God's View of the Word Love
by Pastor Joseph Pellicone
1st Corinthians 13:1-8
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
- Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
- Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
- Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
- Charity never faileth..."
The world awoke Sunday August 31 with the shocking news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel along with her companion and the driver. During the Westminster Abbey funeral service six days later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair read the 13th chapter of I Corinthians "in a voice that often betrayed emotion." The newspaper wire services the next day said no more than that about his part of the observances. Not nearly as interested as the approximately 2.6 billion people around the world who watched the royal funeral on television, I never found out if he had more to say by way of comment. But it was, nonetheless, a small part of what constituted six days of mourning that was deemed "almost without parallel in global history."
The picture of a head of state reading a whole chapter from the Bible, and the King James Bible no less, in such a setting and on an occasion so unparalleled, should serve to warn mankind yet another time that there is accountability for the carefree lifestyle of modern man that operates as if there is neither death nor eternity.
It's probably not hard to guess why the Prime Minister chose that portion of Scripture to read. I Corinthians 13 is the love chapter. The word found eight times in that chapter translated "charity" is translated "love" in I John 4:16 (and many other places) where it says "God is love." The Prime Minister took the liberty to substitute "love" for "charity" in his reading. He probably was referring to the way Diana felt about humanity with all of her charitable works, especially with children; or the way England and much of the world felt about her. But was he not reading from God's word? Therefore, it would be wise and profitable if we considered God's viewpoint of the word "love", rather than the Prime Minister's.
We all know what the world's viewpoint of the word "love" is; you hear it all the time in the countless interviews, commentaries, news broadcasts of various sort, and the songs- especially the songs, a countless stream of them, with their accompanying rock or country beat.
But I Corinthians 13, the first seven verses, is God's definition of the word "love". Mankind as a whole is not interested in God's viewpoint of things, and that is a tragedy because God's view point is absolute truth. Looking at the world through the eyes of God would have been much more profitable for man because his view is limited to appearances while "the Lord looketh on the heart" ( I Sam. 16:7). But man's understanding is darkened because of sin and he is not going to see it short of the new birth. Looking at the first seven verses of I Corinthians 13, you will notice that it is all one definition. It's not like what you see in a dictionary where there can be four, five, six or seven definitions of one word. Here, in our text, we have different aspects of the same definition. All of it taken together is God's definition of the word "love." Take any part away and you don't have the complete definition.
Notice something rather interesting about verse 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." From the world's viewpoint, there would be no problem accepting what that verse says. The world understands that a person could have a gift, say of prophecy, and use it for self-promotion rather than for love's sake, and it accomplish nothing. As a matter of fact, they see it all the time in preachers and they're turned off by it. The world understands that a person could have "all knowledge" and be conceited, which is not a likeable trait.
Verse 3 is a different story. Verse 3 must be a puzzle to the world: "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 the world's view, how could it be possible to "bestow all my goods to feed the poor" and it not be love? How could "I give my body to be burned" and it not be love? From the world's point of view, verse 3 must not make any sense at all, much like the rest of the Bible is to them. The world would say that the person described in verse 3 is all the things that make up the definition of love. He certainly is one who "suffereth long and is kind"; is one who "envieth not" and "vaunteth not itself" and "is not puffed up"; would be considered as one who "doth not behave itself unseemly" and certainly would be a person who "seeketh not her own" and "is not easily provoked." That person would certainly be considered by the world as one who "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
But God says, in effect, it is possible to do verse 3 and it not be love. A puzzle for sure, to the world. For example, a person can be a "symbol of selfless humanity" (quote from Charles, the 9th, Earl Spencer, in the eulogy to his sister) and it not be love. Again, a person can be "a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden" (another quote from Charles' eulogy) and not have love.
