Lyrics from a popular 60s song read, What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of. To those who listen to the melody, this might be just a pretty love song. But to those who listen to the words, this is a cry of desperation. Join Stephen in this message as he shows us why there is so little love in the world today.
“More than Thunder and Lightning”
Introducing I Corinthians 13
There once was a city – it was fast, loud, busy, sensual, and devoted to sports and culture and commerce. I have never been there, but I’ve read a lot about it.
It could easily have been called the Vanity Fair of the ancient world.
It was a sailor’s favorite port of call;
It was a merchant’s gold-mine;
It was a actor’s dream spot;
It was a prodigal’s paradise.
By the time Paul wrote to believers who lived in this city, it had gained the reputation of being the vice capital of ancient Greece.
Corinth was also the first city to begin the gladiatorial games where competitors died for the blood lust of spectators.
This was Las Vegas and San Fransisco and the back alleys of major cities combined.
Corinth was so well known for being a sinful that if you wanted to tell a person to, “go to the devil,” you merely told them to Corinthianize. If you wanted to refer to a woman as being loose, you called her a Corinthian girl.
Even their religious worship to Aphrodite and other gods and goddesses had organized brothels with temple prostitution as part of their so-called religious service.
This culture was literally bloated with lust for blood and lust for money and lusting after the flesh.
In the middle of this culture was the unbelievable; the almost unimaginable. It was the revolutionary work of the liberating, redeeming gospel of Jesus Christ.
There was a church in this city! An assembly of redeemed, washed, forgiven, imperfect, growing, needy sinners now called saints.
In fact, the longest letters from Paul are letters he wrote to churches
Its charter members, according I Corinthians 6:10 were men and women who had had past lives of immorality, infidelity and homosexuality. There were former thieves (the Greek word actually refers to someone who robbed another with violence; there were alcoholics and white collar criminals.
Paul writes to them in chapter 6, at verse 11, “Such were some of you.” In other words, “This is what you used to be; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Felons now served as deacons; former thieves were now in charge of counting the offering; drunkards were now reaching the down and out.
They had come to find true satisfaction in Jesus Christ.
Wisdom for the Heart got an email this week from a man who was moving into town and he wanted to know if the church I pastored accepted same-sex couples.
I wrote him back and said anyone and everyone is invited to attend our services – but to be accepted into our church as a member means that you have accepted the authority of God’s word. You need to know we take the Bible literally – it clearly informs us that any sexual activity outside of marriage is forbidden, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Beyond that, the Bible clearly informs us that homosexual relations is sinful – and I sent him to read Romans chapter 1. Listen, I invited him to come but informed him that the gospel of Christ is both forgiving and demanding.
We who believe have come under the authority of the word of God.
Paul didn’t say to them, “And such are some of you still.” You can keep stealing; you can keep fornicating with others who aren’t married and commit adultery with those who are; you can keep on reviling or verbally abusing others; you can keep on swindling other people out of their money. No, he wrote, “But such were some of you.”
These were Corinthians who were now rescued by the grace of God.
We’re in the process of helping start in church in Las Vegas, supporting Matt Pettite, the church planter. What a great place to start a church!
We don’t believe the commercial that, “Whatever you do there stays there.” In fact, we believe whatever you do there or anywhere is all recorded in a book of deeds that will be opened at the final judgment where all the unbelieving world is proven they have defiled the image of God in their own lives and the purpose of God for their own bodies and they have refused the authority of God in their own minds.
This church in Las Vegas, in 16 months, has already grown to over 200 people and they are seeing one rescue after another. Las Vegas is the leader per-capita for rape, armed robbery and divorce. One older man who had spent several years in prison for armed robbery – Matt led he and his family to Christ and they were among the first to be baptized and received into the membership of the church. From what I’ve been told, the transformation of this family has been undeniable to everyone around them. They are now faithful members of the church.
But listen, just because you come to faith in Christ doesn’t mean you know how to live for Christ. Repenting of your sins doesn’t create an automatic awareness of how to live a holy life.
Desiring to live a holy life for Christ isn’t the last step in the Christian walk, it’s the first and ongoing step of genuine faith.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “the mature (are those) who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
It’s gonna take practice. It’s gonna involve persistence.
If you have been through our new members class, you’ve heard this question – that I’ll repeat in here. How many of you have taken piano lessons at some point in your life? Look around! Look at all the hands. Look at all the skilled, concert pianists!
How many proficient, skilled pianists do we have in here? What made the difference? That word – practice!
The truth is, those who learn how to play the piano need to be willing to practice and they need a piano teacher to tell them what to practice.
