Perfections of Love
Tim Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 13. We will begin with verse 1:

I Corinthians 13

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love] , I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love] , I am nothing.
3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love] , it profiteth me nothing.
4Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity [love] envieth not; charity [love] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Charity [love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love] , these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love] .

Probably we are all familiar with the United States Air Force Thunderbird precision flying team. We have had the opportunity of seeing them here in Abilene at various times, and their exploits are truly amazing. Although they do those complicated, intricate patterns in their flying, there is one basic secret to their success. That secret is that when they are flying in formation, they all keep their eyes on the leader. Not long ago the number two man in formation explained that concept in an interview. He said, “The boss is my life. He is my world whether I am right-side up or upside down. It makes no difference where the ground is because my eyes are on the leader.” That philosophy was tragically demonstrated in January of 1982 when four of the five flyers in that formation followed the leader straight into the ground after his plane malfunctioned. They were so trained and so dedicated to following the leader that none of them even realized what had happened. No doubt they went to their deaths simply following the leader. That is real dedication. I ought to add that the other flyer was in a solo part of the formation and because of that, he wasn't following the leader.

Strange as it may seem, that event illustrates a fundamental, Biblical principle. Our purpose is to follow the leading of the Lord wherever it may lead, even into death if need be. One of the ways that we know what that leading of the Lord is, is to keep our eyes on the love of God. By that I mean God's kind of love as expressed in the passage before us today.

I Corinthians, chapter 13, is one of the masterpieces of literature in any language. It is quoted by atheists and Christians alike. It is extremely important for us to remember the context in which this great, classic piece of literature occurs. This is not just a treatise on being sweet to each other; it is not just a statement of a beautiful, ethereal concept. Rather, it is a very specific treatment of the way we should be exercising our spiritual gifts. It comes in that passage that deals with the fact that God has equipped us to minister to each other and to meet each other's needs.

The True Meaning of Love

By way of review, remember as we looked at this passage in our last lesson, we saw that the true meaning of love is demonstrated in I John, chapter 4, verse 10:

I John 4

10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God's kind of love is love of the unlovely, love even of His enemies, love that is given even without regard to some kind of expected return. It might help emphasize this in our thinking to realize that in the Greek language, there are four root words for “love”. The first is the Greek word eros , which refers to sensual, sexual or physical love. Interestingly enough, this word is not found in the New Testament. Sometimes we read about love in the New Testament, and we get it confused with our general consensus of sexual, sensual love. Certainly love is a beautiful concept, and it includes and involves sexual, physical love, but that particular word is not used in the New Testament.

There is the word storge , which refers to family love, love of human brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers for each other. This occurs twice in the New Testament. Then there is the word phileo for a friendly kind of love. The city of Philadelphia is named from that concept. It appears in the New Testament forty-five times. Then there is the word agape , which is the word that is used here in I Corinthians, chapter 13. It only appears a few times in the classical Greek. As I mentioned in our last lesson, when the translators first began to work with this word, they thought that perhaps it was a word that the New Testament writers had coined because it only occurs a very few times in the secular Greek. Later, as more discoveries of the Greek language were made, it was realized that it was a word used in classical Greek, but not very often. This word appears 320 times in the New Testament. As we talked about in some detail in our last lesson, it is the word that describes God's kind of love, love of the unlovely.

The basic point of verses 1-3 is that God looks on the heart in the exercise of love and in the exercise of spiritual gifts. The question is not always what we did for some other person or not always what we did to honor the Lord, but was it done out of love for God? What is our motivation in the things that we do as Christians? What is our motivation in helping someone who is in need? What is our motivation in the spiritual exercises such as church attendance? If our motivation is love for God, honoring the Lord, responding to His leadership, obeying Him, then that is agape love. It is done out of God's kind of love. If our action is to draw attention to ourselves or to impress other people or just to stick with some kind of ritual that we have established, then it is basically wasted. It only accomplishes whatever human good may be accomplished by our doing of it. In terms of relationship to God and in terms of spiritual growth and development, it really doesn't accomplish anything.

