“Love is Patient and Kind…” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.
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.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ,ESV
This is the word of the Lord that is given to us in love.
This morning as we’re studying this passage, we’re coming to again this week to study on a passage that is one of the most familiar well-known passages in all the Bible. Even people who have never darkened the door of a church for anything other than a wedding almost certainly would have heard this, because at so many weddings this is the text that is read.
Yet when we come to this, Paul has a point for it and the point that Paul is trying to make is that love is not always quite what we think it is. Our culture has a definition of love and when we hold that definition of love, it doesn’t match up with what God’s definition of love. Here’s the thing, that’s not just true for us.
All cultures, in all places, at all times have tried to define love. I mean when you go back everyone has poetry about love, and music about love, and different ways of capturing and talking about and thinking about love, there are countless attempts in every culture. Think in our culture, if you just sort of were studying us and what we believe about love and you’d look at a song about what love is and maybe you’d gain something from that.
We have The Beatles “All You Need is Love”, well that says something I’m sure. Then there’s Huey Lewis and the News, when you’re watching “Back to the Future”, singing “The Power of Love”. You’re watching and listening to these things, you’re getting these messages about love and you think you know what love is. Our culture operates on this working knowledge of what we think love is.
Then we come here, and we see that it just doesn’t match what God has to say about what love is. In the last three verses that we looked at last week there’s a commentator who points out Paul was talking about the absence of love, but now he is talking about the presence of love. In the last passage we talked about what it would be like if we had all the greatest giftedness in the world, to the greatest conceivable greatest imaginable degree. Yet if we have not love we’d just be making noise with our eloquence, we would be nothing even with our knowledge, and we would gain nothing even by our great sacrifices.
So Paul in this passage now shifts from the absence of love to the presence of love and gives us, as Rick Lindsay talks about in his commentary, not just a definition that you might find in a dictionary if you picked one up, but a rich description not just of what love is like or is but what love does. There are 15 verbs here, 15 action words that give us something of a snapshot in the day of the life of love. Love is personified, treated as a person here. Here we see what this person, love, does and what love does not do.
Now as we’re studying this, Paul is making two points of comparison and it’s important to hear with these comparisons that he’s making. The first point of comparison is that Paul is talking about the love that God has for us in Christ. You’re going to see that all over this passage as we study this. So, one of the things that Paul is doing is saying look at love to see love is to see God in Christ. The other point of comparison is that Paul is also pointing to the behavior of the Corinthians and he’s saying all this stuff that you guys are doing, this is not the way that love behaves.
I said last week this passage has a bit more of an edge than we sometimes give it credit for. Here’s where we’re going to see the sharpness of Paul’s surgical scalpel as he goes in to cut open the hearts of his patient, the Corinthian church, but also ours as we’re reading this. One profitable exercise is to put your own name in there. So, the first part says, “Jacob is patient and kind”, is that true? Well it may be helpful to think about if your pastor is that way, but think about it for yourself too. Put your name in there and ask, am I patient, am I kind, is that true?
Well our big idea as we’re studying this section today is this let us love one another as God has loved us let us.
Three sections this morning.
1. The Character of Love
2. The Conduct of Love
3. The Confidence of Love
The Character of Love
So let’s start with the character of love. Paul starts off with two words again, these sound like adjectives, just little descriptions of what love is. Yet these are action words, they describe what love does. More than anything, Paul starts with two descriptions about what love does which gives us an outline. We don’t get the full portrait yet, there are a lot of details to be filled in. In these first two words Paul is giving us the outline of the full picture in broad brush strokes of who this love person is and what love does. Paul gives us this by two words that sort of give us both sides of an outline for this picture.
The first word that Paul uses in verse 4 is to say that love is patient. Again this is not just describing what love is, but what love does. If you have a King James version, it has a really good translation of this that love suffers long. In King James, it’s love suffereth long, but the idea is that when love is acted against, when love is acted upon, what does love do? Love isn’t looking to strike back as quickly as possible. Love is willing to put up with it, to suffer long in the course of injury and insults thrown at love’s way.
Then we see this is the first place where we see the character of God himself. When God describes his own character it’s fascinating that he starts with the nature of his being a long-suffering God. When God is speaking to Moses, he’s hidden Moses in the cleft of the rock and God passes by Moses and proclaims the name of the Lord, proclaims his character. He starts by saying, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger.” This is the passive character of love.