So also we need to determine to practice the truth of the word of God and we need to listen to our teacher, the inspired record of scripture.
I shared with the GreenHouse class this past week my own experience. I decided in college to continue restart piano lessons so I could keep what I’d learned from 2nd grade to 11th grade piano lessons. I thought it would be a good idea to improve on my 10 years of lessons. I asked around to see who the best piano teacher was on the faculty at my college. Everyone I asked said the same name – Mrs. Hermann. In fact, the music building was named after her and, I believe, her husband. I went and knocked on her studio door. She came to the door and I said, “I’d like to take piano lessons from you.” She said, “I’m sorry, but my schedule is now full – in fact, she was in the middle of a lesson.” I said, “Please – I’ve been told you’re the best and would you let me play you something first.” She said, “Okay,” and I came in and sat down and played a few minutes for her. She said, “I’ll make room for you.” I said “Great!” She said, “We’ll begin next week. Now you need to understand that if you take lessons from me you will be expected to practice 4 hours.” I said, “No sweat - one hour 4 days out of seven will be just fine.” She said, “No, young man, I mean 4 hours a day.”
My life passed before my eyes.
I couldn’t imagine any torture greater than that. No one in their right mind will do anything but play golf 4 hours a day. I don’t do that either.
We agreed to part ways – my mastery of the piano never happened.
You need to understand that what the Apostle Paul is about to deliver to this congregation was not something they would ever really master, but something they would constantly practice – with persistence. And not for an hour a day – or even 4 hours a day, but every moment, for the rest of their lives.
And what were they to practice? True, genuine, authentic lives marked by love.
Of all the cities in the ancient Greek world that would have had a twisted view of love, it would be Corinth. Of all the churches that would be in need of teaching on the subject of true love, it would be these former adulterers and thieves and homosexuals and fornicators and swindlers. They had lived for their own lusts and their own pleasures. They had extorted and stolen from neighbors and employers and strangers for their own materialistic advancement.
Now they are in the assembly where giving is better than receiving. Serving is better than ruling.
This is life-changing perspective.
- They knew how to use people for their own advantage, but they had to learn how to serve people.
- They knew how to have sexual relations with other people, but they had to learn how to faithfully commit to their own spouse.
- They naturally followed the motivations of greed and self-advancement and could use people and manipulate relationships to get what they wanted, but they knew nothing of the spiritual motivation of love.
- They knew how to get; they had to learn how to give.
In fact, by the time Paul sent his first letter to the Corinthian church, they had become enamored with the public, miraculous demonstrations of the Spirit and were embroiled over self-centered disputes and self-promoting disagreements.
They were mirroring their self-centered culture. They were in the process of moving Corinth into the church. They were bringing into the assembly their old way of life – their self-oriented pursuits where they were first and everybody else came last; where they mattered and no one else came close.
And Paul, delivers to them one of the most remarkable, radically challenging pieces of prose that you will find in any of his letters.
Paul says, in effect in the first few verses, “Listen everybody, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, or who people think you are, if you do not operate with the principle and upon the foundation and through the motivation of love, you are nothing.
You accomplished nothing – v. 1.
You are nothing – v. 2.
You profited nothing – v. 3.
Life without loving adds up to zero.
It doesn’t matter who you are – rich/poor; married/single; young/old; educated/illiterate; life apart from love is nothing.
The reason we have a hard time believing that is because we don’t understand what true love is.
And in this instruction Paul introduces them to a brand new word – a word ignored by the Corinthian culture – in fact the Greco-Roman world, but the singular word embraced by the inspiring Holy Spirit as the primary word that would become the vehicle to explain the gospel – and the life of a disciple.
It’s the Greek word, agape.
And all we have time for today is to simply introduce this rich word translated love over and over again in the New Testament. In short, the word describes the selfless, committed love of intellect and will which places value upon the beloved even though they may be undeserving or unattractive or even unable to return the same.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
How attractive was the world to which God gave His son? How able is the world to return that quality to God? How worthy was the world of sinners for whom Christ died?
This is agape – this is genuine, divinely inspired, self-sacrificing love which Paul will describe in this chapter.
The Corinthians didn’t understand true love . . . in fact, of all the words and expressions for love in the First Century, agape never made the list.
Agape rarely even appears outside of the Greek New Testament. In fact, one Greek scholar said there isn’t even one clear example of agape by a Greek author outside of scripture.
Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Vol. 1 (Eerdmans, 1964), p. 37
It was the ignored word for love. It considered too unemotional – to intellectual.
There were several other words in the Greek vocabulary that were highly prized words for love.
Storge was a preferred word to use. It referred to natural love – or family love.
