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Friday, July 30, 2010

The More Excellent Way of Love - Part 2

Now we continue with our study of The More Excellent Way of Love. Whenever I consider the love of God (which is moment by moment) I never cease to be amazed and thankful for it. There is a reason for that; you just can’t beat God’s love! That truth is where we will take up in our further study of 1 Corinthians 13 love.

The More Empowering and Enduring Way of Love

1 Corinthians 13:8 - 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

If you want what you do for the Lord to be empowered and overcoming, do it in love. If you want what you do for the Lord to endure, do it in love. Love never fails. Think about that. Prophecies fail, tongues will stop and knowledge will disappear, but love and that which is done in love, will endure powerfully. Love overcomes the hard heart that loveless prophecies alone failed to move. Love reaches the throne of God in prayer where loveless tongues failed to break through the clouds of heaven. Love has staying power on the listener where loveless regurgitation of knowledge goes in one ear and out the other vanishing away.

The More Enlightened Way of Love

1 Corinthians 13:9-12 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.11 When I was a child, I spoke 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 in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Paul points out that humanity is limited in knowledge and prophetic understanding (13:9). The meaning of these verses must come from the context of Paul’s discussion. He is speaking and teaching about the necessity of love, the value and benefit of love. The point therefore that he makes is that all too often we limit our efforts and works, our thoughts, dreams, our walk with the Lord, because we do it without love. If we really want to know what God and His plans and purposes are all about, we need to look at His love.

Christian Perfection

The Corinthians thought they knew a lot, but their lovelessness exposed them as children in their spiritual maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). If they wanted to be a “man” or mature spiritually, they would have to take the words of love from this chapter of Paul and apply them to their lives. This thought is the key to understanding what Paul meant when he said in verse ten, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” Some have asserted that the phrase “when that which is perfect has come” refers to the canon of inspired scripture; others have interpreted this phrase as referring to the coming of Christ. Both of these interpretations seem to stretch beyond the evidence given in the context of the passage.

What does verse ten and the phrase, “when that which is perfect has come” mean from the context? Paul had already described the carnal Corinthians as children in their faith (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). In verse eleven Paul makes mention of children again stating, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” In verse eleven Paul is speaking of spiritual development, a transition from childhood to manhood or adulthood spiritually. The Bible speaks elsewhere of spiritual maturity by using the child and adulthood illustration (1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Corinthians 6:11-14; Galatians 4:1-10; Ephesians 4:14; Peter in 1 Peter 13-15; and by John in 1 John 2:12-14, though John also uses “children” as a term of affection in 1 John 3:1, 2, 7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:21 and elsewhere). The immediate contextual evidence therefore points to Paul speaking of spiritual maturity or growth.

Additional evidence that Paul is speaking of spiritual maturity is found by examining the word “perfect.” The word “perfect” in verse ten is an important one. “Perfect” is translated from the Greek term telios (τέλειος tĕlĕiŏs, tel´-i-os) which means, “complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and mor.alcharacter, etc.); completeness; of full age, perfect.” This is not a commonly used word in the New Testament but when it is used the context of the passages show that it is used to refer to: the completion of days in the arriving at a set destination (Luke 2:43; 13:32); accomplishing or finishing a mission goal (John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4; Acts 20:24); perfected in unity (John 17:23); fulfill scripture (John 19:28); not reaching a goal or state of being (Philippians 3:12); being made complete by an experience or accomplished mission (Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23; James 2:22; 1 John 2:5; 4:12, 17); and something that is complete (1 John 4:18).

