Though I…But Have Not Love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging 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, but have not love, I am nothing. 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.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

5 times (if I counted right) in this section of Scripture Paul used the phrase, “Though I.” Though I possess and did all of these wonderful, spiritual and godly things, but did not have love, what are they worth?

If you saw someone speak with the all the languages of the world miraculously, what would you think? What if he or she spoke with the language of angels? Would you be impressed? How about if the person was so gifted that he or she understood all mysteries of the Bible and had perfect knowledge of it? Would it get your attention? What if their faith was stronger than anyone you had ever seen? Would you think, wow that person is so close to God? Would you be impressed if that person gave everything he or she owned including the body to be sacrificed for Jesus? How would we see that person?

Paul gives us some insight into this much needed discussion. He tells us that we could be incredibly gifted and our words just come out as noise if we don’t have love. We could be so full of knowledge and understanding that people are constantly coming to us for advice and perspective. But we are absolutely “nothing” Paul wrote if we don’t have love. Our mountain-moving faith is made of no value if it is not joined with the love of God in our hearts. We could list a thousand things that we did for Jesus and for others, but if we are not loving to others, then that list isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

But have not love – 3 times Paul used this phrase and when he used it, he followed it with:

  • I am noise – My gifted words for Jesus are just noise.
  • I am nothing – My gifts, including my mountain-moving faith that I may hold in such high esteem are of no value at all.
  •  All my sacrifice and works are nothing. I can heap up acts of service and godly deeds to the sky, but if I am not loving, then it amounts to a pile of dung. In fact, the pile of dung is of more value because it can at least be spread out for fertilizer.

Doesn’t that impress upon you and me how important and valuable love is?

We are going to look further into 1 Corinthians 13 over the next few days and seek with God’s help to glean as much as we can from this timeless and priceless passage on love.

A Public Spectacle

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
(1 Corinthians 4:10-13)

The apostles, according to Paul, were treated like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. For the sake of Christ, they were treated worse than garbage. They were not winning any popularity contests, for sure! What did they endure for Christ? Can we picture the humiliation, rejection and mistreatment they lived through for the cause of Christ?

That makes me uncomfortable. What makes me even more uncomfortable is that Jesus told us to rejoice and consider ourselves blessed when we are treated that way.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:10-12)

I was reading Isaiah 20 recently. Isaiah was asked to walk around naked and barefoot for 3 years as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia (Isaiah 20). Whatever that specifically meant for Isaiah, commentators have debated, but I can gather from chapter 20 that it meant shame and public humiliation for Isaiah. It was a sign, prophecy and warning of the shame and public humiliation that those two evil nations would experience. Isaiah was allowed to be shamed and humiliated for God’s glory and righteous cause.

Paul wrote in his next letter to the Corinthians that he had learned to be “content” with such things as insults and persecutions for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 12:10). He knew that through such trials Christ’s strength, not Paul’s strength, would work in him.

Are we willing to become a public spectacle for Christ’s sake? Please don’t think that I’m saying we should go around and intentionally try to bring attention to ourselves and make a scene. But when we live and stand for Jesus, the insults and humiliation will naturally come (2 Timothy 3:12). Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hates the light.

When you walk away from sin, your friends and family will notice. Those closest to you may mock you and insult you for your stand. Don’t cave in because you want to fit in. Lovingly stand for Jesus.

The apostle Peter must have struggled with this desire to cave in and make nice with others. It is a natural human instinct to avoid pain. Peter did it when Jesus was on trial (Mark 14:66-72), and he did it later in life when the Jews put pressure on him to shun the Gentiles (Galatians 2). Peter knew the temptation to avoid mistreatment and persecution, but as a mature older man in Christ he said the following things about the treatment you will receive as a Christian and how to behave and think when it happens.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
(1 Peter 2:12)

…having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
(1 Peter 3:16-17)

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
(1 Peter 4:3-5)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
(1 Peter 4:14-16)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
(1 Peter 4:19)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?

Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–(Galatians 1:1).

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:10-12).

We just finished a gospel meeting with my great friend, Jason Salyers. He preached from the book of Galatians. He drew our attention to the theme that “the gospel is not from men.” There were men in that Galatian region who were trying to pervert and twist the gospel. At the same time those very men were aggressively oppressing and persecuting those who stood for the gospel. Both Paul and those who stood for the gospel could have made life a lot easier for themselves if they would have just caved in and went along with those false teachers. As Jason pointed out, even the false teachers were teaching these things because they wanted to avoid persecution (6:12).