You love your Uncle Henry and Grandma Ethel and all your cousins with this kind of love. You stick up for your sister and brother because of it, even though around the house you tell them to stay out of your room.
This love is like the law of gravitation or the force of blind nature. It is the natural movement of the soul
Kenneth Wuest, BYPATHS in the Greek New Testament (Eerdmans, 1954), p. 110
This loves causes a mother to naturally want to take care of her newborn child. This love causes a man to naturally sacrifice time and effort to provide for his family.
What’s interesting is that Paul tells us in Romans chapter 1 that as society continues to become more and more depraved, more and more perverted and self-centered, one of the obvious results will be that people no longer demonstrate “storge” – they no longer operate with “natural affection – literally – they have no-storge.” (Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 3:3)
Children will be cruel to parents and leave them without care and parents will abandon their children. They will deliver new-borns and put them in trash dumpsters without any thought. Child abuse is ever rising as well as the abuse of the elderly. Husbands and wives will try to kill one another for an insurance policy.
These are signs that storge is on the wane.
So there’s nothing wrong with this kind of love; it’s a love that produces natural protection. However, what makes storge work best is when it is founded upon agape – when the foundation for natural love is built upon selfless, compassionate, willful, servant love.
It’s interesting to me that in the New Testament, when it speaks of the Father’s love for the Son – “This is my beloved Son”, the Father did not use some derivative of storge, which we would fully expect, but agape.
Another Greek word for love is philia – which gives us words like Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love.
This is the kind of love that bound together people who liked the same things and preferred the same hobbies. This is the love of mutual attraction. This love is fondness, affection and liking.
Wuest, p. 111
Leon Morris wrote that this love was built on common insight or interest or taste.
Adapted from Leon Morris, Testaments of Love (Eerdmans, 1981), p. 118
Philia means, “I love that shirt. I love that recipe. I love baseball. I love that song. I love playing monopoly. You want to avoid people like that.
This is the common expression used today for love. “I love you because you are like me.”
This is EHarmony love. Find someone who has 20 or 30 answers to questions for stuff that you would answer in the same way. You’re both morning people who love coffee, laughter, family values and God.
As if some guy is gonna fill out his survey and say, “I’m grouchy in the morning; I don’t have a sense of humor; I hate kids and I’d rather spend time alone on a fishing boat than chasing you around the mall.”
No . . . he’s gonna say, “I love sunsets, babies, long walks in the rain and newborn kittens.”
A couple came up to me a few months ago, they were laughing, saying, “Stephen we met through EHarmony . . . and she then said, are we ever different from one another.”
Philia is the common love of Corinthian culture and the American culture - most often it says, “I love you because you love everything I love.”
It is a love drawn together by the strings of common affections.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, it’s used 45 times in the New Testament to speak of community love; friendly love; affection for someone that is the outgoing of one’s heart in delight to that which affords them happiness.
The trouble comes when the other person doesn’t return happiness. When they don’t make philia worthwhile. When they are unworthy of affection.
This is why the love of our culture which is storge and philia, at best, runs out of steam and lovers are replaced as quickly as automobiles.
The world can only wonder why they run out of steam. Love that is philia alone is why one actress said her relationships are really great for about 3 months. They wonder why the fireworks seem to fade . . . why the excitement and thrill of love disappears at the sight of an overflowing diaper pail. There’s a romantic thought.
This is how books can be written today and actually bought that tell you what you really ought to do is plan for 3 spouses over the course of your life. One for the early, child-rearing years. Another for the middle years when you ready for the sailboat and golf-course; and then one during the later years of life.
Why? Because love is all about you! It’s all about someone meeting your needs and making you feel happy.
What they’re really saying when they say “I love you,” is “I love me and you make me feel good about me.”
Just read the lyrics of the most popular songs on the subject of love – it has been reduced to a search for that never ending warm and fuzzy state – “I’m hooked on a feeling . . . and I can’t stop loving you.” “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Okay, so I’m stuck in the 70’s.
Remember this one? “Why do birds, suddenly appear; every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be, close to you.”
Anybody ever thought about that? Would you fall in love with a guy who had birds following him everywhere? Didn’t Alfred Hitchcock do a movie on that?
Steve May, The Story File, quoting Dave Barry, “Book of Bad Songs.” (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 199
But that was the 60’s and 70’s . . . the world has grown and matured.
Now you can look up the lyrics of just about anything – which I spent 30 minutes doing and easily found that the world still defines love in terms of philia alone.
You gotta be a great catch in order to make the one who loves you improve their status or their income or their reputation.
Here’s a song on an album called Big Dog Daddy. Now, one of my all time favorites.
