When Love Comes To Town (1Corinthians 13:1-3)




I enjoy reading Peanuts and Charlie Brown quotes, comics and stories. The author, Charles Schultz was a master as interjecting life lessons into his writing.

One cartoon has Lucy standing stern with a grimace on her face and arms folded. Charlie Brown approaches and pleads, “Lucy, you must be more loving. This world really needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this world a better place.” However, Lucy responds in anger and knocks Charlie to the ground and screams, “Look Blockhead, the world I love. It’s people I can’t stand!” linus - people

Another Peanuts cartoon has Schroeder telling Lucy he wants to be a doctor. Lucy responds with her typical cynicism and charm, “You a doctor! Ha! That’s a big laugh. You could never be a doctor. You know why?” Schroeder seems to shrug his shoulders with a blank look. Lucy responds, “Because you don’t love mankind!” And Schroeder replies insightfully, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”

Indeed, it is easier to love in general than in specific. In fact, it’s easier to talk about love than actually love in deeds. Intentional loving the people around us can be a challenge.

Jesus is love incarnate. He puts on flesh what it means to serve and sacrifice for others. He laid down His life daily, and decidedly at the cross. Learning to love takes a lifetime, but thankfully we have all eternity to practice.

This week we kickoff a series exploring the essence and essentiality of biblical love. We will study the most famous passage on the topic: 1Corinthians 13.


EXAMINE           1Corinthians 13:1-3              When Love Comes To Town: Compassion Is Essential

It is interesting that 1Corinthians 13 is in the context of church and relationships. In other words, the passage is not just about a wedding day, but every day! Further, the context of Corinthian immorality is also relevant that Paul communicates the biblical view of love and relationships.

  • Illus: Great Aunt Vivian remarks of a lovely wedding ad-nausea; and you remark of frightening possibility about love being absent despite the great abilities… Don’t be Aunt Viv

Love is for…

  • The child who needs day-to-day and moment-by-moment attention.
  • The teen who pursues affection from friends and persons when home life is unstable.
  • The spouse who has been walked out from foolishness.
  • The family who wants to honor God and grow in faith.


  • Our series is 3 weeks: Compassion is essential (1Cor 13:1-3) / Character is expressed (1Cor 13:4-7) / Christ endures (1Cor 13:8-13).
  • Memorize 1Corinthians 13 / at least vv.4-7.



  • KJV uses “charity” (aim is likely for distinction, but not consistent translation elsewhere)
  • 4 Greek words[1]
    • Στοργή: storge love is natural or familial love, essential and obligation love.
    • Εροσ: eros love is passion love; often used of sensual or self-fulfilling love, where Greeks viewed this love intoxicating, and we get the English word “erotic”
    • φιλέω: phileo love is attachment or friendly love where person finds enjoyment in the other; where we get Philadelphia brotherly love.
    • ἀγαπάω: worthy love expressing value and precious possession; the word was rarely used in Classical Greek literature but is frequent in NT used in sense of self-giving type love.


ἀγαπάω is used 10x throughout 1Cor 13:1 – 14:1 and sixteen times in the entire book.

***In 1Cor 13:1-3 we can see that our words and works and witness are useless without love.


Our words must be linked to love (1Cor 13:1)

Paul writes about speaking in the tongues of men and of angels. In this very same context, Paul writes about various spiritual gifts, namely that of speaking in various kinds of tongues (1Cor 12:28-30; 14:2-40). Speaking in tongues may be understood as both speaking a foreign language, as well as at Corinth appears to be some sort of prayer dialogue with to God (14:2, 4). Paul may also simply be referring to eloquent speech (2:4). Regardless the type of tongue, Paul says our words must be linked with love or they are a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

Paul was likely referring to the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals that were used in Greek and Roman theatres and pagan worship.[2] Gongs and cymbals can produce significant noise, but not special music; generally these instruments must be used in concert with other instruments and played a proper way to make a pleasing sound.

Paul’s metaphor today would be something like, “If I could mass-market and network the gospel but not have love, I am a babbling blog, an frustrating Facebook post or tyrannical Twitter user.”

  • Today, our words can have great eloquence and oratory ability, but they are not enough without love. Proverbs 10:20 “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.”
  • Speak with self-control. The loudest or most frequent speaker isn’t always the most clever or compassionate.

Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 15:28 “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”

Proverbs 16:23-24, 27 “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body… A worthless man plots evil and his speech is like scorching fire.”

  • Speak with grace. Sometimes we can say the right thing in tactless way or inappropriate body language.

Colossians 4:6 “let words be full of grace, seasoned with salt”

  • Our worship services can have energy and excitement, but if they are not followed by the right heart motivation of love for God, then our worship is empty.
    Amos 5:23 “Take away the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”


  • I’ll take low talent and high character over high talent and low character; but aim for both character and talent is worthy for cultivating a worship environment in the local church. So, musicians & vocalists, practice your talent and don’t bypass time with the Lord.
  • Our messages can show one motivation but conceal a contrasting motivation. In other words, people can be hypocrites.
    Proverbs 20:6 “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”
  • Cultivate your private and spiritual life as much as you do the public persona or platform. If you spend more time on social media than personal prayer than be alarmed. Too often in the headlines we see people who are extremely talented and exceptionally gifted, but later we discover their integrity was lacking. “Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you father than your character can sustain you… character determines your legacy.”[3]

Our works must be linked to love (1Cor 13:2)

Paul lists two spiritual gifts: prophecy and faith that are again elsewhere listed (1Cor 12:8-11, 28-30, etc.). A man can have powerful preaching or a woman can have shrewd judgment, and a person can have the faith and vision that accomplishes much, but if love is lacking than all is nothing. His emphasis is on “all” works of prophecy, discerment, and faith, and is in contrast to “nothing.”

