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NOTHING WITHOUT LOVE
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 CORINTHIANS 13:3
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
There is nothing I need more in my life than more of the love of Jesus. I need more of his love for my wife — the woman God has called me to serve until death. I need more of his love for my children and the rest of my extended family. I need more of his love for the church, including the spiritual brothers and sisters it is sometimes hard for me to love. I need more of his love for my neighbors who still need to hear the gospel, and for all the lost and the lonely people who are close to the heart of God even when they are far from my thoughts.
Everywhere I go, and in every relationship I have in life, I need more of the love of Jesus. The place where I need it the most is in my relationship with God himself, the Lover of my soul. What about you? Are you loving the way Jesus loves? Or do you need more of his love in your life — more love for God and for other people?
THE LOVE CHAPTER
One of the first places people look for love in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It is one of the most famous passages in Scripture, mainly because it is read so often at weddings. Some people call it "the Love Chapter," which is appropriate because it mentions love (agape) explicitly and implicitly more than a dozen times.
First Corinthians 13 is the Bible's most complete portrait of love. A literature professor would call it an encomium, which is "a formal or high-flown expression of praise." The Love Chapter is a love song for love, in which the apostle Paul establishes the necessity of love (vv. 1–3), sketches the character of love (vv. 4–7), and celebrates the permanence of love (vv. 8–13) as the greatest of all God's gifts.
As familiar as it is, this chapter is not understood nearly as well as it ought to be. For one thing, people usually read it out of context. Admittedly, they do sometimes begin reading at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:31, where Paul says, "I will show you a still more excellent way." This is a good place to begin, because chapter 13 is "the more excellent way" that the apostle had in mind. But there is a wider context to consider — a context that many readers miss. As Gordon Fee writes in his commentary, "The love affair with this love chapter has also allowed it to be read regularly apart from its context, which does not make it less true but causes one to miss too much."
One way to make sure we do not miss what God has for us in 1 Corinthians 13 is to remember who the Corinthians were and what God said to them in this letter. If there was one thing the Corinthians needed, it was more of the love of Jesus. The church was sharply divided over theology, practice, social class, and spiritual gifts. Some said they followed Paul. Others followed Peter or Apollos — "my apostle is better than your apostle!" Then there were those — and this was the ultimate form of spiritual one-upmanship — who claimed to follow Christ. There were similar conflicts about ministry, with various Corinthians claiming that their charismatic gifts were the be-all and end-all of Christianity — "my ministry is more important than your ministry!" This was the issue in chapter 12, where the apostle reminded them that although the church is made of many parts, we all belong to one body.
So when Paul wrote about love in chapter 13, he was not trying to give people something nice to read at weddings. After all, the love he writes about here is not eros (the romantic love of desire), but agape (the selfless love of brothers and sisters in Christ). Instead of preparing people for marriage, then, the apostle was trying desperately to show a church full of self-centered Christians that there is a better way to live — not just on your wedding day but every day for the rest of your life. The Love Chapter is not for lovers, primarily, but for all the loveless people in the church who think that their way of talking about God, or worshiping God, or serving God, or giving to God is better than everyone else's.
Here is another mistake that many people make: we tend to read 1 Corinthians 13 as an encouraging, feel-good Bible passage full of happy thoughts about love. Instead, I find the passage to be almost terrifying, because it sets a standard for love I know I could never meet.
None of us lives with this kind of love, and there is an easy way to prove it: start reading with verse 4 and insert your own name into the passage every time you see the word "love." For example: "Phil is patient and kind; Phil does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Phil bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Phil never fails." Do the same thing for yourself and you will know how I feel: not very loving at all.
THE NECESSITY OF LOVE
The problem is that love ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of our Christianity. Love is the virtue, said Jonathan Edwards, that is "more insisted on" than any other virtue in the New Testament. Paul certainly insists on it in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3, where he makes a logical argument proving the necessity of love. Love is so essential that we are nothing without it.