Here are some things about Paul in the book of Galatians to remember when it comes to being a people-pleaser versus a servant of Christ.

  • Paul understood his relationship and position with Christ did not come from men, but through Christ (1:1).
  • He also knew that seeking the approval of men was the same as turning his back on Christ (1:10-12). It isn’t that he didn’t try to accommodate the consciences of others and become all things to all men (1 Cor. 9), but his focus was first on pleasing Christ. He could do nothing for men that would not please Jesus.
  • You can’t yield when it comes to the truth of the gospel, not even for a moment (2:5).
  • Don’t try like Peter did to play both sides of the fence and make everyone happy (2:11-19). That’s just being a hypocrite, and it will have a strong influence to lead the faithful astray (2:13).
  • Understand that those who are “influential” added nothing to Paul. God shows no partiality and Paul didn’t either (2:6). Just because that person is a big time somebody doesn’t mean you cower and cave. God is not impressed by status, nor should we be.
  • Know that when you stand for truth, friends may become enemies (4:16).
  • Think about whether you are trying to make a “good showing in the flesh” or trying to please Christ (6:12).
  • Paul did not seek to please men, because he understood that being crucified with Christ meant that the world had been crucified to him as well (6:14).

There are several other verses from Galatians that tie in to this point, but this is enough for today to think about.

Thanks again, Jason, for the lessons.

When God says “No”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)

Were Paul’s prayers for his thorn in the flesh prayed in faith? Yes.

Did those prayers come from a heart that was pure before God? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers for this physical agony fervent, genuine and persistent? Yes.

Were Paul’s prayers specific? Yes.

Was Paul’s motive for this prayer selfish and self-centered? No. Just because it was about himself doesn’t make it selfish. Jesus did the same, right?

But with all of this, God still said “No” to Paul’s request. That is just hard to swallow. When God says “No” to our prayers, it can be a great challenge to our faith. Why pray at all? What does it matter? Is prayer just an exercise in futility?

If you are challenged by me even bringing this up, then that’s good. Read the Psalms. Look at those who are looking up into heaven and asking “Where are you God?”, or “How long will it be before You hear us?”

Remember the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2, ESV)

These feelings are real. Sometimes when fellow Christians bring up these feelings and questions they get dismissed or invalidated by others who give their default “churchy” answers without thinking. If Jesus Himself wondered why God had forsaken Him and whether God wasn’t listening at all, is it okay for me to wonder that once in awhile, too?

Yes, yes it is.

Here are some thoughts I see from Scripture that help me when I go through that process of wondering where God is.

God IS listening. The Lord responded to Paul’s prayers. The prayer was heard, and the prayer was answered. “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached His ears” (Psalm 18:6, ESV).

God answered the prayers of many people in Scripture and gave them their requests. Gideon, Joshua, Moses, Samuel, Abraham, Hannah, Esther, Mordecai, Elijah, Hezekiah are just a few of the faithful to whom God granted their petitions. Prayer is not an exercise in futility. It most certainly works.

God’s grace is sufficient. When God says “No,” or “Wait awhile,” or “Yes, but in a different way,” then you can be assured that He has a very good reason. It may be very difficult at times to accept that, but His grace is sufficient.

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s “No” answers will work for His glory so that His strength, not ours, is exalted.

I will glory and boast in my infirmities. We may want the “testimony” and “witness” to others that we prayed for something and God gave a definite and mighty “Yes” to our requests. But the testimony we may give is like that of Paul, in that we glorify God in the weaknesses, trials and setbacks of life. Paul’s “testimony” was that he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke 18:1, ESV)

And they listened to him until this word

Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ” And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:21-22).

The apostle Paul was defending himself in front of an angry Jewish mob in Jerusalem. Some had falsely accused him of taking Gentiles into the temple. If there was any word I would not have said in front of this angry Jewish mob, it would have been “Gentiles.” Especially in a sentence that claimed the Messiah Jesus had sent Paul to the Gentiles, whom the Jews considered as dogs. But the Holy Spirit in His eternal wisdom guided Paul to say these words, and you can see the reaction of the crowd. At this word, they shut down. No more listening, it’s time to kill Paul (Acts 22:23).

The problem here was not Paul’s choice of words or his timing or his presentation, it was the heart of the people hearing the message.

It brings up a point or two for consideration about listening.

How well do I listen?