We have divided this chapter into three parts: in verses 1-3, “The Pre-eminence of Love”; in verses 4-7, “The Perfections of Love”; in verses 8-13, “The Permanence of Love”. Today we want to look at that middle section of the chapter. The first thing we want to think about in that regard is the negative perfections of love. There is a whole list of places in this chapter where we are told what love is not. As we keep our eyes on the Lord and as our motivation is to respond to His kind of love, it is important for us to know what that love is not. We can learn a lot about what that love is by seeing what it is not.

There are also some positive perfections. So in this middle section of the chapter, we have a clarification of what characterizes this kind of love that is supposed to be such a motivation in our Christian life.

Love Does Not Envy

The first negative characteristic is that love does not envy. In other words, if you are motivated in what you do by love for God, you will not be jealous of the gifts or possessions or accomplishments of others. You will not be grieved when others are recognized. That is telling, isn't it? Doesn't that cut right through to the heart of where some of us live? Why is it that we are bothered when some other Christian gets more attention than we do? Why is it that when we see some other Christian doing things for the Lord or the Lord's people, sometimes we think, “If only I had thought of that!”? There is a sense in which we ought to be motivated, we ought to be encouraged by others around us. Other people's testimonies ought to give us an idea of how we can serve the Lord. I am talking about that kind of jealous disappointment, that kind of wishing that we had the attention that some other Christian is getting.

Today our churches, to a very great extent in my opinion, are built around the motivation of drawing attention. There are many pastors whose major motivation is to see how much bigger a crowd they can draw and how much more impressive a statement they can make. Again, there is a place for those kinds of things. If our motivation is to please the Lord, then we are not going to be envious; we are not going to be constantly keeping track of whether someone else is getting ahead of us in the Christian life, whether someone has done something more impressive than we have done. Our motive is to serve the Lord. The only response that should matter to us is the Lord's response.

This was especially significant for Corinth because the biggest problem in that church was paying attention to men and exalting men and gathering little groups or clusters around several different leaders rather than exalting the Lord. Maybe that is why he puts this first on the list. I think it is equally significant in this day in which we live. All that should matter to us is the approval of the Lord.

Love is Not Haughty

We also read in verse 4 that love does not parade itself. The Greek word translated “parade” means “bragging” or “boasting”. The Amplified New Testament translates this phrase, “does not display itself haughtily”. Phillips, one of the early modern translations of the New Testament, says, “is not anxious to impress”. Again, the point is that if we are doing this for the Lord, then what does it matter what people think? It is not done to impress other people. It is not that we need to keep it a secret; it is not whether or not people find out what we did, but our motivation should be to keep our eyes on the leader. Our motivation should be to go where the leader goes and to do what the leader says to do and not to worry about whether other people are impressed with it or not.

Verse 4 has another negative perfection of love. It says that love is not puffed up. The idea expressed here corresponds roughly to the concept of the word “meekness” that is used throughout the Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments. We read that Moses was the meekest man in all the earth. We read that Jesus was full of meekness. We very easily get confused about that word “meekness”. Most of us confuse it with the word “weakness”, but it is a very different word. Sometimes we hear preachers and teachers talk about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and we have the idea that He was some kind of a sissy. When it says that Jesus was full of meekness, we misunderstand that. Actually if we were to analyze the word “meekness” both in the Greek and in the English, it is a word that means “controlled strength”. In fact, it is a word that speaks primarily of strength, but the emphasis is on the control of that strength and the proper use of that strength. It is usually used in the context of soothing or calming other people when they are wrongly treated or wrongly upset. That is the idea here. Love is not a haughty kind of thing that looks down on other people. God's kind of love is a strong love, but it is channeled in the direction of meeting needs.