According to the canons of ancient literature, an encomium usually begins with a comparison in which the author takes what he wants to praise and compares it to something else. That is very nearly what the apostle Paul does in 1 Corinthians 13: he takes love and makes a series of conditional comparisons to show how necessary love is. Each comparison has something to do with spiritual gifts or accomplishments — things that talented and virtuous Christians either have or do. The point, according to Charles Hodge, is that "love is superior to all extraordinary gifts."
Paul starts with speaking in tongues, which is a gift that some Corinthians had and some Corinthians didn't. But even if they did have the gift, they were nothing without love: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (v. 1).
To "speak in the tongues of men" is to communicate spiritual truth through the miraculous gift of utterance in a human language. To "speak in the tongues of angels" is an even greater gift, for it is to speak the very language of heaven. Paul does not minimize that gift of celestial eloquence, but he does say that it is nothing without love.
Some scholars believe that when Paul spoke about a "noisy gong" he was referring to the hollow bronze jars that were used as resonating chambers in ancient theaters — a Greek and Roman system for the amplification of sound. The point then would be that without love, our words produce only "an empty sound coming out of a hollow, lifeless vessel." Others believe that Paul was referring to the gongs that were used to worship pagan deities, like the goddess Cybele. If so, then he is saying that without love we are merely pagans. The image in this verse always reminds me of The Gong Show, a television program from the 1970s on which contestants were judged on their ability to sing or dance. If the judges didn't like a particular act, they would stand up and strike a huge gong to end the performance. Gongs can produce a lot of noise, but they do not make very much music.
Cymbals do make music, when used the right way. But if someone keeps banging a cymbal, the noise is deafening. No matter how gifted we are, this is what we become if we do not use our gifts in a loving way. No one can hear the gospel from the life of a loveless Christian. People just hear "bong, bong, bong, clang, clang, clang!" To bring the metaphor up to date, "If I network for the gospel but have not love, I am only a noisy blog or a meaningless tweet."
In verse 2 Paul starts listing other gifts, many of which were discussed back in chapter 12. He mentions prophecy: "if I have prophetic powers." Someone with this gift can foretell the future, or has supernatural insight to interpret what is happening in the world from God's point of view. Paul mentions the gift of understanding "all mysteries and all knowledge." The word "all" is emphatic. The person who possesses this spiritual gift has a comprehensive grasp of the great mysteries of God, including his plans for the future, like the mysteries that the prophet Daniel revealed for King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. By "knowledge," the apostle means spiritual knowledge of biblical truth — something the human mind can know only by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthians possessed gifts of knowledge and understanding, as Paul has said several times in this letter (e.g., 1:5; 8:1). But someone who has such gifts is nothing without love. A man may have mystical insight; a woman may know the deep mysteries of God. But these prophetic and intellectual gifts are nothing without love. So Paul says, "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge ... but have not love, I am nothing" (13:2). No one cares how much we know unless they also know how much we care.
Or consider the gift of absolute faith. Paul says, "If I ... have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (v. 2). The apostle is referring here not to the saving faith by which every believer first trusts in Christ for salvation but to the extraordinary gift that some believers have to trust God for what seems to be impossible, especially in the work of his church and the growth of his kingdom. Gennadius of Constantinople claimed that "by faith, Paul does not mean the common and universal faith of believers, but the spiritual gift of faith." Anthony Thiselton takes what the apostle calls "all faith" and describes it as "an especially robust, infectious, bold, trustful faith ... that performs a special task within a community faced with seemingly insuperable problems." Such faith has the power to move mountains, as Jesus told his disciples. In other words, by the grace of God, faith is able to accomplish the impossible. But even that kind of faith is nothing without love.
In verse 3 Paul moves from the gifts we have to the good works we perform. Here his argument comes to its climax: "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." Both of these examples are exceptional. Not many people sell all their earthly possessions and give 100 percent of the proceeds to the poor. Not many people suffer martyrdom through a killing act of self-sacrifice. These are two of the greatest things anyone could ever do for Christ. Surely people who do them deserve some sort of reward! Yet even the greatest good works can be done without love. Instead, they may be done to feed our spiritual pride or to get something from God. Yet not even the terrible pains of a flaming martyrdom are enough. Unless we are motivated by genuine love for God, it all counts for nothing. His love is the only thing that matters.
