge is the spirit of elitism that can characterize some who are able to speak more than one language. Such folks may view themselves as superior to those who speak fewer languages.
A similar feeling of superiority seems to have infected some (or many) in Corinth. The tongues-speakers perhaps projected an aura that provoked envy on the part of those who lacked the gift. To cast a broader perspective, Paul noted other gifts that could result in similar airs of superiority and envy: the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, extraordinary faith, unusual benevolence, and extreme self-sacrifice (see the next two verses below).
To counteract prideful multilingualism, etc., Paul informed the Corinthians that they needed to learn one more language: the language of love. That is the language that must always be spoken!—C. R. B.
B. Regarding Spirituality (v. 2)
2. And 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.
The gift of prophecy is being able to speak God’s message by the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 12:10, lesson 11). Paul has already noted that the Spirit equips some with exceptional gifts of knowledge—the ability to know or understand the things of God (12:8, lesson 11). No gift enables a person to know everything of God or all the hidden things (mysteries) that He might reveal. But try to imagine someone to be so gifted as to know everything. Such giftedness would not make that person anything unless exercised with godly love.
The same is true for those gifted with exceptional faith. Here Paul speaks as he does earlier—not about the faith in Christ that saves but about an exceptionally firm faith in difficult circumstances. Such a gift is from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9, lesson 11). Jesus told His disciples that with even small faith they could move mountains (Matthew 17:20; 21:21), and that assurance is echoed here. In the day of Jesus and Paul, to “move mountains” is a figurative expression meaning to do something very difficult or extraordinary. But even such a gift of faith makes the person nothing without godly love.
What Do You Think?
On what occasions, if any, are one’s loving motives relatively more or less important than at other times? Explain.
Points for Your Discussion
Occasions of greater importance
Occasions of lesser importance
C. Regarding Personal Sacrifice (v. 3)
3. And 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.
Now imagine someone so generous as to give away everything to those in need. That generosity certainly would be honored by all who see it. But if such benevolence is done for selfish motives (notoriety, etc.) rather than for the selfless good of others and love for Christ, it brings no benefit to the person who does the great act. Motive and attitude are vital (see Matthew 6:2)!
The same may be said for anyone who would go so far as to give his or her body; Paul’s give my body to be burned may be referring to surrendering faithfully to death in martyrdom. Any act of service and sacrifice—even martyrdom—can be twisted into something self-serving. Even acts that mimic God’s self-sacrificial gift in Jesus are invalidated when we do them to exalt ourselves rather than to bless others. Paul is one who dedicates himself completely to the Lord’s service, suffering great physical distress in the process (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). But what he knows about bodily suffering, he must communicate: it means nothing if not done out of love for others.
What Do You Think?
Should loving assistance to the poor always be done anonymously to ensure pure motives? Why, or why not?
Points for Your Discussion
II. Behaviors of Love
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
A. Patient, Kind, Helpful (v. 4)
4a. Charity suffereth long.
The person who loves like God exercises the kind of patience that is willing to undergo lengthy hardship (suffereth long). How long? For as long as necessary, just as God exercises long-standing patience with us.
4b. And is kind.
Godly love practices kindness. This means thinking first of the other person’s needs rather than one’s own. This is exactly what God has done for us in Christ (Titus 3:4-7).
4c. Charity envieth not.
Envy is deadly (Romans 1:29; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). The person who loves is not jealous of those who have more honor or possessions. Rather, they are as glad for others’ blessings as they are for their own.
4d. Charity vaunteth not itself.
Godly love and bragging are incompatible. Loving people do not praise themselves or seek the praises of others. In love there is no need to be greater than others. The cure for bragging is to reflect on God’s love in Christ, who went to His death for us despite the ridicule and insults that He received. No good works we do in Christ leave room for boasting (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
4e. Is not puffed up.
Paul visits this problem several times in this letter (1 Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2), but with special emphasis in 8:1: “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Posturing oneself to appear better than others is being puffed up. Love, on the other hand, seeks to build up others. Paul wants the Corinthians to use their spiritual gifts not in order to appear important but to build up (edify) those around them. That is the true way of love like Christ’s.
B. Concerned, Unselfish, Forgiving (v. 5)
5a. Doth not behave itself unseemly.
Love does not act in a way that brings shame or embarrassment to others. Godly concern for others means that even in small, incidental ways, followers of Christ will show unselfish respect.
5b. Seeketh not her own.
Because the essence of God’s love is concern for others, godly love is not self-centered. As such, love does not focus on amassing possessions, honors, or status for oneself. Love’s focus is on giving, not receiving (Acts 20:35; Philippians 2:4).