Now that may be hard to understand from the world's viewpoint, but it's easy to see when you look at it from God's viewpoint. The key to the whole matter is found, I believe, in the smallest part of the chapter. It's what clarifies verse 3, and supplies the essential ingredient for a correct interpretation of God's viewpoint of the word "love". The smallest part, but it makes all the difference in the world. I saw this illustrated in everyday life when I recently had to purchase a can of insect bomb to ward off a legion of flies around my house after manuring my lawn. Not wanting to pay more than I had to, I compared the ingredients of the can of Raid, which was two dollars more, with the generic brand. There was essentially no difference in the ingredients, but what struck me with complete amazement was that bug spray is over 99% inert ingredients! Less than one percent is active ingredients! But that smallest part makes the whole thing work. Well, in this case, it didn't work too well - the flies came back. But anyway, the smallest verse in I Corinthians 13 - verse 6 - is the key that makes the whole chapter work: "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." "Rejoiceth not in iniquity" means "hate sin"! "Rejoiceth in the truth" - what's the truth? "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17), i.e. rejoicing in the Word of God! True love from God's viewpoint is everything I Corinthians 13 teaches including verse 6. True love must include a hatred for sin and a love for the Word of God! Leave that part out and you don't have true love. Leave that part out and what you've got is essentially the world's definition! Hey, the world loves a person who suffers long and is kind; the world loves people who don't envy; the world loves a guy who doesn't toot his own horn (vaunteth not itself); the world loves it when a person doesn't behave himself unseemly (except the Charismatics, who love just the opposite); the world loves people who are not easily provoked and that bear all things; and the world really loves people who "believeth all things" - "you believe what you want to and I'll believe what I want to and we'll all be happy and fine as long as we're sincere, etc., etc." That's the world talking.
But include verse 6 in that equation and you have a completely different story, one foreign to the world which hardly hates sin and hardly rejoices in the Word of God. With verse 6 included in the equation, see how easy it is to accomplish what verse 3 says and not love from God's viewpoint? I want someone to tell me, for example, how the Missionaries of Charity, which we've also heard a lot about in the news lately, fit in that definition of love? True love is everything in I Corinthians 13 including verse 6. Even the part that says "believeth all things" makes so much more sense when you consider that a person who is rejoicing in the Word of God believes all of it, and rejects anything false ("rejoiceth not in iniquity"). The smallest part of the chapter makes all the difference in the world.
Let's look at a couple of ways the world thinks they're expressing love, but are not according to God's viewpoint of the word. And then finish up with some reflection on us fundamentalists.
I. Love-Without The First Commandment? - Matt. 22:36-40
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, 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 unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
In its attempt to express love, what does the world do every time? Because it doesn't rejoice in the truth, it skips right over this first commandment and majors on the second. It doesn't even minor on the first! Check it out for yourself; it's the case every time! In no case in the world's benevolent deeds are they ever interested in loving "the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."
Take for example Live Aid, the world-wide charity concert put on about twelve years ago that raised $127 million for starving people in Ethiopia. Its' motto was "Feed the World." It was, in fact, a sixteen hour rock concert - the biggest of all time. How do you figure God could be in that in any way, shape or form? Some would say: "But preacher, look at all the money that was raised for starving children." If everybody involved in that thing obeyed the first commandment as Jesus instructed above, there wouldn't have been any money raised that way. The issue is not whether some good was done (which I question to start with) but whether true love was expressed. True love was not expressed according to God's viewpoint of the word. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." You can't hate sin and love rock music. You can't hate sin and even like rock music. You can't hate sin and even accept the lifestyles of rock musicians. You're not going to get the hog-pen clean by hiring a bunch of hogs!
Take another example. Can you imagine having a charity to raise money for AIDS research and use that occasion to cry out against the perpetrators of AIDS - the homosexuals! The reason you can't imagine it is because it is never done. With God's viewpoint of the word "love," no way can you have that kind of a benefit without screaming out something against homosexuality, in spite of what the Walt Disney Company says! How bad is it getting? In the April 1997 issue of the Plains Baptist Challenger, an article told of a student counselor in Pava, Illinois who administered a personality test to students and announced that those who received one particular score could be gay! That's how bad it's getting! I heard just recently something very chilling. Christian legal advisors are now telling us that to avoid being sued for slander we should refrain from using the term "homosexual" in the pulpit for the scriptural word "sodomite." Now, I'm all for scriptural words. That's not the point. The point is: what in the world is slanderous about using a perfectly legitimate dictionary word to describe a perfectly abominable practice! The Bible says they "...burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly...." That's "homo" "sexual." I realize the Christian legalists are trying to protect us. But how bad has it gotten? When I was a kid even unsaved people thought nothing wrong with calling them "queers," let alone "homosexual." It wasn't slanderous. The word "queer" means "odd," and that's what they are! Back then, "homosexual" was the polite term.
We could go on and on. How many of these charity functions, these benefits, ever deal in the slightest with what Jesus taught about the first commandment? Look at one of the Beatles songs "All You Need Is Love":
Love, Love, Love.There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.
There's not even a remote reference to God in these nonsensical lyrics.
