************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 21, 2007
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
"The Most Excellent Way"
TASC # 1
I The Commandment to Love
A We all know that we live between the time of Christ's going and our going to be with Him. Or, to put it another way, we are in the time between His ascension and His return.
Christ has given His Church precise instructions of what to do during this time. He has commanded us, for instance, to spend the time between evangelizing the nations (Mt 28:18ff). He has commanded us to fight sin, evil, and temptation during the time between (Eph 6:10-20). He has commanded us to watch and pray and be ready for His return during the time between (Mt 24:36ff). He has commanded us to preserve the truth and fight falsehood during the time between (Jude). And, during the time between His ascension and His return, He commands us to love. "A new commandment I give you: Love one another" (John 13:34).
That is our focus this week – loving one another. Love will be the focus of my messages. Love will be the focus of our work as we feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and support the widow and orphan.
B Someday, when the Lord Jesus comes again, says the Apostle Peter,
(2 Pt 3:10) The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.The new heaven and new earth will be vastly different from the present one. For one thing, there will no longer be any sea (Rev 21:1). No longer will there be any curse (Rev 22:3). There will be no temples or church buildings (Rev 21:22). There is no need for the sun or moon (Rev 21:23). There is neither marriage nor giving in marriage (Mt 22:30). There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4). At that time God will make everything new (Rev 21:5). Even our bodies will be resurrected or transformed to be like Christ's perfect body. In the future life there will be no faith – for we will live by sight instead of by faith. In the future life there will be no hope – for our hope will be fulfilled. No wonder Paul ends his great love chapter the way he does:
(1 Cor 13:13) And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Why is love greater than faith and hope? Because it is the one feature of this present life that will be found unchanged in the future life. As Paul puts it,
(1 Cor 13:8) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.Notice, in contrast to all else, love abides; love never fails. Love is the one power in this life that can generate itself. It is the one reality in time that goes into eternity unchanged. Love will never need to be stopped or transformed into something better. Because love is the one perfect reality of this life, it abides throughout this life and into the next.
C Love is so very important. It is what the Lord demands of us, of the church, during the time between His ascension and return.
There was an inspirational speaker who filled assembly halls and churches wherever he went. People sat on hardwood benches and stared at him, entranced and enthralled by what he said. When the speech was over, many went out crying, claiming that their lives were changed forever. The man was a phenomenon. Thousands obeyed him; those who didn't, he despised.
There was a writer who spent years studying the world she lived in, then wrote a shelf full of books about how things were and how they might be. Thousands read her books, and later her newspaper columns, because she seemed to have a crystal ball. If she said there would be war or peace, there was. She lived alone in a mountain cabin and refused to see any guest.
An athlete trained and practiced the fundamentals of basketball. Over and over again. He was offered a multi-year multi-million dollar contract. Unfortunately, he was not a team player. He hogged the ball, he never passed the ball, everything centered on himself. His team had the talent to win the championship but his selfish and self-centered attitude didn't get them past the first round.
A scientist worked his entire lifetime to find a cure for a crippling disease. He was so devoted to his task that he cared very little for his wife, and his children never knew him. When the man was almost sixty, he found the cure which had eluded him for so long. His story appeared in all the leading magazines. Soon an inoculation was developed; the disease he fought against was conquered. He received a medal of honor.
A preacher who read the Bible very carefully decided to start his own church, convinced that all the other preachers were dead wrong about their doctrine. Often, right in the middle of the worship services, he would thunder against those who didn't believe exactly what he preached. Sometimes he would weep, right up on the pulpit. Everywhere he looked he found enemies. All of them, he claimed, were children of Satan.
There is a church that is known for its deeds, its hard work, its perseverance in the faith. It doesn't tolerate wickedness. It has endured hardship. It does not grow weary in defending the faith. This church is orthodox, adhering faithfully to the historic Creeds and Confessions. It defends the faith of the fathers and admonishes those churches and individuals who are slipping from the truth. Sounds like the perfect church, doesn't it? But it left its first love.
The speaker, writer, athlete, scientist, preacher, and church all were gifted with talent and power. All did great things. But all fell short, way short! Because all were without love. "Repent," says the Lord to the church, "or I will destroy you." You can read about this church in Revelation 2. It is the church in Ephesus.