5c. Is not easily provoked.
Imagine someone being poked with a pointed stick. The natural reaction is to get riled up and poke back. But love does not respond in that way. It does not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17). Rather, love does what Christ did when He prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34).
What Do You Think?
When was a time that love kept you from reacting to a provocation? How did things turn out?
Points for Your Discussion
A family situation
A work or school situation
A church situation
5d. Thinketh no evil.
This expression refers to keeping an account of evil things that others do to oneself. Love forgives, and true forgiveness means treating the other person as if nothing had happened. Keeping a mental record of the wrongs that others have done to us serves no purpose except to justify taking revenge on that person at some time in the future. For one who loves, such a record is pointless (compare Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).
C. Truthful, Faithful, Hopeful (vv. 6, 7)
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
When we focus on ourselves, we resent other people’s blessings and are happy when others experience hardships. But when the godly person rejoiceth in the truth, he or she sets aside the self-interest that deceives us into being glad when others suffer. The loving person is free and ready to celebrate when others rejoice and to mourn sincerely when others mourn (Romans 12:15).
7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
What are the boundaries of godly love? Peter asked Jesus whether he was to forgive up to seven times, and Jesus replied “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21, 22). Just as God is willing to wait a lifetime for wayward people to turn back to Him, so those who love as God loves are prepared to undergo what may seem to be an endless line of hardships for the sake of others. They never give up supporting others, never cease in believing in others, never run out of hope for others, and always endure whatever happens because of their commitment to others.
If this kind of love seems unreasonable, remember God’s own boundless love. As those who have received His love, we are compelled to love others in the same way. With Paul, let us “suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).
Time magazine featured President Obama as its 2012 Person of the Year. Tim Cook, the successor to Steve Jobs at Apple, was the runner-up. One commentator said, “There’s absolutely no shame in finishing second, especially when you’re going up against the President of the United States.” On the other hand, some propose that first place is everything and second place is nothing. Perhaps you remember this Nike™ advertising slogan from the 1996 Olympics: “You don’t win silver; you lose gold.” Third place? Don’t bother to ask!
So which philosophy above reflects the Christian life? Neither one! Both assume that (1) there is only one first-place finisher just by definition and (2) there is also a second-place, silver-medal position. But in Christ everyone can be awarded the gold medal of eternal life. A silver medal does not exist in Christianity, only gold.
Earlier in this letter, Paul draws a parallel between the Christian life and the athletic contests of running and boxing (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; compare Galatians 5:7; 2 Timothy 4:7). There is indeed an opponent to defeat, but that opponent is Satan and his influences, not our fellow Christian. Instead of competing against others, we extend loving hands of patience, kindness, humility, etc., to help them cross the finish line with us.—C. R. B.
III. Priority of Love
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
A. Temporary Gifts vs. Perfect Love (vv. 8-10)
8. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
Summing up the previous section, Paul affirms that godly love will never give up or give out. That observation leads to a comparison. The gifts that the Corinthians are emphasizing are of lesser significance than godly love because unlike love, they will not endure forever. When God’s purpose is fulfilled at Christ’s return, there will be no need for prophecies (the Spirit-empowered declaration of God’s message), for God’s truth will reign supreme. The gift of tongues will cease as it gives way to perfect, face-to-face communication between God and His people. Special gifts of knowledge will no longer be needed as all God’s people will learn directly from the Lord, as His truth is fully revealed to all.
Such gifts, important as they are, lack the eternal priority that characterizes love. They will no longer be exercised, but in God’s eternal presence His people will love Him and love each other forever in perfect harmony.
9, 10. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Paul has already affirmed the importance of knowledge and prophecy for building up believers (1 Corinthians 12:8, 10; see lesson 11). Rightly exercised, those gifts provide the understanding that the Corinthians need to put their faith into practice. But presently their knowledge of God’s message comes to them step by step, piece by piece. The gifts that contribute to their growth are important, but only as long as their condition is partial, still being added to.
Things change when that which is perfect is come, and there are different proposals on what this perfect refers to. Some think it refers to the day of Christ’s return, when the partial, step-by-step growth in Christian knowledge we experience now shall give way to full knowledge of God’s will for His people. Others think that the perfect refers to the completion of the New Testament. When that happens, the readers will have no need for further divine revelation to supplement what they currently receive piecemeal (as Paul writes his letters, etc.).
Either way, the stress is on the contrast between that which is temporary and that which is permanent. Love is in the latter category. It will remain as the eternal foundation of God’s relationship with His people.
