“But Have Not Love…” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)
Listen to the Sermon:
Well hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV
This passage, 1 Corinthians 13, is rightly one of the most famous and well-loved passages in all the Bible. It’s profound, it’s beautiful, it’s convicting, it’s uplifting, and it’s very frequently read so that it’s familiar enough to for us to know it. So, because of some of those issues that are good in some ways and maybe a little challenging in others, we’re going to come to this passage, and we have to be aware of a couple of areas that we need to keep in mind.
The first is that we may love this passage too much, and I don’t mean that in a true sense. I mean that we may love this too much from a sentimentalized, this is associated with some dear memories in my past kind of a way. You may have had this read that at your wedding or at the wedding of someone you love, and you may love it for that reason, which leads us not to listen to this as the word of God. Which means that not only do we maybe love this too much in certain ways that it leads us to then love it not enough or too little in other ways so that we stop listening to this as the word of God. This profound beautiful, convicting, and uplift passage really has kind of an edge to it that we need to have our ears attuned to listen to as God addresses the lovelessness in our hearts.
If we just read and think about weddings and brides and all of that, we’re going to miss what God has to say to us. Love, as we will discover as we study this chapter Lord willing, does not mean what we think it means. We all have an idea of what love is and how it’s expressed, but we supply our own ideas and read that into this passage rather than listening to the Bible tell us what love is.
We have to keep in mind in our cultural ideas of what love is and that love is not merely a feeling. Sometimes we talk about love that way in our culture. That it’s something I feel in my heart of hearts and that’s what love is. Paul says no, we’re going to see this here, that unless your love is expressed in sacrificial loving action toward another person, that love is not really love.
Love is not merely a feeling, but at the same time love is not merely an action.
If you’re reading from an older translation maybe the King James Version, your version may not say love it may say charity. Now there are reasons that older translations have the word charity that we don’t need to go into those this morning, except to say that what those translators meant by charity and what we interpret charity as today are very different ideas. Neither are at all what Paul has in mind. For us a charity is an action, it’s a check to be written, it’s a volunteer hour to be logged.
Paul says if you’re just looking at this as an external action, you still don’t know what love is either. It’s not a feeling, it’s not an action. Love, as we’re going to see, is not something that we define for ourselves. Love is something that God defines for us and particularly what God defines for us in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ.
Now this is all over the Bible, but the apostle John probably said it best in 1 John 4:10,
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10, ESV
What we’re going to see as we study 1 Corinthians 13, is that love is supernatural. It is the fruit of saving faith in Jesus Christ. God alone defines what love is and God alone produces love and causes love to grow in us like fruit that grows up from the saving faith that the Holy Spirit has given to us. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s work to work faith in our lives and apart from the Holy Spirit’s work to take that faith and work through it into the fruit of love, we’ll never produce love for ourselves. We will always fall short of what God calls us to in his word here in 1 Corinthians 13.
As Paul says in these first three verses, it means that all that we do, no matter how grand, no matter what our achievements are, if it’s without love it’ll be for nothing.
Our big idea today is that Everything is nothing without love.
Paul gives us three warnings in these three verses.
1. Do Not Trust in Eloquence
2. Do Not Trust in Certainty
3. Do Not Trust in Works
Do Not Trust in Eloquence
Well in this first verse Paul writes,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV
Paul says do not trust in eloquence, that’s the first point that Paul is making in this verse. In each of these verses we’re going to see, and that starts here in verse 1, that Paul is making comparisons. He’s making a comparison, and to make these comparisons he’s using hyperbole.
So, this first hyperbole, where he’s talking about speaking in tongues, he’s not just talking about what was in that day garden variety speaking in tongues. He’s saying let me put this in hyperbolic terms, not just common ways of doing this, but imagine the greatest of all kind of eloquence. If you have that greatest of all eloquence, but you have not love you’re just making noise.
Now, let’s talk about what Paul means here because it’s interpreted in a lot of different ways and maybe you have some different ways of approaching this verse from your background. Here Paul talks about speaking in the tongues of men and of angels. We’ve talked about this a few times if you’ve been here, but the tongue, these words this word for tongues is really an old King James English way of talking about languages. We simply don’t talk about the Hebrew tongue or the Greek tongue or the Latin tongue anymore, we talk about those as languages. So, you might just sort of paraphrase what’s happening here by saying, “if I speak in the languages of men and in the languages of angels,” and that clarifies a lot of confusion on this passage.
