I Corinthians 13:1-4

Dr. Steve Viars July 14, 1992 1 Corinthians 13:1-4

- "the greatest, strongest, deepest, thing the apostle Paul
    ever wrote."
- "A lyrical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount-the
    beatitude set to music."
- "St. Paul's hymn of love."

- each of these phrases has been used to describe the
   same passage of Scripture--and its our text for today,
   I Cor. 13 - (I'd invite you to turn there in your Bibles)

- We've been studying the book of I Corinthians verse by
   verse for some time now in some of the other services
- today we'll be looking at this chapter both this morning,
  (and Lord willing, tonight as well) and studying:
    "How To Grow In Biblical Love"

- Most students of the Bible think of I Cor. 13 as the "love
   chapter in the Bible" and rightly so.
    - these verses tell us about the priority of love, and
      the properties of love, and the permanence of love, and
      the pre-eminence of love

- that’s a subject that every believer in Christ must be
   aggressively interested in.
- men and women who are pleasing Jesus Christ are men and
   women who are growing in Biblical love.

     - our Lord said "A new commandment I give unto you, that
         you love one another, as I have loved you--you also
         love one another.
           - By this shall all men know that ye are my
             disciples, if you have love one for another."

    - a few chapters later, He said--As the Father has loved
       me, so have I loved you, continue you in my love."

- so we're talking about a subject that is tremendously
    important for every believer in Christ.

- its not surprising, then, to find many instructions in the
   Bible concerning love.

- we're told to:
    pursue love - I Cor. 14:1
    put on love - Col. 3:14
    increase and abound in love - I Thes. 3:12
    prove the sincerity of our love - II Cor.  8:8
    be unified in love - Phil. 2:2
    be fervent in love - I Peter 4:8
    stimulate one another to love - Hebrews 10:24

   - Paul said - love sums up the man-ward commandments
      Rom. 13:8 - "Owe no man anything, but to love one
another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
For this--Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false
witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other
commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying,
namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh
no ill to its neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of
the law."

- our Lord made a similar statement in Matt. 22:37 when He
   said - "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
   heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This
   is the first and great commandment. And the second is like
   it.  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two
   commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

- see, there ought to be a special place in the heart and
   mind of every Christian for this subject of love
     - there ought to an intense interest and desire in
       growing in this critical area
         - growing in our love for God and growing in our
           love for others

- so there ought to be an automatic attraction, an automatic
   affinity, an automatic hungering and thirsting for the
   truths found in the chapter known as the "love chapter in
   the Bible."

- now we probably need to say this about I Cor. 13 before
   reading some of it together
- one of the problems with the way Christians approach this
  study is that the verses are not taken in their context.

- many folks who call themselves Christians can call up some
  of the statements from these verses.
    - parts of this chapter have been set to music
    - they're used in weddings and showers
       - they're painted on wall plagues
       - printed on calendars
       - and etched on the bases of figurines
- but many of those same believers have not thought about the
   impact of the words in light of the context in which they
   were given.

- I Cor. 13 is right in the middle of a three chapter
   discussion on the critical topic of spiritual gifts in the
   local church.
- spiritual gifts are divine enablements given to each
   believer for ministry and service to build up the body of
     - Paul's been talking in chapter 12 about the endowment
        of spiritual gifts, and the inter-relatedness of the
     - the gifts are diverse--just like parts of our physical
          bodies, Paul says--
            - but that body is only effective if every member
              is using his/her gifts to build up the body of
              Christ and promote its unity.

- in chapter 14, Paul's going to talk about the proper
     exercise of the gifts, especially the gift of languages.

- literally "sandwiched" in the middle of those two
   discussions is chapter 13 where Paul discusses the proper
   attitude and atmosphere in which God has has planned for
   the gifts to operate--that is, the attitude and atmosphere
   of love.
- so when we think about love in the Bible, and specifically
  this discussion in I Cor. 13 - we ought to think first and
  foremost about love...IN THE CHURCH.
    - believers growing in their ability to exercise their
       gifts in a loving way so that the plan and program of
       Christ's church is marvelously and miraculously and
       supernaturally moved forward.

- now, yes, love in other relationships is critical as well
   - husbands and wives ought to be growing in their love for
     one another, and the words from this chapter can have a
     great impact on marital love.

   - parents and children ought to be growing in their love
      for one another and the words from this chapter can
      have great impact on family love.

   - these words can help us grow in our love for our
     neighbors and our co-workers, and our friends, and even
     our enemies...BUT its methodologically wrong to try to
     interpret Scripture outside of its context...

- and many believers in Christ are failing in their ability
   to love in other relationships because they have failed to
   grow in their love in the church.

- this morning I'd like us to consider three steps we all
   must take in order to be growing in biblical love.

- Please look for those steps as we read verses 1-4
   (READ beginning at the end of v. 31)

- the first step to growing in biblical love is to:

I. Understand Love's Definition

    - of course if we're going to grow in something, we have
      to think through as clearly and precisely as we can
      what "that something" is.

    - not everybody wants to do that

       - about 15 years ago, a group wanted our government to
         fund a study on why men and women "fall in love"
         (using the words they used."
       - Senator William Proxmire objected to the whole idea
         for this reason--"I'm against it because I don't
         want to know the answer. I believe that 200 million
         other Americans want to leave some things in life a
         mystery, and right at the top of things we don't
         want to know is why a man falls in love and vice-

- in other words - the best way to succeed in this love
   business is to stay ignorant.

- now Senator Proxmire said he believed he was speaking for
   200 million Americans, but he apparently wasn't, because
   the subject of love is one that many people are studying
   and discussing and writing about.

- this week my family and I were down at the library, so I
   did a computer search of all the magazine articles that
   have been written in the 6 years on the subject of love.

- here's some of the things our world is saying:

    (A. What our world is saying)

        1. finding lasting love is hopeless

            - one magazine asked a group of people "What
              starts love and what stops love?"
            - one women sarcastically said:

              "What starts love is meeting a man.
               What stops love is meeting a man."

- in other words, its hopeless.

- Another writer said this: "There are many who believe we'd
   be far better off replacing St. Valentine with Saint Jude,
   the patron saint of hopeless causes."

- see, finding lasting love is hopeless.

- others are saying that:

    2. Love is a reservoir of feelings that will probably dry

       - the title of one article was: "Why love was not
          built to last."
       - the writer spoke of a client who's spouse had an
         affair.  The client said: "Not that I feel hurt-I
         don't even feel much sorrow or loss.
         Just...nothing.  Ten years of loving that man, and
         all of a sudden it's gone. I don't understand."
          - Then the author wrote: "The explanation? Susie
has experienced what I've come to recognize in my two decades
of psychotherapeutic work with couples in distress: that love
is very much a reservoir, and over time there may additions
to it or outflow. People in love rarely seem to know how
close to empty this reservoir may be...While most of us can
vividly recall each step along the road to falling in love,
the process of falling out of love is largely invisible until

- see, love was never built to last.
    - in fact, the writer goes on to list "The Ten Dearth
      Signs of Love"
    - she said, "It has been my experience that love is dying
       and probably beyond resuscitation when..."
         - and she goes on to develop her list.

- see, love is a reservoir of feelings and we ought not to
   expect it to last.

- here's another thing our world is emphasizing:

    3) Love is only possible if you learn how to be a taker.

        "When it comes to love, are you a giver or a taker?
- now, by the way, how would you answer that question?
    - If you answered "giver", you're in trouble.

- The writer says, "Something’s gone wrong with your
   relationship and you're not sure what it is. It's not that
   you haven't been trying; in fact you've tried so hard
   you're exhausted.  But lately, nothing seems to work for
     - If the above describes a relationship you've been in,
       it might surprise you to learn that the problem lies
    in your giving too much.  With many of the couples I see,
    the real problem is that one partner, often the woman,
    needs to become more selfish.  In some cases, women have
    to be taught to take.

    - she goes on and describes a girl named Amy, and says,
      "Amy was accusing her mate of being selfish, but the
       real problem was that Amy wasn't being selfish

- the article ends with this paragraph

- "The old cliche, 'Life is a lot of give and take' is true
in more ways than you might expect at first. When you really
feel entitled to take, you will feel entitled to give. You
will feel what you give is worth something, and of value
because it's coming from you and not simply expected of you.
When a giver learns to become more of a taker, everybody
winds up giving more."

- so love is hopeless, or its a reservoir of feelings that
   will probably dry up, or it's only possible if you learn
   how to become a taker.

- another idea that's very prevalent is:

4. love is an absence of problems

    - one writer said it this way: "Healthy love is when you
find someone whom you like, admire, and respect... Love stops
when you discover things about him that you don't respect.
He's not kind, or has attributes you can't stand: horrible
manners, no tact. You realize you can't have the relationship
you envisioned with this person."

    - so as long as there's no problems
        - as long as nothing comes up that displeases you--
            you'll be able to love.  But if there is a
            problem or if they do something you don't like--
            its time for somebody else.

    - another example is Marvin Mitchelson, a divorce
         and palimony lawyer who wrote a book entitled: "Made
         in heaven, settled in court."

