Love: the Most Excellent Way – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

​ If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:8a, 13 NIV

In the midst of a discussion, and correction, concerning gifts and their usage, Paul interjects this discourse on love. This may initially seem out of place. But the church at Corinth was bickering about many things, including the giftedness Paul is discussing. And so he reminds them that there is something better than any spiritual gift they might seek. And that is love. No matter what your gift and how well you use it, without love, it is worthless. To love is greater than anything else we can aspire to. Follow the way of love, the most excellent way!

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A Stumbling Block to the Weak – 1 Corinthians 8:9

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9 NIV

Should I or shouldn’t I? As a Christian is it OK for me to [fill in the blank]? Sometimes the Scripture is clear, or at least reasonably so. But at other times the Scripture is silent or vague. When the Bible is not clear, how can I know what is OK? As a general rule, at least with these ‘disputable matters’, let your conscious be your guide. If you have any question about the appropriateness of your action you should abstain.

But Paul, in this chapter, is more concerned about how my actions impact other believers. I may recognize something as OK and indulge with a clear conscious. But what if another believer, whose conscious is weaker, sees me do that. Might they be encouraged to follow my example? And if they do, they have sinned, not because the action was inherently wrong, but because it violated their conscious. And I bear some responsibility for that sin.

I do not drink; at all. For two reasons. The first is that I have never developed a taste for alcohol of any kind; it is just nasty. And the second is because of the example I set to other people. I have absolutely no qualms about a glass of wine with a meal; I could drink it with a clear conscious. But what about the young believer who has doubt about it? If they see me partake, they may also be encouraged to drink. And I then have sinned against them, wounded their conscious, and sinned against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12). Paul ends this chapter with a pledge to not do anything that is going to cause another person to fall into sin. Seems like a good, and loving, pledge to take.

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The Debt of Love – Romans 13:8

Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13:8 CSB

All you need is love
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

These words are from a 1967 song by the Beatles and they mirror what Paul says in this passage, although the Beatles likely had in mind a different kind of love than Paul. For most people in the world, love is an emotional feeling. But for Paul, and for Jesus (Matt. 22:37-40), love is more than just a feeling. Love seeks for the good of the one who is loved; it is active, an act of the will.

The Old Testament Law, as well as most laws today, are concerned with how we should be treating each other, making sure that we do not cause harm to each other. Mostly they tell us what we should not be doing. In contrast to that is Paul’s positive direction here, what we should do. And that is to love. If I am loving you, I will not be causing you harm, and thus I am accomplishing what the law, in its negative fashion, is trying to do.

Love here is expressed as a debt, the debt of love, the one debt I can never repay, but should always be making payments on. This debt is not the result of other people’s actions on my behalf. Rather it is because of what God did for me (1 John 4:11). Because he loved me, I must love others.

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Full of Greed and Self-Indulgence – Matthew 23:25-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean. – Matthew 23:25-26 CSB

Six times in this chapter Jesus says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”, and then condemns something that they are doing. It would be easy to assume that the Pharisees are terrible people, but that is not really the case. The Pharisees, among all the Jews of their day, were the most zealous for the Law of Moses and generally lived strictly according to its precepts. I suspect that if I had been a Jew in first century Palestine I would have been a Pharisee. The problem with the Pharisees was that their hearts did not reflect their actions. They were making every attempt to keep the legalistic requirements of the Law, but it was having no impact on their inner person. Jesus accuses them of appearing holy on the outside while being full of greed and self-indulgence; instructing them to turn their focus toward cleaning up on the inside.

Of all the challenges Jesus issued to the Pharisees in this chapter, this is the one I find the most convicting. When I am honest with myself, I recognize my selfishness, and self-centeredness; too often caring more about myself than about others. Putting others first, which is what love is, does not generally come easy, but is essential if I want to be clean on the inside where it counts.

Abandoning Your First Love – Rev. 2:4

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. – Revelation 2:4 ESV

I don’t know if the letters to the 7 churches were written specifically to 1st century churches, to 7 church ages, to 7 types of churches, or maybe to some combination of these. But I do believe there are lessons to be drawn from each of them, both for churches and for individuals. And this first letter, to the church at Ephesus, hits me the hardest.