B. Childhood vs. Adulthood (v. 11)
11. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Paul now uses a person’s developmental stages to illustrate Christian growth. A child’s view of the world is partial, growing by steps. Each child requires special supports for nurture and growth. So it is with God’s people regarding spiritual growth (compare 1 Corinthians 3:2). God is nurturing us, growing us, through the Spirit’s gifts.
In adulthood, however, one can set aside the means by which one was nurtured as a child. So it is, Paul says, with the Spirit’s gifts. On the day they are set aside, God’s love continues still.
What Do You Think?
How has the hope of Heaven changed your perspective on worldly things? How does this relate to issues of childhood to be left behind?
Points for Your Discussion
Regarding material possessions
Regarding personal talents and abilities
Regarding personal accomplishments
Regarding personal goals
C. Present vs. Future (vv. 12, 13)
12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Paul uses his readers’ experience with mirrors to move his arguments to their conclusion. An ancient mirror (a glass), unlike a modern mirror, is made of polished bronze. This yields a reasonable image, but an image that is not as clear as viewing something directly. So it is in the Corinthians’ current experience: they see truly, but darkly and indirectly.
Full knowledge, on the other hand, is like seeing face to face—much clearer! The goal is to know God as He already knows us. When that goal is achieved, the need for the Spirit’s gifts will be ended. Even so, love will continue (next verse).
13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Elsewhere Paul presents faith, love, and hope as the chief virtues of the Christian life (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8). Faith is fundamental; it is the attitude of trust and confidence in God. Hope is that confident trust focused on the future; it is believing with assurance that God will fulfill His promises for us. Love (charity) is the commitment to the other person’s good at whatever cost to ourselves.
In eternity, faith will be transformed as it yields to sight. Hope will be transformed as God’s promises are fulfilled for us. But love, the greatest of these three, will become only greater.
What Do You Think?
Why is a proper understanding of love critical to genuine biblical faith?
Points for Your Discussion
In terms of how God is to be viewed
In terms of how other people are to be viewed
In terms of how we are to view ourselves
A. Learning to Love Now
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have shared love eternally, without beginning. Christians will join in that eternal love without end.
But the challenge is not in eternity. The challenge is in the present. We need to see each other as God sees us: of great worth despite the way we fail and disappoint. In loving others as God loves us, we gain a glimpse of what life, what eternal life, is all about.
O God, Your everlasting, all-enduring, gracious, merciful love is beyond comprehension! Teach us how You love us so that we can love one another. In the name of the loving Christ, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
To give love, first give in to love.
How to Say It
agape (Greek) Uh-gah-pay.
Corinthians Ko-rin-thee-unz (th as in thin).
Sunday, May 31,2015
The Greatest Gift Is Love
Lesson:I Corinthians 13:1-13
Time of Action:55 A.D.
Place of the action:Paul writes to the church at Corinth from Ephesus.
Golden Text:“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthians 13:13).
If the gifts of the Spirit were the only criterion for success in church life, the church at Corinth would have been effective. By Paul’s testimony, these saints were enriched in Christ and not lacking in any gift (see I Corinthians 1:5-7). Yet they were wracked by doctrinal error. Their case reminds us that being gifted by the Spirit is not the same as being filled with the Spirit. His gifts are not the same as His fruit, and we need to be reminded that all is in vain without love. Demonstrating genuine love is not an easy task. Our culture promotes the idea that love is defined more by feelings than by responsibility and commitment. However, this week’s lesson reveals that God’s perspective on love demands selflessness and hard work.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON.
Chapters 12 through 14 of I Corinthians were written by the Apostle Paul in response to questions the Corinthians had “concerning spiritual gifts” (see I Corinthians 12:1). In I Corinthians 12:31, Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to “covet earnestly the best spiritual gifts.” The Greek term for “covet earnestly” means to be “zealous.” In other words, the spiritual gifts that contributed most to the edification of the church were the ones to be most desired (see I Corinthians 14:1, 3-5). However, instead the Corinthians coveted the gifts that were the most popular or spectacular, but were the least useful. The Greek term for “best” means greater. The best or greater gifts were the ones Paul placed higher on his lists (see Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). For example, the apostle placed tongues last in his list in I Corinthians 12:10, 28-30. Although he didn’t discount the value of speaking in tongues meaning other known languages, nevertheless he appears to have considered it to be a lesser gift. After outlining the various spiritual gifts and how they were to be used in the body of Christ, Paul paused to give an exposition on the “more excellent way” (see I Corinthians 12:31). This is where our lesson begins. As we shall see, this “more excellent way” was the way of Christian love. Using spiritual gifts without love is unprofitable. These gifts must be exercised in the context of Christian love.
