Articles & News

When Love is Hard

February 26, 2018 jamez-picard-356760

Life Lessons from 1 Corinthians

You don’t need lessons on how to love when you’re with loveable people. Love comes easily—or at least easier. It’s when you’re surrounded by stinkers that it gets hard.

The book of 1 Corinthians was written to those kinds of people. Bickering. Back-biters. Gossipers. Spiritual babies. A prideful pack of people. First Corinthians is called Paul’s “hard letter” by Bible teachers, Dr. McGee included. In our daily journey on the Bible Bus this month, we’ll learn all about the surprising similarities between the church in Corinth and our own churches today.

The apostle Paul founded the church at Corinth on his second missionary journey in Acts 18. To be fair to the young congregation, they lived in one of the most morally corrupt cities in the first-century world. Corinth—the sin center of the Roman empire. They had no generational role models and everyone around them was out for themselves. Paul basically wrote this hard letter to help them figure out how to get along, how to serve each other, and how to love.

The best chapter to show us what that kind of love looks like is 1 Corinthians 13. So let’s take a closer look. But before we dive in to learn these important lessons ourselves, Dr. McGee makes an important observation. He points out that in 1 Corinthians 12, we learn all about the spiritual gifts we are given at salvation to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. It ends with “… I show you a more excellent way.”

Then in chapter 13, we see what that more excellent way is … love. Not the definition, but the demonstration. What does it look like to love stinkers like us? That’s what this chapter is all about. It may end with “hope and faith, but the greatest of these is love.”

Here’s more from Dr. McGee:

What could possibly energize us more in expressing our spiritual gifts than love?

The word “love” can be translated three ways. You may know this already, but the review is good.

  • The first “love” is from the Greek word eros, which means “passion.” We would call this “sex” today. Passion unchecked leads to lust. This word is not used at all in the New Testament.
  • The second translation of “love” comes from the word phileo, which means affection—the love we have towards a brother. It’s human love at its highest and most noble.
  • The word agapao is the highest word for love in the New Testament, and it means divine love. More than emotion, it is love that wills. This kind of love chooses its object.

Agapao is the kind of love that the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, demonstrates. It begins with our speech and our attitude.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. (verse 1)

Paul writes that if we had the most marvelous eloquence, without love, we are nothing but a noisy bell. Chatter without charity is sound without soul. You can sing like an angel, but without love it is nothing but the hiss of hell. Love gives meaning and depth and reality and makes eloquence meaningful.

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. (verse 2)

The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of love as it comes from the heart. The second verse is from the mind—love as an act of the intellect. Knowledge alone is not sufficient; love must be added to that knowledge. Understanding alone is not enough; love must be added to that understanding. Too often in our Bible-believing churches today, we don’t lack a knowledge of the Bible and an understanding of the truth of the Bible, but we lack love. Like the first church of Corinth, there’s gossip, bitterness, and hatred along with Bible knowledge.

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. (verse 3)

Godly love is an act of the will. Love involves the heart (v. 1), the mind (v. 2), and will (v. 3). Love is the fruit of His Holy Spirit. Although we are to covet earnestly the best gifts, they are to be exercised in love and only the Spirit of God can do that through us.

Love is the fruit of His Spirit at work in us.

The theme of 1 Corinthians is the supremacy of Jesus Christ. In light of all the problems Paul addressed, it’s important for us to come back to Jesus Christ as our power and authority. It’s shocking to discover that 2000 years later, we circle around the same issues. The real problem is that we’ve lost sight of the centrality of Jesus Christ crucified. That was the problem then, and it is the problem now.

My Turn

1. Read over 1 Corinthians 13 several times and perhaps in different Bible translations. What’s your favorite verse? How would you summarize this chapter in one sentence?

2. How would the challenges that you face today in your relationships be different if you demonstrated agape love—the love of the will that chooses its object? Consider one way in one relationship you can practice that today.


"The Greatest of These is Love"
Hear Dr. McGee teach 1 Corinthians 13 in this personal and heartfelt sermon that can't be heard anywhere else.