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The Necessity of Love : 1 Cor.13:1-3 (TNIV)
by Dr Alex Tang
The exercise of spiritual gifts without agape-love causes us to produce, become and receive nothing of value.
If I speak in human and of angelic tongues,
but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a
If I have the gift of prophecy and
can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and
if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but have not love,
I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and
give my body to hardship that I may boast,
but have not love,
I gain nothing.
I. Introduction and Context of 1 Cor.13
The Iliad by Homer is a
classic story about the Trojan wars. It was about a 10 years siege of
In the same way, the Corinthian church has a lot of talents, wealth and spiritual gifts. Like Achilles, they are heroes. They are spiritual heroes with their spiritual gifts. They are mighty in power. Unfortunately they were selfish, self-willed, self-seeking and were doing everything to promote themselves. They have the spiritual gifts but they do not have love. That’s why Paul has to write 1 Cor. 13. Chapter 12 deals with the different types of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church and chapter 14 deals with how to use these gifts. But Paul has to insert in chapter 13 to show them a more excellent way to use their gifts. There is nothing wrong with spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by God. Paul wants to show the Corinthian church a more excellent way to use their spiritual gifts. And this more excellent way is love.
II. The Meaning of Love.
Unlike the English language, New Testament Greek has four words for love. They are agape, eros, philos and stergos.
a. Agape. Agape is the word Paul used in 1 Cor. 13. Agape is a word that means ‘an ultimate act of self-sacrifice’. It is used to describe the ultimate act of self-sacrificing oneself for someone else’s good. It describes an action, not a feeling. Agape love is not romantic love. It is not a feeling that drives you to do something. It is act of will to action. Agape love makes you act even though you do not feel like it. For example, you are walking out of church and you see the wallet fall out of someone’s pocket. And you hate that person. So why should you pick up that wallet and call to that person to stop. Why not leave it there or let someone pick it up? Good riddance and serve him right for dropping his wallet. But you have agape love, so even though you hated the act, you call out to that person and stoop to pick up that wallet for him. That what Jesus meant when he said in Matt ,55
44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
It takes agape love to our enemies and prays for them. Our instinct is to hate them and cause them harm. Why use agape love? Because we are sons and daughters of God.
b. Eros refers to the physical attraction between a man and woman on a sexual level. It is deeply emotional. It is the Song of Solomon which half the people don’t understand and the other half is embarrassed about it.
c. Philos refers to the love or regard with affections. Friends can have philos love. It also can be used to indicate affections for things and other objects. The work philosophy comes from philo (love of) and Sophia (wisdom). This is the most commonly used word for love in the New Testament and usually have no religious connotations.
d. Stergos is used for the love between parents and their children. It is also used for the love of the people for their rulers or the love of a dog for its master. Of the four expression of love, stergos is the least commonly used.
We have to be clear that Paul used the agape expression of love for this chapter. He is talking about self-sacrificial love. This is the most excellent way he is introducing to his hearers with regards to spiritual gifts.
III. Tongues Without Love is Nothing (v.1)
Paul started with tongues because the gift of tongue is so obvious. Either you have it or you don’t. Of course you can pretend to have it. But it will be obvious to everyone soon that you really have the gift of tongues or you are faking it. The word ‘tongues’ or glossa in the New Testament can be translated as languages.
We find the first occurrence of ‘tongues’ in Acts 2:1-3 AC 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Note that in the following verses, other people can understand that they what they are saying in their own language. This means that ‘tongues’ in Acts 2 are in human language. But Paul also mention in 1 Cor. 12:10 that there are other kinds of tongues and also the gift of interpretation of tongues. The other tongues may be of angelic languages, therefore not intelligible to us. Hence the need for the gift of interpretation.
There is a strong temptation to feel that because you have the gift of tongue, you are more ‘spiritual’ that one that does not have the gift of tongue. Those who speak in tongues are first class Christians. Those who cannot speak in tongues are second class. Paul is pointing out the temptation of pride.
Another temptation is that
those who are gifted with language can use language to manipulate a crowd.
Many powerful leaders are great orators: Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler,
Mao Tze Tung and Mahathir. They can use their language and public speaking
skills to sway the crowd. It is said of Jonathan Edwards, a
Paul pointed that if it is done without agape love, then all this gift of language is nothing and the speaker is like an empty gong. Sounding and disturbing the silence but putting nothing in its place. ‘If I speak in human and of angelic tongues but do not use it in a self-sacrificial way for the good of others, I am like an empty gong’.
IV. Prophecy Without Love is Nothing (v.2a)
Paul next pinpoints the gift of prophecy. This is another prominent gift. Prophets tend to be in the limelight. They are out there in front. People look to them to hear the voice of God. Paul told the Corinthians that if you should ask for a gift, ask for the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is foretelling and forth telling. Prophecy is speaking the voice of God. But then again, using the gift without agape love is nothing.