III. THE ABSENCE OF LOVE (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
Paul began his exposition with some hypothetical examples. Throughout chapter 13 he wrote in the first person, making his arguments personal and powerful. He included himself with his readers.
A. Using spiritual gifts without love (I Corinthians 13:1-2).
1. (vs. 1). The Apostle Paul begins in this verse saying “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.” To illustrate how useless spiritual gifts are without love, Paul began with the gift that the Corinthians desired most---tongues or languages. Using himself hypothetically, he said “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity.” The “tongues of men and of angels” that Paul spoke of are apparently to be equated with the gift of tongues. This special ability to speak in a known language that was unknown to the one speaking is compared to the practice of love. We don’t know what language angels speak, but we do know that they communicated in human language with the people in both Testaments (see Daniel 9:21-27; Luke 1:26-38). Paul had this gift in abundance (see I Corinthians 14:18), but he acknowledged that even if he could speak the language of angels, “and have not charity” it would be useless. The word “charity” is ordinarily rendered “love” in the New Testament. It is the Greek word “agape” and speaks of an active, self-sacrificing concern for others that expresses itself in charitable actions and attitudes. The same Greek word is used for God’s love for us (see I John 4:10) and our love for one another (see I John 3:14). In today’s usage, the word “charity” often refers to helping the needy. However, this is only one aspect of Christian love (see I John 3:17). To show how useless it was for him to be able to speak in languages of men and angels without love, Paul said “I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” In other words, without being used in love, the gift of tongues was just a lot of noise. “Sounding brass” refers to a bronze gong and “a tinkling cymbal” is a clanging cymbal that produces only a loud sound. Noise is produced by both of these instruments, but no musical melody. So it is with language used without love---it serves no purpose.
2. (vs. 2). Paul continues his hypothetical situations saying “And 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.” The “gift of prophecy” is the ability to proclaim God’s Word, for the prophets were God’s spokesmen. This was one of the best gifts because of its great value in edifying the church (see I Corinthians 14:1, 3-5). Paul ranked it second behind the gift of apostles (see I Corinthians 12:28). Note: Paul himself spoke in tongues or different languages (see I Corinthians 14:18) and didn’t forbid its use (see I Corinthians 14:39), but the “gift of prophecy” was used to edify, exhort, and comfort God’s people (see I Corinthians 14:3). As a result, Paul declared in I Corinthians 14:19 “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” A “mystery” in the New Testament refers to God’s revelation that was once hidden but is now revealed (see Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 1:9). “Knowledge” here also called the “word of knowledge” (see I Corinthians 12:8), could be understood as Spirit-led insight into the meaning of Scripture (see Acts 18:25-28). “Faith” here is the ability to trust God to work in seemingly impossible situations (see Matthew 8:5-13; James 5:15). The idea of “removing mountains” appears to be a proverbial way of referring to the great power of faith (see Matthew 17:20; 21:21). In essence Paul was saying that even if he had prophetic insights into all the mysteries of God, the knowledge to teach His truths, and even faith to remove mountains, it all would be useless without love. As important as these gifts were to the Corinthian church, they still needed to be used with a generous dose of Christian love. As an apostle of Christ, Paul probably had all of these gifts mentioned in this verse (see II Corinthians 12:11-12). However, if he failed to use them with the guiding principle of Christian love, Paul said that “I am nothing.”
B. Self-sacrifice without love (I Corinthians 13:3).
Paul goes on to say in this verse “And 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.” The apostle now turns his attention to deeds of mercy and devotion. Paul stated that even if he took everything he owned and gave it all to the poor, or sacrificed his body by being burned to death to become a martyr, and “have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” One would naturally think that doing such drastic things might indicate a deep devotion to the Lord and His people, but other motives could inspire a person to do these same things. These deeds may come from the selfish desire for praise and immortality in the eyes of men. Giving all one’s goods to the poor and sacrificing one’s life are deeds that must be judged by the motive or reason behind them. What we may perceive as love for Christ and mankind may simply be a show of pride. If the motive for doing these things is not love, then our actions are worthless.
IV. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF LOVE (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
A. Love’s behavior (I Corinthians 13:4-6).
The apostle now begins to describe how Christian love acts or in some cases does not act.
