A Gift That Keeps Giving (1 Corinthians 13)

MOTIVATE

Many of you know that last year our family had our kitchen remodeled. The house we live in had its original kitchen from late 1980’s and the cabinets were falling apart. So, we were able to knock down a wall, open the floorplan, add multiple cabinets with lots of storage, and a pantry for our family of 7. One other item we added was a new deep sink for washing dishes.

After several months of usage, the faucet became loose from under the granite. Getting underneath to tighten the bolt was nearly impossible, even a plumbing wrench wouldn’t fit in the tight space. After asking Brother Voelp’s assistance, he recommended two actions: purchase a special tool that fits over a hose and reaches up to the bolt to tighten and use Loctite glue on the bolt to keep it from frequently loosening.

In a similar way, no matter what tools or gifts you have in life, things will frequently loosen and become undone without the Loctite of God’s love that holds everything together.

Today we begin a series on a famous chapter in the Bible:
1 Corinthians 13… for two reasons:

  1. After Acts, we need reminded that the sort of mighty movement of God does not occur without vibrant love for others.
    1. Illus: 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!”
      1. It is easy for Christians, and the church, to love in theory or from a distance.
        1. We pack a shoebox and call that evangelism.
        1. We donate money and call it missions.   
      1. When God wanted to show the world His love, He didn’t send material trinkets or money, but He sent His best. God became incarnate with the Son of God taking on flesh to become one of us and with us. Jesus laid down His life daily for others, and decidedly at the cross. And He calls us to love in similar ways.
      1. Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)
      1. God’s love for the world was/is measured not just by numbers but names of countless people who have received His gift of grace and trusted in Jesus.
      1. If a local church is going to make a difference in today’s culture, then we will need to relearn how to become love incarnate in personal and specific ways.
  • Love is in the air at Christmas.[1] It is featured in the songs we hear as we shop for presents and in the commercials we see in media (“Show someone they’re special/loved with this gift.”). It’s written in the cards we send and the tags we attach to presents. Love is a prominent and magical feeling from Fall and climaxing at the Christmas season. And then there’s winter blues, which I hope this sermon series equips you to not feel discomfort, downcast, or abandoned. 

In all, Christ’s birth is a celebration of God’s perfect love coming down. “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Christmas is more than a magical feeling but a powerful presence pushing back the darkness.

Love is for…
– the child who just doesn’t understand yet.
– the teen who pursues affection from friends and persons she shouldn’t when the home life is unstable.
– the spouse who feels unseen, unheard, and unable to continue in the marriage.
– the family member who needs day-to-day and moment-by-moment caregiving.
– the church attender, whether it’s your first time or fiftieth year, you need reminded the setting of 1Cor13 is not a wedding but a worship gathering.
– you. Love is for you. For you!


So, we’ll spend the next several weeks thanking God for the ways Jesus is the definition of 1Cor 13, and how He perfectly loves us. Love is God’s gift that keeps giving to us each, and every day. We can never exhaust the depths of God’s love or grow tired/bored with His grace. Love makes all the difference.

We can never exhaust the depths of God’s love or grow tired or bored with His grace. Love makes all the difference.

Intro before reading text:

  • KJV uses “charity” vs “love.” It’s aim is likely for distinctive language but it’s not consistent in translating the word elsewhere, nor is it reflectively accurate.
  • 4 Greek words[2]
    • Στοργή: storge love is natural or familial love, it’s essential and obligatory love (have to love siblings!).
    • 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 – city of brotherly love. Although if you know Philly…
    • γαπάω: supreme or divine love expressing value and precious possession; the word was rarely used in Classical Greek literature but is frequent in NT, being used in the sense of a self-giving and sacrificial.

ἀγαπάω is used 10x throughout 1Cor 13:1 – 14:1 and 16x in the entire book.

EXAMINE               1 Corinthians 13            Patient

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Paul starts this chapter with typical Christmas flair, speaking about angels. Angels surround the collection of Scriptures and carols about the birth of Christ. And, we know angels can speak in human language so individuals can understand God’s message at certain moments. But, apparently individuals were speaking frequently with a divine language – tongues – as Paul writes about in the previous (12:10) and successive chapters (14:1-28).

Illus: When a child begins to speak words, they can be difficult to audibly hear or discern what is being said. Typically, a parent understands and has to translate what the child has spoken. Parents can understand garbled or jumbled words of a child because of their close relationship with the child.

Likewise, Paul is reminding that without love, our words sound like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Generally, these instruments produce significant noise but not special music. These instruments must be used in concert with other instruments and played in a proper way to make a pleasing sound. You never see a guy with a cow bell having a solo; at least you never should! The word “symphony” means “same sound.” If our lives are not serving others and our words building up but tearing down, then we are out of harmony with God’s design.

  • Our words must be linked with love. Careful of hasty words or feeling to make a statement about everything.

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

Proverbs 16:24, 27 “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body… A worthless person plots evil and their speech is like scorching fire.”

  • Tell someone outside of your family “I love you” each day from now until end of 2022. And guys, that means you too.

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.

Paul continues the Christmas festivity as he references prophecy. We cannot know about Christ or celebrate Christmas without prophetic gifts and fulfillment. He lists a series of impressive spiritual gifts and powers with prophecy or revelatory insight, understanding knowledge and discernment of mysteries, faith – enough to move mountains, sacrificial giving, and even martyrdom. Paul reminds us we can be extraordinarily talented and publicly serving others, but if we lack sincerity of love, then we are nothing. We could add all our actions, calculate the hours spent, total the investments we give, which all may be a substantial amount. But if we do these things because we are waiting for recognition, then we have bought into the lie of religion.

Some people attend or join a church wondering, “Where can I use my gifts?” or “Why are my gifts not recognized?” Yet, what Paul would say is that your greatest gift as a church member is to love others. Do that first and frequently, and when people see you really care about them, then you’ll learn when and how to use your other talents/gifts.

You see, religion says, “If I do or give, then I can be rewarded.” Every religion in the world teaches us that the divine accepts us based on works. And religion can produce passionate and dependable adherents. Yet, religion can also lead you to the path of emptiness and eternal darkness. The Corinthians were impressively religious on the outside. Their worship services were dynamic and lively. They had miraculous signs, educated and gifted speakers, eloquent prayers, affluent and generous givers, zealous workers. Yet, their spiritual life on the inside was hollow and unhealthy. 

  • Illus: Have you ever seen someone who is super healthy: exercise daily, eat selective foods from sun-up to sun-down and don’t sneak or cheat with snacks. On the outside they appear as the peak and prime example of health.
    Yet, for some reason on the inside something goes wrong: liver failure; arteries clogged; heart palpitation; brain tumor. It’s shocking to us and almost seems unfair.

YET, this is precisely what Paul wants us to understand about our humanity and the gospel. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. We can fill our life with all sorts of activity, hurry, and worry in the most positive sense, but it amounts to zero to Almighty God.

  • Illus: In math, any number regardless of how high that is multiplied by zero, still equals zero. You can take 10, 100, or 1,000 X 0 and it still = 0. You can even take 10001000 X 0 and still get 0.

When it comes to the gospel, we cannot do anything apart from God’s love working through us (cf. Gal 5:6). Further, understanding that love is not an abstract idea but a specific person we must also love and have in our life. “For love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1Jn 4:7-9)

To further define love, Paul provides the most eloquent description and definition to love known to humanity. He lists 7 positive comparisons and 8 negative contrasts. If you’re counting, that’s 15 points in Paul’s sermon. Take heart, we’re not covering all 15 today, nor taking 15 separate weeks. However, we will take the 8 remaining Sundays to discuss and digest this wonderful working power of God.

To drill down today, I want to conclude the introduction to this passage with the first comparison: love is patient (1Cor 13:4).

The Bible has two words for patience: πομονή which is patience in circumstances, and μακροθυμία which is patience with people. You see there’s a difference between merely waiting in a long line at the grocery store or Disney, and waiting in that same line with a child screaming its head off because it wants a third round of candy; or the dad who has bumped you with the stroller for the 6th time in line; or the woman who keeps attempting to cut in front of you when you’re not looking.

While both words/aspects of patience are essential for Christians, this latter word is used in 1Cor 13. The KJV translates the word as “long-suffering,” which has a distinctive imagery. Agape love suffers long and shouldn’t have a short fuse for anger. Christians are to make allowances for gaffes, growth, and to give second chances to others. Why? Because God is long-suffering toward us and patient with our recurring shortcomings.

Christians are to make allowances for gaffes, growth, and to give second chances to others. Why? Because God is long-suffering toward us and patient with our recurring shortcomings.


As we review 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus is the personification of each definition of love.

  • Jesus is patient.
  • Jesus is kind.
  • Jesus is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, or rejoicing at wrongs.
  • Jesus is saturated with truth; compassionate to carry our burdens; oozes hope, and relentlessly refills our cup with endurance.
  • There is one thing Jesus can never do: fail. His love is unfailing, unfading, unwavering, unshakeable, and unending. If you are in Christ, absolutely no one can pluck you out of God’s hand; His grip is more firm and more faithful than yours is on Him; and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

As you consider God’s patience, realize it is meant not for us to progress down our own path of pleasure and selfishness. Instead, the riches of God’s kindness and Christ’s patience is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:3).

  • Take inventory of ways you have been impatient. Ask others around you to provide feedback. Humbly ask forgiveness and work toward extending grace and kindness.
    • Note: I speak generally not unilaterally. There are some instances when actions or behaviors should not be tolerated. Christians are not to be patient with sinful choices or immoral lifestyles. In these cases, speak the truth in love and hold others accountable. 
  • When anger arises, take a breath and repeat: “sinner first, sinned against second.” This reminds us how it is possible we contribute to conflicts or crisis.
    • Note: I speak generally not unilaterally. There are some instances where persons can be manipulated, mistreated, abused, and victimized. In this case, your response is not repentance, nor to rush to reconcile but instead to report to trustworthy and appropriate sources of authority. In some cases this may be a counselor, a teacher, or pastor; while in other cases the first direct report should be legal with police officers.

There is one thing Jesus can never do: fail. His love is unfailing, unfading, unwavering, unshakeable, and unending.

APPLY/THINK

Close with a story from 17th Century Oliver Cromwell, Lord and 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.”[3]

Paul says that our life deeds and faith beliefs are irrelevant, unimportant, and gain emptiness if we lack the 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 live loved by God, we will indeed love others well.


[1][1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Love Came Down At Christmas, p.7.

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

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

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