Morning Sermon: 1 Corinthians 13; The Greatest Of These Is Love

Old Testament Reading: Proverbs 10:12, 17:9, 17

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Proverbs 10:12, ESV)

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


I think it was very healthy for me to reflect on the last ten years in preparation for our little church anniversary celebration last Sunday. It is good to pause and reflect on the past from time to time, isn’t it? One, it should move us to give thanks to God for his past provision, and two, it should help us to move on into the future with greater clarity and resolve. Looking back should help us to do both of these things in the Lord.

We gave thanks to God for his faithfulness to us last week. And in our consideration of Psalm 146, I encouraged you to make the glory, honor, and praise of God your highest aim as we move on into the future. Live for the glory of God, brothers and sisters. Seek first the advancement of his kingdom. Love God supremely. That was the charge. And this Sunday I wish to deliver another charge to the congregation regarding our future life together, and it is this: be resolved to love one another, brothers and sisters. For if we have not love, we are nothing.


Love Demanded (vs. 1-3)

This is the warning that the Apostle Paul delivered to the church in Corinth in verses 1-3 of our text for today. Hear it again. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, ESV). So Paul was concerned for the church in Corinth. Evidently, they were preoccupied with their speech gifts, with their knowledge, and with their religious devotion but they were lacking in love for one another, and so Paul delivered this stern warning — if we have not love, we are nothing.

Paul’s point is this: even if I were the most gifted linguist, able to speak eloquently in multiple languages — yes, even the language of the angels (not that this is possible, but hypothetically speaking  [1]) — if I’m lacking in love, then I am nothing. Without love, my eloquent words will be like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal — they will be empty and fruitless noise. 

That is quite a powerful image, isn’t it? And perhaps you have found this to be true in life. Someone may lack eloquence, but if you know they love you, their words are powerful, sweet, and pleasant to your ears. But the words of an eloquent man who proves to have no love in his heart — no sincerity or truth — are an annoyance. That is Paul’s point. To put the matter bluntly, Paul wrote to the Corinthians who were so puffed up with pride regarding their speech gifts, and said, forget about your eloquence. Forget about your linguistic skill. It’s nothing. It’s just noise if you lack love.  

He continues with the same theme in verse 2, saying, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2, ESV). 

So here Paul addresses another source of pride within the Corinthian church, and that is their faith and knowledge. He had addressed these issues earlier in his letter, but brings them up again here in his love chapter, saying (in my words), you think so highly of yourself because of your ability to prophesy, your insights into the mystery of Christ, your knowledge, and your strong faith. But again, it’s all empty without love.

And in verse 3 Paul addresses another source of pride, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV). Here Paul says that extreme religious devotion — devotion even to the point of martyrdom — is nothing without love. 

I wonder if you are beginning to see that the gifts and graces that Paul mentions here in this passage are in fact good graces. Being gifted in speech is good. Having knowledge is good. Having strong faith is good. And being willing to give up your possessions — yes, even your own life for the sake of Christ — is good.  These are all very good things. But what is Paul’s point? If love is lacking, then we are nothing, even if we possess these other qualities. 

And it is not hard to see why this is so. If there is no love in the heart, then it reveals that our speech (no matter how eloquent), our knowledge (no matter how deep), our faith (no matter how strong), and our devotion to Christ (no matter how extreme) is merely superficial.   

Application: Brothers and sisters, Corinth had its issues. They were evidently prideful about the gifts and graces they had received from God, and they were lacking in love for one another. I wonder, can you see that the same danger confronts us? Can you see how easy it would be to grow prideful concerning the gifts and graces that God has given to us, and to fail to truly love one another in Christ Jesus?  

As I reflected upon the past ten years I was moved to give thanks to God for his kindness to us. I think we have grown strong in some important ways. I’m amazed at how God has preserved the unity of this church as we have grown together in our understanding of Christian doctrine. Go back and read that church book again and consider how we have grown in our understanding of Biblical doctrine. Consider the things we have studied together. It’s been wonderful. I think we are much stronger than we used to be. 

