Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
The Portrait of Love, Part One
By Dr Alex Tang
Text: 1 Cor.13: 4-7
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (TNIV)
A portrait is a painting of a person. A portrait is different from a photograph. A digital photograph captures an image by the use of light and electronics. It captured exactly what the eye sees. A portrait on the other hand is hand painted by an artist. The image of the portrait though has a likeness of the person, also contain the artist’s interpretation of the person. It is said that a good portrait shows the character of a person. It may be good or bad character flaws but it shows us as we look at a completed portrait. Oscar Wilde wrote a powerful story, The Picture of Dorian Grey. Dorian was a vain young man who made a pact with the devil. He has his portrait painted. All the evil that he does will be reflected in the portrait while he retains his youthful and innocent look. As the story goes, the more evil he becomes, the uglier his portrait becomes. Dorian was afraid to look at his own portrait, to see who he really is. He was finally destroyed when he was forced to see his own portrait and faced the ugly reality of his own evil.
In the last sermon, The Necessity of Love, we have seen Paul commenting on the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church has many spiritual gifts and they are able to make powerful use of these gifts. But instead of using these gifts for the building up of the church which these gifts are for, they were more interested in the gifts themselves. They used these gifts to make themselves more superior in the church. Those who have the gift of tongues deem themselves better than those who do not speak in tongues. Similarly those who has the gift of prophecy, of knowledge, of faith, of giving and of sacrifice deem themselves better than others who do not have these gifts. Paul however taught that these gifts without agape-love produces, become and gain nothing (13:1-3). Agape-love is a self sacrificing love that acts for the good of others. To further illustrate the point of agape-love, Paul goes ahead in verse 4-7 to paint of a portrait of what a person who has agape –love look like. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. So Paul in using a word picture paints the portrait of Love himself so that we can both understand and see what agape-love is. As you would have guessed, this is a portrait of Jesus Christ who is God and God is agape-love. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Here is where you are now. Nothing you do with your spiritual gifts matters because you do not have agape-love. Just so you understand what agape-love is, I am going to draw you a picture.”
2. The Painting of Portrait of Love
As we look at the various description of agape-love, notice one thing. It is not a theological statement but a behavioural statement. The entire description of agape-love is based on behaviour. Here Paul describes agape-love by giving us 15 behaviour patterns that a person with agape-love will do.
1) Love is patient, (v.4a)
Love is patient. In the Greek, it is makrothumeo which means ‘to be long tempered’. It describes people with ‘long fuse’. It is used again and again in the New Testament to describe patience with people. It is not used in reference to circumstances or life opportunities or events. It is only used in relationships with people. Chrysostom, an Early Church Father said, “It is the word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in is power to avenge himself but will never do it.’ That’s the word used of a man who is wronged but never take revenge.
Do you know that patience is such a unique behaviour in the Greco-Roman world that they could not believe someone could practice this. Achilles in the Iliad by Homer is considered by the Greeks to be a hero because he would not bear any insults and would retaliate at the slightest provocation. Not to retaliate is a sign of weakness. According to the Greeks, you are a big man if you really whacked away at your enemies. The Chinese also respect patience. In most Chinese Kung Foo movies especially Wong Fei Hong, the hero usually was very patient when insulted. He would bear insults after insults until at the end of the movie, he reaches the end of his endurance and whacked everybody. And is it so in the modern world, you show people who you are if you react with aggression and retaliate. Do let anyone get away with anything. “Don’t get angry, get even”. That’s heroism to us, but God’s agape-love shows a different behaviour. Agape-love does not retaliate.
Jesus Christ was accused unjustly, beaten and whipped and dragged in humiliation through Jerusalem. Then while dying and hanging the cross, you know what he said? He did not say, “Damn you all to hell!” as Charleston Heston said in the movie Ben Hur. Jesus Christ said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”(Lk 23:34a). Agape-love is patient.
Abraham Lincoln made a lot of friends but also a lot of enemies. One of them is Stanton. Stanton hated Abraham Lincoln. He called Abraham Lincoln the ‘original gorilla’. He said publicly that it is not necessary for people to go to Africa to see a hairy gorilla because they can easily find one in Springfield, Illinois. He was very bitter towards Abraham but Abraham never said a word in reply to all of Stanton’s attack. When Abraham Lincoln became president, to the surprise of all, he appointed Stanton to be war minister for the United States Cabinet. When asked, Abraham replied that Stanton was the best man for the job. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Stanton was standing before the cold body, he said, “There lies the greatest ruler of man the world has ever seen”. Stanton never accepted Abraham’s politics but he could not resist the non-retaliating spirit of the man. Agape-love is patient.
2) love is kind.(v.4b)
Kindness is the flip side of patience. Patience endures the injuries of others but kindness pays them back with good deeds. Patient says, “I’ll take anything from my enemies.” Kindness says. “I’ll do anything for my enemies to meet their needs”. In the Greek, the word for kindness is “useful”.
In Matt. 11:29-30, Jesus said, “Take My Yoke upon you, and learn of Me… For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The word ‘easy’ in the Greek is the same word as ‘kind’ in 1 Cor.13. Jesus is saying that ‘follow me and I will be kind to you’.
Two men were going in opposite direction on a very narrow mountain trail until they meet each other head on. There was not enough room to them to squeeze around without falling. And it is too far for one of them to move backwards. Suddenly, without a word, one of the man lie down flat on the trail so that the other man can step on him to continue on his way. Agape-love is kind. It doesn’t mind being stepped upon if it is going to benefit someone else.
With agape-love described as patient and kind, Paul is saying to the Corinthian church, “If you will only use your spiritual gifts in a non-retaliating self sacrificial manner, returning kindness instead of avenging yourself, then your spiritual gifts may mean something.”
3) It does not envy,(v.4c)
Another word for envy is jealous. The Greek word for envy means ‘to boil’. It refers to the inner boiling, seething or steaming over something someone has and you do not. The Corinthian are envious of each other’s spiritual gifts. There are two types of envy:
(a) superficial envy – “I want what you have”
(b) deep-rooted envy- “I wish you didn’t have it”.
The first type of envy is wanting what someone else has, but the second type is resenting that they have it. Deep envy is not just that you want something, it also mean that if you do not have it, you don’t not want anyone else to have it too. It is real mean.
Jesus Christ said in John 8:50a “I seek not my own Glory but that of My Father..” There is no envy in agape-love. There is no envy in Jesus because he is not self-seeking. He is only seeking to glorify His heavenly father.
The devil was crossing a desert came across a group of demons who was trying to cause an old hermit to sin. This saintly hermit has taken his vows very seriously, left everything he had behind and came to the desert to live alone and pray. The demons have tried in all sort of ways to tempt the old man but was not successful. The demons told the devil they were not able to tempt this holy man. The devil smiled and whispered something in the old hermit’s ear. Instantly a look of malignant jealously crossed his face. What did you tell him, the demons wanted to know. The devil said, “I told him that his brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria”.
4) it does not boast,(v.4d)
The Greek word for boast is ‘windbag’. Agape-love is not a windbag. Agape-love is not always shooting of its mouth about its own accomplishment. Instead of singing ‘How Great Are Thou’, it is singing ‘How Great I Am’. Agape-love is not ceaseless baseless chatter designed to make me better than you and make you look small.
Again you see a pairing here. Envy is wanting something other people have that you do not have. Boasting is making other people want what you have. It is to make you stand out and make others feel inferior to you.
Want to know a test for boastfulness. Listen to your own conversation. Who is the topic of your conversation? Then you will know if you are indeed boastful if your conversation is all about you. As Rick Warren stated in his Purpose Driven Life program, ‘it’s not about you’.
If anyone has something to boast, it must Jesus Christ. Son of God, God Himself. Yet we never hear Jesus boasting. His words have always been encouraging. His words were to heal and not tear down another’s ego. In John 12:50, Jesus said, “I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." Here is agape-love speech. This are not the words of a man boasting. Jesus is saying that whatever He says come from the Father.
5) it is not proud. (v.4e)
The Corinthian church is very proud, it is proud about
Their biblical knowledge: their teachers were Apollos, Paul, Cephas (1 Cor.4:18; 8:1)
Sexual accomplishments (1 Cor. 5:1)
Their spiritual status (1 Cor. 4:6-10)
Their Spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12)
The wisdom literature is full of warning about pride.
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.
Notice that the previous attributes of non agape-love hurt other or damage others, pride hurt ourselves and damage our souls. Lucifer was one of the archangels, one of the greatest angels created by God. He is called the Angel of Light. And light is associated with God who drove away the darkness. Yet he rebelled against God because of his pride.
Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus, the rabbi doing such a menial job of washing his students’ feet. I can understand Peter’s reluctance to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus lowering himself down to the level of a servant. The King of kings. God Himself. Yet this is a demonstration of agape-love. There is no place for pride in agape-love.
William Carey was one of the greatest missionaries. He translated the Bible into 34 Indian languages. William started life as a cobbler and because of his humble background, find it difficult to be accepted by the higher society of the British in India (including other missionaries) and the Indian higher caste. At one dinner party, a snob said, “I hear, Mr.Carey that you once worked as a shoemaker?” It is a reflection of William’s character and humility that he did not respond to the slight but answered, “Oh no, your Lordship, not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.”
6) It does not dishonour others, (v.5a)
In the NIV, it was translated ‘rude’. In the Greek ‘rude’ is translated as ‘to behave in an unbecoming manner.’ It refers to poor manners-rudeness. Now, why would agape-love be concerned with rudeness. The reason is that rudeness dishonour others. Rudeness says. “I can behave anyway I want and I could not care less about what you think. I could not care less whether my behaviour affects you or not.” Rudeness is very self-centered. That’s why it is incompatible with agape-love.
The Corinthian church was very rude, dishonouring each other by
The love feast-they were very rude. They came to the love feast and ate all their own food before those who had none came. They overindulged.
The Lord’s Table-their behaviour at Holy Communion was so bad that they got drunk because they keep taking the cup.
The women- they have overstepped the cultural propriety of their times by not wearing veil and usurping the role of men in the church.
Tongue speakers- they were causing so much confusion by showing off their spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.
Paul pointed out that agape-love is concern about others and respecting others. Rudeness means there is no respect for another person.
If our behaviour is different when we are with our boss and when we are with someone whom we regard to be at an inferior status to us, then we are rude . We are rude because we do not respect persons but status. That is not agape-love. One of my favourite scenes from the movie musical, My Fair Lady staring Harrison Rex and Katherine Hepburn, was when someone complained that Professor Higgins (Harrison Rex) treated Elisa Dolittle, a flowergirl, badly. Higgins, a self-centered rich man was confused. What’s wrong with that, he mused. I treated everybody the same. I treated even a duchess like a flowergirl.
Jesus on the other hand, treated everyone the same- the rich and poor, the unrighteous and the righteous, the pillars of society and the prostitutes. He spoke to a Samaritan woman and asked for a drink of water at the well. That’s unusual because
Jews regard Samaritans as half breed and contaminated-both spiritually and physically
Jews would not drink water drawn by a Samaritan
Jewish men do not speak to Samaritan women
Coming out in the mid-day means that woman is of questionable moral character.
Yet Jesus spoke to her and told her that he is the Messiah. Please note that the first time Jesus admitted Himself to be the long awaited Messiah is not to his disciples, the religious Pharisees and priest but to a Samaritan woman of questionable moral character. This is agape-love. It is not rude or dishonouring to others.
7) it is not self-seeking, (v.5b)
In other Bible translation, love is not ‘selfish’ or ‘seeketh not its own’. The Corinthian church is extremely selfish. This is seen in the way they used their spiritual gifts to edify themselves. Instead of using their spiritual gifts for others, they are using it to individually build themselves up. This is especially true of the gift of tongues. Agape-love is not selfish. This means it is not self-centered but other people centered. It is more concern about other people’s welfare than its own welfare. In Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, A friend of Sydney Carton was captured and was about to be executed in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. He was about to be guillotined. Sydney went to Paris and took the place of his friend and was executed. You want to know more, read the book. That’s agape-love. A love that is self-giving, not self-centered. A love that will give his or her life for another when necessary.
Jesus is the perfect of example of the love that is not self seeking or selfish. Matthew 20:28 “ just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The Son of God come as a servant and to serve unselfishly even until the death. Jesus came to give His life. He is here on earth to be the ultimate sacrifice. And to be sacrificed is to die. Now, that’s agape-love.