The Bible also uses the word “perfect” to refer to something that is completeable or something that comes to full maturity, especially in regard to spiritual maturity. Jesus challenged His disciples to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Paul spoke of discovering the “perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Paul also used this word to refer to those who had arrived at a place of spiritual maturity and are spiritually mature (1 Corinthians 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 3:15; Colossians 1:28; 4:12; see also Hebrews 5:14). The New Testament speaks of a “more perfect” thing, i.e. the “more perfect” tabernacle of Christ’s body (Hebrews 9:11). James uses the term to refer to the maturity of spiritual character (James 1:4; 3:2). James uses the word “perfect” to refer to the good gifts that come from God and are just right (James 1:17). He uses “perfect” to refer to the law of God (James 1:25). And John uses the word “perfect” to refer to a certain kind of love, “perfect love” (1 John 4:18).

There is a sense in which a Christian is not perfected or complete and has more work to do, or further road to travel (Philippians 3:12). But there is a state of perfection, of spiritual maturity and completeness that the Christian can arrive at (1 Corinthians 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Philippians 3:15). A Christian will never reach a place where they are absolutely perfect in the sense that they have no more spiritual growing to do in this life. We will continue to grow spiritually right up until we pass from this life to the next. There will always be nooks and crannies of our being that the Lord will point out to us and bring to our attention where we need to surrender to His hand and seek His work of transformation to Christlikeness to be done. But there is an attitude or place of total heart surrender and commitment to the lordship and love of Jesus that the believer can attain to. This is the heart attitude of full surrender to obey the Lord fully on life’s journey. This is the place where your will is relinquished to the Lord’s will and His joy in you remains full and complete regardless of circumstance encountered in life. This is the person who fully loves Jesus so much that nothing shakes him or her from that love.

What can we conclude then about the meaning of the phrase, “when that which is perfect has come”? There is no mention of the canon of scripture or coming of Christ in association with the word “perfect” in the immediate context of the passage. What then can it refer to? In light of the use of the child-adult relationship and the word “perfect” to refer to the various aspects of spiritual maturity, I believe Paul is telling the Corinthians to stop being childish loveless carnal Christians and grow up to a mature LOVING spiritual walk with God.

John Wesley taught of a spiritual state of maturity for the Christian that he called “Christian Perfection.” When we hear the word “perfection” we think, “no mistakes; without flaw; absolutely perfect.” But as we have seen that is not in line with the meaning of the biblical term. Rather “Christian Perfection” is a state of spiritual maturity whereby God works in the believer so that they love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:37-40).

In his sermon On Perfection John Wesley wrote this:

What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:” These contain the whole of Christian perfection.[1]

That should be our life ambition and purpose, to love God supremely and love those around us as we love ourselves. Oh that we would have ears to hear this message of love from the Spirit! Oh that our hearts would bow to God in full surrender to have that love put there by Him!

How Can We Know Such Love?

How can we know such love? We come to know such love at the cross of Christ. The apostle John is often referred to as the apostle of love. When we look at his first epistle we see one of the reasons why he has come to be known in this way. Read his inspired words about God, love and knowing God:

· 1 John 4:7-12 - 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

How can we know such love? We know such love first because God took the initiative to show His love to us through His only Son Jesus at the cross (1 John 4:9-10). The presence of God is manifested in the body of Christ by the love of believers toward Him and other believers (1 John 4:11-12). Such love can only be learned from God (1 Thessalonians 4:9). The greatest lesson of love is God’s giving His only Son Jesus (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). Jesus teaches us what love is (John 13:34-35). The only way we can hope to experience such love is to be born again spiritually by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).

Intertwined and inseparable to knowing God’s love is the cross of Christ. These words dovetail well with what Paul is saying to the Corinthians. Love is known through the cross of Christ and this love is the measure of spiritual maturity and ultimately knowing God. We know God to the extent we know His love at the cross of Christ and love others with this crucifixion love. What Paul is speaking about is perfect love.

Perfect Love?

What is “perfect love”? Later in John’s first epistle he speaks of a perfect love or spiritually maturing love in the following way:

· 1 John 4:17-19 - 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

The mark of a Christians maturing in love, “perfect love” is found in John’s inspired words here.