The gift of speaking in tongues, the gift of speaking in these languages, was a gift given in the early church and we read about this in Acts chapter 2. It was a gift to speak spontaneously and prophetically in other languages that the speaker did not know in order to preach about Jesus Christ to people who had not yet heard of him.
We see this in Acts chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out from the Son of God from the right hand of the Father in Heaven, we read that as the Holy Spirit comes rushing down on the apostles in the early church,
6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
Acts 2:6-11 , ESV
That’s one of the longest lists of nations in the New Testament and it’s to illustrate think how far and wide those languages were that the apostles were preaching the mighty works of God in. They were preaching what God had done in and through Jesus Christ, on that day of Pentecost. That’s what the gift of tongues was, the gift of speaking these languages prophetically to proclaim Christ.
Well we know that Paul had this gift of tongues, he’s going to talk about it in the next chapter in 1 Corinthians 14:18. In fact he said that he had no common measure of the gift of tongues, but then in fact he spoke the gift of tongues more than all of the Corinthians. So, Paul had this gift of tongues, but when we look at what Paul says in verse 1, we can see that he’s not talking about his experience alone. He’s not saying this is the bar and this is what you should be striving toward.
Rather what Paul is saying, so I have this gift of tongues, you have to a lesser degree the gift of tongues. Imagine that even if I had a greater manifestation of the gift of tongues, the greatest imaginable ability to speak the languages of men and of angels, if I had that but didn’t have love, I would just be making noise.
Now the way to see the way that Paul is using this hyperbole here is by giving a really woodenly literal translation of the word order in Greek. Our translation smooths this out a little bit but let me tell you the order of the words in Greek. Paul writes, “If in the tongues of men, I speak and of angels.” He’s emphasizing that second part. He’s saying, well I speak in the tongue of men, you speak in the tongues of men to a lesser degree, but I don’t speak in the tongues of angels. If I had that greatest ability to have the greatest eloquence to speak in the heavenly language of angels, but I had not love, even if I could do that great thing, but didn’t have love I would be nothing.
Now what do we know about Paul’s ability or lack thereof to speak in heavenly angelic languages? Well Paul tells us something and we have to compare Scripture against Scripture. In 2 Corinthians, the next letter that Paul writes to this church in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul talks about going to the third heaven and being caught up in the third heaven and hearing the speech of heaven. He said that he heard this language, but in 2 Corinthians 12:4 he says this,
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 , ESV
He’s saying that he heard this heavenly language, but he doesn’t even talk about it in first person. He doesn’t say I heard these things he’s talking about a man, this man who was caught up in the third heaven heard these things and he can’t talk about it and no man can talk about these things that he heard.
When we compare Scripture against Scripture and see the way that Paul structures this verse in chapter 13:1, he’s saying I can speak in the tongue of men’s that’s one thing, but if I could even speak in the tongue of angels, something I’m not allowed to do, but had not love it would be nothing.
Now it’s important to note that on this verse there are sincere believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who look at this a reference to the tongues of angels and they interpret this as a practice that they would say is common in the church today, to speak an ecstatic language that doesn’t seem to correspond to a human language. They would say that that is speaking in angels’ tongues.
Now again there are many sincere Christians who love the Lord Jesus Christ who believe this. This may be where you’re coming from. If you want to talk more about this I would love to. Yet when we let Scripture interpret Scripture and we see what Paul says he’s not permitted to say, we’ll see that this idea is mistaken. That’s not what Paul is talking about when he talks about speaking in the languages of angels. Paul is saying that he himself heard the language of angels, heavenly language, but it was something that could not be told, that man may not utter.
So even if you think that you are able to speak in the tongues of angels, you have to ask the question, do I really have greater gifts and privileges than Paul did in speaking in these heavenly languages? Even if you think that’s true, would it really be true that these greater gifts and greater privileges than even Paul experienced would be so commonplace in the church today as they are reportedly being among Christians who would take and interpret Scripture in this way?