Love Has Good Manners

In verse 5, we find the next characteristic of love and that is that it does not behave rudely. In Galatians, chapter 5, there is listed for us the fruit of the Spirit, the things that the Holy Spirit produces in our lives as we are obedient to His leading. It is a fascinating study. In fact, some have built their whole study of I Corinthians, chapter 13, around a comparison of I Corinthians, chapter 13, and Galatians, chapter 5. If we were to approach it from that standpoint, we would find that there is a striking parallel between God's kind of love and that description in Galatians, chapter 5, of the fruit of the Spirit. That is understandable because it is essentially the same thing–keeping our eyes on the Lord, following His way of doing things.

The Greek word that is translated “rudely” here in I Corinthians, chapter 13, is translated “self-control” or “temperance” in Galatians, chapter 5. We read there that the fruit of the Spirit is temperance. A more up-to-date word might be “self-control”. A negative statement of that is “does not behave itself rudely”. Phillips' translation says, “love has good manners”. That is an interesting way to state it, isn't it? Love doesn't ride roughshod over other people. What it boils down to is that the Spirit-controlled believer, the believer whose motivation is to do things the way God would do them, doesn't get involved in inappropriate behavior or activities.

We talked earlier in our study of I Corinthians about how there are some things that are perfectly lawful for us to do. There are things that God does not disapprove of Christians' doing and yet, Paul said, “All things are not expedient for me.” We talked about the concept of the weaker brother and the fact that sometimes even though God doesn't mind some things that we do, there are those gray areas in which it is all right with the Lord, but new or immature believers might be bothered by those things. The person who is filled with the control of the Holy Spirit, the person in whom the fruit of the Spirit is growing, the person who is walking with God's kind of love, is the person who is going to pull back if he sees that he is in a situation where another believer might be offended by something that he would do or say or might be misled by something that he would do or say. He does not behave rudely. He has good manners. He is always thinking of the other person and how they are going to be affected, not by what “I have the right to do, and everyone else should just do the best they can”. Love does not behave itself rudely.

Love is Not Selfish or Easily Provoked

Verse 5 mentions that love does not seek its own. That is a bit of an obscure phrase. What does it mean? It does not refer to a total disregard of self or neglecting responsibility. What it means is that he doesn't put himself first. We have a term that is very popular in our day–“looking out for number one”, being sure that my interests are taken care of in this business deal or in this social relationship or even in this spiritual activity, and then trying to make everyone else happy. Love does not put itself first.

When I was a little boy, we used to sing a little chorus, and I suppose kids still sing it. It said, “Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.” I think that is the concept of this whole chapter, but particularly of this particular statement. Love does not put itself first. Jesus goes first, then the needs and rights of others, then yourself. You will find real joy in walking with the Lord in that way.

In the third part of verse 5, we find that love is not easily provoked. In Galatians, chapter 5, it says that the fruit of the Spirit is peace. That is a parallel; it describes this individual here in I Corinthians, chapter 13. In Greek, the phrase is literally, “is not touchy”. I think that is interesting because that is a term that even though it was written two thousand years ago, we still we use it all the time. Love is not touchy. The word “easily” is not in the Greek text.

Love Thinks No Evil

Verse 5 also says that love thinks no evil. Again, to compare with Galatians, chapter 5, the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Love thinks no evil. The word “thinks” here is a translation of the Greek word logizomai , which means “to think”. It means more specifically “to keep a record, and to keep thinking about that record”. In other words, God's kind of love does not keep a record of the faults of other people. What does the Scripture tell us about God's forgiveness? It says that God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. As hard as it might be for us to believe this, when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, God forgives our sins because Jesus paid for them, and God forgets about those sins. He removes them from us. Then as we sin as a new believer and we confess that sin on the basis of I John, chapter 1, verse 9, God forgets that sin, too. We don't talk about that very much, but God has forgotten about our sin.

Let me quickly point out to you that Satan loves to work a number on us to get us to keep remembering our sin. God has forgotten about that sin, and you need to forget about it, too. Don't forget the lessons that you can learn from it; don't forget the pain that the sin might have brought that might make you more like Jesus Christ. Satan loves to get us to dwell on our past sins. In fact, sometimes as we reflect on a past sin, that brings us right back into temptation to do that sin again. God doesn't keep track of past sins.