Understand that when Paul gives us this list of things that are nothing without love, he is really including all of our spiritual gifts and so-called accomplishments. No matter what God has given us and no matter what we have done for God, it means nothing without love. God may grant us the gift of helping or hospitality, of teaching or administration. It may be our privilege to hold a position of spiritual leadership, serving as an elder or a deacon in the church. God may allow us to serve as a missionary or evangelist or servant to the poor. And yet, shockingly, it is possible to use our gifts for ministry without having love in our hearts for anyone except ourselves. We are so selfish that it is even possible for us to do something that looks like it is for someone else when it is really for us — to enhance our own reputation or feed our satisfaction with ourselves.
Paul is not denying the value of spiritual gifts or downplaying the importance of ministry in the church. Praise God for prophets and martyrs! But he is saying that every spiritual gift must be used in a loving way. What matters most is not how gifted we are but how loving we are. As Jonathan Edwards said, "Whatever is done or suffered, yet if the heart is withheld from God, there is nothing really given to him."
Understand that this message is for people in the church. It is not for unbelievers primarily, but for gifted Christians who are actively serving in ministry. Rather than congratulating ourselves for all the things we do for God, or looking down on people who don't serve God the way we do, or thinking that we have it right and everyone else has it wrong, God is calling us to do everything for love. Otherwise, it is all for nothing.
THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE KNEW HOW TO LOVE
As I read the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13, I have to wonder what hope there is for me. I have not conversed with angels, as far as I know, or moved any mountains, or suffered unto death. I have done much less — very little, actually — and even what I did was done with a lot less love than I should have done it.
Yet I know there is hope for loveless sinners in the gospel. One good place to see this hope is in a story that Mark told about Jesus. Whenever we talk about love, we always have to go back to Jesus. The love in the Love Chapter is really his love. So as we study each phrase in each verse of 1 Corinthians 13, we will turn again and again to the story of Jesus and his love. We will never learn how to love by working it up from our own hearts but only by having more of Jesus in our lives. The Scripture says, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Since this is true, the only way for us to become more loving is to have more of the love of Jesus, as we meet him in the gospel.
Mark 10 tells the story of a man Jesus met on the road to Jerusalem. People usually call him "the rich young man," or "the rich young ruler," but for reasons that will become clear in a moment, we could also call him "the man who thought he knew how to love."
Whatever we call him, the man was interested in eternal life and assumed there was something he could do to gain it. So he ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked this question: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (v. 17). With these words, the man was raising the most important of all spiritual issues: eternal life. We are all destined to die, so if there is such a thing as eternal life, it is worth every effort to gain it. The problem, though, is that the man was making a faulty assumption. He assumed that salvation comes by doing rather than by believing. So he asked Jesus what he had to do to get eternal life.
This assumption is faulty because none of us is good enough to be saved by the good things we do. We have all done too many of the wrong things and not enough of the right things. Furthermore, even the right things we have done were done to some degree in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. So Jesus said to the man, "No one is good except God alone" (v. 18). No one is good: not the young man who was talking to Jesus, not you, not me, not anyone. Only God is perfectly good.
To prove this, Jesus rehearsed the standard of God's righteousness. "You know the commandments," he said to the man: "Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother" (v. 19). If these commandments sound familiar, it is because they come from the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on the mountain — his eternal law.
I want to consider these commandments from a slightly different perspective, however. These are not just the laws of God; they also display the love that God demands. Each commandment requires us to love our neighbor. When God says, "Do not murder," he is telling us to love our neighbors by protecting their lives. When he says, "Do not commit adultery," he is telling us to love people by safeguarding their sexual purity. And so forth. Preserving property, honoring someone's reputation or position in life — these are all ways to show love. We could take all the commandments that Jesus mentions and summarize them like this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." In fact, this is exactly the way that Jesus did summarize them in the Gospel of Matthew, when he said that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart and the second great commandment is to love your neighbor.
So this was the answer Jesus gave the rich young man when he asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. "I'll tell you what you have to do," Jesus said. "If you want to be saved by doing, all you have to do is love your neighbor."