If you are rejoicing in the truth part of real love, you've got to deal with the first commandment before the second. Then you can handle the second the right way. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." People just don't get it. If half the effort expended for charities were channeled into loving "the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," the outcome would be holiness instead of the world's unholiness. And I think we would find that we wouldn't have half the problem we have in this world. All this human energy wouldn't have to be exerted in the first place because we would have God to fight the problem. A good lesson can be learned from King Jehoshaphat when he faced an insurmountable obstacle in his day:
"It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria; and, behold, they be in Hazazontamar, which is Engedi. And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the LORD: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?...O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. Then upon Jahaziel...came the spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation; And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus said the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you...And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped." (II Chronicles 20:1-6, 12-17, 20-24.)
Love, by skipping the first commandment!? Nonsense!
Let's see what else the world does because they leave out love's essential ingredient.
II. Love - So We All May Be One? - John 17:21
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou has sent me."
The theme "Let's get together" we hear all the time from the world and from religion is based on a "God is love" philosophy and that portion of the above verse that says "That they all may be one." It goes something like this: "God is the Father of us all; we are all His children, so let us all embrace one another; let us all be one." That's what the Ecumenical movement is all about! That's what Habitat for Humanity is all about! That's what Promise Keepers is all about! That's what ministerial associations are all about! It doesn't matter what everybody in it believes - we all love each other! There's a certain Southern Baptist preacher in my town, and every time he sees me, he tries to persuade me to join in the Monday morning ministerial association meeting over coffee. I just saw his picture in the local paper along with the other officers of the association. The officer in the picture from the Catholic church was a nun! In the caption under the picture it said the officers were recently installed at Holy Spirit Catholic Church! Now let's say he were to catch me at an extremely weak moment and I agreed to attend one of those meetings; and let's say he convinced me to join the association, and let's say they elected me an officer (which wouldn't be impossible in a small town). There I would be in that picture with that Catholic nun! Joe Pellicone, saved out of the Catholic church, right back in there amongst them again! No thanks! I once got in trouble for calling it the "ministerial assassination," but that's what it is!
If we accept love, however, from God's viewpoint and are rejoicing in the truth, we would have to include the rest of what John 17:21 says: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us...." Also again in verse 11: "that they may be one, as we are." Oneness of the people must be as the oneness the Father and Son have with each other. Aside from the fact that the Father and Son are equal in essence and attributes, they are also one in the truth, the Word of God. That is foreign to the world's idea of oneness where truth matters not. Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus in His prayer to the Father in verse 8: "For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, ...." Getting everybody together without that complete teaching from the Word of God provides nothing but a gigantic mess like what was assembled at Shinar in Genesis chapter 11.
The world skips the first commandment to "help" humanity, and embraces a syrupy, slushy, wimpy, watered down love at the expense of truth. But what about us? Are we Bible-believing Baptists sending out a strong enough signal of true Biblical love?
III. So Where Does That Leave Us? - Galatians 5:6
"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, not uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."
As I go down the list of items in I Corinthians 13 that make up the definition of love, I would have to say that it's that smallest part of the definition, verse 6, that is supposed to be our strong suit. But if I may be permitted to limit this discussion to us preachers since we're supposed to set the examples, as I go down the list, it seems to me there have been times that I recall where preachers haven't been very kind, whether they've suffered long or not, myself included. There have been times where preachers have envied other preachers. There are preachers who vaunt themselves. Let me say this in all kindness to every preacher who is a self-promoter: it sticks out like a sore thumb! Maybe you don't realize you're doing it. If that's the case, maybe a friend in the ministry will come put his arm around your shoulder and kindly tell you. Next, don't think that the Charismatics have the corner on "behave itself unseemly." I heard on the way out to this Bible Conference that one of our brethren in the faith, whose name I honestly don't recall but if you are hearing this - no offense, promised to pour ice cubes down his pants if he got a certain number in church! I think he actually did it! How about this one gentlemen: "is not easily provoked"!
Maybe if we preachers have been weak at times in these and the other areas of true love, maybe our strong suit is not as strong as it should be. If we hate sin like we're supposed to and truly rejoice in all the Word of God, I don't see how we could ever become guilty of not being strong in the other areas of the definition. Is the world, and our brothers and sisters in Christ seeing a clear signal, hearing a clear sound as to what true love really is? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
The week following Diana's fatal accident, the lead story in U.S. News & World Report included a photograph of Diana, Prince Charles, and their two sons, in happier days. Included in the caption under the photograph were these first three words printed in much larger type than the rest: "Whatever love is." That was the answer the about-to-be-married Charles gave an early interviewer who asked him if he were in love. He was being truthful. He didn't know. Those same three words would be a fitting epitaph for a world that equally doesn't know what love is. And they won't know until they have Jesus Christ in salvation, for God is love. May we who know Him ever radiate in our daily lives the love that is of God to a world searching for it as we "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth."