THE EXPRESSION OF LOVE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE LOCAL CHURCH (1 Cor. 13)
Notes of a paper read at the Wessex Conference, Saturday 6th March, 2004.
The question that has perhaps perplexed you is this; Why do so many churches that are orthodox in their beliefs and show many of the marks of a true church of Jesus Christ appear to be so weak’? I believe one of the answers is this; They lack the very first of the fruits of the Spirit of which Paul speaks in Gal. 5.22.
In some ways I feel it is very sad that we even have to have this subject to consider this afternoon, for it should be perfectly obvious to all true Christians that there can be no real local Christian church if there is no Christian love. As John tells us, `He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love,’ 1 John 4.8 and 16.
However, the reasons why we are facing this subject today are the same reasons that moved Paul to write as he did to the church in Corinth. The believers there were like believers today, imperfect and very much in need of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit both personally and in their church life.
What were the principal failures and sins in Corinth? Paul calls them a church, a local church of God, called to be saints. They were a gifted church enriched by the grace of God. But they were a divisive church, there were contentions among them, and they were plagued by cliques and party spirit. All that is painfully revealed in the very first chapter! Paul’s rhetorical questions express his pain, `Is Christ divided’? Was Paul crucified for you’?’
Besides this they seemed blind to an appalling case of moral evil over which they showed no sorrow. Such bitter strife had developed that a brother was going to law against another brother in a shamefully public way before unbelievers. They were abusing the doctrine of Christian liberty and sinning against those who were of weak consciences; their gross misbehaviour at the Lord’s Table is too well known to need further comment. In the exercise of spiritual gifts pride had reared its ugly head and Paul has to say, `Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular’. A claim to be speaking by the Spirit of God resulted in Christ being called accursed. The great truth of the resurrection was being denied, `How say some of you that there is no resurrection of the dead?’
What lies behind these evils? Surely it is a sad lack of the expression of love in the local church. A lack of love for God, a lack of love for their Lord and Saviour, a lack of love for the Holy Spirit of love, a lack of love for the truths they had been taught, and a lack of love for one another.
Hence the crucial importance of chapter 13.
1. 1 Corinthians chapter 13
I could not speak about this chapter without remembering the deep effect the book of Jonathan Edwards had on me and still does. It is entitled, Charity and its Fruits. First published in 1852 and reprinted by the Banner of Truth in 1969 and still available at Â£6.50. If you really are sincere in seeking to be fruitful in your Christian lives I urge you to buy, beg, or borrow a copy and spend precious time in absorbing its lessons. Let me give you a taste by reading the chapter headings.
1 Cor. 13.1-3
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.
Ch. l. All true grace in the heart summed up in charity, or love. (I comment, it is true that the word charity is not used today as it is in the AV. It does mean love but the word love is so abused today that it becomes little different from lust and fornication. I am glad to retain the word charity as it gives me an opportunity to explain that in 1 Cor. 13 it emphatically means the deep and precious Christian love that is our concern today).
Ch.2. Charity, or love, more excellent that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. (And how relevant that is today with all the wild claims being made in some circles).
1 Cor. 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. Ch.3. All that can be done or suffered, in vain without charity.
1 Cor. 13.4
Charity suffereth long,
ChA. Charity disposes us meekly to bear the injuries received from others.
1 Cor. 13.4
Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
Charity envieth not;
Ch.6. The spirit of charity is the opposite of an envious spirit. 1 Cor. 13.4
Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Ch.7. The spirit of charity is a humble spirit. 1 Cor. 13.5
Charity… doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, Ch.8. The spirit of charity is the opposite of a selfish spirit.
1 Cor. 13.5
Charity,… is not easily provoked,
Ch.9. The spirit of charity is the opposite of an angry or wrathful spirit.
1 Cor. 13.5
Charity… thinketh no evil;
Ch. 10. The spirit of charity is the opposite of a censorious spirit. 1 Con 13.6
Charity… rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Ch. 11. All grace in the heart tends to holy practice in the life.
1 Cor. 13.7
Charity… beareth all things,
Ch. 12. Charity, or a Christian spirit, is willing to undergo all sufferings in the way of duty.
1 Cor. 13.7
Charity… believeth all things, hopeth all things,
Ch.l3. All the Christian graces are connected and mutually dependent.
1 Cor. 13.7
Charity…, endureth all things.
Ch. 14. Charity, or true grace, not to be overthrown by opposition. 1 Con 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.
Ch. 15. The Holy Spirit is for ever to be communicated to the saints, in the grace of charity, or divine love.
1 Cor. 13.8-10
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.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Ch. 16. Heaven is a world of charity or love.
Such is the high standard Paul has set in this very searching chapter. How do we stand in the face of this pattern of gracious love’? What, then, is the motive of the Apostle in living such a life? How can we live a life like this’? This leads me to the next section.