But let me ask you this: is their pride in your heart regarding this grace that the Lord has shown to us? I hope not. To quote Paul from earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7, ESV). We must be on guard against the sin of pride, brothers and sisters. And one of the greatest remedies to the sin of pride is the understanding that whatever good thing we have is a gift from God. There is no room for boasting, therefore. 

And what about love? Without love we are nothing. 

You’re probably thinking, why are you confronting us with this, Pastor? Do you think there is a problem? Do you think we are lacking love?

Well, in fact, I do not. My honest opinion is that our love for one another is strong here in this congregation. Our love for one another has been strong in the past, and it continues to be. But my concern is that we do not lose what we have. We cannot afford to lose our love for one another, brothers and sisters. We must maintain it, and we must even grow in our love for one another in the years to come. 

And let me tell you this, it will not just happen. We must be intentional and deliberate about this. We must make the effort. Loving one another is something we must choose to do. 

You have probably noticed that everything in this world is prone to decay? Gravity is always pulling down on things. The sun, though it gives life, does also cause things to fade and decay. If things are to last, they must be maintained. This is true of the physical world, but also the emotional and spiritual.   

Christians must keep their own hearts pure. Parents must keep the home pure. Pastors must keep the church pure. Yes, this applies to the worship, doctrine, and discipline of the church. But it also applies to the fellowship that we enjoy with one another. Our love for one another must be maintained, brothers and sisters! To quote the letter to the Hebrews, “ let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV). So this is one of the things we are to do when we assemble together on the Lord’s Day. Not only are we to learn. Not only are we to grow stronger in the faith. We are also to “ stir up one another to love and good works”. 

 Read the scriptures and see the emphasis that is placed on this theme of love.

Jesus spoke to his disciples, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34, ESV)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, saying, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:9–13, ESV)

Peter wrote Christians, saying “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” (1 Peter 4:8–10, ESV)

And lastly, consider the words of the Apostle John: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11–12, ESV)

Brothers and sisters, a church that is doctrinally sound but lacking in love is dead. I do hope that you realize that. To bring it close to home, it is very possible for a church to fully subscribe to the Second London Confession of Faith and to excel in the knowledge of the truth and in the ability to talk about the truth, and yet be toxic to the point of death because love is lacking.  

Do you remember the words that Christ spoke to the church in Ephesus in that vision that John saw as recorded in Revelation 2?  “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.’” (Revelation 2:1–5, ESV)

What a sobering warning. Ephesus was strong in doctrine. They were valiant for the truth. They contended for the faith as they confronted the false teachers in their midst. Good for them! This was a true strength of theirs, and so Christ commended them for it. But the warning is very firm: “I have this against you”, Christ said, “…you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” 

This can happen, brothers and sisters. Churches with sound doctrine can lose their love for one another, and when they do, it is serious.

As I look back upon the last ten years I see that we have grown stronger in doctrine, thanks be to God. But do not forget: without love we are nothing.

As I look back upon the last ten years I see that we have grown stronger in our worship. Thanks be to God, we approach the worship of God with greater reverence than we did before. But remember this: without love we are nothing.

Another thing that we have grown in is our appreciation for and devotion to the ordinary means of grace. Do you know what I mean by this? Instead of being a very busy church with lots of special programs, etc. we have grown to know that God works very powerfully in his people through ordinary things — the preaching and teaching of the word of God, prayer, the sacraments of baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship. I’m so happy that we are devoted to these simple and ordinary things, and that we have the faith to believe that God will work through them as he sees fit. But remember this: without love we are nothing.

Over the past ten years, we have also been faithful to do church discipline. Formal church discipline is hard, isn’t it? However, we have seen how good it is for the body of Christ and even for the professing Christian who is stuck in sin. But remember this, brothers and sisters: without love we are nothing.