Here is a church that seems to be doing everything right, and Jesus acknowledges their labor, their testing of false prophets, and their endurance. Yet he has one problem with them; they have abandoned their love for Christ that they had at an earlier time. It would appear that as time had went on, they focused more on the outward activities of being a church and drifted away from their relationship with their head. And Jesus’ warning to them was severe; if you don’t return to me, you will lose your place as a church.

How many churches today seem to be doing everything right, but do it in a legalistic fashion rather than out of love. And how many individuals are the same way, seeming to be good examples of Christian life, yet having lost their intimate relationship with Christ. I am sure Christ’s warning to Ephesus is just as applicable for us today. Return to your first love before it’s too late.

Loving God – 1 John 5:3

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. – 1 John 5:3-5 ESV

Can you love God without obedience to him? John pretty clearly responds to that question saying that obedience to God is love for him. I cannot rightly claim to love God and blatantly disregard his instruction for my life. This is not to say that we will be perfect, but we should be striving towards obedience.

Lest you despair of being able to obey his commands, John assures us that obedience is not to hard for us, because our trust in God enables us to overcome the world and it’s pull on us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
     and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
     and he will make straight your paths.
                                                 Proverbs 3:5-6

No Fear in Love – 1 John 4:18

By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:17-18 ESV

“There is no fear in love.” For a long time I thought this verse said that if I loved enough there would be no room in my life for fear. And I could never understand how love would keep me from fear when a big dog charged out at me, or any number of other scenarios. But I don’t believe that is really what John was talking about here. I believe that v. 17 is key to understanding v. 18; “love is perfected in us so that we may have confidence on the day of judgement.” I do not need to fear death and judgement if I am abiding in God’s love.

My mother-in-law, a believer, died this past week and tomorrow is her memorial service. While some are mourning her passing, because they have no hope, others of us are rejoicing that she is now with the Lord. God’s love in us allows us to not fear death and the coming day of judgement, but instead to have confidence. The more we know God’s love, the less we will fear leaving this life behind, and the more we will look forward to the life to come.

A New Command – John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34 NIV

Jesus gave to his disciples a new command; that they love each other in the same fashion that Jesus had loved them. This was not a suggestion, nor was it optional; it was a command. Nor should it be considered as something unique to them. Love one another!

How did Jesus love his disciples? The first thing we will likely think of is that he died on the cross for them; and that is indeed the greatest example of his love. But notice here that Jesus wants them to love as he has loved them, not as he will love them. For the past three or so years Jesus has been loving his disciples, setting them an example for love. And now he is telling them to follow his example. Just prior to this Jesus had taken the role of a servant and washed his disciples feet, instructing them to follow suit. We struggle today with understanding how to follow this example, but I believe that as we serve each other we follow both commands: to wash each others feet; and to love one another.

How can we love one another? I do not believe Jesus is calling on us to have warm cuddly feelings for each other. Rather he is calling on us to choose to do what is best for each other. His call to love is an act of the will rather than the emotions, although the emotions will likely follow. We love each other when we work to build up the body (Eph 4:16), encourage each other in Christian living (Heb 10:24), and serve others (John 13:12-17). Choose to obey Christ and love one another!

Love Deeply – 1 Peter 4:8

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8 NIV

Love covers a multitude of sins. I suspect Peter is not trying to tell us that my loving someone will make their sins go away. Instead I believe he is reminding us that love will lead us to be more forgiving of the irritations or hurts caused us by other people. When I was first married I loved my wife, but there were things she did that I found to be very irritating. But as the years have gone by, and I have grown to love her more deeply, those things no longer bother me and I find that I am thankful for them now.

I believe this is what Peter is challenging us with here. We are to be in community as believers, and there are challenges with that. But the more we love, the less likely the differences in our personalities and ways of doing things will be to divide us. Instead, we will likely learn to appreciate the differences and find that they actually compliment us and make us more effective in the Lord’s service. Love each other deeply; never think that you love enough.

Forgiveness as an Expression of Love – Acts 7:60

Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:60 NIV

When someone wrongs me, I am instructed to forgive them. Forgiveness is important for my own spiritual health and relationship with God. So I find it interesting here, as well as Jesus example on the cross, that Stephen was not forgiving those who stoned him; he was asking God to forgive them. Ultimately their sin is against God (Psalm 51:4) and it is to him that Stephen’s accusers and executioners will have to answer. Stephen is so forgiving that he asks God to not hold them accountable for their actions. His seeking forgiveness is actually an expression of love for those putting him to death. Such a wonderful example he sets for the rest of us.

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