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Author:Rev. Klaas Jonker
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:The excellent way of true love
Text:1 Corinthians 12:31b - 13:8a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 106:1,2
Reading: 1 Cor.11:33 - 12:31a
Ps 119:17-20
Text: 1 Cor.12:31b - 13:8a
Ps 85:1,3
Ps 52:5,6
Ps 133:1,2
Hy 6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Klaas Jonker, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

An important blessing believers have and constantly receive in church is: that they have peace with God.

God loves them and takes care of them through the redemptive work of Christ. Through His reconciling work the rift between God and us has been solved. His self-sacrifing love freed us from eternal condemnation.

This marvellous blessing also shows up in the life of believers individually and corporately, as a community of faith. Believers show Christlike love to one another.

Indeed, as we have previously heard in the preaching: believers take care of each other; church members carry each other's burdens; believers are busy for each other's salvation.

How does this happen?

What prevents our faith-community from falling apart? Are we kept together by a certain method of preaching? Does a certain theology such as the theology of the liberation of 1944 bind us and keep us together?

Or could it be that the expression of faith as we traditionally express it the liturgy of our church services, in the way we have family devotions at home and Bible study in the church, in the manner how we maintain Reformed education etc - do those expressions of faith keep us together?

Indeed beloved, what is the cement of our bond within the church, which keep us together? God's Word in 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a clear answer to that question.

In the sermon of this morning we will start to hear what the secret is of our strong bond of unity among us. The God-given love, Christ-like love binds and keeps us together.

We hope to see the nature of, the need for, and the application of this love. This brings us to our theme and points:


1. the nature of this love

2. the need for this love

3. the application of this love

Brothers.& sisters, 1 Cor.13 is the most well-known chapter about love. Couples who are getting married often pick a text from this chapter to print on their wedding cards.

However, in this part of his letter, Paul does not deal first and foremost with love between one man and one woman. The apostle concerns himself with the love between brothers and sisters in the Lord.

He explains to the Corinthians what it is that keeps them together. For they are in danger of falling apart. There exist divisions in the Church of Corinth.

Every group has and follows his own man. Even worse, they come to church and celebrate the Lord's Supper to satisfy just their own longings. They are also arrogant in feeling better members according to the spiritual gifts they have.

Now, in this letter of 1 Corinthians the apostle calls the Corinthians to order. They should not break the unity in Christ by following their own wisdom, tradition or position.

No! They must live for one another; wait for one another, and build each other up! That's Paul's direction in the Chapters 11-14.

In our text chapter, then, the apostle of the Lord shows what the secret is of living with one another in Christ's congregation, particularly in regard to maintaining the unity.

Paul says that all the wonderful gifts of the Spirit are useless ... unless they go with (true) love.

The apostle indeed speaks of love. In the theme I mention "true" love.

In older translations the word charity is used. The Vulgate, which is the Latin translation, and Wycliffe's English translation used that word "charity" for the greek word "love". It was carried over in the KJV.

That's why on printed cards quoting 1 Corinthians 13 we often read about charity being the greatest thing in the world; but the right word is "love".

Greek, then, has three words for love. There is the word "eros". That is the word for passion, lust or sex. This Greek word is not used in the NT at all.

In Greek there is also the word "phileo" for love. This word is seen in the English words Philadelphia and philanthropist. "Phileo" means a love of man, a love of a relative. It denotes affectionate and/or emotional love. It expresses the emotional attachment to somebody or something in which someone invested a lot of time, energy or money.

Now the "love" our text speaks about is not the the loving devotion to a relative or a certain group of people, with whom we have many things in common, such as the same father and mother; or the same country of birth.

Neither is it the kind of self-love Ananias and Saphira displayed in Acts 5 - a love for being appreciated and honoured. That wasn't the right love within the church, for the Holy Spirit disciplined them severely.

Our text uses the Greek word "agape" for love and "agapao" for the verb "to love". We cannot explain this kind of love with a short catch word such as affection or brotherly love.

