#5 (THE "WITHOUT" SERIES)
"WITHOUT LOVE, I AM NOTHING!"
TEXT: I Cor. 12:31b-14:1
INTRO: Do you remember when you first fell in love, how blind you were to the faults in your loved one, how you could not do enough for them ... and how they occupied your every waking thought? Then came an Uncle or Aunt and said to you, "you'll get over it!" -- meaning of course that in time this passionate love will ebb, in time you will settle down building careers and developing your gifts, building a productive home life and gone will be this passionate love that consumed your every waking moment.
This is what happened to the church in
Even Sigmund Freud stated, "Love is the first requirement for mental health."
A "gifted" church is neither the highest goal ... nor a church that has the greatest programs! The highest goal of a church ought to be a loving church, only then can its programs and gifts find their greatest expression!
PROP. SENT: Without love a church is just another human institution that lacks the power to effect eternal changes in the lives of people! The Bible teaches us that without love we are nothing, and we gain nothing!
I. THE PLACE OF LOVE 12:31b-13:3
A. Excellent 12:31b
1. Paul was not trying to teach the church at Corinth that they should choose between the gifts or love -- but that the gifts must be qualified by love!
a. The “most excellent way” had to do with using the gifts!
b. In other words, Paul is saying, "let me show you the most excellent way TO the gifts and their use!"
2. Paul recognized that the gifts would only divide the church or make individuals arrogant if they were not fully built upon love!
a. Indeed that is exactly what happened in the church at Corinth (and today when love is not a priority).
b. The gifts of the Spirit had become status symbols!
c. The church had become divided and spiritual pride had spilled over into many within the church that were great at exercising the gifts but not exercising love!
3. The result was a very gifted church that had a lousy testimony and little real power!
4. Paul is not asking them to give up the gifts, just the practice of using gifts outside the context of God's love!
ILLUS: MANY YEARS AGO AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, THERE WAS AN UNDERGRADUATE LITERARY CLUB. THE CLUB WAS FORMED OF ALL MALE STUDENTS WHO DEMONSTRATED OUTSTANDING TALENT IN WRITING. AT EACH MEETING THEY WOULD READ THEIR PIECES AND THEN CRITIQUE EACH OTHER WITH NO MERCY SHOWN! THEY DISSECTED EACH LINE ... SOMETIMES THE SESSIONS WERE SO BRUTAL THAT THEY FINALLY NAMED THE GROUP THE "STRANGLERS!" THEN A SIMILAR CLUB WAS FORMED CALLED THE "WRANGLERS," IT WAS COMPOSED OF ONLY FEMALE STUDENTS THAT SHOWED OUTSTANDING WRITING ABILITIES. LIKE THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS, THEY WOULD AT EACH MEETING READ THEIR COMPOSITIONS BUT WITH ONE NOTICEABLE DIFFERENCE ... THEIR CRITICISMS COULD ONLY BE CONSTRUCTIVE AND WITH A LOVING AND GENTILE HELPFUL SPIRIT. THEY LIFTED EACH OTHER UP AND ENCOURAGED EACH OTHER. 20 YEARS LATER A UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER DECIDED TO CHECK UP ON THE OUTCOME OF THESE TWO GROUPS TO SEE HOW THE INDIVIDUALS HAD FARED WITH THEIR LITERARY GIFTS. THE RESULTS WERE TELLING: OUT OF THE VERY HARSH "STRANGLERS" THERE HAD NOT BEEN ONE SINGLE SUCCESS OR ANY REPUTATION WHATSOEVER! HOWEVER, FROM THE LOVING "WRANGLERS" ABOUT A HALF DOZEN LADIES HAD BECOME HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL WRITERS! BOTH GROUPS HAD GIFTS AND TALENT BUT ONLY ONE GROUP HAD OFFERED LOVING HELP ... AND THE DIFFERENCES SHOWED UP 20 YEARS LATER! -- Source Unknown
B. Extremes! 31:1-3
1. Paul now explains how even the gifts of the Holy Spirit without love are of no value to the church or the world!
a. Notice that he starts with “tongues” which Paul refers to as the "least" of the gifts...
b. And then he mentions "prophecy" which he says is the "greatest" of the gifts…
c. Neither the greatest nor the least has any value without love!