One side of the outline of what love does is to see that love passively endures patiently and suffers long in the in the face of insult and injury. The other side of this outline is not the passive aspect of love, but the active aspect of love. Here Paul says that love is not patient, but kind. Love is kind. Again, this is the active character of love, of what love is often seeking to do. Whether or not it is being acted against or attacked in some way, this active character of love means that love is constantly seeking to do kindness to people, to show goodness to people.
Love is useful, it’s helpful, it’s friendly, and again this gets it God’s character in that passage. In Exodus chapter 34, well the first thing that God talked about was his long-suffering nature, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger.” The very next thing is for God to talk about his kindness and goodness toward us. He’s abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.
If you want to see what this looks like, a picture of this in action, just look at the life of Jesus. You have a man who has all the gifts and graces of God himself in the flesh, he’s here to do the most important mission in all the history of humanity. Yet when people come to him, when children come to him, when lepers come to him, when Samaritans and Gentiles and women with bleeding conditions coming to him, he doesn’t push them away. He draws them in to do goodness and kindness toward them in love.
We see the character of love describing the character of God himself. First what love does not do, what God does not do. He is not quick to strike back, he is slow to anger. But it shows us also what God does do, what love does do. He is abounding in steadfast love.
Well if that’s the outline, those are the sort of broad-brush contours of the nature of love, Paul goes on then to fill in the gaps, to fill in the outline, to give us a more complete portrait of this snapshot. We have of a day in the life of love. Here’s where, in the second half of verse 4 all the way through verse 6, Paul talks about the conduct of love. What love does or again in this passage what love does not do.
Conduct of Love
It is the way that Paul phrases it most of the time in this section and there are a lot of verbs here again, there’s 15 verbs total. We’re going to look at a good section of those, I think eight here and in this section.
It helps to kind of break these up I think into three concepts. Well the first question that Paul is asking, if we are trying to understand the organization of this passage, is that Paul is first asking how does love relate to self? How does love relate to me? Second, how does love relate to others? How does love relate to you when I encounter you? Then third how does love relate to truth?
So, the conduct of love. Let’s start with how does love relate to me. When I think about me, what should I be doing if I am acting in accordance with love? So, Paul says love does not envy. This is a word that talks about what I want for me. There are two ways that Paul has used this word positively and negatively already in 1 Corinthians. There are different ways of wanting something for me. The first way was a negative use, it corresponds to the use that Paul is using here in our passage, love does not envy. He’s talking about a negative kind of desiring for me and earlier he said this in 1 Corinthians 3:3, rebuking the Corinthians saying
3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
1 Corinthians 3:3, ESV
The negative sense of this envy is to say that I want more for me from what you have, I want to take from you so that it’s now mine to possess it so that you don’t have it. Still, there’s another way of using this word and Paul used it just a few verses earlier in in chapter 12:31 that’s the end of the last chapter. It was a positive use and Paul said there,
31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:31, ESV
There’s that word envy, earnestly desire, the higher gifts. Paul there was saying the higher gifts as compared to the lower gifts. Well we talked about we looked at 1 Corinthians 14:5 to see the similar thing Paul said about the greater gifts as opposed to the lesser gifts. The difference in the higher and the greater versus the lower and the lesser gifts are the ability of the higher and greater gifts to build other people up.
These gifts are seeking to be as useful as possible and Paul is saying as long as you are seeking to be as useful as possible, to serve others, then you should be envying, earnestly desiring, seeking those kinds of gifts. So negatively this is a desire to take for me, but positively this is desire to gain, to cultivate my own gifts in such a way so that I can serve you as well as possible. It’s the difference between giving and taking what Paul was saying is that love does not want to take from other people. Love instead wants to serve.
Well the second thing that Paul says is he moves on from addressing what I want, to then addressing how I talk about me. So the next thing Paul says is love does not boast. Now the Corinthians were a particularly boastful people, and I hope you notice a pattern. Most of the words in this section are targeted directly at the Corinthians for the behavior that they were engaged. In first Paul talked about their envy, their jealousy, their strife among them. Now Paul’s talking about their boastfulness. I’ll just give you some passages, if you want to write this down, I’m not going to read all of them because there’s a lot of them.
