I love the story Chuck Swindoll shared in one of his books about a young man in the late 1800’s who fell in love with an opera star. He had only seen her picture on a poster advertising the famous and beautiful virtuoso who was to perform in his frontier town later that spring.
When the big day came the theatre was crowded, and he had to squint hard to see her from the fourth row of the balcony. But then, when she began to sing, that mezzo soprano voice lifted him to heavenly places.
The young man was a romantic, so it was a hard fall; he was in love…totally!
After the show he bribed a stage hand to get him an introduction. He was a good talker and swept her off her feet. Theirs was a three day, whirlwind romance and trip to the altar where the preacher tied the knot. Standing at the altar, he noticed the heavy makeup she wore, and the fact that she was a good bit older than him. But, considering that wonderful voice and her beauty, he knew they would ever be in love and live happily together.
When the wedding reception died down they went over to the boarding house where they had a room for their wedding night. As they prepared for bed the young man was a little startled when she emerged from the bathroom in a flannel dressing gown and without makeup. Those wrinkles and spots were certainly not visible under the eyeliner, rouge and powder. Well…he could handle that; after all, there was that voice!
His new bride sat on the bed and removed her wig, revealing her very gray hair – not to mention several bald spots. She removed her dentures and put them in a glass on the night stand, while the young man tried to remember the way that voice sounded on stage. In the next instant, the singer removed her glass eye, unhooked her prosthetic leg and unhooked the cinch on her corset to kind of let everything settle and sag.
The young man cried out, Sing, woman; for the love of God, sing, SING!
Somehow the Hollywood version of that first romantic kiss and frogs-turned-princes living happily ever after is always just that – Hollywood!
The word love is often used in our culture. Unfortunately, God, Who IS love (according to Scripture) cannot be recognized in Hollywood’s, or our contemporary culture’s understanding of what it means to love.
It serves us well to be on the same page about the definition of God’s love, because it is so different from what our culture normally means.
As with any word, people can perceive a different meaning. If I ask you to come to my house for dinner, some of you would show up at noon, others around 6pm. In North Carolina it’s called liver pudding; if you live up North, they call it scrapple.
Consider the different ways we use the word “love”:
· romantic love, the kind between a man and woman.
· brotherly love that which we have for friends.
· parental love that which we have for our children
There is a whole host of uses for love when it comes to appreciating things, food, and sports (to name just a few):
· I love my job.
· I love my car.
· In the 60’s movie Love Story Ali McGraw turned to Ryan O’Neal and said, Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
· And The King, Elvis, wanted the ladies to Love Me Tender.
So, when it comes to talking about God, what kind of love are we talking about? Somehow Elvis and the rest fall short there.
Here is a working definition of love (agape’ in Scripture):
God’s kind of love is an unselfishness which results in doing the best for another, even at the highest personal cost, without requiring or expecting payback.
Now, frankly, it is difficult for us humans to grasp that, to understand how God or anyone could act in someone else’s best interest without expecting something in return.
But that is exactly what Paul explains to the folks at Corinth. Most of them had come to Christianity from pagan religions, and, even though they were serious about serving Christ, many had no clue as to how their actions were an affront to God, rather than a witness of His love.
The Holy Spirit had given many of the folks at Corinth gifts to minister; they abused these gifts by arrogantly trying to grab the spotlight and brag about whose gift was bigger and better. They were redeemed, but hadn’t changed a whole lot from their pagan days.
There’s a world of difference between a saved soul and a sanctified life!
So let’s track with Paul a bit as he explains that….
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3(NLT)
Gongs and clanging cymbals were a big part of the pagan religious rituals in Corinth. Paul was essentially telling the church that they unless they were going to live differently than what they came out of…they would not be pleasing to the God of genuine love.
Paul was saying that every human talent, intelligence and accomplishment runs a distant second to love. It’s not that those things are bad, but they’re rendered useless – beside the point – if they’re not done as an offering in the context of loving attitudes and actions.