A different approach to that is that when we forgive someone else for sin, God forgives that sin, and God forgets about it. I don't know whether it is humanly possible for us to completely forget about a sin, but the person who is filled with the Holy Spirit, the person whose eyes are loving like God's eyes are loving, does not keep record of those things and does not keep constantly referring to those things.

Let me ask you something personal. How often do you reflect back on those weaknesses of your spouse? That is not God's kind of love. God's love does not keep track of offenses and does not keep reflecting on those things, does not hold a grudge, does not keep making a comparison of someone else's track record. Love thinks no evil.

Finally, verse 6 says that love does not rejoice in iniquity. Let me ask another personal question. I think that all of this is personal. I think this is one of those passages that cuts into our hearts like a knife. When you hear that a fellow Christian has fallen into some sin or has been discovered in some sin, do you ever secretly, just a little bit, rejoice in that? “It doesn't surprise me; that is the kind of guy he is.” You sort of take some secret delight in that. You are not filled with the Spirit if you act that way. That is not God's kind of love. Love does not rejoice in iniquity. The person who is filled with the love of God and motivated by the love of God is never happy to discover the sins or failures of other Christians and never uses that as an opportunity to promote himself as better and more successful in the Christian life. That is not God's kind of love.

Positive Perfections of Love

That is the list of the negative perfections of love. Going back to verse 4, we have some positive perfections of love. We read that love suffers long. In Galatians, chapter 5, this same word is translated “longsuffering”. That in itself is not so important as to point out that the literal meaning is “long-tempered”. Do you know anyone who is short-tempered? God's love is long-tempered. It doesn't take much at all to ignite the fuse of a short-tempered person. God's love is long-tempered. God's love puts up with all kinds of things, bears with all kinds of things, with people and with events and with situations.

Verse 4 also says that love is kind. That is a simple statement, isn't it? In Galatians, chapter 5, it is the same Greek word that is translated with the word “gentleness”. Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 32, gives a good example of this concept:

Ephesians 4

32And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Someone does something to us and we think, “I can forgive that, but I don't know if I will ever forget it.” Maybe we say, “I just don't think I can forgive that.” The next time you feel that way, think about this: Where would you be if God operated that way? That is the emphasis of the Scripture. That is the essence of kindness.

In verse 6, we read that love rejoices in the truth. We read a few moments ago that love does not rejoice in iniquity, but by contrast, it rejoices in the truth. Verse 6 is kind of a transitional verse. This is the positive aspect of that transition. According to Galatians, chapter 5, the fruit of the Spirit is joy. It rejoices in the success of the Word of God and the Gospel. It rejoices when there is truth and justice at every level. It rejoices to see the fruit of the Spirit produced in the lives of others. Again, it goes back to this thing of keeping score. Are you a little bothered when you find that someone else has accomplished something for the Lord? Are you a little bothered when you find that someone else has ministered to someone in need and you think, “Oh, I wish I had thought of that. It would have been a good thing for me to do.”? It is not so much a matter of being glad that that other person has done it as it is of thinking, “Well, he is getting ahead of me in the track race. His record is better than mine.” No, God's kind of love rejoices in the success of the Gospel regardless of the person who administered that success. We rejoice in the Lord and in the exaltation of His name, regardless of who the messenger might have been who brought it about.

Think about the specific application of this point in Corinth and in Abilene. They were full of envy against each other, and they were keeping track of which of their leaders drew the biggest crowd and which was the most intellectual and which was the most powerful and which was the best orator. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (and to us) and said, “Look, that part doesn't matter. What we should rejoice in is the exaltation of Jesus Christ and the spread of His Word. Don't focus on the messengers.”