"Well, that's easy enough!" the man thought to himself. "I've never killed anyone, or slept with another man's wife, or committed grand theft chariot." What he said out loud was this: "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth" (Mark 10:20). If all it takes to gain eternal life is to avoid breaking the big commandments, the young man thought that he had done all of that. Jesus wasn't telling him anything that he didn't know already. He had learned it all in Sabbath school!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Loving the Way Jesus Loves"
Copyright © 2012 Philip Graham Ryken.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction to This Study Guide 7
Lesson 1 Introduction to Gravity and Gladness 11
Lesson 2 Gravity and Gladness: The Pursuit of God in Corporate Worship 13
Lesson 3 Worship According to the New Testament 28
Lesson 4 The Boycott of "Worship" 42
Lesson 5 Whom Does God Worship? 58
Lesson 6 Lewis and Prowse on Worship 72
Lesson 7 The Loving Demand for Worship 84
Lesson 8 Some Implications for Corporate Worship 100
Lesson 9 Essential Elements in a Worship Service 112
Lesson 10 A Philosophy of Music and Worship, Part 1 126
Lesson 11 A Philosophy of Music and Worship, Part 2 141
Lesson 12 Review and Conclusion 157
Leader's Guide 159
Appendix A Six-Session Intensive Option 165
Appendix B Leading Productive Discussions 167
Desiring God: A Note on Resources 170
What People are Saying About This
“Five out of five stars.”
Christianity TodayChristianity Today
"As usual, Phil Ryken hides his deep scholarship behind readable prose. But the footnotes reveal that he draws on some of the most penetrating scholarly treatments of St Paul’s text. He combines all that with pastoral experience and insight. The result is a masterful, accessible exposition of this great chapter."
Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City; Chairman and Cofounder, Redeemer City to City
“It would be hard to think of a single topic more talked about, sung about, and celebrated than love. Yetpartly because of its familiaritylove is typically taken for granted and often misconstrued by the very people who talk about it most. And let’s face it: that is true even in the church. We are indebted to Phil Ryken for this wonderfully fresh, biblical analysis of what genuine love is like when we see it in perfect Christ-like purity. At once both simple and profound, this book will almost certainly challenge your presuppositions about love and help you see authentic love in a whole new light.”
John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; Chancellor Emeritus, The Master’s University and Seminary
"Through his unique design for this book, Ryken explicates Paul's Love Chapter through snapshots of Jesus and His disciples. He thereby immerses us in the luxuriant love of Jesus and enheartens us to pass it on. Let this book envelop you altogether in the fullness of the triune God's exuberant love!"
Marva J. Dawn, theologian; speaker; author, Being Well When We're Ill; In the Beginning GOD; and Talking the Walk
“Phil Ryken is not only a scholar; he is a magnificent expositor of God’s Word. We already benefit from his massive commentaries on so many books of the Bible, and now he turns his attention, both as scholar and as pastor, to the message of 1 Corinthians 13. This is a gift to the entire church.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“So much of following Jesus is a matter of being reminded of what we once knew. I knew that he loved me first and that his loving lay at the heart of my small ability to love others. I knew once that when my love ran out, his remained and would refill to overflowing. I knew these things, but had largely forgotten them. I will always be grateful to Phil Ryken for this profound reminder.”
Michael Card, musician; Bible teacher; author, A Better Freedom
"Jesus said, 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' But what does it mean to love others? By looking at the love of Jesus in the light of 1 Corinthians 13, Phil Ryken gives us the Biblical answer. Loving the Way Jesus Loves is surely one of the most heart searching books I have ever read. This book is must reading for all who want to grow in Christian love."
Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness
“Phil Ryken majors on what is truly major when he focuses on the central attribute that is supposed to distinguish those who follow Jesusthat we love one another. And the definition of love he sets forth doesn’t float abstractly in thin air but is solidly embodied by Jesus himself. I can’t think of a more timely book than this one or a message the church needs more desperately than the call to love as Jesus loved. Phil has done us all a favor by shepherding us to pursue the centerpiece of our call to be like Jesus.”
