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Jul 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 24, 2010

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

INTRO: Thinking about tonight’s talk has been bugging me all week
If I had to identify a reason why . . .
 – probably because I think of love as other-centered
 – and love isn’t lazy
So I come up against my own self-centeredness and laziness
 – in all sincerity, I wish I could just say, “Follow Barbara for a week”
– you would see care for others and selfless service in action
If you can forgive me for not being a better example,
 – we can explore what God wants to reveal to us in this verse
 – just remember, I am with you as a student in training, not an expert

Verse 13, The High Point of the Chapter

Paul set the whole chapter in a frame (or “envelope,” the technical term is inclusio)

This is a literary technique a writer uses to separate a text from what comes before it and what follows 
 – the same thought, phrase, or word appears at the beginning and end of the envelope
 – everything in between the beginning and end have to do with the thought, phrase, or word
Think of it this way: You write out a few related ideas on a piece of paper and then draw a circle around them
 – the circle begins and ends at the same place (thought) which holds the circle together like a clasp holds a bracelet
 – the beginning and ending thought sheds light on all the other thoughts in the circle
 – it is the theme that ties them altogether

In this case, the last verse of chapter 12 and the first verse of chapter 14 provide the frame for chapter 13

But earnestly desire the greatest gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. (12:31)
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts . . . (14:1)

  • “Way” – road or it can also refer to how you go about getting somewhere
  • “Pursue” is a strong word that in the New Testament is most frequently translated “persecute”

So what is the point Paul makes with this frame or envelope? 
The “way” relates to “pursue” and both have to do with love
– “desire earnestly” spiritual gifts speaks for itself
The way of the Christian life is love, so follow the way of love in everything
 – we’re in a community that God embodies and through which he works in the world
 – love proivdes the only way for the community to function and fulfill its destiny

Inside the frame, Paul amplifies the message of love:
Verses 1-3: We can have programs, spiritual gifts, ministries, and events, but without love we’re passing around empty shells
Verses 4-7: What does love look like?
Verses 8-12: A property of love that makes it unique (it “never fails”)

Now we come to the top of the staircase: In ranking Christian virtues, love is the “greatest”

What Does this Mean and Why Is It Important?

I don’t know . . . but,
 -nowhere does the Bible say, “God is faith” – faith is human, it’s something we have and that we put in God
 – the Bible says Jesus is our hope, but that is not the same as saying, “God is hope” – unlike love, hope does not constitute an element of God’s nature
 – and one day hope will come to an end in its fulfillment

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Ro. 8:24-25)

The Bible does say, “God is love” – love is the greatest in the triad, because love is divine

  • Love is the virtue most closely aligned with God himself
     – not only something we place in God, but we also find it in him
     – he has revealed himself to us as love (1 Jn. 4:16)
  • We can place our faith and hope in God, because God is love
     – that he is love is the ground of our faith and hope

When we aspire to love, we aspire to God himself
So, whatever other virtue, attribute, or acheivement to which we could desire in our spiritual quest, love is the greatest

Is This A Complete List?

What about reverence? “The fear of the LORD is beginning of wisdom”
Or truth, joy, goodness, beauty?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . (Gal. 5:22)

 – “fruit” is singular—we can imagine that it represents a category
 – perhaps Paul considered faith, hope and love to stand for three main categories – like the three primary colors

But the letter to Galatians brings up another facet of love that is crucial to both how we understand love and experience it

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. . . . But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. . . . If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25)

I’m going to quote myself again – this came out of my meditation on Galatians 3 a couple of weeks ago

What is the fascination with the Law that draws believers to it, even though it condemns us and never did anything to mend our relationship with God, draw us close to him, or help us walk with him? And it is not really the Law that’s the problem–for it, after all, is a revelation and a gift. Rather it is our thinking that growth in Christ is meritorious in nature and therefore depend on us conforming to a specific code.

The alternatives:

  1. I schedule an appointment to meet with God on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00. The meeting will last one hour. I arrive on time to demonstrate my respect for him. I would never think of missing or cancelling this appointment.
  2. I wake up to God on Tuesday morning, smile and greet him, for he is always with me. We do not run or measure our relationship by the clock. We love each other and enjoy being together. We spend the whole day taking care of whatever needs to be done, pausing now and then to look at each other

Paul introduces the basic tension that pulls at Christians and is a central theme in this letter: the Spirit versus the flesh. Interestingly, the flesh is associated with the Law while the Spirit is associated with the promise and faith “in Christ Jesus,” by whom the promise comes to us.

Spirit is life, invisible motion, breathing divine energy into the inner person. The Law is forced motion, robotic and mechanical, caging (or killing) life, and draining energy from the inner person. The Law creates anxiety, “Have I done enough?” The Spirit is peace: He has done it all. The Lwa sets me to work to earn, accomplish, achieve. The Sprit inspires me to work wiht such joy I am not even aware of the fact that I am working.

Christian love is something the Spirit produces in us
 – it is a reflection of God’s love and is a response to it
 – it is not naive (Php. 1:9, abound in “knowledge and discernment”)
“Liberal” love tends to be naive – for example, the Fed’s bank bailout money
 – it overlooks the fall and its consequences to the human ego

This Raises A Few Troubling Questions About Love

What is love?
A feeling or emotion? An action (something I do)? An attitude?
Or do I define it psychologically: “Extension of ego boundaries?”
How do I live it?
Do I love everyone with the same type of love?
Is it alright for me to love some people more than others?

It can quickly become very complicated

The answer: John 13

  • notice all the verbs in verses 4-5 – love is very active
  • an example of serving others
  • an example of humility in relating to others
  • a benediction on them if they follow his example (v. 17)
  • and a new commandment (vv. 34-35)

We learn love through looking at God
Specifically, Jesus

  • he didn’t put up with nonsense
  • he did what was best for their spiritual development without ignoring their physical needs
  • he found that loving some people put him in conflict with others

CONC: It’s natural that ego would be at center of human love
We learn it as infants

  • to be loved is to learn that
     – we matter to someone
     – we are accepted
     – we’re cared for
     – we’re helped—a need is met
  • so when we go looking for love, this is what we look for

Our love begins with attraction – how well this person is suited to meet the needs we bring with us

God’s love for us does not begin with attraction
In fact, God doesn’t go looking for an object to love, he creates it

When the Spirit brings God’s love into our lives–and that is the love we begin to reflect–
 – it stops being about attraction for us too
 – only, in our case we do not create the object of our love, rather, we discover the object God has created
and we do this by looking at others through his eyes

The more we open our inner life to God, the more we become open to his love
The Spirit is developing and deepening God’s love in you
 – so you are going to find yourself faced with opportunities
 – and you’re going to find yourself loving others, because that is the path of Christian growth

When that happens, be present to the moment – be aware that you are there precisely for that moment
That you are there, loving another, as the representative of Jesus

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn. 13:35)

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