February 14, 2010

The Love Psalm (1 Corinthians 13)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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This year, I encourage everyone to memorize the Bible. From January to February, we are memorizing the 13th chapter of 1Corinthians – the love psalm. Today, let us reflect on this love psalm. But because of time constraint, I cannot tackle it in detail since love is such a broad topic. I can only point out three important features of love:

I. The Importance of Love V.1-3

The third verse in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us an important thought: the importance of love. Paul pointed out eight valuable gifts – 1. the gift of speaking in tongues of man 2. the gift of speaking in tongues of angels 3. the gift of prophecy 4. the gift of understanding all mysteries 5. the gift of understanding all knowledge 6. the gift of great faith 7. the gift of charity 8. the gift of self-sacrifice; and then Paul used love and these 8 gifts to make a comparison, eight against one. In the end, love won against them all, because love is greater than all.

1. Tongues of men – this is the precious gift of tongue. To have the gift of tongues of men means there is no language that one does not know, no matter how ancient or how modern, he knows all of them. But without love, he is but a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. And it is only tantamount to what we call “noise”.

2. Tongues of angels – this is the language in heaven. Not only can he communicate with men, he can even communicate with all the angels in heaven. This is truly a desirable gift, but without love, it is but only “noise”.

3. Gift of prophecy – the gift of prophecy is most desirable, because the gift of prophecy can build up spiritual life; but without love, it is but only “noise”.

4. Understand all mysteries – all men are curious. When a person can understand all mysteries, he will certainly be welcomed everywhere; but without love, he is but “noise”.

5. Understand all knowledge – knowledge is power. This is an age where everyone seeks to pursue knowledge. As long as you have knowledge, people will follow you and seek to learn from you; as long as you have knowledge, people will respect you; but if a man understands everything but has not love, when he speaks, it is all simply “noise”.

6. Great faith – a person with great faith can move even mountains. He is most respected and honored by men, people will not dare behave carelessly in his presence because his faith is great; but if he doesn’t have love, the greater his faith, the more frightening he will be, when he speaks, everyone will feel it is all “noise”.

7. Gift of charity – a person who gives whenever he sees a need will always be a sought after person, because there are enormous amounts of need in this world. But without love, his giving is not real, when he speaks, he leaves a feeling that all of it is but “noise”.

8. Gift of self-sacrifice – when a person sacrifices himself, it is of course because of love, for love is to sacrifice, isn’t it? But the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to write that some people do not sacrifice out of love. Some people sacrifice themselves as human bombs! They do not do so because of love, but hatred. Both love and hatred are powerful, but one is a positive force and the other, a negative force. Without love, self-sacrifice is but hatred, the life of such a person can be described by one word –noise.

Matched against these eight gifts, love triumphed. For without love, all that is left is “noise”. Verse 1 tells us without love, we are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. In the English Bible, it is translated as nothing. Verse 2 tells us that without love, I am nothing. Verse 3 says I gain nothing. Nothing + Nothing +Nothing = None. Without love, these 8 precious gifts are nothing. How important love is!

II. Love’s Characteristics 4-8a

This passage in Scripture is really rich and wonderful. If we will discuss each verse thoroughly, we would need at least two hours. Today, I’d like to explain it using two aspects: passive love and active love.

1. Passive Love

Passive love : Paul says love is patient, and he used eight “not’s” to explain what patience is : 1. not envy, 2. not boast, 3. not proud, 4. not rude, 5. not self-seeking, 6. not easily angered, 7. keeps no record of wrongs, 8. does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. These 8 “not’s” explained clearly what it means to be patient.

Love is patient: true love is filled with patience. When you are unable to extend patience to someone, it only means that you are unable to love him. Do you love your spouse? Are you patient with him/her? I have been married for 19 years already, my wife has been bearing with me for 19 years already. Of course, in the same way, I have also bore with her for 19 years. We are both bearing each other in love. There is a T-shirt with the following print: pbpgifwmy. It seems senseless at first glance, but it actually stands for ‘Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet’. We all want others to bear with us, to be more patient with us, why can’t we be more patient with others then?