I could go on and on, but I think you are able to see what I am trying to warn against. It would be very sad for me to see Emmaus continue to grow strong in doctrine, in purity of worship, in devotion to the ordinary means of grace, and faithful in discipline, and yet to lack in love. What an awful church that would be. In fact, it would reveal that we do not really believe the doctrines we claim to believe, for these truths — if believed in the mind and heart — will surely increase our love for God and for one another. And it would also reveal that we do not truly love God nor the Savior he has provided, for those who love God in Christ will also love the brethren. As Christ said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

So this is my leading exhortation to you this morning. Continue to grow in your knowledge of the truth and in your devotion to God and to the things of God, but do not forget the warning of the Apostle: if we have not love, we are nothing.


Love Described (vs. 4-7)

Now, in verses 4 through 7 the love that Paul demands is described. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, ESV)

It would probably be best to begin by noting what love is not. The love that Paul demands is not an emotion. In other words, Paul does not here teach that Christians must feel a certain way towards one another. Rather he is concerned that we treat one another a certain way. These are all verbs, you will notice. “Love is patient and kind”, etc.  

Now, this does not mean that the heart and the emotions are uninvolved. In fact, much of what Paul describes here does clearly emanate from the heart. “Love does not envy”, he says. Envy happens in the mind and heart.  And in verse 5 he says, “love is not irritable or resentful”. These things will manifest themselves in actions, but they begin in the heart. Clearly these are heart issues. So when I say, “the love that Paul describes here is not an emotion”, I mean, it is not merely emotional love. True love emanates from the heart and manifests itself in action. That is the point. I feel that I have to say this because love is so terribly misunderstood in our day. Yes, we are to love one another from the heart, but this heart-love is to be shown in word and in deed. 

Listen to Paul’s description of Christian love. And as you do, feel free to apply it to all kinds of relationships — Husbands and wives, parents, children, and friends may apply this to themselves — but do not forget that Paul is writing to the church here. His leading concern is that Chritians would love one another in this way in the context of the local church. 

“Love is patient”, Paul says. 

To be patient is to persevere through difficulty. So few are willing to do that in our day. Instead, men and women will cut one another off when challenges arise. And challenges will arise in our relationships, brothers and sisters. Mark my words! But if we love one another truly, we will be patient with one another. We will stick with one another through difficulties. The NKJV version brings out this meaning of the world a little better by saying, “love suffers long”. Yes, a patient person will not snip at others when annoyed (that is usually what we think of when we hear the word “patient”), but the word “patient” is richer than that. The one who is patient is willing to suffer long. They will not cut others off at every offence or when challenges arise within the relationship. 

Love is “kind”, Paul says. What comes to mind when you hear the word “kind” except someone who is tenderhearted, caring, sympathetic, and gentle. And no, this does not mean that there is never a time for firm confrontation or rebuke. Other scripture texts (even from Paul) say that there is a time for that. But think of it: there is a big difference between receiving a rebuke or correction from a hate-filled and hard-hearted person, and receiving correction from one who is loving and kind. The rebuke may sound the same, but it will be received very differently. Love, brothers and sisters. Be kind always (be that person). And I do trust that if you ever have to rebuke another, it will be best received if the person knows you love them and have their best interest in mind. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5–6, ESV).

So love is patient and love is kind. Next we read, “love does not envy”. We talked a lot about the danger of envy when we considered the 10th commandment in the afternoon worship service. “Thou shall not covet”, the tenth commandment says. And what is forbidden in the tenth commandment? Answer: “The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.” 

Envy, covetousness, and discontentment are deadly sins of the heart. And here is what I want for you to see concerning them: the one who is envious, covetous, and discontent is really self-centered. Think of it and you will see that it is true. The envious person looks at others and the good they have and thinks, I want that for myself, and if I have it then I will be satisfied. Whereas the one who loves does not live for their own good, but for the good of others. Love and envy are like oil and water. The are contradictory things. To love is to live for the good of others. The one who loves will rejoice when another person prospers. Envy, covetousness, and discontentment can only reside in a heart consumed with self-love.  

