Love Series, Part 8: The Greatest of These
July 16, 2006
This sermon was presented before the Load, Kentucky, Church of Christ, on July 16, 2006. God is love. He has shown His great charity while loving us when we were sinners! If we have charity--love which is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved, we shall have reached spiritual maturity. Bernie Parsons
Love Series, Part 8: The Greatest of These
By Bernie Parsons
Presented to the Load, KY, church of Christ on 07-16-2006
This is the eighth and final lesson in the series on love. To date, we have looked at several aspects of love. We examined the God’s love for us, God’s love for Christ, the love of Christ for us, our love for God and Christ, our love for our enemies, our love for our neighbors, our love for the brotherhood in Christ, and today we examine the overarching and under girding role of charity in our loves.
Charity is true love. It is love that is undeserved, unearned, and unmerited. It is love for the sake of love, because love is righteousness. We have seen that already in the previous lessons. I wish to examine the writing of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church in this regard.
1 Corinthians 12:12: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13: For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14: For the body is not one member, but many.
15: If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16: And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17: If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18: But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
19: And if they were all one member, where were the body?
20: But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21: And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22: Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24: For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
25: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26: And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27: Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
28: And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
29: Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30: Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
31: But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
As Christians, we share one body—the body of Christ, which is the called out assembly, or ekklesia, of Christ. We tend to refer to it as “the church”. The early church was given supernatural gifts, and today we are endued with natural gifts, in order to sustain in good spiritual health the earthly body of Christ, His church. We do not all have the same gifts, nor do we hold the same functions in the body of Christ. Rather, we work together to maintain good spiritual health and productivity of the ekklesia.
Notice in verse 31 of chapter 12, that although gifts are desirable, Paul proposes what he calls “a more excellent way”. We need to pay diligent attention to his proposal, which he tenders with ample description and demonstration in the verses that follow.
1 Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Of what godly value are uncharitable words?
The apostle Paul addressed this same subject to the Ephesian church.
Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Note well the above verses, because they closely parallel what he told the Corinthian Christians. He states that all the gifts are given for the perfecting, or maturing, of the saints and to edify—build up—the body of Christ. This perfecting (maturing) and edifying (growing) of the church was that all might be united in that one body of Christ, just as we read in 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
Notice also that Paul points out that, with the maturing and growth of the church, Christians are to no longer be as children, deceived and misled, but are to speak the truth in love as befits the body of a fully matured head, which is Christ.
1 Corinthians 13:2: “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, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
Prophesying, understanding, knowing, and believing are worthless unless this pure and undeserved love underlies and permeates all of these great attributes.
1 Corinthians 13:3: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
In our time, we would easily mistake giving all of our worldly possessions to feed the poor as charity. Yet, Paul says that if we give all—even our very lives—without charity, we have accomplished nothing that is personally profitable.
The apostle Paul next begins to describe the recognizable attributes of charity.
1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5: Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6: Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Longsuffering means to suffer, or allow, something for a long time. Not envious means that you do no measure your success by others, not desiring what they have attained, achieved, or accumulated. Vaunt comes from the word vain, and, along with puffed up, refers to self-aggrandizement, or boasting of one’s own successes or achievements. Charity does not misbehave, is not self-promoting, is not easily provoked, does not consider malice toward others, does not glory in inequality and unfairness, rejoices in and glorifies truth, sustains and supports in all situations, is full of faith and hope, and is tolerant and puts up with much.
1 Corinthians 13:8: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
This thought bears close examination, because it is frequently taught incorrectly and out of context. Remember that we read in both chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians and chapter 4 of Ephesians that prophecies, tongues (languages), and knowledge lead to the maturing and strengthening of the church, the body of Christ. However, once spiritual maturity is achieved in the church, charity—unearned, undeserved love—is still a necessity. The need for prophecies, languages, and knowledge decreases after maturity is reached. The need for charity never decreases, or disappears. In fact, after spiritual maturity is achieved, charity is more important than ever!
1 Corinthians 13:8: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10: But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
There are Christians who try to separate the thoughts contained in these verses. Always remember that the writers of the Holy Bible did not write in chapters and verses. While the young church was growing, knowledge and prophecy played important roles in providing the means for growth. Once maturity was reached, these “growth hormones”, if you will permit this illustration, were no longer needed. Instead, charity was that which sustained the mature church. Charity is “the more excellent way”, and “that which is perfect”. When childish things were put away (the desire and need for supernatural gifts), it was time to behave as the mature body of Christ. Charity replaced the desired gifts. When immature, things do not always make correct sense. I misunderstood many things when I was a child. The Corinthian Christians were immature in assuming that the supernatural gifts were the most important thing that they could possess. Not so, says Paul. When maturity comes, we see that those gifts, though once necessary, are not permanently needed. Once church maturity was achieved, charity replaced the gifts.
1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
Paul wrote that prophecy, foreign language abilities, and knowledge were part of the immature church, and would cease upon maturity of the church. However, faith, hope, and charity would endure, or continue to be a part of what drives the church. Of these three enduring characteristics, the greatest is charity—unearned, undeserved love. Charity is the same love that God showed when He sent His son to die for a world of sinners, and the same love that Jesus manifested when He willingly laid down His life for those same sinners. It is the love that Jesus showed His enemies, when, while dying upon the cross, asked His heavenly father to forgive His executors of their horrible sin.
1 Corinthians 14:1 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2: For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
3: But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4: He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
5: I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.”
Paul continues his letter by pointing out that the spiritual gifts were important to the proper growth of the church, to bring it to maturity. He said to “follow after charity”. Our goal is understand and practice charity in all things in our lives, and in the church. Those other things were just a means to the end, with charity being the end in sight. They were to build up (edify) the church, which was then to practice love toward all mankind.
1 Corinthians 16:14: “Let all your things be done with charity.”
1 Timothy 1:5: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:”
Colossians 3:12: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
13: Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
14: And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
15: And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
2 Peter 1:3: “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5: And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6: And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7: And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8: For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9: But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10: Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 4:8: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 5:14: “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.”