1. (vs. 4). In this verse Paul says “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” First he said that “Charity (love) suffereth long” meaning that love is patient. A person characterized by love is slow to become angry, and puts up with other people’s unpleasant character traits and actions toward us. Note: While most of us if not all of us, would admit that we need more patience, we are not willing to wait for it or do the necessary work to achieve it. Patience comes through experiencing tribulations (see Romans 5:3). And if the truth be told, none of us want to face adversity in order to gain patience. But nevertheless, patience grows out of love. Love is also “kind.” A person characterized by love will show kindness or will do good to others and is not self-centered. This includes responding with good words and acts to those who would mistreat us. Ephesians 4:32 says “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Paul also said that “charity (love) envieth not.” In other words, love is not envious or jealous. This was certainly a problem in Corinth because they envied others for their gifts and made a show of their own (see I Corinthians 3:3). The person who loves accepts the place that God has appointed to them without desiring or taking credit for someone else’s accomplishments. The one who loves is willing to rejoice with those who rejoice in their blessings and successes (see Romans 12:15). “Charity vaunteth not itself” means that love does not boast about itself and is not arrogant. But the Corinthian believers were arrogant (see I Corinthians 4:18-19). The person who loves does not show off or boast in an attempt to make others jealous of what they own or have accomplished. In addition, charity or love “is not puffed up.” In other words, love is not filled with pride. The person who loves is humble and behaves Christlike (see Philippians 2:3-8).
2. (vs. 5). Paul continued to say in this verse that charity or love “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” The Greek term for “behave itself unseemly” means to act in a rude manner. It refers to any action that would be disgraceful or dishonorable. The one who loves always conducts themselves in a becoming manner around others. They are always concerned about how others feel. Love “seeketh not her own” means that the person who loves does not insist on having their own way at the expense of others. Love is not self-centered. The interests of others are placed before any of its own interests. Self-centeredness is sin, for it replaces God with self. Self-centeredness pushed mankind into sin (see Genesis 3:6; I John 2:16). Paul also said that charity or love “is not easily provoked.” This means that the person who loves is not easily angered. The Greek term for “provoked” means to arouse to anger. The person who exhibits Christian love does not have a short fuse. Since many in Corinth were easy to become angry, it led them to take one another to court to decide issues they could’ve resolved on their own (see I Corinthians 6:1-8). Finally, here Paul said that love “thinketh no evil.” The Greek term for “thinketh” means to reckon. It was used for the keeping of accounts. Thus the phrase “thinketh no evil” means that love doesn’t keep a mental record of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, we keep a record of wrongs done to us in order to hold it against the wrongdoer. The person who loves does not harbor resentment against those who have wronged them, nor do they look for an opportunity to get even when they have been offended.
3. (vs. 6). This verse says charity or love “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” The word “iniquity” means sin. Paul stated that the one who loves does not rejoice in sin or gloat over evil. Love doesn’t find pleasure in any kind of evil; love does not condone it, nor is love entertained by it. Although the Corinthians may not have been rejoicing in iniquity or sin, they were condoning it (see I Corinthians 5:1-13). But what love does is “rejoiceth in the truth” or with the truth. We are often too quick to listen to bad reports about other people and seem thrilled when we do. But when we hear a good report, we may quickly dismiss or pay no attention to it instead of rejoicing as we should.
B. Love’s beliefs (I Corinthians 13:7).
In this verse, Paul summed up his description of Christian love saying that charity or love “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” The Greek word translated “beareth” mans to protect. Love protects others from contempt. If another believer has sinned, love attempts to restore the erring brother. Love does not condone sin, but it seeks to protect the offender. Yet, the Corinthians were putting stumbling blocks in the way of the less mature believers (see I Corinthians 8:9). However, in the context of our lesson, “beareth all things” could also mean to restrain oneself when being wronged and not venting our frustration. “Believeth all things” means that the person who loves is always ready to believe the best in others. It does not mean that we are gullible, but that we are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt in all situations. The one who loves is not quick to be suspicious of the motives and actions of others, nor are they poised to think of the worst-case scenario. The one who loves “hopeth all things.” This means that love is convinced that God’s purpose for His people will ultimately be fulfilled (see Philippians 1:6). In addition, love does not see failure in the life of a believer as God’s purpose being thwarted. Paul then said that love “endureth all things.” The word “endureth” here refers to an active perseverance. The one who loves perseveres in the midst of adversity. Love endures whatever difficulties the believer encounters. In the Greek world during Paul’s time the word “endureth” was used for soldiers who held a military position at all costs.
V. THE DURATION OF LOVE (I Corinthians 13:8-13)
A. The temporary nature of gifts (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
At this point in his discussion of Christian love, Paul now returns to the topic of spiritual gifts, which by their very nature are only temporary.