         "What starts love is looking through rose-colored
glasses. You idealize your future with this person, you put
your best foot forward. Then real living sets in. Romance
takes a back seat to bills, job aggravations, family
problems. You focus on those things instead of cultivating
the relationship.

- let me mention one more that came out over and over in the

    5. love is a relationship that makes you feel better.

        - Terry Burman is the president of Barry's Jewelers,
           a 220 store chain of jewelry stores.
        - apparently he's seen a lot of people in love as
           they came to buy his jewelry.
        - He said - "love starts when someone makes you feel
           worthwhile-and an important gift, can be part of
           that.  I like to watch couples in the showroom,
           looking at rings. They get closer together.
           There's a dreamy look of contentment.
             - the end comes when you are no longer made to
               feel valued and validated by the other person.
               I wish all relationships were as long-lasting
               as diamonds.

    - see, love is a relationship that makes you feel better.

    - another example of this is JZ Knight who wrote "Why do
      we say 'fall in love'? You don't fall anywhere (you
      think-maybe there's some light in all of this--but just
      keep reading) - The spiritual reality is that we can't
      love another unless we love ourselves first. What do
      you give another if you're empty inside?

        - When does love end? I don't think it ever does, if
it's been established as a reflection of the individuals
self-love. What ends is not the love but the way it serves
us. When we stop growing in one relationship, we're ready for
another, one that will allow us to explore other, deeper,
aspects of ourselves."

- see, our world is saying that love is hopeless, or its a
  reservoir of feelings that will probably dry up, only
  possible if you learn to be a taker, absence of problems,
  it's something that makes you feel better.

- now you say, why'd you spend so much time talking about
     - the answer is - because many Christians are living
         right there--with deficient definitions and sinful
         habits that flow out of those deficient definitions
         of love.

           - And Christian churches aren't accomplishing all
                God wants them to accomplish.
           - Christian families aren't accomplishing all God
                wants them to accomplish.
           - people are not being won to Christ

- because we're not understanding the definition of love.

- let's think about:

    B. how the Bible defines it

        - the Greeks had several words for love

        - one was eros - from which we get our word "erotic"
        - eros referred to romantic or sexual love.
            - that word is never used in the Bible, and it's
               surely not in focus here.

    - another word is "philew" - or friendship or brotherly
         - thats important and it ought to be part of a
           believer's life
             - thats not what Paul is talking about here

- the word Paul uses here was actually the rarest word in the
   Greek language, among the three--but the one used most
   often in the Bible
      - the word agape.

      - that word is best defined as a "a choice of the
         will to sacrifice oneself to meet the needs of the
         other person for the glory of God."

- each facet of that definition is important:

    - biblical love is a willful choice, not a feeling.

        - when a person says "I don't love her anymore or I
          don't love him anymore—that’s not a statement of an
          inner condition--its an indictment of sinfulness.

        - they are in essence saying - I am no longer going
           to exercise my will in a sacrificial way toward
           that person.

- so its a decision of the will--not a feeling.
     - Now are there feelings involved?  - Of course
        - When I'm done kissing my wife, I don't stand back
          and say - thank you, honey, for exercising your
          will and sacrificing your lips for me (what's next
          on the agenda?)

      - no - I say - Whoowee - let's do that again!

      - so feelings are involved - but they're not the basis
          of the decision.

- it's also a choice to sacrifice.

    - of course our model of love is our Lord.
       - (Jn. 3:16) - For God so loved the world that He
       - Eph. 5:25 - Husbands, love your wives as Christ
           loved the church and gave himself for it.
- people who are growing in biblical love sacrifice and give
   for others.

- and they do it for a reason
    - they want to meet the needs of others and they want to
      glorify their Lord.


- biblical love, in contrast to all the satanic counterfeits,
  is a "a choice of the will to sacrifice oneself to meet the
  needs of the other person for the glory of God."

- now, let me ask you to do this--let me ask you to open the
   dictionary of your mind and check your definition of love.

    - see, what we're asking is - "Is it possible that you
        have been operating with a definition of love that is
        different than the Bible's definition?"

    - that shouldn't be a threatening question.
    - I hope all of us came to church today with the goal of
        studying God's Word to identify areas that we can be
        changing and working on.

        - He that covers his sin shall not prosper, but he
          who confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.

        - Is it possible that you've been operating with a
          definition of love that is different than the Bible

- I think our Lord would be greatly pleased with men and
  women who would say even in the quietness of this hour:
    "Lord, I have some changing to do in this area of
     biblical love.  Those around me would not characterize
     me as being a loving person.  That's partly true because
     I need to make your definition of love--my definition
     and work much harder at living out the implications of
     that definition.

- just like the apostle John said - "God is love, and He that
   dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in Him."

- so the first step in growing in this area is understanding
  what biblical love is.

- now the next step comes from the argument of verses 1-3
  where Paul says:

II. Make Love A Priority

    - READ 1-3

    - Paul's argument in these verses clearly is - Make love
      a priority.
    - Gifts of the Spirit must be governed by the fruit of
        the Spirit.  (love, joy, peace, etc.)

    - see, the issue isn't primarily what gifts a person has-
        -the issue is how the person uses them.

    - make love a priority -- Now Paul says:

    A. Without it, you're nothing

    (that's true)   1. in your speaking

        - "though I speak with the tongues of men and of

- he's talking about the spiritual gifts of tongues or
- before the Bible was completed, God gave certain persons
   the ability to communicate biblical truth in the known
   languages that they had not previously studied.
- that happened in Acts 2 when the church was born
    - people from many countries were present on the day of
    - Peter and some of the other disciples were able to
       communicate the truth about Jesus Christ in a way that
       the audience was able to hear the gospel in their own

    - (Acts 2:7-8) - And they were amazed and marveled,
        saying, 'are not all these who are speaking
        Galileans?  How is it that we each hear them in our
        own language to which we were born?"

    - just as an aside, verse 8 of I Cor. 13 clearly says
        that this gift will cease, and it did cease after the
        Bible was completed because the gift was no longer
        necessary-we'll have a lot more to say about that
        when we study chapter 14.

- but the bottom line is - even the showy gifts...
    - even something like being able to speak in a language
        you'd never studied before...

- if that gift is exercised without love--it's worthless.
- Paul says - I have become "like a noisy gong, or a clanging
      - worthless in my ability to communicate truth and
         minister to others.

- he says the same thing about knowledge in verse 2.
    (2. in your knowledge)

- he says "if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all
    mysteries and knowledge"...
- in other words, if I have all the answers--and know all the
     - even biblical truth
     - even truth about the things of God

- if I don't have love, Paul says--"I am nothing"
   - no positive impact on the church
   - that kind of ministry will have no measurable effect on
       the kingdom of God.

- see, SPEAKING without love is worthless, KNOWLEDGE without
   love is worthless.
- he even says this is true:

    3. in your giving

        - "If I give all my possessions to feed the poor" -
              giving of things
        - If I give my body to be burned - giving of life
        - even giving and charity and even martyrdom, without
            love - is worthless.   It profits me nothing
- see, without love, Paul says - I am becoming nothing, I am
    nothing, and it profits me nothing.

- the Corinthians needed to hear that

     - their gifts had divided the church
     - they used their gifts if it brought them recognition
     - they used them when it was convenient to them
     - they used them to impress others

     - in short, they used their gifts selfishly for what
       they could receive--
         - Paul says - you have the spiritual gifts-but you
            haven't the spiritual fruit to govern the use of
            those gifts.

- without love, those gifts are useless.

- see, the subject we're talking about is not an optional
      - its not a course I can pick up in summer school
         sometime when my schedule allows it.

- in order to grow in biblical love, we must understand it's
   definition and we must make the pursuit of this godly
   characteristic a number one priority.

- let me ask you - Is it a priority with you?
   - has growing in biblical love had the prominent place in
      your mind and thinking that the Lord wanted it to have?

- If someone stopped you on your way to church and asked you
    where you were going - Would you have said - "I'm heading
    to church where I can exercise and grow in biblical love"
      - Would you have said - I'm going to go and befriend
        folks who are new, look for needs that I can meet,
        serve and use my gifts so that the body can be
        edified and built up.
           - I'm going to church because I want to exercise
             love today in the body of Christ?

- see, did you think anything like that?
   - have you ever thought anything like that?

- Paul says - love must be a priority, the most gifted person
     in the world will have a life that is ineffective for
- ITS EASY TO BE BUSY, but it's hard to be effective, and
    effectiveness means growing in biblical love.

- let me mention some:

    B. results in the life of a person who makes love a

    1) You will be able to name clear, specific examples of
       sacrifice for others for the glory of God.

       - see, if love is "a choice of the
         will to sacrifice oneself to meet the needs of the
         other person for the glory of God," then a person
         growing in this area should be able to prove it. -
there ought to be clear, specific examples of love in that
    person's life.

- we don't grow in "fuzzy land."
    - it's not enough to say - Well, I think I'm a loving

- where's the proof?
    - it's like that Wendy's commercial from several years
       where the ladies pulled up to the fast food restaurant
       and yelled - "Where's the beef?"