2. The love of Christ and the believer’s response 2 Cor. 5.14-15
`For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.’
The love Christ has shown is the perfect example for the Church to follow. As believers we must never forget that we were dead in trespasses and sins. The life we now live is a life given to us in the sovereign grace of our God. This life is ours only through the Saviour’s death. We are not to live to ourselves in the wretched sin of selfishness and selfcentredness. Self-love is the negation of Christian love, for the love of Christ was self-sacrificing love. It was deeply-costly love and we are bought with a price, I Cor. 6.20 and 7.23. We are to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits by living our life to His glory and demonstrating something of His love for us by loving Him and loving one another with a costly and sacrificial love. This is the kind of love that should be the shining characteristic of all churches and all church members.
3. The Church
It is called the body of Christ and He is the Head. Col. 1.18. It is called the Bride of Christ, the Lamb’s wife, in Rev. 21.9.
The love of Christ for the Church is the pattern for the love of a husband for his wife, Eph. 5.25, `Christ loved the, church and gave himself for it’.
To love one another is Christ’s new commandment, John 13.34. John 15.12, `This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.’
I John 4.11. `Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’
4. Love in the Church It is:
Love for God, for Christ, and for the Holy Spirit.
The love of the truth and all the great doctrines of God’s amazing grace.
The love of the gospel, its proclamation, and all who faithfully proclaim it.
The love of the brethren and sisters in the spiritual family. The love of sympathy and encouragement.
The love or prayerful support for all in need and in times of crisis especially.
The love of financial support and practical help. The love of bearing with one another’s weaknesses. The love of a pastor for the flock.
The love of the members for their pastor and church leaders, demonstrated not least in their care over the pastor’s financial support. The love of the younger members for those who are elderly.
The prayerful love of the elderly for the younger ones.
5. Love under attack in the Church
From Satan who seeks to divide and rule, scatter and destroy.
He seeks to sow the seeds of strife. The root of bitterness springs up and defiles many.
From people, male or female, who are like Diotrephes who love to have the pre-eminence and are proudly censorious, 3 John 9-12.
From gossip, spreading rumours with no foundation in truth, and from jealousy.
From the world with its delight in strife and disloyalty.
From marital unfaithfulness, and all manner of immorality which is presented in the name of love.
From bigotry and an unwillingness to agree to differ on secondary matters.
And last, but by no means least:
From a lack of spiritual discernment and the embracing of heresies and heretics under the guise of Christian charity.
6. Final Exhortations and Encouragements
I would like to read to you an extract from the first chapter of Jonathan Edwards’ book.
What a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy, and malice, and every kind of bitterness of spirit towards their neighbours! For these things are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity. And it behoves Christians, as they would not, by their practice, directly contradict their profession, to take heed to themselves in this matter. They should suppress the first
beginnings of ill-will and bitterness and envy; watch strictly against all occasions of such a spirit; strive and fight to the utmost against such a temper as tends that way; and avoid, as much as possible, all temptations that may lead to it. A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men will hinder the exercise of love to God. If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming for Christians. An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!
Hence it is no wonder that Christianity so strongly requires us to love our enemies, even the worst of enemies (as in Matt. 5.44); for love is the very attitude and spirit of a Christian: it is the sum of Christianity. And if we consider what incitements thus to love our enemies we have set before us in what the Gospel reveals of the love of God and Christ to their enemies, we cannot wonder that we are required to love our enemies, and to bless them, and do good to them, and pray for them, `that we may be the children of our Father which is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’
Our subject also exhorts us to seek a spirit of love; to grow in it more and more; and very much to abound in the works of love. If love is so great a thing in Christianity, so essential and distinguishing, yea, the very sum of all Christian virtue, then surely those that profess themselves Christians should live in love, and abound in the works of love, for no works are so becoming as those of love. If you call yourself a Christian, where are your works of love’? Have you abounded, and do you abound in them? If this divine and holy principle is in you, and reigns in you, will it not appear in your life in works of love? Consider, what deeds of love have you done’? Do you love God? What have you done for Him, for His glory, for the advancement of His kingdom in the world? And how much have you denied yourself to promote the Redeemer’s interest among men’? Do you love your fellow-men? What have you done for them’? Consider your former defects in these respects, and how becoming it is in you, as a Christian, he
reafter to abound more in deeds of love. Do not make excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbours. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water,
it will send forth streams. Consider that as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labour of love is the main business of the Christian life. Let every Christian consider these things; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things, and make you aware what spirit you should be of, and dispose you to such an excellent, amiable, and benevolent life, as is answerable to such a spirit, that you may not love only `in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth.’
Also I have an extract from our own Church Declaration of Faith of the church formed in 1844 at Forest Fold, Crowborough, East Sussex. After a brief statement of the beliefs of the church it concludes with this paragraph.