Paul critiqued the Corinthians about boasting at multiple points in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, in 1 Corinthians 3:21, in 1 Corinthians 4:7, and then 1 Corinthians 5:6. In those contexts it’s interesting because the word that Paul used there was a version of the word boasting that talked about what boasting is seeking. It’s a word that you could translate by saying, “I glory in something”. The idea of boasting is, I think that I have a glory and I want you to know about it so that you can see my glory and so let me tell you about it by bragging and boasting about it.
Here Paul uses a different word, it’s a word that doesn’t talk about what boasting is seeking to accomplish, gaining glory, it rather has to do what boasting really is. This is a word that means, very literally, wind bag. This is a word that deals with the emptiness of it. This is just hot air that you’re talking about when you’re bragging about yourself. Paul is saying love does not speak about itself in such a way, I don’t talk about myself if I am behaving in the way that love behaves.
Then as Paul continues there’s sort of a train of thought that we have to work to tease out. Boasting never comes from nowhere, right? You don’t just boast one day. Boasting is a fruit, an external action, that has its roots down in an internal sin. The internal sin is the next thing that Paul addresses where he says love is not arrogant. I’m never going to boast and want you to see my glory, unless I am particularly arrogant and conceited about my glory to share it with you.
Paul says that’s not the way love thinks about himself, love is not arrogant. One commentator writes, “Behind boastful bragging there lies conceit, an overestimation of one’s own importance, abilities, or achievements.”
Now we’ve seen this word arrogant before quite a few times, five times already in this book. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, and then again in 4:18-19, in 5:2, and in 8:1. Sometimes that word is translated arrogant, as it is here if you’re reading from the ESV, but other times this is the word puffed up. We’ve seen that word a lot, to be puffed up.
You might remember particularly 1 Corinthians 8:1 where Paul says that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The reason that’s important is because just a couple of verses earlier in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul wrote almost the same thing. He said
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
I can have all the knowledge, and therefore be puffed up with all the arrogance, and I can boast about it, but even so I’m nothing if I have not love.
So, these are the three verbs that Paul uses to talk about how love relates to me. Love does not envy, I don’t want for myself what you have. Love does not boast. Love is not arrogant.
In this next section we see another concept, not only is love directed toward me, but love by nature has to be directed toward you. How does love relate to you? So, in verse 5, Paul starts something of a new subsection where he talks about how love relates to others.
The first thing he says is love is not rude. Now this is a word that is probably under translated, it’s not strong enough for what it is. When we think about rudeness, we think about improper manners at the dinner table or something like that. Here the word has this idea of saying, if there’s a form or a pattern of how behavior should be either in small ways or in big ways, this is a word that means anything that is acting contrary to that pattern. It’s talking about anything contrary to the form or the fashion that’s supposed to be observed.
Now again Paul has used this word against the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:36. Paul addressed the issue that there were some in their community who thought they were spiritual by remaining unmarried. There were single people who were engaged, but thought they was super spiritual just to be engaged and not actually to marry. Paul says if you have rude passions, improper, unseemly passions toward your betrothed, it’s better for you to marry than to remain unmarried.
Elsewhere in Romans 1:27 Paul uses this word to describe homosexual activity. This word means anything that is contrary to the standard, whether a big standard or whether a small standard, anything contrary to the standard. While this word doesn’t appear in a couple of other contexts in 1 Corinthians, Paul almost certainly has them in mind. Think about in 1 Corinthians chapter five where Paul addressed the issue of a man who has his father’s wife. He doesn’t use the word rude there, but he talks about how unseemly and unfitting and improper it is and says and you’re arrogant and you’re boasting about it. Also, in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul talked about how dishonoring and disgraceful it was for men to pray and prophesy with covered heads in corporate worship, or for women to do so with uncovered heads.
Paul saying love is not rude. Now there’s a contrast in the way that I think about me. The way that Paul has just talked about love, that love doesn’t envy, love doesn’t boast, love isn’t arrogant, the point is that I don’t think about me. If I’m behaving in the way that love behaves, I’m not trying to sort of explore all of my glories so I can be proud of them and boast about them to you.
Love doesn’t think about me but on the contrast, and what Paul is getting at by this phrase, is that love does think about you. I may not worry too much if someone treats my glory lightly, I may be able to pass that by because of love. Yet if I’m acting in accordance with love, what I’m called to do is to think about you and your dignity as an image-bearer of God Almighty and to be given to thinking about how I can honor you and show you all due respect and consideration. Love doesn’t think about me, but love is obsessed with thinking about you.