2. Either extreme must be dismissed as to any value in God's church if there is no fruit of the Holy Spirit to give those gifts value!
ILLUS: IT IS LIKE SOMEONE WHOM YOU KNOW HATES YOU AND THEY GIVE YOU A GIFT, IT HAS LITTLE VALUE TO YOU BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF LOVE FROM THE PERSON WHO GAVE IT TO YOU. YET, WHEN A GIFT IS GIVEN TO YOU BY SOMEONE WHO LOVES YOU DEARLY YOU CHERISH THAT GIFT AND GIVE IT A VALUE BEYOND ITS FACE VALUE BECAUSE OF THAT LOVE! THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN A CHURCH WHERE THERE IS ANGER, BITTERNESS, DIVISION, HATRED, DISCORD, OR SPIRITUAL PRIDE ONLY DAMAGES THAT CHURCH AND THE WITNESS OF CHRISTIANITY! BUT THE LOVING CHURCH THAT IS ALSO A GIFTED CHURCH WILL HAVE POWER WITHIN, AND WITHOUT! LIKE A FOUNDATION TO A HOUSE, LOVE MUST BE WHAT THE GIFTS ARE BUILT ON, OR THE HOUSE IS DANGEROUS TO DWELL IN! -- Source Unknown
3. Following the extremes of the "least" and the "most" Paul inserts the many other gifts of the Spirit and states that like the "least" and the "most," these gifts without love are meaningless too!
4. Paul says that without love all these gifts are merely us "making noise!"
a. The phrase, "resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" surely got the Corinthian's attention!
b. Corinth was a big center of worship for Dionysus & Cybele -- whose worshippers were called to come and worship by "sounding large gongs and clanging large cymbals!" Yet, this call to worship was for the worship of empty idols, thus empty of meaning!
c. Paul's point: If the Corinthian Christians exercised spiritual gifts without God’s love they were no better off that the followers of Dionysus or Cybele.
5. From the least to the greatest gifts and everything in between, with no love it was a waste of time and they were just making noise like the other idolaters!
6. Notice carefully what Paul says about all this, that those who have all these gifts but do not show God's love are really nothing!
a. In fact Paul does not say here that they "have nothing" … but that they "ARE NOTHING!"
b. This was a real slap in the face since it was the gifts of the Spirit that they were using to judge how important and mature they were in spiritual things!
c. They had great contests going on to demonstrate how they had more gifts of the Spirit than others in the church.
d. It was used as a badge of spirituality!
7. The REAL BADGE OF SPIRITUALITY HOWEVER IS IN HOW WE LOVE!
a. Never judge how spiritual someone is by the gifts of the Spirit.
b. Corinthians wanted to be known as big shots ... the gifts were being used to appear to be one!
8. Paul even adds here another example of extremes: "the man who gives' all he possesses to the poor..."
a. The original Greek sheds some light on Paul's meaning here: the verb tense is an aorist tense meaning that this man took his whole fortune and at a single moment in time divided it up into small portions to give to lots of people ... thus maximizing his appearance of being a giver of all that he had, the idea is clearly to gain a reputation as a great man in the eyes of many people! In other words, this deed was done for self, not out of love! The Greek word itself is the same word used of Jesus dipping the "sop" and giving the small morsel to Judas in the Gospels. The man was looking for admiration from others, not a selfless act of love to help others!
(1. Paul's point here might have been directed to some in the Corinthian church that appeared to do things for personal glory rather than out of love for the Lord and His children, those who maximized their actions to be seen and heard by others!