1. (vs. 8). In this verse, the apostle declared that “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Paul began here by stating that “Charity (love) never faileth.” In other words, love never fails, for it is permanent and eternal. Paul then contrasted the permanence of love with the cessation of the spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts have been given to believers to edify or build up the Christian church and their duration is limited to the time when the church needs them. The three gifts Paul mentioned here are called sign gifts because they were often signs that accompanied the revelation of God’s will. Paul said that love was permanent, but “whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” The word “prophecies” refers to the gift of prophecy demonstrated by prophets. Note: Before the Scriptures were completed, the gift of “prophecy” was especially valuable to the church and was the ability to declare God’s revelation or message to His people. The New Testament prophets were inspired by God to foretell some future events (see Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). At other times New Testament prophets expressed general exhortation to the church (see Acts 13:1-2; 15:32). Paul next said that “prophecies…shall fail” or be done away with. The Greek word translated “fail” means to render something inoperative. In this case, “prophecies” will be made inoperative by using something outside of themselves. This something would be the coming of “that which is perfect” (see verse 10). Paul also said that “whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” The gift of tongues would cease to function as well. Speaking in tongues was one of the signs intended primarily for unbelievers (see I Corinthians 14:21-22) and confirmed the teaching of the apostles (see Hebrews 2:3-4). As a result, many believe that when the apostles passed off the scene of history, this sign gift ended. Others of course will argue that the gift of tongues is still operative, though there is no evidence of this. Paul then mentions a third spiritual gift stating that “whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The gift of knowledge will also be done away with. The apostle was not referring to “knowledge” in general or to what can be gained in an educational setting. Instead, Paul was thinking of the “knowledge” that came by divine revelation, such as Paul himself received (see Galatians 1:12). The Greek word for “vanish away” is the same word translated “faileth” earlier in this verse. Therefore, like “prophecies,” the gift of “knowledge” will become inoperative with the coming of “that which is perfect” (see verse 10). Since these three gifts are going to “fail,” “cease” and “vanish away,” it’s clear that they were only temporary, or would last only as long as God saw their usefulness in the church. In contrast to these temporary gifts, love “never faileth” but will last forever.
2. (vs. 9). Now Paul says in this verse “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” The spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy are by nature limited. Both knowledge and prophecy are partial and incomplete, but are needed in our imperfect existence. No apostle or prophet had absolute and complete knowledge, only God has that (see I Peter 1:10-11). Even Paul’s knowledge was partial and his prophecy was partial as well. He warned the Corinthian believers about those who claimed to know everything (see I Corinthians 8:2).
3. (vs. 10). Paul continued to say in this verse “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Bible scholars debate the meaning of the phrase “when that which is perfect is come.” The Greek word for “perfect” is the adjective teleion and it can be rendered “mature” or “complete.” Some think “that which is perfect” refers to the completed New Testament Scriptures. However, others see this as a reference to the second coming of Christ. Which explanation a person believes will imply when these gifts of knowledge and prophecies will no longer be needed by the church. Each bit of knowledge or prophecy reveals a small portion of God’s plan, so we are left with an incomplete picture. Even now, with the completion of the New Testament revelation we cannot begin to comprehend the fullness of God’s Person and plan (see I Corinthians 2:9). We will not know that until the church itself is transformed into His image. The full revelation of God’s truth will come “when that which is perfect is come.” The word “perfect” most likely refers to the moment believers’ are transformed and glorified (see I Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20-21). This will take place at the rapture of the church (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17). Note: The idea of perfection here in this verse refers to what is complete, lacking nothing. Therefore, when gifts are no longer needed, the church will not suffer any loss because the partial will be replaced by the complete. So the longest any gifts will be needed will be until the return of Christ. But since God sovereignly gave the gifts, it’s also His prerogative to decide when to remove or modify them even before the return of Christ. Many scholars believe that this has happened to the gifts of prophecy and tongues, being no longer needed by the church. We may not know when “that which is perfect is come,” but we do know that the spiritual gifts are incomplete or “in part,” and therefore one day “shall be done away.” Note: We shouldn’t spend our time debating whether this spiritual gift or that one has been or will be discontinued. Paul’s point is that one day all gifts, both the greatest and the least, will no longer be needed by the church. However, love is different. Love is God’s own nature and therefore will last forever (see I John 4:7-8). This is why love is above all the gifts.
B. The expectation of perfection (I Corinthians 13:11-12).
In these verses, Paul gave two illustrations to show the contrast between our present partial knowledge and the complete knowledge that we will one day have.