Well Paul goes on, and again there’s a train of logic here, if love thinks about others instead of me that’s going to be naturally reflected in the way that I relate when we don’t see eye to eye on what to do. So, Paul goes on and says love does not insist on or seek its own way. Love does not insist on its own way.
Once again this is language that Paul used against the Corinthians, particularly when he was addressing them for eating meat sacrifice to idols. Even when they were scandalizing Christians who had been brought out of pagan contexts who had just gotten over meeting eat sacrifice to idols to come to Christ and here were Christians arrogantly doing this. Paul says you may have this knowledge, but knowledge puffs up. So instead in 1 Corinthians 10:24 Paul says you should try to edify your brother. He says let no one seek his own good, same language there, but the good of his neighbor.
Then a few verses later in 10:32-33 Paul commends his own example in the way that he does this. In this situation he says,
32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:32-33, ESV
Of course, this isn’t just Paul’s example, this is the example that’s laid down for us and commended to all of us in the actions of the Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in Philippians 2:3-5, Paul echoes this idea saying,
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Philippians 2:3-5, ESV
Well again Paul is continuing on his thought, he’s saying, “What if I am seeking my own way? Well what’s going to happen then if I struggle to gain my own way?” We live in a world where there are other sinful people who are also trying to get their own way. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, just look around, we’re all around you.
We also live in a world that’s filled with thorns and thistles that even if I’m given the green light to do exactly what I want to do, even if you’re helping me, well this is a world that’s broken, it doesn’t always work the way that it’s supposed to work. How do I react when I don’t get my own way?
The next thing Paul says is love is not irritable. When we struggle to gain what we want, do you become irritable? This one hits close to home for me. The humility of love isn’t constantly bothered when things don’t go my way, the humility of love on the other hand isn’t worried about it. I wanted this, I saw it, after this it was fine to seek after it but if it didn’t work out that’s fine. I actually see how this works better for you and I’m going to rejoice in that. That’s the attitude of love. Love is not irritable.
So, then again, the train of thought continues when I don’t get my own way, and it’s not just the thorns and thistles in life, it’s not just that I hit a red light on the traffic, it’s not just that COVID came up and ruined my plans. I’m actually looking at you and recognize that you are the one who has thwarted what I wanted to get. How do I respond to you?
So, Paul says next that love is not resentful, love keeps no record of wrongs. This is an accounting term, this is a term of keeping a careful ledger where you’re recording all of the debts that people have committed against you. The reason that you’re recording them is because you don’t want to forget them, because just like an accountant would, you expect that someday those debts to be paid in full one way or another. This means that love does not ruminate, it doesn’t stew, it doesn’t bitterly rehearse the wrongs that have been done to me.
The accounting of the Bible says we’re not called to count up the records of others wrongs against us. The same word also appears to describe the grace-based accounting system of the gospel that God does not count our wrongs against us in the next letter to the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul says,
19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV
Through Christ God is no longer counting our trespasses against us. Then one of my favorite verses on this is from Psalm 130:3-4,
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
Psalm 130:3-4, ESV
We’ve seen the way that love relates to self, to me. We’ve seen now the way that love relates to others, not rude, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it is not irritable, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Well in the final concept that Paul deals with in regard to the conduct of love, as we’re trying to follow his train of thought, I wonder if it isn’t that Paul is trying to avoid the idea that maybe this means that there are no standards at all. Maybe this means that love means going to grandma’s house for the weekend. I understand some of you are grandmothers in here, but I know the grandmothers in my life my grandmother, my parents as they treat our children, and at grandma’s house anything goes, up to a certain extent of course. That’s way farther than where the border needs to be.
So, this what happens in our culture, we think of love as this powerful force that actually pushes us to cross boundaries and when love forces us across boundaries. However sacrosanct those boundaries may be, that’s okay because you were following your heart, you were following love. Well Paul says no, that’s not what real love is. In verse 6 he deals with how love relates to truth.
So Paul says, “love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” Love does not carry us into error because real love despises error and rejoices in the truth. Now that’s a hard concept for us to understand, but it’s because we don’t really understand love or truth. We see these as forces that are opposed to one another, but in the Bible when we consider love and truth as aspects of the character of God, we come to recognize that God’s love is his truth and his truth is his love. You can’t pit God’s attributes against one another, like well God is fifty percent love and fifty percent truth, or maybe he’s sixty percent love and only forty percent truth or flip it however you want. God is his attributes.