(2. Even an extreme act of sacrifice without love has no meaning except self-glory!
b. Public sacrifices are inherently less spiritual than private ones!
9. Paul adds one more example of extremes: "the man who would give up his body to be burned!"
a. In Paul's day, the worst way to die was considered to be by flames or fire! Thus a man who would willingly choose to die in the worst possible way would have been admired as a great martyr!
b. But Paul states here that even this act without love is valueless and self serving!
(1. While it might seem courageous to die for a cause...
(2. It takes more character to LIVE FOR ONE!
c. Here Paul adds that a man who gives away all his possessions and even his life without love really "gains nothing." 13:3b
10. Paul thus says two things: Gifts and personal sacrifices without love leave us with two things:
a. Gifts without love: “I AM NOTHING!”
b. Sacrifices without love: “I GAIN NOTHING!”
c. Nothing plus nothing = nothing!
11. These believers needed some correction: They needed to learn the "MORE EXCELLENT WAY!" ... LOVE! If they are going to pursue gifts, they better practice love! LOVE MUST BE AT THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH'S PROGRAMS AND GIFTS!
II. THE POWER OF LOVE 13:4-12
A. Evidence! 13:4-7
1. Paul now moves from the negative examples of those who lacked love, to the positive example of what real love does ... its power!
a. You will quickly note that this list is difficult to swallow ... it goes against the grain of our human spirit!
b. Imagine a church load of people that demonstrated this kind of love!
c. Imagine the kind of power this type of church would demonstrate to the world!
2. Christians who would love this way would find a very special kind of freedom!
a. The freedom from anger alone would go a long ways in healing a lot of people and freeing them from all kinds of emotions!
b. Our priorities would certainly fall into line more easily! We would live differently and have a different value of eternal things vs. temporal things.
c. I learned a long time ago that you can't convince someone to tithe who isn't madly in love with Christ and His church! (That’s why "God loves a cheerful giver"... cheerful people are loving people!)
3. These attributes if practiced will show in real ways, love has real evidence to it!
UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR WAS ASKED TO SPEAK AT A MILITARY BASE ONE DECEMBER AND HE
WAS PICKED UP AT THE AIRPORT BY A YOUNG SOLDIER NAMED RALPH, A MAN HE NEVER
FORGOT AFTER THIS MEETING! AS RALPH
MET HIM AND THEY BEGAN WALKING TOWARD THE BAGGAGE CLAIM AREA DOWN A LONG
CONCOURSE THE PROFESSOR NOTICED THAT RALPH OCCASIONALLY KEPT DISAPPEARING
BRIEFLY! ONCE HE DARTED OFF TO THE
SIDE TO HELP AN OLDER WOMAN WHO’S SUITCASE HAD FALLEN OPEN. ANOTHER TIME RALPH DARTED OFF TO LIFT
TWO TODDLERS UP TO WHERE THEY COULD SEE SANTA CLAUS. ANOTHER TIME IT WAS TO GIVE DIRECTIONS
TO SOMEONE WHO WAS LOST! FINALLY
AFTER SEVERAL DELAYS ALONG THE ROUTE TO THE BAGGAGE CLAIM THE PROFESSOR ASKED
RALPH, "WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO DO
THAT?" RALPH ASKED, "DO WHAT?" THE PROFESSOR SAID, "WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO LIVE LIKE
THAT?" RALPH THEN EXPLAINED, "DURING THE WAR IN
B. Enduring 13:8-10
1. Paul now explains LOGICALLY why love it to be pursued by believers as the most important thing: Love is Eternal, the gifts are Temporary!
a. The gifts exist for the here and now of our lives in Christ...
b. They will cease at the coming of the Lord ... they serve a purpose for the church age, the here and now!
c. Love however ENDURES FOREVER! -- It will not pass away!
