A More Excellent Way

Have I Told You Lately How Much I Love You?
Photo by Michelle Pearson

A More Excellent Way – Part 1

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses, in fact, many of the New Testament books were written as letters to churches. I don’t know about you, but I don’t start out letters, “Dear Church, Chapter 1: Verse 1: How are you doing?” So, keeping this in mind, we are going to look at 1 Corinthians 13, what we call “The Love Chapter.”

Let’s take a sidebar here and talk about that word, Love. You see, the ancient Greeks felt it was important to distinguish the various types of love, so they had 4 words for love:

  • Éros (ἔρως érōs) – Eros is obviously the root word for “erotic,” but it does not describe sexual love only, it actually describes all emotional love; the feeling of love.  Eros love is that insatiable desire to be near the target of this love.  The exciting, passionate, nervous feelings that sweep over people in the appropriate circumstances. This is the love that says “I love how you make me feel.” The word Eros does not appear in the Bible.
  • Philia (φιλία philía) Philos love, or brotherly/friendship love, is the next kind.  Philos describes the love between two people who have common interests and experiences. Philos is half about the circumstances, and half about the commitment of two people to one another; it says “I love who we are together.”.  Philos is the root word for the word Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  It is commonly used in the New Testament, as in Matt. 10:37, John 12:25, and Revelation 3:19.
  • Storge (στοργή storgē) – Storgy is the love that one has for a dependent.  It is commonly called “motherly love.”  When the dependent is no longer dependent, this love remains only in its emotional remnants.  It is one of the stronger loves because it involves a commitment that relies on only one trait of the receiver – that he or she is dependent.
  • Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē) – Agape love is the final of the four loves we look at here.  Agape love is entirely about the lover and has nothing whatsoever to do with the one loved.  Agape love, in its purest form, requires no payment or favor in response.  Agape is the word used for God’s love for us (as in the book of I John, John 3:16) and the love we are commanded to have for one another (in Matt. 5:44, I Cor. 13).  This lack of input from the recipient makes it possible for us to love our enemies even though we may not like them or the situation they have put us in – because Agape love is not in any way dependent on circumstances; it says “I love you because I choose/commit to.”  Unlike eros or Philos, Agape creates a straight line that neither fades nor grows in its perfect form (which of course only exists from God outward). And this is the word used in 1 Corinthians 13, which we will be studying.

So, to fully understand 1 Corinthians 13, in context, we must first have studied the entire book of 1 Corinthians, as well as all of Paul’s other writings, the rest of the New Testament, and the rest of the Bible, not to mention, the original language, and what was going on in the world at that time, customs and traditions. Don’t worry, we’re not going to study the whole Bible…not all at once anyway.

But, since it is all written as a letter, let’s start at chapter 12 verse 31 which is the introduction to chapter 13. Chapter 12 is talking all about the different gifts of the Holy Spirit, and comparing them to the parts of the Body of Christ, making special note that we all have different gifts. Continuing that thought Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 12:31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” In some translations, it says “let me show you a more excellent way.” Which leads into chapter 13 verse 1, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Okay, he has been talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially the gifts of tongues, because the church at Corinth had blown that one gift way out of proportion. They were trying to say, as many today still do, that every Christian would have the gift of tongues, but Paul was showing them why that is not true. Notice I said “gifts” of tongues, plural. The Bible describes 3 different gifts of tongues. The gift of speaking other languages that you have never learned, as in Acts chapter 2, the gift of prophetic tongues which requires an interpreter, as in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, and the third type of tongues is a prayer language, 1 Corinthians 14:15-17. But, here in verse 1, he says, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” So, what he’s saying at the beginning of this section of his letter is, even if I possessed all three gifts of tongues, but didn’t love others, I’m just making a lot of noise. The Greek word translated here as noisy is, echeo {ay-kheh’-o}, which is translated as “noisy”, or in the KJV, “sounding”. It is also translated once in the Bible as roaring in Luke 21:25. When you read this verse, you see it isn’t talking about roaring like a lion, it’s talking about roaring, like waves. Have you ever heard roaring waves? Lions are loud, but waves can be almost deafening.

We’ll start with verse 2 when we meet again. Between now and then, take the time to at least read 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 – 15, but read the whole book, if you can. I know…homework, right? But, if you are reading these blogs, you must want to see the Word for what it is, so increase that passion for the Word of God. See you next time.

A More Excellent Way – Part 2

Welcome back as we pick up where we left off last time. The next thing we see is in verse 2 where Paul goes on to say, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” Now he’s referring to the gifts of the Spirit he talked about in chapter 12. What he’s saying here is, even if I had the gifts of prophecy, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, or even the Spiritual gift of faith…you know, that mountain moving faith, but I didn’t have an Agape love for others, I WOULD BE NOTHING! Spiritual gifts are great and we should find out which ones we have and use them for the glory of God, but if they are not used out of God’s perfect love, they are worthless.

The Church today, as it has always been, is a church of extremes. We are either afraid to acknowledge the Holy Spirit and His gifts at all, or we put way too much emphasis on certain gifts. The gifts of the Spirit are truly important, and we need to use them to the glory of God, but only in love…perfect love…Agape Love.

In verse 3 he says, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” We see this all the time with celebrities, they rally behind some cause, but just for the photo op. But, it’s the same way with so many of us. We think we are doing good because we give to the poor, or make sacrifices for the less fortunate, but if we don’t do it out of love, all we end up with is bragging rights.

So, let’s sum up these first 3 verses? It doesn’t matter who you are, what your gifts are, or what you do for your community or the world. If you don’t do it out of love, godly love, it is worthless and all you are doing is making a whole lot of noise. I want to express this again, if you don’t have a relationship with God, you can’t fully understand His love. He loves us unconditionally…NO STRINGS ATTACHED! And if you haven’t yet experienced that perfect love, stop now…that’s right stop reading and take care of that, now. Nothing else is more important than having a right relationship with God.

In verse 4 Paul starts describing exactly what God’s love is. He says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

So, let’s break this down.

  1. PatienceVs 4 “To be longsuffering, as opposed to hasty anger or punishment. To EXPERIENCE understanding and patience toward persons.
    1. Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.”
    2. Proverbs 17:9 “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”
    3. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.”
    4. 1 Peter 4:8 “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
  2. KindVs 4
    1. Ephesians 4:32 “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
  3. Not Jealous Vs 4
    1. Proverbs 14:30 “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.”
  4. Does not brag and is not arrogantVs 4
    1. 1 Corinthians 4:6 “Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another.”
  5. Does not act unbecominglyVs 5
    1. Philippians 4:8 “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
  6. Does not seek its ownVs 5
    1. 1 Corinthians 10:24 “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.”
    2. Philippians 2:21 “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.”
  7. Is not provokedVs 5
    1. Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
  8. Does not take into account a wrong sufferedVs 5 An intentional wrong that was done
    1. 2 Corinthians 5:19 “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.”
  9. Does not rejoice in unrighteousnessVs 6
    1. Psalm 119:1-3 1How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
      Who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways.”

We miss out on true love so often because we are so self-consumed. We are an arrogant generation, we are so self-absorbed that we can’t experience true love. We need to put ourselves, our pride, our jealousy aside and focus on God and His true Agape love.

We’ll finish this up next time by looking at the characteristics of Agape Love and how they can change our lives. See you then.

A More Excellent Way – Part 3

So, let’s wrap up this post on 1 Corinthians 13. We see in this next section, Paul lays out for us some of the characteristics of Agape love. It’s a litmus test of sorts, for us to see whether or not we have it. If we don’t, we can’t rest until we Get it. This love, this perfect Agape love, is a clear proof of our salvation, it’s proof of our regeneration, and is evidence of our faith in Christ. Take the time, when you are finished reading this, to read 1 John 4:7-21.

You see, this beautiful description of the nature and characteristics of love was intended to show the Corinthian church, and us, that the way they were behaving had, in many respects, been the opposite of God’s love. Remember, this was a letter to the church at Corinth… Agape love is the enemy to selfishness; it does not desire or seek its own praise, honor, profit, or pleasure. Not that agape love ignores itself, or that we should neglect ourselves and all our interests. But it never seeks its own to the hurt of others, or to neglect others. It always puts the welfare of others above its own advantage. Think about this, how awesome would Christianity appear to the world if those of us who profess the name of Christ, lived by this Divine principle! We need to ask ourselves whether this agape love lives in our hearts. Has it guided us in the way we treat others? Are we willing to lay aside our selfish ambitions? This chapter is a call to inner searching and prayer. Psalm 139:23-24 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

There was a “church” I knew of in Florida. Notice the quotes, they called themselves a church, they claimed to Christians, but that is not how they lived. The pastor constantly preached hate and fear. Now, don’t get me wrong, we must fear God, the Bible tells us that over and over, in fact, the Bible tells us in Proverbs 9:10, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” We must have a reverent respect and fear of God. But, God sent Christ to die for our sins out of love…Agape Love. This man used to preach full sermons on the different groups he hates. After hearing him once, I went to him and told him that God doesn’t hate anyone, that He even loved Osama Bin Laden. He then proclaimed me a devil and asked me to leave. His “church” now consists of ten or twelve men, living in a compound in Northern Florida. But, the point is, we must love everyone as God does. We don’t have to accept what they believe, or condone their sin, but remember, we aren’t here to condemn their sin either, we’re just here to love them. 1 John 4:7-8 says, Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Paul concludes this section with 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

I have heard pastors use this passage to say that the gifts of the Spirit are gone now. They “interpret” it as saying, when the Bible is complete, we won’t need the gifts anymore. Just another example of why we can’t interpret the Bible. When we take this in context and don’t try to twist it to fit our preconceived beliefs, we can clearly see that this is saying that love is the only Spiritual gift we will take to heaven with us. Look at it. In verse 8 he says that prophecies, tongues, and words of knowledge will become useless…when? Verse 9 & 10 tell us, “when the time of perfection has come.” When will we be perfect? Look at verse 12 again, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” When he compares what we see now to looking in a mirror, we need to think about what a mirror was at that time, just another way to keep it in context. The reason it was a “puzzling reflection”, or as the KJV says, “see through a glass dimly”, is because it wasn’t a mirror as we know it, it wasn’t a looking glass as they had when the KJV was translated, it was a piece of polished metal or bronze. Don’t you see, in today’s mirror it wouldn’t be a puzzling reflection, but that’s all they knew back then. Looking at yourself in polished metal isn’t very clear, but it will all be perfectly clear when we are in Heaven! When we are living in perfection we won’t need prophecy, we won’t need tongues, we won’t need words of knowledge because we will know everything completely.

Then he leaves us with verse 13 where he tells us that only three things will last forever; faith, hope, and love. In today’s church, we put so much emphasis on faith, and yet Paul tells us that the greatest of these is LOVE!

This is the More Excellent Way.

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