This love must be connected to the God-given faith. Here we learn that a true believer, - one, who by God's grace accepts the gospel of Christ, - is filled with God's love.

With 1 Corinthians 13 we are concerned with the love that is not from below but from above. This special love has "divine" energy. It is a love which proceeds from the holy God Who is love.

Indeed, this love is a reflection of the unique love of God in Christ. God's Word reveals that the secret of Christ's love is a love for the utterly unworthy.

It is a love lavished on others without a thought of whether they would be worthy to receive it or not. It is a love given without the requirement of being paid back. So, this love proceeds from the nature of the lover, and not from any merit in the beloved.

Indeed, the Bible reveals that God manifested this love gloriously in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself and sacrificed Himself for the salvation and well-being of His people.

It is because of this redemption that the Holy Spirit gives us this same Christ-like love. It is the love that is known by its sympathy, compassion and total care (= empathy) for those who are in need, for those who are nothing in themselves.

This love is giving, - self-sacrificing; it is aimed at serving the other, caring for the other's well-being; it is not calculating and counting the costs.

So, this love does not have its happiness in having or in getting but only in giving. That's why I call this love true love.

I do so also because this love directs itself after God's will. And God's will is abundantly known, namely - to love God and to love our neighbour/each other as ourselves.

This love is one of the many gifts of the Spirit which come along with faith. In the lists of spiritual gifts (in Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians) true love is mentioned as the first gift or as the last gift. This fact indicates the special place of true love.

Indeed, the Bible does not view the gift of true love on the same level as the other gifts. This love is the most excellent gift. It is, rather, the supreme gift.

Therefore, without this gift the other spiritual gifts cannot function. The most extreme and zealous exercise of the spiritual gifts cannot compensate for lack of love.

That's what the apostle points out in verses 1-3. Our biblical talking and preaching won't benefit us at all without true love.

Neither is our theological or confessional knowledge in itself of any use. It won't make us acceptable in the eyes of our holy God if true love is lacking. Even if we would give up everything, but have not love, Paul says - I gain nothing.

This strong language shows that we won't be pleasing to the Lord if we won't show self-emptying love because we love God in Christ.

So, the verses 1-3 contain a very sobering teaching for us. In another sermon we need to say some more about these verses including its practical implications. For now we will continue to read this passage in the context of Chapters 11-14. For - remember - our text is taken up in Paul's teaching about the spiritual gifts given to Christ's congregation.

The supreme gift of the Spirit is the true Christian agape love. In the communion of the Church the Holy Spirit apportions His various gifts in such a manner that everything should function well.

Not everyone possesses the same gifts. However, no believer can live without the gift of true (agape) love. This brings us to our 2nd point.

2. The need for this true love.

Yes, various and different gifts are bestowed on God's people for the purpose that they will use them in an active service to one another (Ch.12).

And there was a lot to do within the church at Corinth; as well as in the church of today, locally, nationally, inter-nationally. For the church has not reached its completion yet; it needs to grow.

That's Paul's teaching in the chapters before and after 1 Corinthians 13 which makes the apostle show the EXCELLENT WAY OF TRUE LOVE IN THE CHURCH.

Everything has to get to perfection: unity, has to become full and complete union; holiness, has to become total freedom from sin; dedication, has to become free from all misguided zeal; obedience, has to grow to total submission to God's will; joy, has to become a complete delight in God's works; love, must become total Christlike - that's just the point of Paul's teaching here.

Within the Church of Christ there is unity, true - but there is also still much disunity between members within believing families and marriages, between office bearers, disunity within the federation of churches - even conflicts!

How do you tackle them? Paul says: true love is needed!

There is holiness, we thank God for that, - but alas, there is yet much unholiness too; our lives are infected by worldliness and secularization.

How do you fight that? Paul says: true love is needed!

There is enthusiasm and dedication among both the older and the younger generations, we are delighted about that - but, sad to say, we also discover apathy and a certain aloofness, a withdrawing from active involvement.

How do you improve that situation? Paul says: true love is needed!

There is a sincere desire to hear the Word of God, and to know the Reformed confessions; that's great! - but often we don't have our priorities straight.

Again: true love is needed!

We all should be joyful people in faith, yet there is still much uncertainty, anxiety and doubt ... True love is needed to build each other up.

Beloved, this list shows that the church is still in need of being built up and developed. For this "building-up work", for this "church development" work the Lord uses His people and grants them all the necessary tools for their part in this building process.

Yes, Chapter 12 points this out when it speaks about the various spiritual gifts apportioned to the members.

The apostle, then, admonishes the congregation of Corinth: do not use the gifts for yourselves; don't glory in the gifts that you have received; don't build up your own glory; - instead use the spiritual gifts to help, care and support each other.

In this work be controlled by the love of Christ. For faith works through "agape"-love.

Go on the more excellent way in sincere Christ-like love to your Lord and his people! If we use and show this love then we will gain a lot: salvation for one another!

Then we live for the Lord and His church; we marry in the Lord; then our work is the work of the Lord, everything we do - even our hobbies and sport, - we do for the LORD and for the building up of His kingdom.

3. Yes, that's how we should apply (3rd. point) this gift of "agape"-love: not for our own betterment, but in view of the progress of God's Kingdom and the benefit of one another.

This is what Paul shows in verse 4 and following, - how we must concretely show and apply "agape"-love to one another.

We are not just finished by applying this love in only one aspect of our life with one another. It is not a matter of picking and choosing.

The spectrum of our whole life with all its relationships is involved. For the true Christ-like love is patient; it is kind; it does not envy; it does not boast, it is not proud; it is not rude; it is not easily upset or angered; it keeps no record of wrongs.

It does, however, rejoice in the truth; it protects, always trusts, hopes and perseveres.

In another sermon we need to give some more attention to each of these qualities of true love. For now it is important to emphasize that the features of true love in church show that this love is of the highest quality.

Such a love creates the strongest bond and unity as a clear reflection of the image of Christ.

Think of how our Lord Himself applied this love. In John 13 we read that He washed the feet of his disciples Furthermore He loved them and loves us to the end. He did everything for us, so that we would live with God and with one another in joyful union.

Taking an example from construction, from masonry, we can say that true Christian love is the cement of our bond within the church of our Lord.

Through the working of this high quality love in Christ's congregation - we hold on to each other; we stick together as living stones in the spiritual house of God.

It's guaranteed! - When we apply this gift of the Spirit, we won't let go of one another; we won't fall apart.

How do we apply this love? Now we have to be extremely watchful. For, beloved, how did we listen to the preaching so far? Isn't the danger very real that thoughts such as these went through our mind:

- I don't see true love in him, in her, in office bearers, in the church as a whole ...; I am fed up with that!


- I see a great lack of love in my own life, from now on I intend to change my life; from now on I will do things different.

Brothers& sisters? - Who is changing our lives? Who is giving us true and Christ-like love?

I ask you: Who changed the life of the apostle Paul? Before his conversion his life breathed hatred. He was not patient at all, nor kind. He was infected by the sins of envy, arrogance, pride. He was rude and self-seeking, easily angered. He kept records of wrongs. He was dominated by suspicion and therefore could not delight in truth.

Well, this same man with the blood of hatred and anger on his hands teaches us through the Spirit: follow the excellent way of love, apply true Christian love.

Beloved, the love of 1 Corinthians 13 cannot be applied by good intentions; neither is this love dependant on office bearers. I only have to look at myself - how easily I am upset and self-defensive ...

Brothers and sisters, young and old - this morning the message of the gospel is that Christ works the love of 1 Corinthians 13 and He is still working this love in us.

That's also why this love is a never ending love! Because of His work, true agape love will never disappear.

Therefore, take all things from the Saviour of the world. Enjoy His love! Then we will be able to apply our spiritual gift of love to one another.

Yes, for Christ's sake: be loving persons! Walk with Him on the excellent way of never-ending love.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Klaas Jonker, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. Klaas Jonker

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