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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-03-28

Text: 2 Peter 1:2-7; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

The original word in Greek for 'charity' in the 2 Peter 1:7 is 'agape' which is very well known today (even non-Christians use it now to sign off letters!) This word is used about 116 times in the New Testament, and it means 'love', 'loving concern and affection' and it applies to both man and God. Please do not think, from the word 'charity' that is used to translate it that ir refers merely to the pity or benevolence that makes people give to the needy and handicapped. Actually the English word charity originally meant 'impartial love.' The word 'cherish is derived from the word 'charity.' It is the word that is most often used for God's sacrificial love for the world, as in John 3:16. In fact in 1 John 4:8 God's word tells us that 'God is love [agape]'

Charity or agape love is therefore the queen of all virtues and graces. The famous passage on Love is 1 Corinthians 13. I think that it would be worth taking some time to study this passage of 1 Corinthians 13 our main text. (Read)

The first three verses tell us that charity or love is essential to everything we do. It must always be the main ingredient in all our endeavours. The richest possible attainments in life are useless without love. The ability to speak eloquently with great oratorical ability becomes mere noise-making without love. Even the gifts of prophecy which were given to prophets of God like Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah would have become useless if exercised without love. A person who can delve deep into God's Word and explain all the difficult doctrines that are hard to understand, like the Trinity of the godhead, the incarnation and God's sovereignty versus Man's responsibility, is nothing without love. 

The same thing goes for a person who knows a lot. Of what good is all that knowledge if he has no love? There is a saying: People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care! Likewise there is no virtue whatsoever in claiming to have great faith in God to do the greatest and mightiest works, if one has no love. Without love, giving to others becomes a meaningless of even selfish act.

People sometimes give grudgingly, out of a sense of duty, like paying one's taxes. People sometimes give to charity so that others will praise them and consider them as being very generous and philanthropic people. Have you seen how big some business corporations give to the community chest? They make a huge cheque with a huge sum of money clearly printed on it and have a grand presentation ceremony to give it to the community chest. Do you think they are really giving out of love, or just to promote a good image of themselves for publicity? Actually all of these things mentioned in vv.1-3: speaking ability, prophetic gifts, knowledge, giving, are good and excellent things. But they must be motivated and exercised by love.

In v.4 we see that 'charity suffereth long' This is an important feature about love that distinguishes it from the world's standard of love. It is not difficult to love someone as long as he is loveable. It is not difficult to love someone when you feel like loving him. But it is not easy to love when you don't feel like loving, or when your feelings have been hurt by the one you love. To the world, love is a feeling, an emotional sensation, a pleasant feeling of well-being. But feelings can easily change. Familiarity often breeds contempt. The world's love does not suffer long. It is often short lived, just like a passing fad. True agape love however, suffers long because it goes deeper than the feelings. 

It remains sweet and kind even though the good feelings within disappear, and even when one's own feelings have been hurt by the ones who are loved. That was the kind of love that Jesus showed to sinners at Calvary while He was suffering for our sins. And He has not ceased to love us since then! What a long-suffering love this is. That is the kind of love we are called to have. Now, in v.4 we come to a section that tells us what love is not.

1. Love is not envious: It does not covet another person's success, gifts, talents or possessions. It does not seek to outdo what others have done nor compete with them. Instead of envy, love makes a person most appreciative of the success, gifts, talents and abilities of others. This was the love that Jonathan had for David, which is described in 1 Samuel 18-20. Jonathan was the son of king Saul. He was a very talented and brave prince, who was the heir apparent to the throne of Israel, after Saul. But then he met David and recognized that David was much better than himWhat was Jonathan's response to this? Did he regard David as a potential threat to his succession to the throne? No. The Bible says that Jonathan loved David as much as he loved his own soul (1 Samuel 18;1). He was not at all envious of David. Instead, he sought to promote and protect David from Saul's wrath. 

And when he met David for the last time, he even said to him, 'thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.' (1 Samuel 23:17). He wanted David rather than himself to have the throne of Israel. Now, besides not being envious, v.4 tells us that:

2. Love is not boastful: This is what is meant by 'charity vaunteth not itself' Love does not 'show off'. It must not have any thought of promoting self. Sometimes, instead of helping or serving people out of love, we do so to feel good that they need us to meet their needs. We put a lot of value on what we can do for them. Then we begin to think that we are indispensable. People cannot do without us. Let us be careful of this, as this is nothing less that self-promotion. Have you ever felt upset that a good work you did for someone was not appreciated at all, noticed at all or given the praise you thought it deserved? Love does not seek after these things. Another thing about love according to v.4 is that:

3. Love is not conceited: or as our text puts it 'charity is not puffed up.'

Now, this sounds quite similar to the previous point 'Charity is not boastful' but it carries the additional idea that love does not look down upon others. A conceited person not only thinks highly of himself, but he also tends to regard everyone else as being inferior to him. And even though he may not go around telling that to people, he makes people feel small by belittling their ideas and opinions. Love will not do this, but will cause us to esteem others better than ourselves. Let us go to our next point, which is in v.5 -

4. Love is not rude. This is another way of saying 'Doth not behave itself unseemly.' Love is always considerate of the feelings and sensitivities of others. It takes care not to offend others unnecessarily by blunt, discourteous or disgraceful behaviour. The next thing we see in v.5 is that