Love is not easy, because love is painful. The Chinese word “忍” is formed with the character for knife and it pierces through the character for heart. In fact, it is a double-edged knife, how painful! But patience is the pathway of life. The turtle is the longest living creature and it is so because the turtle knows how to be patient. When an enemy tries to attack it, the turtle will shrink its head and four limbs into its shell. Thus it is able to survive and live long. Do you want your marriage to last long? Then, learn to exercise patience because love is patient.

Patience is long-suffering. Not only does it mean suffering, it means to suffer for a long time. This is the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is short-term while suffering is long-term. To love is to be willing to suffer. To love your spouse, you must be willing to suffer for him/her; to love your children, you must be willing to suffer because of them. The Fujian word for love is very meaningful, because love and pain sounds the same. When you love someone, you will really have to suffer pain, because love is pain. Jesus asked Peter three times ‘Do you love me?’ When Peter said yes, thrice, Jesus committed to him his responsibility; because a person who truly loves the Lord is willing to suffer for the Lord. Do you love the Lord? What have you endured for His sake?

2. Active Love

Active love: Love is kind. Paul used four “always” to explain what kindness is – always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Love is active because love is kind.

Kindness is love in action. Love takes action and help someone who is in need. Love is more action and less talk. Love is giving consideration to others more than to yourself. Love is willing to lay down one’s self, love is seeking the good of the other. Active love is not waiting for others to love us, but to take the initiative to love others. How do parents love their children? Parents prepare well way before their children express any need they may have, because love is active. How do we show filial piety? Actually it is very simple. Show them half of the love you show your children, then you have already showed them filial piety. Do you understand?

Jesus spoke of the Golden Rule – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Many people in this world embrace the motto – I will treat you well if you treat me well. But the Golden Rule is proactive – it says, if I want others to treat me well, I must first treat others well. If everyone in this world would do that, many relationship problems would be minimized.

Love is kind. We must first see the other’s needs, then and only then can we show them love. Whenever Jesus showed anyone kindness, the Bible often precedes the narrative with one statement “moved with compassion”. If your heart is unmoved, then your hand will not reach out. It is when your heart is moved that your hand will move. Love is kind. Learn to see things from the other person’s viewpoint, then, you will learn what active love is.

III. Love never fails 8b-13

From verse 8-13, speaks of how prophecies and everything else will cease and concludes that the greatest is love. Paul is explaining how love never fails. Through Paul, the Holy Spirit tells us everything will cease someday, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will cease and only love will remain.

Man’s love is but temporal. The Chinese quotes “passion lasts only three minutes”. Initially, men love passionately, but how many men’s love never cease? An old man said, “Before she used to call me ‘honey, honey’, now it is `恨你, 恨你’, which is Chinese for hate you, hate you and sounds similar to the word honey.

When I do premarital counselling, I tell the couple that marriage go through different stages: 1. Dream Stage. This is the most romantic and happiest period for the couple. But after the wedding, we enter the second stage: 2. Demand Stage – this is the reality phase. The wife demands from the husband, and the husband demands from the wife. The relationship between the couple begins to experience some tension. 3. Difficult Stage – During this stage, they experience conflicts. If the couple do not resolve the problem carefully, they may end in divorce. Even if they do not seek divorce, they may lose the joy in marriage. The marriage is endured, instead of enjoyed. But if they face the problems courageously, employing God’s unfailing love, they will enter into the fourth stage: 4. Delight Stage – whenever I see couples who have been married for 30-40 years holding hands, I am touched. There is nothing special about young couples holding hands, but for old couples, it is such a precious sight. The Lord said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” John 13:1 described Jesus when he was about to leave this world, “He now showed them the full extent of his love.” God’s love never fails.

God’s love for us never fails. We love because God first loved us. May we learn together to love our neighbor with unfailing love. May God’s love fill us, let us pray!

February 14, 2010