When we let Scripture interpret Scripture, here again we’re going to see this isn’t what Paul is talking about, that’s a mistaken view of what this tongue of angels is. He’s talking in hyperbole, the greatest imaginable eloquence, something that I don’t even get to exercise if I had that, but not love I’d be just making noise.
See far from Paul saying this is what I’m able to do and you should try to catch up, Paul is actually saying the opposite. He’s saying, even if I could do things that I’m not yet able to do, understand that alone those great achievements, that kind of great eloquence, is nothing without love. Apart from love eloquence is noise. Do not trust in your eloquence, that’s the first warning that Paul is giving us.
Now maybe you’re here today and this is an issue that you want to talk with me about, I’d love to talk with you more about this issue if it’s a question that you have. Or maybe you’re here today and you never even dreamed of speaking in tongues and so you’re feeling like you’re sitting pretty after this first verse. Well don’t worry, Paul is going to come after you too as well in the next couple of verses.
Do Not Trust in Certainty
So, we move on to the second warning where Paul takes the rest of us perhaps into his gaze and he gives us a second warning, he says do not trust in certainty. Now once again Paul is making a comparison, a comparison that has to do with hyperbole. In verse 2 he seems to have two kinds of certainty in mind, let me read you what he says.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13: 2, ESV
So, Paul is talking about two kinds of certainty here. The first type seems to be some sort of intellectual certainty, of knowing everything there is to know. He’s talking about knowing all prophetic mysteries and having all knowledge and intellectual certainty of knowing everything as God knows it. Then there’s a practical certainty of having confidence to do everything there is to do, to have the power to do anything that God can do. To have this power to remove mountains is how Paul defines this act of faith.
What Paul is talking about is the prophetic powers of, first of all, receiving revelation from God, to know the mysteries that God previously hid. If God hides a mystery there’s no chance that we can work our way, by human intellectual capacity, all the way up to understanding it. No, we only understand the mystery of God when he reveals it by his word through those who are gifted with prophetic powers. So, Paul said if I had all of that to understand all mysteries and if I had all knowledge.
Now knowledge is different from the gift of prophecy. The gift of knowledge has to do not with immediately receiving the word of the Lord by direct revelation, but it’s understanding what God has revealed. It’s studying the word of God that’s already been revealed through prophets and understanding it deeply, especially for the purpose of teaching it. Again, this is an issue of faith, this is an idea of the certainty of the ability to perform these mighty miraculous deeds by faith, intellectual certainty and practical certainty.
Now again this is hyperbole, but how do we know this? We’re not talking about Paul’s experience, we’re not talking about the experience of an average Christian, how do we know this? Well because Paul is talking about “all”. Now Paul has some mysteries, but there are secret things that remain the secret things of God. Paul doesn’t have access to all mysteries just yet. There are things that are sealed up until the end and Paul doesn’t have access to those.
Well Jesus, understand this is where we really know that he’s talking in hyperbole, even our Lord Jesus during his earthly life in ministry didn’t have access to all mysteries and wasn’t able to perform all miraculous works. Now let me be very clear about what I’m talking about. Jesus was fully God, Jesus was the Son of God who became incarnate and was born to the Virgin Mary. Jesus, before he existed in the form of a human being, he existed eternally in eternity past as God.
As God, in the form of God, the Son of God is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God, the same in substance, equal in power, and glory. There is nothing the Father knows that the Son does not have access to, there is nothing the Father can do that the Son is not quite capable of doing. What the Father knows and what the Father can do, so can the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We are told that he though he existed in the form of God, when he became a human being, he took the form of a servant. When he took the form of a servant, he entered into what theologians call his estate of humiliation, he took a lower role in the form of a servant. When he did this, he didn’t get rid of his knowledge as God, he didn’t sort of cast it aside, he can’t do that. As God he forever possesses this knowledge, but he veiled his glory and his power. He didn’t make use of all of his knowledge and his glory and his power in order to fulfill what he had to do in the form of a servant in his estate of humiliation.
Jesus himself tells us that he didn’t know all mysteries during his earthly life and ministry. Not because as God he didn’t know something, but when he took the form of a servant, he did not make access to that knowledge that he possessed as God.