Are there times when someone at work, school or home is trying to talk to me and they say “the wrong thing” or say it in “the wrong way” and I just shut down and refuse to hear anything else they say?

Would you and I be characterized as someone who truly lets someone freely talk to us without freaking out, overreacting and shutting down?

Paul said the “wrong word” to these Jews and it was over. They were not going to listen to another word. They were so mad they wanted him dead. Now you may not want someone dead, but you may kill a relationship because you refuse to listen. Think about it.

Nicodemus was one Jew who understood this principle, even though he was outnumbered in the Jewish council.

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:50-51)

Have you experienced these things? Are there people in your life that you cannot talk freely to because of how you know they will react? We don’t like that quality in others, understandably, but we don’t want to have that same characteristic. We as God’s men want to be the kind of men who will let others freely talk without shutting down, making quick judgments, or walking away, or over-talking, etc.

He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him (Proverbs 18:13)

It would help us to do more praying before and during conversations to ask the Lord to open our ears and muzzle our mouths.

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Exodus 25:9).

Moses was commanded by God to make the tabernacle according to the “pattern,” God’s pattern (See also Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44). Everything God told Moses to do had a specific point, because God was looking forward to Christ and His church. The Hebrew writer taught that the things of the Mosaic law, tabernacle, sacrifices and priesthood served as a “copy and a shadow” of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5).

This same expectation of building after the pattern was placed upon King David as he began all the preparations for the temple which his son Solomon would build.

“All this,” said David, “the LORD made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28:19).

In contrast to the obedience of Moses and David in following God’s pattern, there was a king years later named Ahaz who disobeyed God by seeking another pattern. He traveled to Damascus, and met with the King of Assyria. He came back with a pattern for a different altar and had it built (2 Kings 16:10).

During the days of Ezekiel the prophet, God’s people were in complete defiance of His laws, and because of it God punished Judah through the kingdom of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple and took thousands of the people of Judah into captivity. God looked forward, though, to the days of their return and the days of the Messiah. Through Ezekiel, God called His people back to the “pattern.” If they would examine the words of God which contained that pattern, they would hopefully be ashamed of their sins and turn back to God (Ezekiel 43:10).

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern” (Ezekiel 43:10).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul served as a pattern for us in many ways:

  • In his salvation (1 Timothy 1:16). The longsuffering and grace extended by Jesus to Paul serves as a pattern for all who will believe in Jesus Christ.
  • Through his life and character (Philippians 3:17; 4:9). Men like Titus and Timothy were also to serve as a pattern in their behavior (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
  • The doctrine and sound words he taught (2 Timothy 1:13). These were to be taken by men like Timothy and taught to others so that the pattern of sound doctrine would be repeated for generations to come (2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17).

God has a pattern that He wants us to follow. How we are saved. The way we behave and talk. Our worship to God. It is important for us to examine the Word and to find that pattern of sound words and follow it. As men and leaders in homes and churches, we are to have the courage and love for Christ to lead others in following God’s pattern, which first and foremost comes by living the pattern ourselves.

Until Christ is formed in you

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–
(Galatians 4:19).

What was Paul’s labor? His intention and purpose was to work with the Galatian brethren until Christ was formed within them. That means this is a process. This implies growth. It carries with it the idea that one who becomes a Christian has not “arrived.” We never come to a point where we can tell ourselves, “I don’t need to grow anymore.”

As Christian men, we need to understand this concept for ourselves, and we need to understand this for those we are teaching. Growth is a process. Remember most of all that God is directly involved in this transformation.

He Who Began a Good work

Look also at the next two passages and see the same principles taught and repeated by Paul.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

In the passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s desire and prayer is that God would “sanctify you entirely…spirit and soul and body.” God is cleansing us and transforming us so that we look like Jesus. This is a “good work,” as Philippians 1:6 says, and God will perfect it. He doesn’t start a work and then walk away from it. Until the day of Christ Jesus…again the idea that this is a process, and it takes time. God is loving and longsuffering with us as we grow into the image of Christ.

This is not to say that God doesn’t accept us until the full transformation process is completed. We don’t want to have the false idea that only when we are flawless that God will accept us. John reminds us that as we walk in the light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). That gives us the security and grace we need – a healthy environment for real growth.

Keep this in mind today, becoming like Jesus is a process. Be patient with yourself. God is. Be patient with others. God is.

But whatever gain I had

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

What have you gained? If you were to put a value on all the things you have gained, what would its value be?