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). How did Christ love the church? By giving himself up for her. He did not live for his own pleasure, but for the good of others. Some of you are miserable because you have not learned to love, but are consumed with self-love.  

So love does not envy, and neither does it “boast; it is not arrogant or rude”. This further confirms what I have just said about the real problem being self-love or self-centeredness. What does the boaster do? He or she wishes to draw attention to themselves so as to build up and exalt themselves in the eyes of others. To be arrogant is to be puffed up with pride or inflated. The most important thing to an arrogant boaster is image. Image is everything for a me-monster. But those who truly love will not have an appetite for boasting, for they find their fulfilment in building others up, not themselves. And arrogant boastful people will also be rude. Rude people act rudely (in an unbecoming or shameful manner) in order to get their way and to maintain their position of superiority over others. Really, rudeness is just a manipulative tactic. You have all seen it. Three-year-olds sometimes do it (no offense to the three-year-olds). They throw a tantrum when the big people in their life aren’t serving them as they think they should. But big people do this too. 60-year-olds will sometimes throw temper tantrums. They will act rudely towards others (sometimes for a long time) in order to get their way.   

In fact, that is what Paul addresses next. Love “does not insist on its own way…” So all of this fits together, doesn’t it? “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…”

Please consider just how messed up we are by nature due to sin. We are so very twisted. Many in this world do sincerely believe that they will be most happy and satisfied in this life if they live for themselves. But what do they find when they do? They are miserable. Do you wish to be truly miserable in this life? Then live for yourself. Insist on your own way. Live for your own comfort, your own pleasure, your own prosperity. Expect others to serve you. Demand that they meet your needs and do unto you as you wish. And if they dare come short of it — if they disrespect you somehow, if they let you down, if they fail to make you the center of their universe — then be sure to make them pay for it. Be rude to them. Give them the cold shoulder. Speak to them harshly. Employ all of your manipulative tactics until they learn the lesson that everything is about you. Please hear me: if you wish to be truly miserable in this life (and for all eternity), then live that way. Insist on your own way.  But if you wish to be blessed, then go in the other direction. Die to yourself daily and momentarily, serve others, and love as Christ loved. He washed the feet of his disciples. He bled and died in our place. This is the way of love. And this is the way to life everlasting — abundant life. 

We have all experienced this, I think. We all know what it is to be inconvenienced by someone and then to respond with a bad attitude. Honey, would you mind doing the dishes? And we sigh. We might do them, but we sulk. We clank the dishes around really hard to make sure everyone knows that we are displeased because we didn’t get our way. And guess what, you are miserable, and so is everyone around you! Having a bad attitude about the dishes is a silly example, but some live their whole life in this way. They are all about themselves all of the time. They may seem to be all about others in some settings, but this is only to maintain their image. Really, they are about themselves, and they are miserable. I’ll say to you what I say to my boys from time to time — don’t be that guy. Love instead. And lovedoes not insist on its own way…”

After this, we learn that love “is not irritable”. I hope that you are seeing the connections. If you are all about yourself, insisting on your own way in the mind and heart, then when things do not go your way, you will naturally be irritated. 

So do you feel irritated all the time? I suppose there can be many reasons for that. And perhaps some things need to change in your life. Maybe you are too busy. Maybe you are not getting enough sleep. Perhaps it would be good to look at diet and to consider exercise. Human beings are very complex creatures, I understand that. But do not forget to look at your heart. It may be that you are irritable (upset and agitated inside) because you are self-centered. You want things to go your way. You have many expectations for others, therefore. You wish to be served or left alone, and you grow agitated when you are not. And so I am urging you to check your heart. Try getting out of bed prayerfully and with the mindset of a servant rather than the mindset of a master. Make loving and serving those around you your focus. The worldly person will think that what I have just said is ridiculous. But the godly know that this is the way to life abundant. There is great freedom and joy found in this way. It seems backward to the world. But those in Christ know that when we lay down our life, we find it. Love is not irritable because the one who loves lives not to be served but to serve.  