Balaam was a prophet in the Old Testament Num.24:15,16 NU 24:15 Then he uttered his oracle: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,16 the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:’ Now that’s a prophet. But he did not use his gift well. He did not have agape love for his people. See what happened in Num 31:16a "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD’. Balaam sold out his people to the Moabites. Even his ass is a better prophet that him!
Compare this to another
prophet, Jeremiah. He also received the gift of prophecy. He spoke the word
of the Lord truthfully. But nobody listened to him. They tried to get him to
shut. They tied him up, lock him up and threw him down a well. That did not
shut Jeremiah because he has agape love for the people of
V. Knowledge Without Love is Nothing (v.2b)
Next Paul commented on the gift of knowledge. At that time, the teachers, scribes and rabbis were very well respected because of their knowledge. Even at that time knowledge was power. So especially if you have the gift of knowledge. Then God will let you understand some of his mysteries and you have all knowledge. Knowledge is power. How many of we dare to argue with a pastor? How many of us dare to argue with a theologian from a seminary? These guys have all these years of theological training and know how to cross their tee in Hebrew and dot their iota in Greek. They should know everything, right? Their knowledge should be used to make the church better. Unfortunately a lot of the knowledge that comes out of the seminary has confused the church. Scholastic tools like higher criticism and deconstructions actually caused a lot of damage to the church. That led to liberalism and not taking the Bible seriously. The Bible is said to be a book of myths and stories and not to be taken seriously. Another group is currently leading a controversy called open theology. They said that the future is open because it as not happened yet and even God does not know what will happen. If knowledge is for enhancing one’s standing in the academic community or making a name for oneself, then it is of no use because it does not benefit anyone but oneself. If the knowledge that comes out of PhD thesis cannot be used to help the church then it is useless. There are thousands and thousands of PhD theses in the universities and seminaries. Very few are useful enough to be used at the church level. What is the motive behind this? For love of self or love of the church?
VI. Faith Without Love is Nothing (v.2c)
Now Paul comes to another powerful gift. One that is desired by all but received by few. From the prominent gifts, Paul is moving to the inner gifts. A faith in God strong enough to move mountains. It’s the type of faith expressed in prayer that releases God’s power.
Matt. He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. " Now many people are confused by this verse. They have never seen people move mountains except by bulldozers. Jesus is not talking about moving mountains literally.
John MacArthur, a well know Bible teacher describe such faith as “if you have faith that never doubted God or even had a tinge of question; if you were such a rock that nothing was impossible for you to believe. Nothing brought a question to your mind, nothing was a cause for doubt; and … if you never shook, never wavered in anything and never questioned God”. Wow. What a Christian. Then he added, “without love, you’d be a nothing”. That really shook me.
VII. Benevolence Without Love is Nothing (v.3a)
Love is self-sacrificing
but not all self-sacrificing is love. There are a lot of people out
there who are living and giving sacrificially. In the recent tsunami crisis
Some Christian who gives and does charity work did it, not because of love but out of a sense of obligation. We feel we must do some community work. So we look around for where the need is. And there are always a lot of needs. Then we jumped into the work because of a sense of obligation. Paul said that’s not enough. Without love, all charity work is nothing.
VIII. Asceticism Without Love is Nothing (v.3b)
There are others who subject themselves to the spiritual disciplines for spiritual formation. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, study of the word, fasting, simple lifestyle, solitude and silence are good tools. They can be considered the means of grace. But if it is done as an obligation, as a means of boasting, as an ‘upmanship’ or as a way to manipulate God, then it is nothing. I was reading the journal of a person who went on a spiritual retreat recently. This is a silent retreat so everyone is to keep silent and not allowed to talk. On morning, he said he was walking along a path when one lady walked into him and rudely pushed him aside. Then she just walked on. He then reflected that even if she is not supposed to talk, the least she can do is to look at him and apologizes with a gesture. One can do spiritual disciplines without love.
IX. The Necessity of Love
What Paul is emphasizing to the Corinthians and to us is that languages or prophecy or knowledge or faith or benevolence or asceticism without love means nothing. It doesn’t matter what the Corinthians did. If they do it without love, it means nothing. It doesn’t matter what you does. If you do it without love, it means nothing. Or to put it another way:
v.1 The person without agape-love produces nothing of value.
v.2 The person without agape-love is himself or herself of no value.
v.3 The person without agape-love receives nothing of value.
Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to each members of the church to be used to build up the church. But there is only one way to use these spiritual gifts. It is with be used with self-sacrificing live for the common good. Spiritual gifts are abused the moment we use it for our own selfish ends. Let us now ask the Holy Spirit to help us examine our hearts and see what motives we have in our service for the Lord. We are all called to serve the Lord-whether at home, in our workplace or in church. And we are all given spiritual gifts to perform our roles. How do we use these gifts? Do we have agape love for other people? If not, pray. Ask the Lord to fill you with his agape-love until it overflows into agape-love for others.
Soli Deo Gloria
"treat, heal, and comfort always"
"spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"
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