First, perfect love has “boldness in the day of judgment” before God. This is confidence not irreverence. Why and how can someone not fear God’s judgment? It isn’t because they are presumptuous. It is because they have come to know the love of God in the atoning work of the cross of Christ. God in love has dealt with the penalty of sin at the cross through Christ’s atoning substitutionary death. The one perfected in love has accepted and come to own this truth through faith in God. We are confident before God and not frightened of judgment because we know Him in His love at the cross. Perfect love is knowing God loves us, loving Him back and no longer relating to God in a fearful way (though we are still reverent toward Him as a Holy Loving God).

Secondly, the mark of a mature “perfect love” is described by the words, “because as He is, so are we in this world.” In other words, we are loving in this world the way Jesus loved. We are becoming like Jesus according to God’s purpose and plan (Romans 8:29). The one with perfect love loves with a sacrificial Christlike love like the love Jesus demonstrated at the cross (Ephesians 4:32).

How Can We Experience Such Love?

How can we experience such love? The phrase, “But when that which is perfect has come” (13:10a) implies an event in time where it is possible for us to experience “that which is perfect” (i.e. perfect love; God’s mature, of full age love). [2] We also need to look at the phrase “I put away childish things” (13:11b) as it points to an action done at a point in the past, once and for all, that has lasting effects.[3] This action involves a willful faith decision and trust in God. There are two things or two steps we need to follow to have this experience come to pass in our lives.

Step #1 – Realize this is a work of God in us. This kind of love is not something that we can get on our own. It is not sentimental but also not void of affection. It is the perfect balance of affection and action. This love is powerful and otherworldly; it comes from God.

You may be thinking that such a love working in you is too great a thought or too great a work to be done. You may be thinking you are just too sinful for such a thing to be possible. Well, nothing is impossible with God. The Bible says God has such great things on His heart for us that we can’t even conceive them (1 Corinthians 2:9). Whatever we are as a Christian; whatever experience we have, it is all by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 1:14). And it is the perfect “love of Christ” in us that should be the driving compelling force in all that we do (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). God is a “God of love” (2 Corinthians 13:11, 14). God’s love is impregnable and overcoming; nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). God’s desire is to work His love in us (Philippians 2:13). He wants to make us increase and abound in His love (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; 2 Timothy 1:7, 13). He wants to teach us about His perfect love (1 Thessalonians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Peter 1:22-24). He teaches us His love through His Holy Word (1 John 2:5). Therefore, if we stay in His Word we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 20-21).

God promises to fill us with His love if we let Him. We simply have to ask Him and receive it by faith. The Bible says:

  • Romans 5:5 – “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in a person and the Holy Spirit indwells a person at conversion (Galatians 5:22-25).

Step #2 – Realize the work of God is done in us BY FAITH. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “pursue love.” How do we pursue such Love? By faith! Faith or trust is the means by which God works in the believer’s life (see the examples of Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith). We are saved from sin by faith (Romans 3:28, 30; Galatians 2:16-21; 3:8, 11, 22, 24; Ephesians 2:8-9). We are sanctified or cleansed in heart and empowered for service by faith (Acts 15:9; 26:18). We continue in our walk with God in life by faith “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17; 11:20; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Philippians 3:7-11; Hebrews 10:38). By faith we put off the old man nature and by faith we put on the new nature (Colossians 3:5-14). By faith we look forward to the culmination of our faith in Christ (Galatians 5:5).

The context of Romans 5:5 shows us that such love comes as we put our faith in Jesus as Savior:

  • Romans 5:1-4 – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

No one ever said it would be easy. There will be “tribulations” that require “perseverance” but in Christ there is “hope” and the hope comes from God’s love that is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit when we come to God by faith in Christ.

If “childish things” refers to carnal, fleshly, selfish, unloving things, then what Paul is saying here is that by faith and trust in God we can put away unloving things in our lives. Conversely by implication we can by faith and trust in God put on loving things in our lives. We can experience God’s perfect love in us and in our life actions by simply surrendering to God by faith and seeking that He does this work of love, perfect love in us.