I should offer this brief clarification before going on. In all of this talk of living for the good of others, I am not denying that people do need time for themselves. Rest, relaxation, recreation — these are all important things. God knows this, and that is one reason he gave us the gift of the Sabbath day. And Jesus modeled this. He lived his life for the good of others. He laid down his life for our sins. But he did often retreat from crowds with his disciples to commune with the Father and to be refreshed. So no, I am not saying that you should work and serve continuously with no thought at all for your own physical and spiritual wellbeing. Instead, I am talking about mindset. What is your mindset? Are you all about yourself? Or are you all about others? The one who loves will be all about living for God’s glory and the good of others. Even when they rest, they rest so that they might better serve. Even when they rest, they rest with the heart of a servant.   

Love is not irritable, and neither is resentful. To be resentful is to keep a record of wrongs committed against you. That is how the NIV translates the work. Love “keeps no record of wrongs”, it says. The NASB renders it this way: Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered”. The one who loves is willing to let things go. It is true that we might not be able to forget a wrong committed against us, but we all have the ability to “forget” in the sense of extending true forgiveness, not bringing the matter up again, or holding the wrong committed against the person. The one who is resentful will do this though. They will refuse to forgive and harbor bitterness in their heart towards others. They should consider carefully the words of Christ. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15, ESV).

As I say this I am mindful of those who have struggled with abusive and highly manipulative relationships. The scriptures do not teach that you must continuously run back to the abuser or manipulator every time they say sorry. This subject is beyond the scope of this sermon. Please speak to me personally if you would like some help working through this. For now, I will say that it is possible to forgive from the heart and to be free from resentment while at the same time maintaining healthy boundaries with proven abusers and manipulators. 

I suppose we would be here all day if I qualified and clarified everything that Paul says in this passage. And really, that would detract from the simplicity and beauty of the text.  It really is so simple. Christians must love. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” Now we read, “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” I think the meaning is this: love does not rejoice in wrongdoing in the sense of injustice. The Greek word carries that meaning, and that seems to fit the context. The unloving, envious, arrogant, boastful, self-centered, and self-serving me-monster loves to see those who do not serve his interests fall, and he does not care if it is unjust. But the one who loves takes no pleasure in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.     

Paul’s description of love concludes with this marvelous line: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV). As it pertains to our love for one another, I think this should be our motto. 

“Love bears all things”. The word translated as “bears” means to put up with annoyance or difficulty. No, Paul does not say that love ignores sin or is never confrontational.  Rather, those who love are going to put up with one another. They will persevere and endure in the relationship despite difficulties. Those who love will not easily cut others off for minor offenses. To state it differently, those who love will have think skin. They will be patient, that is to say, longsuffering. 

“Love believes all things”. I think this requires us to think the best of people, and especially of one another in Christ Jesus. No, this does not mean that we are to be naive and gullible. But it does mean that we must be careful not to grow jaded. This can be a real problem for churches, for ministers and ministers alike. If you hang around the church for long enough and actually get to know people you’ll quickly realize that we aren’t in heaven yet. We are still sojourning. And those in Christ are still being sanctified. Sanctification is a process, in case you haven’t noticed. It has been a process for you, and it is a process for everyone else. This is reality. Everyone is kind of messy, and some are messier than others. Do not grow jaded, but think the best of others. Start there. Yes, there are wolves in sheeps clothing. Yes, there are false professors in the church. Yes, some will apostatize from the faith. That is all true. Don’t be naive. But don’t grow jaded either. Think of how devastating it would be to the life of this church if we began to view everyone with suspicion. “Love believes all things”. You should know that your elders are committed to this. We have seen some things over the past 10 years. We’ve encountered some highly manipulative people. You probably don’t know the half of it. But we are resolved to think the best of people, for we can see the danger of growing jaded and suspicious towards others. How can we possibly minister to saints who are being sanctified if we think the worst of them? No, we are resolved to “believe all things”, that is, to “trust and verify”. Really, this is a faith issue. We need to trust the Lord that he will protect us and provide the wisdom and discernment that we need as we seek to love others.      