8) it is not easily angered, (v.5c)
The Greek word for easily angered is paroxuno. It is the word from which we get the word paroxysm. It means ‘a sudden outburst’. This means agape-love is not like a volcano-boiling inside and liable to a sudden eruption. It is not irritable and get angry easily. Some of us walk around like a porcupine. Anything that irritate us and suddenly the spikes goes up. “Good morning” “What! What’s so good about this morning? You trying to be funny?” I used to work for a boss like this. He has a very irritable personality and very easily angered. Then he will take it out on his junior doctors. During the ward rounds, he will find faults. We have a series of code which we always ask his secretary because she will be the first person to meet him in the morning. The secretary will send us the weather report: rainy, stormy and typhoon. At typhoon, we will all run for shelter and I will volunteer for something that gets me out of the ward round!
Does this means a Christian cannot get angry? Didn’t Jesus get a little bit angry when He cleansed the Temple? Didn’t Martin Luther get a little bit angry when he nailed his Ninety-five theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg? Actually you cannot be a good Christian unless you have a little anger. You have to be angry at Satan. You have to angry with the flesh or old nature which keep tempting you to sin. You have to be angry at all the injustice in the world that is corrupting God’s creation. You have to be angry at how people are twisting God’s truth. This is called righteous anger. And agape-love is righteous anger.
But agape-love is not self-centered anger. This is the anger that says. “I want my way and I want it the way I want it. I want it now. And if you do not do it the way I want it, I’m going to hurt you.” You know why we are angry so much of the time? That’s because we think of ourselves all the time. We are constantly getting angry because we are not getting what we want and the way we want it. We want our rights. You were driving along and suddenly someone cut into your lane. What is your reaction? Do you get angry and horned the driver? Why? Because that’s your space and he or she has taken it. It is your right to be driving in this lane. William Barclay said, “There are in this world only two kinds of people: those who are continually thinking of their rights and those who are continually thinking of their duties.” Our duty is to agape-love.
It is astonishing to note that aside from the incident of the cleansing of the temple, the gospel never mentioned about Jesus losing His temper. Even when one of His disciple, Judas was betraying Him, he did not lose His temper. When He looked upon Jerusalem, He did not get angry. Jerusalem represented to Him the whole of the call of Israel to be the people of God. Jerusalem represented to Him the betrayal of His father when Israel rejected God, His father. Jerusalem will be where the mantle will be passed to the Gentile. Instead of getting angry, He wept! That’s because He is not self-centered. His whole emphasis is fulfilling His Father’s work.
9) it keeps no record of wrongs.(v.5d)
The Greek word used is logizomai. Logizomai is an accountant word which can be translated as ‘to keep a mathematical calculation’. It is used to refer to the accurate book keeping of an accountant. Paul is saying that agape-does not keep a record of all evil done to it. It never keeps record of other people’s offences. It always forgives and forgets Many of us keeps records of offences done to us. Some of these may be real offences or wrongs done to us. But some may be imagined offences. Never mind, it goes into that little black book in our head where we keep a record of all wrongs done to us. Why? So that someday we can get even. But that’s not agape-love. Agape-love tells us to tell these wrongs to God and commit it to His hands. It also tells us to forgive and to forget.
Do you think Jesus keeps records of wrongs done to Him? Today, Peter denied me three times. That day, Peter, James and John fell asleep while praying. I don’t think so. There is no record that Jesus keep track of wrongs done to Him. The only time He bring up these wrongs is to forgive them as in the case of Peter’s denial. Agape-love does not keep track of wrongs.
3. The Portrait of Love
Our portrait of love is not complete. We shall complete it in the next sermon. Eugene Peterson paraphrase it in the Message as
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when other grovels,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
Put up with anything,
Trust God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (The Message)
4. The Five keys to Practising Agape-Love in our Lives.
a. Acknowledge love is a Command (Rom 13:8-10)
b. Agree you have the power (Rom 5:5)
c. Understand it is normal Christian behaviour (1 Jn.4:7-10)
d. Realise that it is the Spirit’s work (Gal.5:22)
e. Practice it! (Peter 1:22; 4:8)
Soli Deo Gloria
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