Look in the Mirror

Paul challenges the Corinthians to take a look in the mirror. When we look in a mirror and see a loveless person, the light of God in us is dim. But when we look in that mirror and see the love of God in and through us, we see “face to face” clearly, as we should be (13:12). When we are loveless we “know in part” or we only have understood and grasped a small portion of what being a Christian is all about. But when we love, we “shall know just as I also am known,” or we come to know God better because we see how He has known and treated us in love.

In faith we need to examine our hearts and life to see if such “perfect love” is present. If by faith we can know and experience such perfect love of God, then what keeps us from trusting in God for it now! In His sovereignty God is able to work in us as He pleases. With some He may work instantaneously, in others His work is more gradual. Overall this work begins at a point of faith decision which begins the ongoing work of God to perfect us in His love throughout our lives.

The Greatest Way of Love

1 Corinthians 13:13 - 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

We are saved by faith in Jesus. We continue to the end because of the hope we have in Jesus and His promises. But it is love that adds true meaning and purpose to our existence as Christians and helps us to understand what God is all about. That’s why love is the greatest. Love stands the test of time and brings rich color and meaning to an otherwise drab existence. God is eternal and God is love (1 John 4:7, 16). Therefore love, as an attribute of God, is eternal. That is the meaning of the word “greatest” here, to stand the test of time (“greatest” –μείζων mĕizōn, mide´-zone). Faith brings us into a relationship with God in Christ. Hope sustains us to the end. But it is love, over time and eternity that brings fullness to the things of God.

Why Would I Want This Kind of Love? Because This Love is of God

Why would anyone want this kind of love, a love that often leads us in and through trials? In the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he exhorts them to do everything they do in love (16:14). But there is an even greater more important reason to pursue and desire perfect love. We should pursue and want this perfect love of God because it is “of God.”

To many God is a great mystery. But that mystery is solved through His perfect love. The love of 1 Corinthians 13 is not a worldly love or a humanly defined love, it is a God authored love and a God provided love. John was inspired to write in this regard:

· 1 John 4:7 - 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

If we want to love with the love of 1 Corinthians 13; if we want to know God in this incredible loving way; we have to come to Him and ask Him for that love and to know Him in this loving way. When we use spiritual gifts or do anything else devoid of love, we do it separate from God. God is not in anything that we do that is done without 1 Corinthians 13 love. And God is in everything we do with 1 Corinthians 13 love. Without God there is no hope (Ephesians 2:12). With God there is always hope (Romans 15:4, 13). Without God we can do nothing (John 15:4, 5); with God we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). That is why we should always do what we do in the love of God.

Pray to Know God’s Love

If we want to know God and His love and experience it, we need only pray for it. This is what the apostle Paul prayed on behalf of the people in the church of Ephesus when he was inspired to write to them. Read his prayer prayerfully:

· Ephesians 3:14-21 - 14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I suggest you make that prayer your prayer and I further suggest that you begin praying that prayer for others. Even though we may not fully comprehend the love of God and will spend an eternity deepening our knowledge and experience of it, we need only remember that the God of love, “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, . . .” To that I say along with Paul, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” That is my prayer for you; that is my prayer for me; that we know and experience the God of love and His love. May God bring it to pass. God bless you with His love.

[1]Wesley, J. (1999). Sermons, on several occasions. Sermon #76 - Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] The grammatical form of the “phrase “has come” (2nd Aorist/Active/Subjunctive of the Greek term ERCHOMAI “to come; to go” – Strong’s #2064) points to punctiliar action or something occurring or existing.

[3] The Perfect/Active/Indicative form of the Greek term KATARGEO - Strong’s #2673 – which means “destroy; do away; abolish; to cause to cease; to do way with; to put to an end.”

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