1. (vs. 11). In this verse, Paul says “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Since all of his readers (then and now) were once children, we can quickly see the contrast being made between childhood and adulthood or maturity. Paul pointed out from his own childhood that as a child he communicated on the level of a child. He also understood and thought like a child. Of course this was only natural. But when he grew older or reached adulthood, he stopped doing childish things. The temporary spiritual gifts were “childish things” compared to God’s completed revelation. Note: The application of this illustration to the gifts is evident. The Corinthian believers were part of the formative years of the Christian church. The spiritual gifts were to be used to bring the church from a state of infancy to adulthood. While childhood is an important part of human growth and development, it’s not where we want to remain. There comes a time when we need to “put away childish things.” In the same sense, Paul wanted to impress upon the Corinthian Christians that the spiritual gifts they cherished so much were not a part of God’s permanent plan for His people. Their childish attitudes toward the gifts had to be “put away.” When we enter the perfect state reaching spiritual maturity when Christ returns, these spiritual gifts of tongues, knowledge and prophecy will be done away with forever. Our knowledge of God is presently partial when contrasted to the complete, perfect knowledge we will one day have (see Philippians 3:9-12).
2. (vs. 12). In this verse Paul goes on to say “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The “glass” that Paul refers to was a first century mirror which was usually made of polished bronze, not glass. The image reflected in them was often blurred and not very clear. In fact, the Greek word for “darkly” means indistinct or indistinguishable. This seems to describe the gift of prophecy which through revelation only gave a partial or dim image of God’s character and will. The gift of prophecy was like seeing “through a glass (mirror), darkly (dimly).” It’s as if we are looking at a hazy image in a mirror. Therefore, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and tongues couldn’t replace seeing the Lord “face to face” (see Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10). This will take place only when the church is perfected and glorified (see I John 3:2). Even though we have the complete text of Scripture, our knowledge is still incomplete. However, the temporary things of this world, including spiritual gifts, will one day give way to the permanent realities of heaven (see II Corinthians 4:18). Paul then concluded that “now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The phrase “now I know in part” means that right now our knowledge or spiritual understanding of God’s truth is only limited or incomplete. But Paul also envisioned a time when our spiritual understanding will be complete as he said “but then shall I know even as also I am known.” In the final state of redemption when we see the Lord face to face, we will have a complete knowledge of everything. In heaven all doubts will be removed, all questions answered, all fears eliminated and all hopes realized. Paul said at that time he would know “even as also I am known.” In other words, we will have complete knowledge similar to the knowledge God has of us. God’s knowledge of us is beyond our full understanding as finite creatures (see Psalms 139:6; Romans 11:33). However, our knowledge will never be as complete and perfect as God’s knowledge, but we will know the full measure of what we were designed for.
C. The virtues that endure (I Corinthians 13:13).
In our final verse Paul declared “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” In contrast to the spiritual gifts which are temporary, there are three virtues produced by the Holy Spirit that “abideth” or are permanent and will remain eternally. They are “faith, hope, charity.” Both “faith” and “hope” are human responses to God. But God is never said to believe or hope. Therefore, the apostle can say that “charity” or love is “the greatest of these” three virtues because God is love (see I John 4:8, 16), and love is His motivation for everything He does. God places His love in believers (see Romans 5:5) and it’s also the mark that identifies us as disciples of Christ (see John 13:34-35). Note: Christian love is God’s love. It’s Calvary love. Love that moved God to send Christ to be the Saviour of this sinful world (see John 3:16). It’s the love that God sheds abroad in the believer’s heart when he accepts Christ as Saviour (see Romans 5:5). The believer can now love like Christ as he obeys the Holy Spirit living in him. Like a spiritual gift, this kind of love is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. It’s not something that comes naturally, because we are naturally selfish human beings. Love is only possible if God supernaturally helps us not to be selfish. It’s the kind of love that’s shown in caring for a stranger who is in need or suffering. We need to love others, expecting nothing in return (see Luke 10:30-35). This love is demonstrated by the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus who was made sin for us so that we might be made the righteous before God (see II Corinthians 5:21). Love is more important than all the spiritual gifts exercised in the church body. Great faith, acts of dedication or sacrifice, and miracle-working power mean very little without love. Love makes our actions and gifts useful. Although people have different gifts, love is available to everyone. We should always thank God for this precious gift!
Our lesson passage has taught us the overwhelming importance of loving others. God has given us fantastic gifts with which to serve Him and the body of Christ. Unless we exercise those gifts in love they will amount to nothing. Let’s not waste our time (or God’s) filling our lives with useless ministry. He does not want us to be busy for Him just for the sake of being busy. Instead, let’s determine to allow God’s love to flow through everything we do. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that love is the most important quality that Christians should strive for. It’s even more important than spiritual gifts (see I Corinthians 12:31). Paul not only illustrated the more excellent way of God’s love, but also provided a detailed picture of its scope and breadth. He closed by reminding the Corinthians that love is the most enduring gift one can give to others.