Love is pretty important…to God; and so it should be to us.
The rest of the chapter is like a juxtaposition of the characteristics of love; love is like this…not like that.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5(NLT)
Oh man…patience! If that’s what it takes to love in the same way as God, I’m in big trouble.
Have you ever been shopping in Food Lion, and you were late to get somewhere? You rushed through the aisles, picked up those 3 items you came to get (along with 32 things you didn’t intend to get) and you virtually flew-up to the checkout. You found one cashier with twelve shoppers waiting in front of you; but another cashier catches your eye…she’s opening up! Thank you, Jesus.
But before you can get there, a little old lady with 4 gazillion cans of cat food in her basket is closer than you. But you’re slammed for time, so you pretend you don’t see her; you go for it and practically plow her under to go first
Are you jealous? I can relate. My older brother was a great athlete. That’s really hard when you are the younger one who isn’t even called by his own name – you’re Tommy Brownworth’s brother! That’s just wrong!
Patience has never been my strong suit; 0 for 1 on today’s test!
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 1 Corinthians 13:6 (NLT)
There’s just something so natural about wanting to see someone get what’s coming to them. If someone had the misfortune to act like a jerk towards you, it’s really kind of delicious to see them outed.
But that’s not what Paul said about love.
If you are going to leave your pagan attitude and actions at the door, it’s going to have to be a change from destructive to supportive – even when you’ve got to take a second seat, or see someone who practically wrote the jerk manual get ahead.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:7(NLT)
To be “persistently hopeful” is a matter of believing in God’s best for another person. Once again – this doesn’t depend on the person being one towards whom you actually feel affection; your feelings have nothing to do with doing what’s best for another person. As a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, you are doing what Jesus did: lifting, not pushing down.
Did Jesus give up on us? No, he endured the circumstances of the cross as a matter of necessity to keep the doors of faith open for us.
We keep that kind of hope alive when we love through the tough times.
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12(NLT)
Some things are going to remain a mystery until Jesus returns. On that day all the gifts for ministry will fade away in the presence of God’s perfection; tongues, prophecy, wise counsel, faith, healing and even preaching will not be needed because we will all have the character and wisdom of Christ.
For now we must be content to understand that it is God Who chooses to give each of us gifts for ministry. This is because HE has a plan for the universe and it is HIS prerogative as to how it unfolds.
The believers at Corinth put way too much significance on the temporary gifts of speaking in tongues, miracles and faith; and in so-doing they muted the eternal voice of love. In view of eternity that’s so short-sighted.
In the meantime, the love of God, and the love of God’s church is never going to fade away, and will never fail.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)
While not every gift is available to every person, love is something everyone can do, and God placed it at the head of the list.
Paul said that there are only three things we can take out of this world, faith, hope and love. People spend lifetimes building legacies so they will be remembered – yet all will be forgotten, passed away, except every act of love, big or small.
One last characteristic
Let love be your highest goal. 1 Corinthians 14:1a(NLT)
A sermon isn’t much without a challenge to our living. And so Paul says finally: All that stuff about what love is…do it!
Just to put a little flesh on the bones of DO IT we can hold up the example of Peter Miller, a plain Baptist preacher living in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in the days of the Revolutionary War.
Near his church lived a man who maligned the pastor to the last degree. The man became involved in treason and was arrested and sentenced to be hanged. The preacher started out on foot and walked the all seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for the man’s life. Washington heard his plea, but he said, No, your plea for your friend cannot be granted.
My friend! said the preacher. He is the worst enemy I have.
What! said Washington, you have walked nearly seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.
Here’s a question about loving for you to grapple with this week as you consider making the love of God the #1 priority in your life:
What are you going to do for or towards someone else this week that is a seventy-mile walk for an enemy?
Beloved, when you answer that question you’ll have no need of a preacher to say anything to you about what love is…
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!