So, we read in Matthew 24:36 Jesus saying,
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36, ESV
Concerning that day and hour, that is the day and hour when he would return in glory and judge the world. Now again God the Son knows everything that the Father knows, but in his estate of humiliation in the form of a servant Jesus did not make use of that knowledge. He didn’t access that knowledge. He left himself in the dark on that point.
What about miracles? We’re told also that in certain areas, especially in Nazareth his hometown, a prophet is without honor in his hometown. He was not able to do these mighty works of faith. Mark 6:5
5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:5-6, ESV
Now again there’s nothing the Son cannot do that the Father can, rather Jesus did not make use of that power during his earthly life and ministry. So, Paul is saying you don’t have access to this kind of certainty intellectually about all the mysteries and all the knowledge of God to know things as God knows them. Paul is saying I don’t have access to that, I also can’t perform all the mighty deeds to do what God is able to do, and if even your Lord did not during his life in ministry. How would any of us think that we could attain to this?
This is hyperbole but Paul is saying imagine if you had access to the gamut of God’s power and God’s knowledge and God’s hidden wisdom. If you could do that but you did not have love it would all be for nothing. Notice how he says all three times; all mysteries, all knowledge, all faith. If you had everything it would be nothing unless you have love.
I am nothing, Paul says, apart from love everything is nothing. So, Paul says do not trust in your certainty, intellectually or practically. The greatest amount of knowledge of the greatest miraculous deeds would be nothing unless they were accompanied and motivated by love.
Do Not Trust in Works
Well what about those who are a little bit more practically minded of us? Those who say I don’t get into all of that knowledge stuff, I leave that for the theologians, I just want to serve, and I want to do these great service deeds. Fantastic, that is an excellent gift in the church, but now Paul turns his attention to you.
So, this is the third point, Paul says do not trust in your works. In verse 3 Paul says,
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV
In verse 3 Paul is addressing someone who might be exercising love outwardly through great acts of generosity or through self-sacrifice, but he’s reminding us that love is not a mere action, it’s not just charity in the way that we think about it. The writing of a check, the logging of volunteering hours, love is something more than this.
So again, to make his point Paul uses hyperbole. Imagine the greatest amount of charity, the greatest amount of self-sacrificial giving, not only of your possessions but also of your own body to be burned. Paul says imagine if you did all of this. Now again, Paul had done things along this line, he had eloquence gifts, he had gifts of wisdom or mysteries of prophetic mysteries, of knowledge, and he had faith. He did things along these lines, but he’s saying now imagine if I did everything and Paul is saying I’ve given of my possessions away, I’ve given of my life, but he hasn’t given away everything just yet. He’s saying imagine the greatest imaginable manifestation of this, even if I did all of this but without love it would not profit me anything.
Now up to this point Paul has made no explicit reference to Christ, but this is where Paul drops a hint in that direction. When Paul speaks of delivering up his body in verse three, “even if I deliver up my body to be burned.” That word “delivered”, it’s literally to hand over that Paul used earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:23 in the story of the Lord’s Supper,
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 1 Corinthians 11:23, ESV
What Paul is saying is that even if you imitated Christ’s actions to deliver over your body, not to be broken and have his bloodshed like Christ did, but to be burned, even if you imitated Christ’s actions but you did not share in Christ’s love, even that would be worthless. Notice the contrast, I want to give up deliver up, but even that would not gain me anything. Paul writes this so well.
How do we apply? This isn’t just a passage that should be relegated to weddings, this has an edge to it.
1. Do not trust in your eloquence. Let me first start by applying this in this way, beware your eloquence. Now what does Paul mean when he’s talking about these tongues? Well we’re going to see more about this in chapter 14, but the Corinthians really had an obsession with language and eloquence. They were always seeking to impress one another by showing off their ability to speak and especially in tongues that looked so impressive. They wanted to impress other people by that eloquence.