- where's the proof?
   - Can you prove your love by giving clear, specific
     examples of how you sacrificed for others in order to
     meet the needs of somebody else and thereby glorify God?

    - do you know why that doesn't always happen in a church?
       - its because some folks only view their relationship
         with a church from the perspective of what they can
           - what am I getting out of it?
           - is it meeting my needs?

           - see, we cringe at some of the quotes that I used
             earlier from people who would say things like:
               - "when we stop growing in one relationship,
                  we're ready for another, one that will
                  allow us to explore other, deeper aspects
                  of ourselves."

- we cringe at that--but are we measurably different?

- a person who is making love a priority will be able to give
    clear evidence of sacrificing to meet the needs of others
    in the church.

    - some might say - "This is kind of uncomfortable, can we
       get on to some other areas of life"
         - not until we get this one addressed.
        - this passage has been taken out of its context far
            too long.
        - we don't need another plaque on the kitchen wall.

- these passages are talking first and foremost about love,
    in the local church.

- say, while you brought that subject up - I don't see how a
    person could be obeying these verses unless they are a
    member of a Bible-believing church where they can
    exercise those gifts in a loving way.
- maybe someone can help me with that--but it seems to me
   that if I'm going to do what these verses are scripture
   are saying
      - then I'm going to have to join a church
          - and I'm going to have to allow that church to
             examine my testimony
          - and I'm going to have to voice my agreement with
             the doctrinal statement of that church.
- I'm going to have to put myself in a position where I can
     exercise my gifts in a loving way.
- By the way - Is the Lord being harsh and unkind in giving
    these commands?
- Of course not.
   - none of us would like to come to the end of our lives
      and say:
       - I've become nothing, I am nothing
           - I haven't made a difference for God.

- I think a good question to ask is - "If I died today, what
    measurable difference would there be in the kingdom of
    God than if I had lived a full life?

- Believers who have been growing in biblical love would have
    many specific examples in answer to that question.

- see, is love a priority?

   - how about other areas of life?

   - has love been a priority at home?

        - can you give clear examples of self-sacrifice to
          meet the needs of others?

        - men, do you go home "from work" or do you go home
          "to work?"

        - regardless of your age or sex, is your home a more
            loving place because you're there?

        - please be careful on this one.
            - someone might be tempted to say - you better
                believe I sacrifice
                  - I'm the only one who does anything around
                    that house and I'm pretty sick of it:

        - wait a minute - please don't forget the last part
            of the definition - sacrifice to meet the needs
            of others -- for God's glory

        - that means love without bitterness
             - love without hypocrisy
             - love even when the other person is being
             - love when it might not be reciprocated

- see, Is love a priority, at church, at home, at work, in
    the neighborhood?

- If it is - there'll be clear concrete examples.

- another result of this kind of lifestyle is:

  2) you'll be a more spiritual person.

     - what we're talking about today is hard
         - it's against our natures

     - that's why love has to be a fruit of the Spirit
         - it's only available to those who are walking in
            the Spirit, and are filled by the Spirit by
            obeying the Spirit's sword.
- see, you can't pull this one off alone

    - it'll take more study
    - it'll take more prayer
    - it'll take more concentration and careful living
    - it'll take a greater understanding and appreciation of
        God's love for you

    - this is spiritual business

- that's why, if you're here today, and you've never trusted
   Christ as your Lord and savior
     - you won't be able to pull this off.

- Oh, you can be a nice person, and you might even be a
   sacrificial person.
     - but it won't be pure love
     - it won't be biblical love
     - it won't be love that honors God
     - it won't be love that lasts

- In order for biblical love to be a priority, something has
    to have happened on the inside.
- a person has to be born again, as Jesus said to Nicodemus
    in John 3

- a person needs a new heart, a new direction, a new Lord
   - a new ability to understand and obey God's Word

- this is spiritual business, and it requires a spiritual
    relationship with God through trusting his Son as Lord
    and savior.

- let me mention one more result:
    - when love is a priority,

    3) it will always be growing

      - that’s one of the greatest things about this subject.

      - its not like American love, that is hot at the
          beginning and then just naturally dies out.

      - God's kind of love can grow and grow and keep on

      - It's not dependent on feelings.
          - not dependent on circumstances
          - not dependent on what the other person does.
          - it doesn't have to wait for anybody or anything.

      - A person can always be growing in biblical love.

- therefore, their effectiveness in the church doesn't have
    to die out.
- their love for their spouse can keep growing and deepening.
- their love for their families and neighbors can keep
     getting better and better.


(conclusion - mention that tonight we'll study the
characteristics - may want to conclude with talking about how
biblical love can have a big impact on our world - "We have
to make a difference between being pro-choice and pro-

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video