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The Cure For What Ails Us

by Alex Wilson

1 Cor. 13: 1-7 (Reprinted from Word & Work August, 2003)

When God's Love invaded the world in Jesus Christ, a new Greek word had to be adapted to explain it: agape, that is, self-giving, self- sacrificing love. Love for the utterly unworthy and unattractive! The Lord loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is loving -- even to the un-lovable. And that love is the subject of 1 Cor. 13.

But most of us have heard this chapter so often that familiarity breeds contempt -- or at least dullness. When we have known some passage all our life and perhaps memorized it decades ago, it is hard to break out of a ho-hum attitude toward it even if we really want to. This is where and when I find that various Bible versions may help. And especially the paraphrases like J.B. Philips, and The Living Bible (now much improved as the New Living Translation), and Eugene Peterson's The Message. Of course for precise and in-depth study the New American Standard, New International Version (and from what I've heard -- the new highly-praised English Standard Version) are much better. But there's a place for the others too. Look again for the first time to 1 Cor.13: 1-3, in The Message:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I
speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a
mountain, 'Jump,' and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere.

We don't want to be zeros for Christ, to go nowhere. We don't want to amount to nothing in serving Him. So let's set our hearts on Love, the Mt. Everest of all virtues. This chapter reveals several significant facts: Love is essential as motivation of our spiritual gifts.  And it is beautiful in all its aspects. Even more, it is unfailing and unfading. In fact, love is the greatest thing in the world (as Henry Drummond's book on 1 Cor. 13 called it).

1. Love is Essential for Motivating our Gifts (verses 1-3. just quoted).

Paul mentions at least five spiritual gifts here, to show that each of these gems turns into junk if it doesn't spring from love.

I may be a world-champion expert in tongues- speaking, or in the gift of prophecy. Or perhaps in supernaturally-revealed knowledge of mysteries, or special faith for performing miracles. But if I lack love as my motive, then it all adds up to a big fat O. Men may shower me with acclaim, but it's nothing so far as God is concerned.

Or I may perform seemingly loving deeds -- giving away my possessions to live in a squatter's shack in stinking slums among the sick, starving and addicted. Or I may have a seemingly total dedication to Christ -- voluntarily surrendering myself to fanatical persecutors, knowing I'll be burned at the stake. But if in doing such deeds I am devoid of love, then I will not gain anything from God for it!

Paul is not downing gifts here. There's no competition between love, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts He imparts. The gifts minus love are nothing; that's Paul's emphasis here. But love without the gifts is incomplete -- stunted, amputated --like the body of a caring person who lacks hands to help others.

We see here that our attitude makes or breaks our actions. Small, frail, faltering and inept deeds done for love's sake will have value and bring blessing when loveless deeds of impressive expertise and stupendous effort will amount to zilch. Not that we should be content with being inept or inefficient in serving the Lord, for love will want to do its very best. But above all else, love is what God looks for and longs for: agape love. Without it our "service" for Him only annoys and aggravates others, like the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals of the pagan processions in Paul's day: lots of banging but no melody or harmony.

Genuine love is the essential motive for serving our Lord. Without it we gain nothing for God or from God, even if our deeds look loving and seem sacrificial.

2. Love is Beautiful in All its Aspects (verses 4-7)._

One way to demonstrate its beauty is to compile the ways in which various Bible versions translate or paraphrase Paul's fifteen descriptive phrases. So this is what I've done, plus adding a few dictionary definitions. Ponder these sparkling facets of the diamond of love.

3.  Lessons from this Loyely List of Attractive Attributes:

First, Such Love is a CURE-ALL for Sins. At least it would have been for the Christians in Corinth. Notice their problems which love's traits would have solved:

"Love is Kind" and also "Not rude" would have prevented their clannish and humiliating treatment of the poor who had no food to bring to the fellowship-meals (1 Cor. 11 : 18-22).

"Does not envy" -- This would cure the pouting or discouragement of those who felt their spiritual gifts were insignificant and
worthless compared with others (12: 14-17).

"Does not boast" or strut, to impress others -- Those with sensational or "powerful" gifts needed this medicine (12:21-26). So did the members who quarreled among themselves and divided into groups -- "I'm for Paul," "I'm for Peter," etc. (1: 1 0-31).

"Not proud" -- Some of them were conceited know-it-alls, whom Paul rebuked by saying, "Knowledge puffs up but love builds
up" (8:1-2; also 1:18-29; 3:18-20; 4:7).

"Not self-seeking" --This would have solved the problem of meats sacrificed to idols, where the believers who were well taught
became stumbling-blocks to those who were "weak" in understanding that idols were really nothing (8:1-l3; 10:23-11:1). Paul urges them, "Don't think only of yourself. Try to think of the other fellow, too, and what is best for him ... ~ Don't be a stumbling block to anyone" (10:24,32).

"Love is patient and ... not easily angered" and "keeps no re- cord of wrongs" would have cured them of dragging their fellow-
Christians into court and suing them (6: 1-11).

"It does not delight in evil" would have mended their lack of rebuking and correcting the case of gross sexual immorality by a
church-member -- for love is not mushy toward sin not repented of. (Chapter 5)

If the church in Corinth had practiced Love, they would have had very few of the problems that wracked them. And that's true of almost every church there is.  Second, Such Love is IMPOSSIBLE for Us in Ourselves:

Give yourself a test by saying the following:

"I am patient, I do not envy nor boast, I am not self-seeking, I am not irritable or touchy .... " When I do that, my instinctive reaction is first "Ha!" And then, "Ouch!" This beautiful chapter turns out to be a mirror revealing my ugliness. How can I experience love as my "cure for sins" if I lack that love?

Ah, but Wait. There is Good News. Now say the following:

Christ is patient, Christ does not envy; Christ does not boast, is not self-seeking; Christ is not irritable or touchy... -- YES, that fits! It is true indeed! And now there's even Better News. Try saying this:

Christ-in-me is patient and does not envy, Christ-in-me does not boast and is not self- seeking; Christ-in-me is not irritable or
touchy - That's VICTORY! Yes, such loving character is possible -- by His stunning grace! -- by His enabling power, as we trust more and more in Him rather than ourselves.

Victory is available -- as I grow in depending on Him. I should rely upon Him to do for me what I can't do for myself. May our Lord help us experience this more and more.

-Alex Wilson is the  Editor of  "Word  & Work." He preaches  for the Portland Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville, KY

One Response to “The Cure For What Ails Us”

  1. Bradley Banister says:

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10