Love That Endures

Verse 7 brings a conclusion to this list of perfections. It says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Galatians, chapter 5, says that the fruit of the Spirit is faith. I think that is what is being talked about here. The picture here in I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 7, is one of progression. These days we are hearing so much, particularly about well-known people, of scandal, of rumors, of gossip. Well-known people are not the only ones that it happens to. It certainly draws all of our attention when it happens to a well-known person. When a tough situation comes along, when you hear about some kind of scandal, whether it is on the level of a personal friend or whether it is on the level of some famous person, what is your first reaction to that? Listen, love bears it. Love does not jump to an immediate conclusion of fixing the blame. The next time you hear that so-and-so has done such-and-such, if your eyes are on the Lord, if you are filled with the Spirit, if the Spirit is producing His fruit in your life, if you are operating with the love of God, your first reaction needs to be, “I hope that isn't true.” So often when we hear something like that, we say, “Aha, I am not surprised. I knew it all along.” Our reaction ought to be, first of all, to bear with that, to hope that is not true, not just immediately fixing the blame.

When we hear something like that, sometimes the details develop, and they look very suspicious. Love believes only the best. Then the wrongdoing seems to develop and the proof of the wrongdoing gets stronger, and love hopes for the best. Finally, many times those hopes are dashed, and it turns out not to be the best at all, and it turns out that the rumor is true and the scandal is genuine. What does love do? Love endures. Even in those worst of situations, the love continues to be there for that guilty person. There is still that desire to help. Sometimes that helping may be in terms of being a part of discipline or encouraging administration of discipline, but still there is that motivation to help even though the worst has turned out to be true.

This isn't just a matter of blindly believing the best about a fellow Christian, nor is it a matter of blindly and openly accepting anything that anyone says. It is a matter of being faithful. It is a matter of continuing to love that person, not prejudging him, hoping for his innocence, but finally bearing with him even if it is true, continuing to love that person, no matter what the outcome may be, even if they may have to go through some kind of punishment from the state or some kind of discipline from God. The love is still there to help them get through that.

The Fruit of the Spirit

I hope you have seen by now that agape love, God's kind of love, is parallel to the fruit of the Spirit, to the filling of the Spirit; and therefore, the person who is consistently filled with the Spirit is the only one who will be able to achieve these things on a regular basis. As Christians, most of us may experience these things occasionally as we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit in a particular situation, but if you want to consistently be obedient to this description, if you want this to be consistently true of your life, then it is a matter of walking at the direction of the Holy Spirit and continuing to walk that way.

Let me bring it down on an even more personal level. What this passage is saying is that the solution to those petty, irritating situations of life is to grow in the Lord and to walk in the Lord. That last description we talked about dealt with scandal and disappointment, but when you think about these other things that are in this list, don't they really just come down to those everyday situations of life–being touchy, keeping a record of other people's faults, gossiping, those kinds of things? Those are just everyday activities, aren't they? Do you know what this passage tells us? It tells us that we can have victory even over those petty, irritating but so regular issues of life because possession of the characteristics of God's kind of love would prevent most of those problems from ever coming up in the first place or at least solve them if they do come up.

Conclusion

Where are your eyes today? Who are you watching? Who are you emulating? Who are you following as we go through this formation of the Christian life? Are your eyes on the Lord? Someone may say, “If I just constantly try to think like God, if I just constantly try to do it God's way, then something is going to get out of kilter, and it is not going to go my way.” The only way to follow God's formation successfully and to accomplish God's purpose is to keep your eyes on Him. Yes, from a human standpoint, things may get out of hand. God may–in some cases He does–fly people right into the ground and into His presence. On the other hand, would the Thunderbirds ever have achieved their prominence, would people go sit in the broiling sun on the flightline for hours to watch the Thunderbirds if every guy was doing his own thing? No, that accomplishment comes from keeping their eyes on the leader. If we want to make an impact on our world as Christians, as a body or as individuals, we can't just be out doing our own thing. We have to keep our eyes on the Lord. We have to endeavor by God's help to love with His kind of love and let the Holy Spirit empower us and reach out to those around us not in the ways that we figure might be best to do, but at His direction and with His empowering.


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