According to Paul, it is all rubbish compared to the one most important thing…gaining Christ. If anyone could brag on what he had “gained” in the flesh, it would be Paul. He had quite the religious resume, and I would imagine that with his connections to religious leadership, he was probably well-to-do financially.

But the value he placed on it all was rubbish. I personally like the King James Version on this one because the word is translated “dung.” Perfect. That’s what it all comes down to, and that is the same conclusion wise old King Solomon reached in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is like those antique roadshows where someone thinks they have an incredible treasure, and the expert tells them that its fake and only worth ten bucks.

But whatever gain I had

To Paul it was all about Jesus. Take a look back at the text for today and for your personal study, look at these few verses and meditate upon how much Paul valued what Christ had to offer. This passage is saturated with it. Wring it out and see what Paul had learned to value in his life.

I would then consider taking time today to look around your office and your house, and take a red marker and write “rubbish” on everything. Start with that annoying c0-worker who talks too much. No, please don’t do that. Seriously though, my diploma, compared to Christ, is rubbish. Your resume, compared to Christ, is rubbish. What I have accomplished spiritually in my life, is dung compared to Christ.  Your status in the company and your retirement fund, is dung compared to Christ.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Let’s put all of this in perspective today, men. If you have Christ in your life, you have everything. Without Christ, what do you have?

So far as it depends on you

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).

Acts 16 is Luke’s account of Paul and Silas preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul and Silas were falsely accused, unjustly beaten and unlawfully imprisoned. Through the events of that night in prison, the Philippian jailer obeyed the gospel along with his household. What we are going to focus on, though, is what happened the next day.

After Paul is released from prison, an interesting encounter occurs (Acts 16:35-40).

“Now when the day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen saying, ‘Release those men.’ And the Jailer reported these words to Paul, saying ‘the chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”

The Jailer, a brand new Christian is overjoyed that the men who have taught him how to be saved are to be released and set free. In becoming a Christian, it is interesting to note, the jailer still remained a jailer and Paul and Silas, while honored by him, were still considered prisoners. Paul, the great evangelist and proclaimer of the gospel, and apostle sent by God in Christ did not overflow with excitement when he heard for their request to come out:

“But Paul said to them, ‘they have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.’ The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They (the magistrates) were afraid when they heard they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the city and entered the house of Lydia, and when they say the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”

So far as it depends on you…

Paul and Silas give us a look in to Christianity that popular culture may not agree with:

  • The apostle held those men who had punished himself and Silas without trial accountable.
  • Paul and Silas, being identified as Romans were entitled to a public hearing. Because that hearing had been denied the magistrates themselves could suffer penalties (including death).
  • He demanded the magistrates admit they were wrong.
  • When the Magistrates did so, Paul let it go.

Christians, at times feel they cannot or should not seek the authorities in this land. This is not the example given to us in scripture. However, it should also be noted, Paul did not take it to the point of death or even excessive humiliation. He did not demand the right to beat the magistrates for having him beaten. Instead, while holding to authority, he himself used restraint.

This was an example given to the Jailer and one we should consider as well. In seeking justice, are we trying to do what is right, or do we become vindictive and hold ourselves to the standards and teachings of the world and Satan?  Paul gives a deeper example of what Romans 12:18-19 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God …” Paul certainly practiced what he preached. “As long as it depends on you …” We must strive for peace and use the tools God has given us appropriately. The rest will always be up to God.

They refreshed my spirit

For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:18)

Her name was Irene. She was an elderly sister in Columbus, Ohio who struggled with a host of physical ailments. It literally brought tears to her eyes to sit in the pews for a worship service because of the pain she was enduring. In her later years, I remember her hobbling through the doors of the church building, pulling an oxygen cart behind her.

What amazed me and put “oxygen” in my spiritual lungs was to see what she did when she entered the building. She came in smiling. Irene greeted everyone, especially any visitors. Holding her oxygen cart with one hand and shaking visitors’ hands with her other hand.

Her life was for Jesus and for others. She had the joy of the Lord in the midst of her pain and suffering. Her focus was not on her suffering but on how to encourage others.

Thanks, dear sweet Irene. See you in heaven.

Men, I write this to encourage you to look around in your congregations on Sunday and find someone like Irene and give them a hug. Go visit them next week and sit down with them and be refreshed in your spirit. Be thankful for those who teach us by their example the simple truths of humility, thankfulness and love.

They refreshed my spirit