Then in 1 John, the apostle John writes and says in 1 John 4:8-16 that God is love. Then a little bit later he says that God is true. In 1 John 5:20 he says
20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20, ESV
God is love and he is truth, and you can’t pit these against each other. True love loves truth and true truth loves love.
Well here we are, Paul has given us this broad-brush description of the character of love; patient and kind. Now he’s filled in more details about how love should relate to me, how love should relate to you, and how love should relate to the truth.
The Confidence of Love
Paul closes then on a note of confidence in the final verse, verse 7. In this section we see the confidence of love, the way that love relates to all things in this world. Paul starts off by saying that love bears all things. Now Paul had used again this word earlier in 1 Corinthians, he’s really riffing off of everything he’s written, he’s trying to show what love is and what is not by sort of integrating into this great chapter on love all of the pastoral issues he’s been dealing with. In this chapter he’s saying all of them find their answer in love.
One of the things that he had talked about was his own example of enduring anything rather than putting an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9:12 he was talking about doing without pay. He had a right to compensation, the right to be paid as a minister, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, but he did without it. This idea of bearing all things means that we must bear the minor troubles and difficulties in life, but of course there are more serious forms of suffering.
If you skip to the end of verse 7, Paul gets to this issue of more serious things. Not only does love bear all things, but love endures all things. This word for endure is the language of warfare, it’s the language of enduring an enemy assault. We bear minor troubles and difficulties in life, but we endure suffering and persecution.
Love both persists through pain and perseveres through persecution, but why is that the case? Why is love, and not grit or determination or knowledge, the point of all of this? Well it’s because of what Paul says in the middle. Paul sandwiches in the middle the answer to that question. Not only does love bear all things and endure all things, but love believes all things and hopes all things.
Now that doesn’t mean that love is naïve. Remember love loves truth and truth loves love, but it means that love is always trying to believe the best, love is trying not to be unduly suspicious it’s hoping for the best and not cynical or given over to despair. As love relates to people and is praying and seeking the ways in which the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform even the hardest hearted of sinners, while of course also not rejoicing in wrongdoing but rejoicing in the truth. Love has a character patient and kind. Love has a particular conduct and love has confidence as it relates to all things in this world.
Well how then do we apply this text? It’s such a great extraordinary list, what should we do with it?
1. Believe that God has first loved you. Our big idea is let us love one another as God has first loved us, so let’s start with the end of that idea, believe that God has first loved you. The world teaches that love is something that we must earn. Others will love you, the world tells us, if you first love them. Now there’s some truth to this, that we’re called to love others even when they haven’t necessarily done anything to deserve it.
When we bring that perspective to God, that I’ve got to prove myself, I’ve got to state my case before God, it sends us down one of two very destructive roads as we relate to seeking God’s love. Either we will be honest about ourselves and see in our life not just mistakes and flaws, I mean those sound not that bad not just mistakes and flaws, but sin and depravity. When we look at those things, we recognize these things are not good, I can’t earn my way to the love of God. Then we become cynical and we despair thinking how could God ever love me?
The other possibility is that we’re dishonest about it. Rather than honestly dealing with ourselves we dishonestly explain away our unworthiness. Of course, God would love me, my sin isn’t that bad, it doesn’t go that deep. Or looking at verses one through three, maybe we’ll try to talk our way out of real accountability for our sin by our eloquence. Maybe we’ll try to prove our worthiness by our great wisdom, knowledge, or deeds. Or maybe we’ll try to earn our worthiness by great sacrifice. Yet Paul said there that if we have that but have not love we have nothing.
Well, as opposed to those two disastrous options, the gospel gives us a glorious third option. It’s not a pathway of what you can do to earn the love of God, it is rather a promise that you can receive. The love of God that he freely, graciously offers to undeserving unworthy and depraved sinners like you and me is a grace that he offers freely and abundantly through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the son of God whom God offered up as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Will you trust in Jesus or will you trust in yourself for your salvation? Believe that God has first loved you.
2. Not only believe that God has first loved you, but number two therefore let us love one another. We talked a little last week about how our culture prizes confidence and we also prize achievements and we prize eloquence, we prize everything that the Corinthians did that we talked about in those first three verses.