Now I want to say again if that gift has ceased, which we’re going to talk more about in the future but if you have questions come talk to me, that gift of speaking in tongues as it was practiced in the early church has ceased. Yet we still have a similar temptation toward eloquence. It doesn’t take all that long to be able to talk the talk in the church and we all want to do this. I mean at first some of the language we use and the concepts we discuss are fairly complicated, but you only have to sit through a half a dozen sermons to be able to fake your way through a Christian conversation. You too can be fluent in “Christianese”, just sit under this for a long enough and you can speak this bizarre language that we use just fluently. If you speak it well enough you can convince anyone that you’re a Christian whether or not you know Jesus Christ personally. If you can talk the talk you can impress other people and you can confuse them to think that you know Christ when you just know the language.
In any field it’s a very common misunderstanding to confuse the ability to talk about something with the genuine understanding of the thing. Before I was a pastor I worked for a company where one of my jobs was that I interviewed a lot of people for hiring. One of the hardest things I discovered was trying to sift through someone who can talk a good game versus someone who was actually qualified for the job. There were certain people who could be hired for anything in this world because they can talk their way through an interview that well, but you put them on the job, and they fall apart. There are other people who interviewed just wretchedly, you wouldn’t think they were qualified to tie their shoes, but you put them in an actual job and they’re the best at what they do.
In the church it’s the same thing. We confuse the ability of someone to use this Christian language, the ability to say something profound sounding when it comes their turn in our disciple groups. We say that’s the person who knows Jesus. Paul says don’t trust in that. That’s not where your hope is because in the next life you can’t talk your way through that interview. In the next life when you stand before the throne of the righteous judge of all the earth, you can’t talk your way past him. Before him all secrets will be bare and exposed and uncovered and if you have hidden over evil and lovelessness in your heart without ever really turning to Jesus in faith for forgiveness of sins then you will be exposed for what you are. Do not trust in your eloquence, your ability to talk cannot save you.
If you’re a good talker, and I’m called to talk so this hits me, we ought to be terrified of this verse and to take real stock of our knowledge of Jesus. Beware your eloquence.
2. Beware your certainty. The Corinthians prize their certainty, they love certainty. We heard about it in the first chapter that these Corinthians were so assured of the certainty of their teachers that they were fractioning off into different groups. They would say I follow Paul, I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I want to be certain that I’m following the right teacher. In this they’re not too different from us. They thought they had all mysteries, all knowledge, all gifts of faith, and in our culture too our certainty is a prized virtue just like theirs.
This is why we as a culture are so fractured, because in our culture everyone knows everything about everything. Just because we Googled it or watched a documentary on it, therefore we are experts about everything with perfect certainty intellectually and we stand upon that certainty with the perfect confidence of zealous faith.
To give two very recent prominent examples where we think we have all mysteries and all knowledge and all faith, everyone in the world is an expert at this point in coronavirus. Everyone knows precisely its health risks, or lack thereof. Everyone can tell you precisely the effectiveness of masks or lack thereof. Everyone knows the right course for public policies if only the president would call them up to ask for their opinion. We all know this, right? Just ask someone and you’ll hear their 15-point plan for fixing this before the month is out.
Also, what about racism? Everyone in our culture is an expert on racism. Everyone knows its precise prevalence in society, everyone knows its exact causes and its cures. Everyone knows the right course for our public policies, again if someone would just call them.
The problem is that when your absolutely certain knowledge conflicts with my absolutely certain knowledge, I can no longer relate to you as one finite limited human being to another in humility. As we together seek the Lord’s wisdom to pursue truth, instead I must expose you as an enemy, humiliate you and destroy you for daring to question my certainty.
While this is a culture-wide, society-wide problem, I think there is a particular temptation for Christians to sin in the area of having too much certainty. We get to thinking that we have all mysteries, all knowledge, and we stand upon that in all faith. It’s because there are some things that we are certain about, that we should be certain about. We do have access to God’s mysteries that were given to the apostles and the prophets in the person of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit that is written down in the Bible. We should be certain about that and we should stand in all faith on the certainty of what God’s word says to do.
God’s word says to turn in faith to Jesus, to turn from our sins and trust him for our salvation and to follow his obedience wherever he tells us to go. All of that is right, certainty, but then we look at all of these other opinions in our lives and we elevate those to the same level of certainty and that’s wrong certainty. Our temptation is perpetually to be too certain about too many things, like the Corinthians. When that happens, we become brash and arrogant and we factionalize, and we condescend to those who disagree with us on debatable third tier matters.
