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The Character of Love
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
May 12, 2019

What is love?…

  • One cartoon explained it this way: “Love is what one feels when one meets a person who has a very profound impact upon one, and meets all of one’s psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs.…It’s either that, or, when one’s heart goes pitter-patter.”
  • “Infatuation is when you think that he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Stephen Hawking, as noble as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as funny as Robin Williams, and as athletic as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Love is when you realize he’s as sexy as Stephen Hawking, as smart as Arnold Schwarzenegger, as funny as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as athletic as Robin Williams, and nothing at all like Robert Redford, but you love him anyway.” [Tim Hansel]
  • “Parties in ‘love’ are those parties to a relationship who consider themselves engaged in the highest level of emotional intimacy attainable and who generally presume that such state will continue indefinitely.” [Ruben & Heller’s mocking definition, quoted in Carter, Integrity, 125.]
  • In the movie, “Love Story,” the character played by Ali MacGraw tells the character played by Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” As a side note, it is interesting that just two years later in the movie “What’s Up, Doc?” Barbara Streisand says the same thing to O’Neal (playing a different character) and he replies, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
  • Stendhal in his 1822 treatise on love wrote, “Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will.”
  • A few years ago, researchers at the University of Colorado found that the word “love” has reached an all-time low in Top-40 songs. One music publisher explains the change this way:  “The use of the word sex or sexy is just a replacement for love.  Kids think it means the same thing.”

Whatever else is said about love, most people think believe love is natural for us.  We fall into love and we know what love is and does.  A new husband knows how to love, and a wife knows how to love.  And certainly the most natural thing in the world is for a mother to love her children.  There is no love, most people would say, like a mother’s love for her children.  It is pure, sweet, and natural.  But those explanations of love demonstrate that it is neither natural nor understood

Scripture also tells us that both husbands and wives must be told to love each other and learn to love each other (because they don’t know they should love and they don’t know how).  Why else does Scripture say:

  • “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.” (Eph. 5:25, 28)
  • “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands…” (Tt. 2:3–4)

And Scripture also tells us that it is not natural for a mother to love her children; it is a learned responsibility, and the best place to learn how to love is in the context of the church body (and not the family), which is why Scripture says this:

  • “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,” (Tt. 2:3–4; my emphasis)

Scripture says these things because it is not natural for anyone to love anyone else (except himself or herself).  So it is fitting on this Mother’s Day to be reminded what love is and what love does.  To do that, I want to turn to the most well-known section in Scripture on the topic of love, 1 Corinthians 13, and remind us what love is and does.  It is fitting as we turn to this section to be reminded that this is not a marriage text.  It is not a family text.  It is not a wedding text.  It certainly has application to those settings, but this is fundamentally a church text.  This passage is about how members in the church body love one another.  Chapter 12 is about the use of spiritual gifts in the church body and chapter 14 also is about how to use spiritual gifts; so chapter 13 is about church relationships and how love is the motive and guiding force behind how we use our spiritual gifts and how we relate to one another in the church body.  So we learn how to love in the church, and then having learned how to love in the church body, we use those same principles in our workplace and neighborhoods and in our marriages and homes.

So on this Mother’s Day, this is not a sermon for mothers only; this is a message for all of us.  We all need to learn to love, and what we find in this passage should guide all our relationships, especially our relationships in the body of Christ.

What does this passage teach us about love?

To love is to think and act to the benefit of another because we have been loved by God.

 In 15 descriptive words, this passage reveals four over-arching traits or characteristics of love:

  1. The Nature of Love (v. 4a)
  2. The Limitations of Love (vv. 4b-6)
  3. The Extent of Love (v. 7)
  4. The End of Love (v. 8)

Download the rest of this sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

The audio will be posted on the GBC website by tomorrow.