1. Our spiritual gifts mean nothing without love for others (I Corinthians 13:1-2).
2. Great sacrifice is worthless if it is not motivated by love (I Corinthians 13:3).
3. Christian love is directed toward others, not to ourselves (I Corinthians 13:4-5).
4. Christian love looks for the best in others and gives the best it has (I Corinthians 13:6-7).
5. Love will continue when all that we know has passed away (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
6. We may know more than we once did, but we don’t yet know all there is to know (I Corinthians 13:11-12).
7. We can be certain of one thing: Love is forever (I Corinthians 13:13).
The Holy Spirit
Brings Spiritual Maturity
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sunday, May 31, 2015
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a
child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away
childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11—KJV).
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a
child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11—NRSV).
Sometimes parents and grandparents see other people’s children as impatient, unkind toward other children, demanding, and insistent on having their own way. Paul wrote that the spiritually mature do not act in these ways; they resolve to put an end to childishness and act as adults. Those in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the spiritually mature will not passively wait for the Holy Spirit to do in them what the Holy Spirit expects them to do for
themselves with His help. They will keep their faith in Christ strong as they study the Bible. They will abide in hope as they remind themselves of God’s many promises (many already fulfilled) in the Scriptures. But most importantly, their faith and hope in Jesus Christ will inspire a greater love for God and others. As mature Christians, their love will lead them to pray for patience and become more patient; more often than not they will respond with patience when provoked. Love will lead them to share words of kindness to build up others instead of tear them down. Love will move them to rejoice when they see God’s gifts bestowed abundantly on any of His children. Love inspires humility with joyfulness—the humility that puts Jesus first, others second, and yourself third. Though we often see these spiritual fruits and gifts in the children raised in Christian homes, the Apostle Paul expected all the fruits and gifts of love to be evident in the life of anyone who claimed to be led by Jesus Christ.
1. Why do some eloquent speakers make little impact on their
2. What can understanding all mysteries lead to, if a person does not have love?
3. What qualities of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13 do you like to see the most in others?
4. What are some of the childish ways in adults that can cause
5. Give one reason you are grateful that love will never end. Give
thanks to God for love.
Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further
1. Why do some eloquent speakers make little
impact on their listeners?
Their listeners can tell that they do not have love and concern for them. Sometimes eloquent speakers speak too much for effect and too much about themselves instead of focusing on teaching the truth. Some speak more about themselves than they do about Jesus Christ.
2. What can understanding all mysteries lead to, if a person does not have love?
Understanding all mysteries can lead to arrogance and pride that prevents their sharing these mysteries with loving concern for their listeners.
3. What qualities of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13 do you like to see the most in others?
Kindness and patience. Others?
4. What are some of the childish ways in adults that can cause problems?
Self-centeredness and selfishness: needing to possess and have things their own way.
5. Give one reason you are grateful that love will never end. Give thanks to God for love.
The love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will always take care of others and me, and do what is best for others and me without fail or ever ending.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sunday, May 31, 2015
The Greatest Gift Is Love
T Z B O S Y I L Z I H S Z H E
M W S N I A T N U O M P R T Z
G Y T C V P O W E R S I B I E
K I S U L M E V O L C G M A W
O N P T P A O I P R F N Q F T
P I O C E C N A Q K B O L P B
X R P W Y R T G L S I G X T E
W H O M L I I U I Y H N J O F
U L B P E E F E S N M K D B S
N A M N H T D I S I G C G T G
L F T K N E O G R M W V S V K
I H P E W N T R E B T N B Y L
F O S F C X O I F H K R Q C E
V E P O H R K W C S N M L R P
R W T R N P F Z U I U O H Y O
True and False Test
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sunday, May 31, 2015
The Greatest Gift Is Love
Circle the true or false answers. Correct the false statements by restating them.
1. Eloquent speakers are always respected when they talk about love. True or False
2. If you can get things done, love is not important. True or False
3. If I do not love, I am nothing. True or False
4. Love is patient and kind. True or False
5. Those who love are boastful, arrogant, and rude. True or False
6. Love does not insist on its own way. True or False
7. Love rejoices in the truth. True or False
8. Love and speaking in tongues will never end. True or False
9. No matter how much a Christian loves, he will always be childish. True or False
10. Of faith, hope, and love, faith is greater than hope and love. True or False
Answer to True and False
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sunday, May 31, 2015