5. Love is not selfish: This is what is meant by: 'Charity seeketh not her own' It is self-effacing and self sacrificing. Love does not worry if one will end up losing a good opportunity, a good place or advantage. Love is always willing to let others have the better or bigger share. A person who loves will be willing to make sacrifices. Jesus Himself said, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' (John 15:13)

6. Love is not irritable or 'Charity is not easily provoked' We must be able to tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies and strange habits. Love learns to accept people for what they are, instead of getting upset with them for what they are not. Some people no matter how hard they try, just cannot be as punctual as you would like them to be, or as neat and tidy as you would like them to be, or as serious as you would like them to be. And if you allow these things to become causes of irritation to you, you would find it impossible to love them. Next we see that

7. Love is not censorious: This is another way of saying 'charity thinketh no evil.' We should not be suspicious of the motives of others, putting the worst possible interpretation or implication upon what they do. Not being censorious also means that we should not be critical nor sarcastic. Neither should we keep a record of all the wrongs which a person has done to us. The last thing that Love is not is that it is:

8. Love is not sin-loving: 'Charity does not rejoice in iniquity' True love will never approve of sin or excuse it. We are to love the sinner but also hate his sin. Sin must be dealt with properly ' with patient and loving discipline.

There some who teach what is called 'situation ethics' where love is the only criteria to decide what should be done or should not be done, and moral laws are dispensed with. Thus, they teach that it is all right to steal, cheat, or deceive if the motive behind it is love. Let us understand that Love never condone sin, but rejoices in God's laws and commandments. 

After this section on what love is not, we now come to a section in vv. 6-7 on what love is:

1. Love is truthful: It rejoices in the truth. Conversely, love does not rejoice where falsehood or heresy is being perpetrated. If you truly love someone, there will be times when for his own good, you need to take time to correct him. This was what Aquila and Priscilla did to Apollos at Ephesus (Acts 18:26 'they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.'). After receiving this loving correction, Apollos went on to become a great preacher and minister of God's truth. Let us love the truth of God and always uphold it.

2. Love is sustaining: or 'Charity beareth all things.' True love will be able to stand the strain of adverse circumstances. Famine, or war, or loss may put an end to superficial love, but true agape love is deeply rooted and sustaining. This was what Jesus did to His disciples - He loved them until the very end (John 13:1) despite the fact that they disappointed Him many times, e.g. Peter denied Him three times.

3. Love is Trusting or 'Charity believeth all things'. This is the opposite of 'thinketh evil' in v.5. Instead of being constantly suspicious of others, love always gives others the benefit of the doubt. However, there is also a need for us to exercise wisdom, especially when there is good reason to believe that one is being deceived or taken advantage of. Rendering help in such cases would be contrary to love, as it only encourages someone to sin, and hence to reap more of God's judgement on himself!

4. Love is hopeful: or 'hopeth all things.' There is a sense of godly optimism in Christian love. Because of this optimism, one does not get upset or give up hope easily on someone when he fails to meet one's expectations. Love is willing to let him try again and again until he makes it!

5. Love is Enduring: 'endureth all things' Love remains steadfast through changing times, changing circumstances and even through the final change which comes with death. And finally:

6. Love never fails: True love is consistent and dependable: it flows like an unceasing stream. Love is an eternal quality. It will remain when all other qualities and gifts of the Spirit have become obsolete (v.8).

All of these qualities given in 1 Corinthians 13 define for us what our standard of love must be. And this is the kind of love that God wants you to have. Let us therefore measure the love that we have at present against this divine biblical standard. How far short of it are we? 

I must admit very frankly that when I look at myself, I realise that I have not loved others as I ought to love. And I think most of us here probably have to admit the same thing. But let us not be made downhearted by this. We can all make a fresh start today with God's help. Let us ask the Lord to help us cultivate love toward people around us. Let us become more and more concerned for the needs of others. 

And there is one very great need that we must be most concerned about: It is the need for sinners to be reconciled with God. This need is actually the very root or basic cause of all the many problems, burdens and sorrows in life. Sometimes you may not feel like showing care and concern to certain people, because they may have done something terrible against you, taken advantage of you or spoken malicious things about you behind your backs. But you must then consider: What is it that caused them to do these things to you? Is it not because of sin that still lives in their hearts? And if this is the real cause of all the evil things they are doing, then perhaps you need to love them enough to forgive them and help them obtain the deliverance that they need from sin?

Turn your Bibles with me to Matthew 9:35-38 'And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.'

You know, most of the time, when we look at a crowd of people that is all we see: just a crowd of people. But when Jesus looked at a crowd of people, He could see much more than that. He could see what they really were: people with no real aim or direction in life because they do not know God; He could see them as people who are lost in sin and who are heading for eternal death, to that awful place of pain and torment called hell.

The divine love that Jesus has for sinners deeply moved Him with great compassion when He saw that. It was this wonderful love in His heart, that caused Him later to willingly bear the suffering for our sins on the cross. In less than 2 weeks from now we will be remembering how Christ suffered and died for us on the cross, on Good Friday, and we will be reminded once again of the love of Christ. But people everywhere need Christians, like you and me, to have enough agape love for them to tell them the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Who then is willing to help meet this very great need? You can, if you only take the time to look at the unsaved people around you in the same way that our Lord Jesus saw the multitudes: as lost sheep who have no shepherd. They need someone who will love them enough to bring them to the Good Shepherd, who is Jesus Himself. 

Let us therefore not just be content to stay within the confines of our church premises and enjoy the good fellowship that we can share one with another here, but go forth, and bring the gospel to people out there who need it.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11