I want you to think about the passage that we’ve just looked at in verses four through seven, and I want you to think about your own life, your own attitudes. Think about your own actions to people who differ from you, who have a different outlook on the hot button issues of the day on everything from coronavirus to racism, and including every difficult decision in your home, your church, your neighborhood, your school. your work.
How do you interact in those cases when you don’t agree? Do you think first of yourself, do you demand upon your own way, do you want to protect your image, your reputation and your respect? Love doesn’t envy, love doesn’t boast, love is not arrogant. Or do you think first about your neighbor? Are you concerned for all the dignity and consideration owed to your neighbor? Love is not rude. Or do you insist on your own way? Do you get irritable when you don’t get your own way? Do you keep a record of wrong by grudges, bitterness and plans for revenge?
What about the truth? Do you wink at wrongdoing, do you think it’s okay as long as you see there’s justification for love carrying you beyond the boundaries that are appointed by God? Love doesn’t justify falsehood, love rejoices in the truth.
The problem is as we hold ourselves up to this standard that Paul is giving us, about the way that love behaves, we see that our lives, our actions, and our attitudes don’t match with this. Then we’re left asking how do I grow, there is so much unlovingness in my heart?
3. Well this brings us to our third application, you and I need to cultivate the belief and the desire of the goodness of love as God defines it. See, we give love a lot of lip service and we know this because we’ll do a lot of lip syncing. Whenever these songs about love come onto the radio, they’re the catchy ones that we know, we think a lot about love. We have a working definition that we’re operating on as regards to love, but then we come to this passage and it’s supposed to reorient us and correct us and transform both our thinking and our desire.
God made us to be thinking creatures and desiring creatures and there’s no way of ignoring either side of this. You can’t live long term by trying to use your brain to shove down your desires and your emotions, eventually the power of your desires will burst out. On the other hand, there’s no way to overrule your brain by just trying to build up lots of big emotions in your life, eventually if you try to discount the use of truth you will become cynical about everything including truth itself.
Part of the challenge for overcoming any sin, and especially the sin of lovelessness with love being the chief virtue and lovelessness of pride especially being the chief sin, part of the challenge in overcoming any sin is to see the goodness of God’s commands. We see God saying all of these things and we can sort of address them as good from afar, but when push comes to shove in the moment, we don’t actually see these things as good for us. We don’t want what love behaves like as if portrayed in this passage, which is why we need God’s word.
God’s word is given to us as the most important resource for renewing our minds, that’s why we went through word by word in this passage to understand what Paul was saying and what it means for us. We’re not just reading this to check it off and to move on to the next passage. We are reading this because we need God’s word to reshape and retrain and renew our minds so that we see good as God sees good, we value what he values, we think what he thinks.
In the moment when you’re confronted with someone or something that you disagree with, do you believe that love is better than being right? Do you believe that love is better than protecting your rights? Do you believe that love is better than protecting what you stand to gain or to lose in a situation?
If we truly believe that love was best, then we’d be a lot more willing to do it because what we believe is connected to what we want.
What then about what we want? I can see that love is good, I recognize it that doesn’t mean that I necessarily want it. How do we go from just thinking something to wanting something? We have to deal with our underlying sin, the sin of selfishness, the sin that’s so deceitful that’s just churning up arrogance and puffed up pride, spilling out and boasting spew on everyone around us. The problem is that when we look at the loveless things, we do we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Jeremiah 17:9 says,
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9, ESV
Well in the very next verse the Lord answers the question.
10 “I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:10, ESV
God’s spirit, through prayer, is your most important resource for transforming your heart. God promises that he will reshape not only your mind but your heart, that he will put your desires in the right order that they ought to be. He promises that he’ll lead you beyond simply recognizing that something is good and actually wanting it, even when it leads you to sacrifice and hardship and even death itself. Because the Holy Spirit gives you the same love that our Lord Jesus had for you and me, and the same Lord Jesus has sent his Spirit to fill our hearts with that love to transform us from the inside out. Brothers and sisters God has first loved us, therefore let us love one another.
Let’s pray. Lord, this is such a hard passage because we are such loveless people. We really do want our own more than we want anything for anyone else. Forgive us Father for the sin of lovelessness, forgive us for what we want so selfishly. We pray that you would train our minds to love the good as you have defined it, to rejoice in truth. We pray also that you would train our hearts to desire, not enviously but to earnestly desire, to love and serve those around us so that we would be shaped into conformity with your glorious son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.