Listen to what the Spirit-inspired apostle says to such churches and such people about the need for love:
(1 Cor 13:1-3) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels [what wondrous language is this, I wonder], but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal [I am nothing but noise!]. (2) If I have the gift of prophecy [if I can say "This is what the Lord says"] and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge [I am among the wisest of men], and if I have a faith that can move mountains [what faith this must be], but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give all I possess to the poor [what generosity] and surrender my body to the flames [outdoing Mother Theresa], but have not love, I gain nothing.Are we too nothing but noise? Do we also fail in the demand for love?
D Love is one of the characteristics that Jesus commands of His church during the time between His ascension and His return. In fact, it is easily the most important characteristic. As Paul puts it, love is the "most excellent way" – not "a" excellent way, one among many, but the "most excellent way." Faith, prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, they all mean nothing apart from love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Sound theology, wonderful Creeds and Confessions, beautiful sermons, they too mean nothing apart from love. Gifts and talents and abilities, they too mean nothing apart from love. Everything you do on TASC, that too means nothing apart from love.
II The Kind of Love
A What is this love that Christ commands of His church during the time between His ascension and return? The Greek word for love here is "agape." This is a "giving" love. This is a love which gladly and willingly makes sacrifices for the good of the other. This love seeks to give rather than to get. Agape love keeps on loving even when the other person doesn't respond; agape love keeps on loving without asking for anything in return. Agape love avoids anything which hurts the other person. Agape love turns the heart towards the other and away from ourselves. A true story of agape love from the time of Oliver Cromwell in England:
Title: Ringing of the Curfew Bell
A young soldier had been tried in military court and sentenced to death. He was to be shot at the "ringing of the curfew bell." His fiancee climbed up into the bell tower several hours before curfew time and tied herself to the bell's huge clapper. At curfew time, when only muted sounds came out of the bell tower, Cromwell demanded to know why the bell was not ringing. His soldiers went to investigate and found the young woman cut and bleeding from being knocked back and forth against the great bell. They brought her down and Cromwell was so impressed with her willingness to suffer in this way on behalf of someone she loved that he let the soldier go saying, "Curfew shall not ring tonight."
B Agape love is so easily talked about. We all agree, I am sure, that we need more of this love in our youth groups, marriages, families, churches, schools. I say that because none of are perfect. We are all filled with the opposite of love: evil, hate, lust, greed, envy, malice, anger, discord, selfish ambition (Gal 5:19-21).
We also find ourselves living and working in a selfish and self-centered world where we have time only for ourselves.
Topic: TimeYou know what this tells me? When our main worry is ourselves, there is no place for love. When we are too busy, with tight schedules and impossible deadlines, there is no time for love. I am willing to bet that the Good Samaritan was not in a hurry.
Subtopic: Right Use of
Title: Take Time to Love
An ethics professor at Princeton Seminary asked for volunteers for an extra assignment. Fifteen students showed up. He divided the group of fifteen into three groups of five each. He instructed the first group of five to proceed immediately across the campus to a certain spot; if they did not get there in fifteen minutes their grade would be affected. A minute or two later he instructed the second group to also proceed across the campus to the same spot; but they were given forty-five minutes to get there. After they left he instructed the last group to go across the campus to that spot too; but they were given three hours for the trip.
Now, unknown to any of these students, the teacher had arranged with three students from the Drama Department to meet them along the way, acting as people in great need: the first one they met covered his head with his hands and moaned out loud as though in great pain; the second, a little bit further along the way, was on some steps lying face down as if unconscious; the third, on the very steps of the destination, acted out an epileptic seizure. You know what the ethics professor discovered? Not one of the first group stopped, two of the second group stopped, and all five of the third group stopped.
C The Lord Jesus sets Himself before us as an example to follow. "As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (Jn 13:34). What can we say about Jesus' love? His love, of course, was perfect in every way. Out of love He went to the cross for our sins. He is the only One Who has ever succeeded in truly giving over the self for the sake of others; only He has succeeded in showing a pure agape love. In his first inspired letter John says,
(1 Jn 4:10) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
This week, then, will be a call to love. Love will be the focus of my messages. And, out of love, we will do the work that has been prepared for us to do.
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