This may remind Bible readers of Joseph who was able to discern the meaning of dreams and achieve one of the highest positions in an empire. But, what made Joseph unique was not his abilities but his character and compassion to forgive his brothers (cf. Gen 47-50).

Suppose you were quite intelligent and were well studies in history and culture, science and psychology, mathematics and engineering. And suppose you were an excellent teacher that people loved listening to your insights. Additionally, suppose you were a brilliant doctor on the cutting edge of technology to be able to cure cancer. And to round it all, suppose you had the charm and sensibility to bring about world peace in the Middle East and around the world. Suppose you could accomplish all of that – but according to 1Cor 13, you would still fall short of God’s design.


God’s design is perfect love for others. In fact, it’s said today that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1). So, the workings of spiritual gifts, social skills, and human talents must be exercised in love.

Paul concludes Corinthians, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1Cor 16:14). In other letters, he would note his ministry work wasn’t just filled with toil but also tears (cf. Ac 20:19; Rom 9:1-3; 2Cor 2:4; Php 1:8; 3:18; 1Thess 1:8-11; 2Tim 1:4).

  • We link our works with love by remembering our motivation. Most people enjoy their work not just because it’s self-fulfilling but because it serves the good of others. And for many of us, when we are experiencing burnout it is not because we are too busy working, but because 1) we’re too busy working with the wrong motivation or 2) we’re too busy with the wrong priorities.
  • #KnowYourWhy


Our witness must be linked to love (1Cor 13:3)

This third verse speaks to honor and virtue of giving generously and even self-sacrificing one’s life. In fact, martyrdom – dying for what you believe – is perhaps the highest form of praise in one’s faith. But again, Paul says your witness can be bold in giving with great measure and magnificence but if you have not love, then you gain nothing.

At this point, Bible readers may remember the prophet Jonah. Jonah was commanded to preach God’s salvation to Nineveh. Jonah’s problem was that he was a racist and disliked the Ninevites. Jonah knew that if he preached the grace of God that Nineveh would hear it as good news and repent and be saved. Instead of preaching Jonah fled. So, God caused a storm in Jonah’s life and ended up swallowing him with a giant fish, who later barfed him up on the shore. Jonah returns to Nineveh to preach God’s grace. Of course, the entire city repents and trusts God. But Jonah is angry and bitter and begs to die so he doesn’t have to see faith flourish in Nineveh. In Jonah, we see an unfeeling, uncaring, insensitive, cruel, and loveless witness of God. Jonah was a nothing of a man.

Suppose you were wealthy; you’re so rich you fedex your Christmas Cards / bought a hummer just for driving to the end of your drive way to get the mail / Warren Buffet asks you for stock tips. Seriously, imagine you’re wealthy that you could fund all the pregnancy clinics, homes for homeless, end poverty in cities and third world countries, fund church planters and global missionaries – yet you did not have love, then you gain nothing.

  • On mission in your neighborhood or across nations, you can be an outstanding linguist in a country but if you lack compassion you will be ineffective.
  • Ask God to give you His compassion to see people as Jesus does (cf. Matthew 9:35).
  • Pray for people by name. Prayer cultivates compassion.



There’s a story from 17th Century Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. He sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. But, at the appointed hour the bell did not sound. Upon investigation it was discovered that the soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the bell tower and clung to the bell to prevent it from striking. The fiancé was summoned to meet Lord Oliver Cromwell to account for her actions. When she appeared before him, she wept feverishly as she showed him her bruised body and bleeding hands. Oliver Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice.”[4]


Recently, we spent 9-weeks studying the Gospel of Mark and now 1Cor 13. The point of studying Jesus’s life is to study love. Some will think it means that we need to love others like Jesus. I do not disagree, and affirm there comes moments where we need to apply our knowledge or we’ll become mentally and spiritually constipated. Yet, the point of studying Jesus and studying love is to remind us that God’s love is faithful beyond our failed attempts at love. We are to look at Jesus and see love incarnate. We are to see his bruised body and bleeding hands stretched out in love for you.

Paul says, that we are irrelevant, unimportant, and gain emptiness if we lack love. The only way we can know how to love is to be loved. Today, we invite you to receive the love of Jesus into your life and as we lived loved by God, we will indeed love others well.


– – – – – – – –

[1] Insights from Gerhard Kittel, TDNT Vol 1, pp. 35-55 AND Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek NT, Vol 3, pp.109-124.

[2] See Phil Ryken, Loving The Way Jesus Loves, p.20.

[3] Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leader, pp. 151, 132

[4] Story from https://bible.org/illustration/curfew-shall-not-ring-tonight

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