Carolyn Custis James, President, Synergy Women’s Network; author, When Life and Beliefs Collide
"Another outstanding contribution by Phil Ryken that challenges me to the core of my being as a follower of Christ. If indeed it is all about loveGod's love for a lost and hurting worldthen the question is, as Christ follower, how well am I imitating that love? This insightful look at the Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians will make us think again if we dare think, I am loving like Christ."
Emery Lindsay, Senior Bishop, Chairman of the Board, Church of Christ (Holiness) USA; Pastor, Christ Temple Cathedral Church of Christ, Los Angeles, California
"There are many expositions of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, but not many where at every point the preacher shows how God's love in Christ Jesus is the very best exposition and truest embodiment of love. Unpacking the love chapter through this prism, Phil Ryken lends great clarity to Paul's meditation on love and shows how such love drives us back to renewed adoration of Christ. Reflecting on how Christ, by his life and death, makes 1 Corinthians 13 leap from the page drives home the frequent lovelessness of our own lives, strips bare all notions of love that are little more than sentimental twaddle, and provides a concrete robustness to love that is part and parcel of trusting and following Christ."
D. A. Carson, Theologian-at-Large, The Gospel Coalition
“Based on careful study, steeped in Scripture, and very aware of the world we live in and of the experiences people go through, Ryken shows how we can love with the kind of love that God demonstrated to us. These qualities have made Ryken a favorite author of mine and of my wife.”
Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director, Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka; author, Discipling in a Multicultural World
“Loving the Way Jesus Loves is deeply instructive of the nature of true Christian love, the extent of Jesus’s own expressions of that love, and the ways in which we, his followers, are to show forth his love from our lives. This study honors Christ in two ways: by putting him on display as the great lover that he is, and by calling us to emulate our Lord in living increasingly the life of love that he expressed. Meditation on the love of Christ and on loving like Jesusthat’s what this book encourages with great insight and depth.”
Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Love is a word that many (even in Christ) tend to use in a way that losses its potency. It is heightened though when Jesusthe ultimate lover of God and Manis reductionistically and impotently presented as a non-confrontational, passive lover. However, peering into this work by Dr. Ryken we find the multifaceted love of Jesus displayed as the characteristic background for 1 Corinthians 13. It is also gloriously displayed most clearly in Jesus's finished work on the cross. The love of God through Jesus as presented in this book will challenge and enliven all who read it to long for the love of God in Christ and display it in ways the supersede the stereotypes of love that pervade our world."
Eric M. Mason, Lead Pastor, Epiphany Fellowship, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; President, Thriving; author, Manhood Restored
“In my life there are two books that have indelibly impacted and changed the course of my life. The first book came to me in college, as I was searching for the answers to life. Basic Christianity by John Stott helped me to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Now Loving the Way Jesus Loves is teaching me how to live a victorious Christian life until, by the grace of God, I am called home. It is not only about knowing the love of God in Christ but about living the love of God. It is the most magnificent exposition on the love of God I have ever read. Read it yourself to see and to engage in the struggle to live by the grace of God. I believe it will change the world around us.”
I. Henry Koh, Coordinator of Korean Ministries, Mission to North America, Presbyterian Church in America
“First Corinthians 13 is surely one of the most familiar yet widely misunderstood chapters in the entire Bible. Earnestly voiced at countless weddings, we nod along appreciatively without considering how Paul’s words might have far deeper purpose than simply matrimonial blessing. And that is exactly what Ryken has given the churcha fresh look at this challenging passage, freed from marital constraint, and laid out dramatically alongside the life of Christ. He reveals surprisingly deep insights for every believer, not simply those in rented tuxes and white gowns.”
Phil Vischer, creator, VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible?; author, Me, Myself & Bob
“Here is a book I will be urging all our church's small groups to study in the near future. We know that Jesus gave us the mandate to make disciples of all nations, and we say that means we must learn from Jesus so that we might become like him. But how do we do that? Dr. Ryken has taken the Bible’s great chapter on love and shown us what love looks like practically in the life of Jesus. The book is biblical and practicalconvicting and encouraging. I recommend it highly to all who long to become complete in Christ.”
Greg Waybright, Former President, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Senior Pastor, Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, California