“Love hopes all things”. Our hope is in God and in Christ. But here the hope has reference to the good that God will work in our lives and in the lives of others. 

“And love endures all things”. And so Paul ends where he began in his description of love, with the theme of patience or endurance.  The words are different, but the meaning is similar. “Love is patient”, he said. It bears up under difficulty. And now he says, “love endures all things”. 

Endurance… that is what we need. If we have any chance at loving one another sincerely and over a long period of time we need endurance. Bear with one another, brothers and sisters. Be willing to work through major offenses, and to let minor offenses go. Forgive one another, clear the air, pray for one another, be gracious and kind to one another, just as God has been gracious and kind to us in Christ Jesus. 


Love Is Supreme (vs. 8-13)

I use the last portion of this text to bring this sermon to a conclusion. In verse 13 Paul says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV). He identifies love as the greatest because love, unlike faith and hope, will last forever and ever. 

That is his argument in verses 8 through 12. There are some things that we do in this life that we will not do in the life to come. The gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will all pass away in the life to come. Why? Because we will see God face to face in the new heavens and earth. We will know him perfectly. We will not have faith in the new heavens and earth, at least not the same kind of faith that we have now. For now, our faith looks forward to the consummation, but then our faith will be fulfilled. And the same is true for hope. Hope is also forward-looking. But in the new heavens and earth, we will no longer hope, for our hope will be fulfilled. 

But here is one thing we will do in the new heavens and earth. We will love. We will love God for all eternity, and we will love one another. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV). Brothers and sisters, let us be sure to love one another.


[1] It is unfortunate that the central message of this passage is often obscured by questions regarding the gift of tongues in the church today. Ever since the modern charismatic and pentecostal movements, that is where the minds of many Christians go when reading this text. They immediately ask, what does this passage teach us about the gift of tongues? Now, I am not denying that that is an important question. Rather, I think you would agree with me that Paul is not teaching about the gift of tongues here. No, his emphasis is on the preeminence of love. Without love we are nothing. That is his point. 

Concerning Paul’s mention of “the tongues of men and angels”, notice these three things:

One, nowhere do the scriptures teach that the gift of tongues, as it was present in the earliest day of the church, gave the believer the ability to speak in a heavenly or angelic language, rather it enabled believers to miraculously speak known human languages. If you wish to know what the gift of tongues was, then read Acts 2. When the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the church on the day of Pentecost, he was poured out upon the Jews who believed. And when these Jews received the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues.  And when men from all over the known world heard them speak “were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:7–12, ESV). So, some within the earlier church did speak and tongues. That means they were given the supernatural ability to speak languages they did not previously know. And if you wish to connect the dot concerning the significance of this, you must think of the confusion of the languages at the tower of Babel, the promise made to Abraham that through his descendants all the nations of the earth would be blessed, and lastly, the arrival of the Messiah, the establishment of the Covenant of Grace, and the giving of the great commission, which was for disciples to be made of all the earth. The point is this: for a time God’s redemptive kingdom was confined largely to the Hebrews, but the Messiah came, the gospel of the kingdom was to go to all nations — thus the gift of tongues. It was a sign that the age of the gentiles had come. 

Two, this gift of tongues was not permanent. Like the gift of prophecy and healing, the gift of tongues was confined to the age of the Apostles. These miraculous gifts were all sign gifts. They pointed to the reality of the authority of the Apostles and Prophets and to the truthfulness of the testimony of the early church regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. These miraculous gifts ceased with the death of the Apostles. So, though God may choose to heal today, he will do it through the prayers of ordinary Christians, and not miracle workers. The point is this: we do not believe the gift of tongues is present in the church today. 

Three, Paul does not in this passage say that men and women are able to speak in the tongues of angels. Rather, his point is this: even if I could speak in the tongues of men and angels if I lack love, I am nothing. The Charismatics read their erroneous view regarding tongues-speaking right into this text.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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