Now all and each of these doctrines and ordinances with all the doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel, we look upon ourselves under the greatest obligation to embrace, maintain and defend, believing it to be our duty and privilege to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. And whereas we are sensible that our conversation both in the world and in the church might be as becometh the Gospel of Christ, we judge it our incumbent duty to walk in wisdom towards them that are without; to exercise a conscience void of offence towards God and man by living soberly, righteously and godly in the present world; and, as to conduct to each other in our Church communion, we esteem it our duty to walk with each other in all humility and brotherly love; to watch over each other’s conversation; to stir up one another to love and good works; not forsaking the assembling ourselves together as we have opportunity; to worship God according to His revealed will; and when the case requires it, to warn, rebuke, and’admonish one another, according to the rule of the Gospel. Likewise we think ourselves obliged to sympathise with each other in all conditions, both inward and outward, which God, in His providence, may bring us into; as also to bear with each other’s weaknesses, failings, and infirmities; and particularly to pray one for another, and that the Gospel and the ordinances thereof might be blessed to the edification and comfort of each other’s souls; and for the gathering in of others to Christ beside those that are already called. All which duties we desire to be found in the performance of, through the gracious aid and influence of’ the Holy Spirit, whilst we bless, admire and adore the grace which has given us a place and a name in God’s house better than that of sons and daughters.
I would like to read an old Church Covenant written by Benjamin
Keach (1640-1704) for the church over which he was the pastor. The Solemn Covenant of the church at its Constitution:
We who desire to walk together in the fear of the Lord, do, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, profess our deep and serious humiliation for all our transgressions. And we do also solemnly, in the presence of God, of each other, in the sense of our own unworthiness, give up ourselves to the Lord, in a church state, according to the apostolical constitution that He may be our God, and we may be His people, through the everlasting covenant of His Free Grace, in which alone we hope to be accepted by Him, through His blessed Son Jesus Christ, whom we take to be our High Priest, to justify and sanctify us, and our Prophet to teach us; and to be subject to Him as our Law giver, and the King of Saints; and to conform us to all His Holy Laws and Ordinances, for our growth, establishment, and consolation; that we may be as a Holy Spouse unto Him, and serve Him in our Generation, and wait for His second appearance, as our glorious Bridegroom.
Being fully satisfied in the way of Church-communion, and the Truth of Grace in some good measure upon one another’s spirits, we do solemnly join ourselves together in a Holy Union and Fellowship, humbly submitting to the Discipline of the Gospel, and all Holy Duties required of a People in such a spiritual relationship.
1. We do promise and engage to walk in all Holiness, Godliness, Humility, and Brotherly Love, as much as in us lieth, to render our Communion delightful to God, comfortable to ourselves, and lovely to the rest of the Lord’s People.
2. We do promise to watch over each other’s Conversations, and not to suffer sin upon one another, so far as God shall discover it to us, or any of us; and to stir up one another to Love and good Works; to warn, rebuke, and admonish one another with meekness, according to the Rules left to us by Christ.
3. We do promise in an especial manner to pray for one another, and for the Glory and Increase of this church, and for the presence of God in it, and the pouring forth of His Spirit on it, and His Protection over it, to His Glory.
4. We do promise to bear one another’s burdens, to cleave to one another, and to have a fellow-feeling with one another, in all conditions both outward and inward, as God in His Providence shall bring any of us into.
5. We do promise to bear with one another’s weaknesses, failings, and infirmities, with much tenderness, not speaking of these to any outside the Church, nor any within, unless according to Christ’s rule, and the order of the Gospel provided in that case.
6. We do promise to strive together for the truths of the Gospel, and purity of God’s ways and ordinances, to avoid causes, and causers of division, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
7. We do promise to meet together on Lord’s Days, and at other times, as the Lord shall give us opportunities, to serve and glorify God in the way of His worship, to edify one another, and to contrive the good of His Church.
8. We do promise according to our ability (or as God shall bless us with the good things of this world) to communicate to our Pastor or Minister, God having ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.
These and all other Gospel duties we humbly submit unto, promising and purposing to perform, not in our own strength, being conscious of our own weakness, but in the power and strength of the blessed God, whose we are, and whom we desire to serve: To whom be glory now and evermore. Amen.
Finally let us hear the heart’s desire of David in Psalm 122:6-9. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
And our Saviour’s words of prayer in John 17.26.
`And I have declared unto them my name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ `Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another,’ I John 4.11.
Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. I John 3.18.
He loves but little who tells how much he loves. John Boys.
Our love, if sound, will be discerned by our fear. Nehemiah Rogers.
The best wedge to drive out an old love, is to take in a new.
Of love there be two principal offices, one to give, another to forgive. John Boys.