LOVE IS THE GREATEST by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC
Introduction: We’re going to take a break from our regular series on the Life of Christ and go to I Corinthians 13 for the next few weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. It’s a series on love titled “LOVE IS THE GREATEST.” Don’t think that this series is only about romantic or marital love. It is about love in general in our family, church, and community.
I Corinthians 13 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Bridge: Would you agree that the word “love” is probably the most used word in the world? Would you also agree that the word “love” is probably also the most abused and misunderstood word in the world? People love everything from hamburgers to hairstyles and spouses to spinach. We sing about love, write about love, and tell each other “I love you” or “I don’t love you.” The question is – “do we truly understand what love is?” In this series we’re going to learn what love really means and how to show it.
Question: Before we go any further, let’s have a heart to heart talk. Do you truly understand what it means to love? I’m not talking about just romantic or marital love but also loving people in our church and our community. Are you saved? If not, you are loving with a weak, inferior, and selfish love. It’s only when we receive Christ in our hearts as our Savior that the Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts.
In this message we’re laying out the groundwork for this series. 3 things to understand:
I. THE CONTEXT OF CORINTH
Background: In the first century, there were three prominent cities in Greece. First was Athens, known for its great history, architecture, and ancient schools of learning. By the time of Paul, it was just a tourist town where people send their children to study. Second was Sparta, also known for its great history and military tradition. By the time of Paul, it was also just a tourist town known for its ancient battle stories. The third city was Corinth. Unlike Athens and Sparta, it was anything but ancient. Yes, it went back hundreds of years but it was more alive than ever during the time of Paul.
What made Corinth so unique? To begin with, it was its geographical location. It was sitting on the crossroads or intersection between the east and the west and the north and the south. It was sitting on the isthmus. What is an isthmus? It is a narrow strip land joining two large lands, with sea on either side. If you want to go north and south, you have to go across this isthmus. Also, on the east side, there was a harbor and on the west side, there was a harbor. They created a shortcut across this narrow strip of land called diolkos. It was a paved track, something like a railroad track. They would empty the ship of its cargo at one harbor and then drag the ship across the diolkos to the opposite harbor, reload the ship, and keep sailing. You say, “that’s crazy!” Because the journey around the Peloponnese was so dangerous due to the sudden heavy winds and jagged rocks, it was safer and cheaper to do that than to sail around and destroy the ship and lose all the cargo. Corinth was a major crossroad for trade in the ancient world.
Let me back up a little bit and say a word about the people who lived in this place. In 146 BC the Romans had destroyed Corinth because of their rebellion but in 44 BC Julius Caesar rebuilt this city and populated it with former slaves, army veterans, business people, and laborers. Yes, there were people there who were original Greeks but most probably were not. Picture in your mind, not only a major crossroad of the ancient world but also populated by people who had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Someone said that this was like San Francisco during the California gold rush! People were making money and moving up the social ladder.
By the way, what kind of people do you think were passing through this town? Sailors, merchants, troops. You can only imagine the immorality and debauchery that went on in this place. This was a place where people came if they wanted to have a good time. And as they say – “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth!” Remember, when I told you to keep an eye on the big mountain behind me. It is called the “Acrocorinth.” By the time of Paul, the temple of Aphrodite was up there. Some say 1000 and some say 100 girls served as priestesses in the temple. This was nothing but religious cover for prostitution. Corinth had a high death rate due to infectious diseases. There’s something else, Corinth was also the location of the Isthmian Games. They were just like the Olympic Games but held every other year and Greeks from all over would come to watch and participate. You can imagine the crowds of people that would come to the city.
I find it amazing that Paul did not stay in Athens or go to Sparta? Instead, he went to Corinth. Why? This is where the people were. This is where lostness was at its max. This is where people were drawn to sexual lusts and selfish pride. This is where people needed to hear that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” This is where people needed to hear “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul came to Corinth sometime in March AD 50. Here he met a Christian couple, Aquila and Priscilla. He stayed with them and worked with them. What did they do? They were tentmakers. I find this very fascinating. Paul was literate and he could have easily got a job as a translator or a scribe. He could have earned good money working at the tax table by the docks or at one of the money lending shops. Instead, he chose tent-making. Why? Any common person coming into the town for a short business trip or to watch the Isthmian Games would need a tent. Guess what? They had to come to Aquila and Priscilla’s shop and who would they meet? The greatest evangelist who ever lived! Paul. I believe that many of them probably got saved at the tent shop! How amazing! And the church was born.
Application: Have you taken the time to look at our own community? Sometime we talk so bad about our community. Do you think God has placed you where you are for a reason? Are you sharing the love of God with your community?
II. THE CONDITION OF THE CHRISTIANS
Background: Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months, teaching them, and encouraging them. After the church was up and running, Paul put right leaders in place and left to go back towards Asia Minor and Jerusalem. Then two things happened: First, he began receiving letters from the church in Corinth, asking for guidance in certain matters. Second, he began hearing reports from people that the church in Corinth was having problems. People were divided. They were fighting with one another and they were even reverting back to their old sinful lifestyles.
What were some of the things that Paul was hearing? To answer that, you simply have to read between the lines of Paul’s letter:
I Corinthians 3 3 For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? The Corinthian church was splitting into groups.
I Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! Some of the Corinthians were turning against Paul and calling him a fool.
I Corinthians 5 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! Sexual immorality had entered into the church. What’s worse is that they had no problem with it! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
I Corinthians 6 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Some of them were dragging fellow believers into the court.
I Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. Some couples were no longer being sexually intimate. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
I Corinthians 11 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? They had brought the social divisions of the world into the church, even into the communion service.
The Corinthians were acting spiritual but they had zero love. I Corinthians 13 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Application: How is your spiritual walk? Is your life marked by love in your home, church, and community? Is your understanding of love shallow, weak, and incomplete like the Corinthians?
III. THE CONTENT OF LOVE
Now we come to the passage we will focus on in the next couple of weeks: 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil…” Paul was going back to the basics with the Corinthians and teaching them what true love looked like. These former freedmen, army veterans, business owners, sailors, shipyard foremen, common laborers, and even prostitutes were saved but their old way of life was seeping back into their new life.
Sometimes people say, “So and so must not be a Christian because I don’t see any love in them. If you are saved, you will be a loving person. Sometimes they even point to Romans 5:5 “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Listen carefully: Just because you’re saved and you have the love of God poured into your hearts does not mean that loving others will be automatic. If that were so, we wouldn’t need this passage. You need both. You need to be saved and have the Holy Spirit pour God’s love into your hearts. But because we have lived so long in a loveless world, we need to learn and then practice actions of love. Again, the Holy Spirit is there to help us. Without obedience, there will only be love within and selfishness, self-righteousness, pride, wrath, lust, and greed without.
Invitation: Are you saved? Are you practicing love