2. The gifts are wonderful and their value is great, but they are only good for this world; in eternity they will cease to have any value … but love will follow us from this life to the next!
a. This gives love a greater power and value then!
b. Since in all others things we are to value the eternal above the temporal this should apply here as well!
3. While the gifts might minister to people today, love will change their hearts and lives like nothing else! As stated before, the gifts have little value where there is no love!
ILLUS: AT THE
CLOSE OF WORLD WAR II AN AMERICAN SOLIDER WAS ON SENTRY DUTY ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF
LONDON ON CHRISTMAS MORNING. LATER
IN THE DAY AS HE WALKED TO THE CITY WITH A FEW OTHER GI'S HE CAME TO AN
4. The gifts of the Spirit can only edify a loving church ... these are the churches that endure!
C. Emptying! 13:11-12
1. Children are concerned with immediate needs ... they don't think long term or what is ultimately important!
a. This is why they love candy, and would eat it to the expense of good food if they could all the time!
b. To children eternal things are hard to grasp ... they just need to know that Jesus loves them, and that they should love Jesus…
c. It is hard for them to think beyond NOW!
2. When Paul was a child these were his concerns too, but now as a man he can focus on even more important matters!
a. Such as foundational ideas that are eternal, like God's love!
b. The gifts are important, he balances this out in the next chapter, but they are not important without the weightier issue of love as the foundation!
3. His call here is to these baby Christians to quit focusing only on the gifts while ignoring love!
a. It was time for them to grow up!
b. The verb used by Paul to "put away childish ways ..." indicates that Paul actually came to a decision at a point in time to grow up! The tense in Greek indicates that Paul not only made this decision in a point in time, but that he did so with the idea that it was going to be final! N0 going back for him!
4. Along with this, Paul mentions how the gifts only let us see vaguely now, they are not complete revelations; even the greatest gift like prophecy only gives us a poor reflection as in a mirror.
a. This illustration by Paul is full of meaning to the Corinthians!
b. Corinth was famous for its mirrors! Most were made of polished metal, not glass ones like we use today. The wealthy were able to buy highly polished metal mirrors that gave a pretty good reflection, but most in Corinth could only afford the cheaper metal mirrors that gave poor reflections at best! Paul likening the gifts to these poor reflections got the point across well to the Corinthians, the gifts while good are not as good as love!
c. However, the gifts with love are very helpful!!! They will build up the church where there is love!
d. The gifts will edify, love will mature them! They should work in harmony!
5. It was time for them to empty themselves of their childish demands and ways, and through love continue to use the gifts to minister to each other! Get in balance, love is selfless!
III. THE PRIORITY OF LOVE 13:13-14:1
A. Eternal 13:13
1. Paul ends as he started; love is superior because it is eternal!
a. As far as is known, no Christian has died for the gifts, but many have died because of their love for God!
b. When the gifts cease love will continue on...
2. We are allowed even now to experience a taste of eternity in the love of God, both by receiving it and by giving it!
3. We are therefore really nothing without love!
B. Endorsement 14:1
1. Paul now is careful to end his discussion about love and the gifts by bringing them back to a balance:
a. While the gifts are not ALL important, they are NOT unimportant either!
b. They are to first "follow the way of love"...
c. And then also: "eagerly desire spiritual gifts."
2. It is not therefore an “either-or” situation, but both!
3. Love sets the stage for the gifts to be effective and helpful, to build up the body of Christ!
4. In chapter 14 Paul will deal with the "here and now" issues of how the gifts are to operate, but first he wanted to set the stage of how important love is!
5. Paul gives an avid endorsement of the gifts with love! And so should we!
CONCLUSION: Spirituality is not measured by giftedness; it is measured by love, God's love! Paul makes an important statement about love when he says that "without love I am nothing!" – Not stated as "I have nothing," but rather, "I AM NOTHING!" A church or believer cannot be healthy without love no matter how gifted! Without love all sacrifices made by us gain us nothing! Love is foundational even for the gifts!