I’m not talking about first-tier creedal issues what all Christians everywhere must believe to be saved. I’m not even talking about the second-tier confessional issues that we believe, and we’re persuaded from by the Scriptures. We recognize that if you don’t agree with us on baptism or church government or areas like that, we’re not saying that you’re not a Christian, we want to keep talking with you about those things, but we recognize those are confessional issues.
I’m talking about the third-tier conviction issues such as how politics should work, where we should send our kids to school, what we should do with coronavirus, and about things like racism. We need to have serious conversations about those, but when I become so certain that I’m just trying to show you I’m right and not trying to love you wherever you may be, then I’ve sentimentalized what Paul has written and I haven’t listened to the edge of the word of God as Paul says that I am nothing without love.
God’s word should shatter our hard certainties to pieces, it should soften our arrogant hearts into humility, and it should redirect my energies away from exposing the foolishness of your certainties. Rather it should point me towards serving you out of a deep love for your well-being, your eternal well-being of knowing Christ, no matter how you may disagree with me on a wide variety of issues. Beware your certainty.
3. Beware of your works. oOr culture loves outward appearances of generosity. We love those who give their possessions and sacrifice their lives. We don’t really want to be them, but we want to name buildings after them, and we too want to be seen as charitable in our own respect. In our culture, just as we talked about last week that social things aren’t very common anymore, so volunteering itself isn’t all that common. What is common is taking a selfie of me in the middle of volunteering so that I can post that to my social media and be patted on the back for it. That’s extraordinarily common because all of us want to be tapped on the for my generosity.
Even if I don’t do this publicly, I certainly do it in my heart. I want God to notice me and to say, “Wow, well done, it was a good investment of mine to choose you, I like what you’re doing for me,” because we think that we can earn something from him. Charles Hodge, a pastor who lived in the 1800’s, writes this, “Someone may do outward works of generosity but from a variety of reasons; from vanity, or from the fear of condemnation, or to purchase heaven and only increase his condemnation. Because religion is no such easy thing. Men would gladly compound by external acts of charity or by penances for a change of heart, but the thing is impossible. Thousands indeed are deluded on this point and think that they can substitute what is outward for what is inward. That God requires the heart and without holiness the most generous giver or the most suffering ascetic can never see God.” God requires not merely works but love.
So we have to ask how do I get love? Well let’s not by piling up our own works by digging deep in my heart, because if you dig deep in your heart you only find corruption and sin and lovelessness there. Instead you have to find a love that is outside of you that God has given you in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who in real true love gave himself up for you, took the curse that was yours upon himself, bore the wrath that was stored up for you, so that you if you look to him in faith can be reconciled to God and forgiven of your sins.
Jesus did this not so that you could look at his example and say, hey I could do that, and try to do it yourself into the kingdom. He did that for you to recognize that I can maybe do these outward actions, I can maybe pile up faith and knowledge, I could maybe speak with all eloquence, but at the end of the day I come nowhere near that love. I am nothing unless Jesus gives me something.
The way to love others is first to repent, turn from any sense of your own abilities, your own strength, your own works. Repent from that and acknowledge to God that it’s foolishness and its weakness and instead look to Jesus and ask for his forgiveness and his salvation through faith in Christ. Christ’s salvation saves you, it forgives you of your sins, and it transforms you from the inside out. Love them from that inside out transformation, that’s where love comes from. Love is the fruit of this saving faith, you can’t produce it in your own strength but it’s the work of God to bring it about in you.
Brothers and sisters beware of your eloquence, beware of your certainty, beware of your works. Instead receive the love of God in Christ and ask that he would create in you a loving heart, as you look to Christ by faith, from the inside out.
Our Father in Heaven we pray that you would give us love. Your love in Christ Jesus, your love that your Holy Spirit brings to shed abroad in our hearts. We pray that by your Holy Spirit you would teach us to love Christ, to look to him in faith, to depend upon him and not our eloquence, our certainty, or our works but him alone for salvation. We pray Father that you would do all of this for Christ’s glory and for our good. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.