It’s a song about a guy who is a custodian and the girl he loves is beautiful, self-centered woman. He sings his lament,
She won’t look my way, but buddy what’d you expect?
I’m just the fix-it-up boy at the apartment complex.
I’m just sitting around waitin’ on a telephone call
After a water pipe exploded in the living room wall.
If your washer and dryer need a repair,
You know your handyman’s waitin,
And he’ll be right there.
(Then he sings the problem)
She’s my baby doll,
My beauty queen,
She’s my movie star, best I’ve ever seen.
I ain’t asked her out yet,
Cause I don’t know if I can.
See, it’s just a high maintenance woman
Don’t want no maintenance man.
Keith Toby: High Maintenance Woman (Big Dog Daddy)
That is so descriptive of the wrong side of philia.
A love that loves only the lovely. Only the attractive. Only someone who will advance their reputation and self-image. Only the popular. So we are attracted to a society that is far from classless. It is predjudiced and self-centered.
Friendship based on philia alone can, as the ancients sued to say, become a school of virtue; but also a school of vice. Friendship can make good men better and bad men worse.
Morris, p. 118
That’s why the Bible, especially Proverbs says so much about who your friends are. Who have you allowed to influence your mind and heart. They can make you better . . . they can also make you worse.
The good side of philia is the natural affection between friends who bond with mutual likes and dislikes; but it must challenge one another to grow in greater and deeper apage love for Christ and his church.
One final word that is perhaps the most unlike agape and yet the most well loved by the world.
It is the Greek word eros. It gives us our word erotic. This is sensual, sexual love.
Contained within marriage, it becomes a wonderful thing of affection and pleasure.
What’s interesting is that this word was the most commonly used word for love in Paul’s day and yet the Holy Spirit did not select this word for any passage on love – not even once.
So what the world and the flesh clamor for, the New Testament descriptions ignore. We have to find out what eros means by going outside the New Testament.
That doesn’t mean the word is inherently evil. Romantic love at its best is a wonderful, pure and lofty love. The Song of Solomon considers the virtues of passion.
The fact that the New Testament never selects this word ought to tell us that the world and even the church is focused on one aspect of love that is actually secondary and not foundational.
Without agape, eros is self-seeking, self-centered abusive possessive love.
But combined with a will to serve and commit, eros will swim oceans and climb mountains and cross desserts to win that husband or wife.
Without agape, eros only lusts to own, to have, to conquer – and then it will discard you for a newer model.
Since eros has such strong emotion, the world of Paul and our world consider it tantamount to love. It’s the measure of true love. The fireworks determine if it’s the genuine item.
The Greeks viewed love as eros – they called it ‘intoxication where the senses are in a (delightful) frenzy.’
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: p. 35
So our world today equates this intoxication with true love.
Here’s a best selling song from another artist who describes his love for his girl that he keeps coming back to;
“I got lightning in my veins, thunder in my chest;
All tangled up with you and trying to catch my breath.
Been chasing that sensation halfway round the world;
I've done it all and I've seen it all
But I can't find a feelin' like that.”
Gary Allen, I Can’t Find a Feelin’ Like That
This is selfish love that pursues this intoxicated feeling – this is considered the litmus test for true love. All you have to do is check your pulse.
You make me have lighting in my veins and thunder in my chest.
How does that work when she’s been in labor for 18 hours? That’ll redefine thunder and lightning.
How does it hold up when he’s laid off from work and his car is gets repossessed. Man, is he a heartthrob or what?
Eros knows nothing of emergency rooms, house payments, and braces; eros has no time for homework and late hours, broken down cars and used clothing; eros is bored with long hours and has no room for arthritis; eros colors gray hair and sells steroids, tummy tucks and rolex watches; eros is fashion and beauty. Eros eventually makes everyone lose what they once had.
Storge – I love you because you belong to my family.
Agape says – I love you and will treat you like family.
Philia – I love you because you are like me
Agape says – I love you even though you are unlike me.
Eros – I love you because you meet my needs.
Agape says – I love you and commit to meeting your needs.
Agape is true love.
I found the lyrics to another song – this one written by a Christian artist who understood a little better what agape in a relationship looked like.
It goes like this:
Tomorrow morning if you wake up
And the sun does not appear
I will be here
If in the dark, we lose sight of love
Hold my hand, and have no fear
'Cause I will be here
I will be here
When you feel like being quiet
When you need to speak your mind
I will listen
And I will be here
When the laughter turns to cryin'
Through the winning, losing and trying
We'll be together
I will be here
Tomorrow morning, if you wake up
And the future is unclear
I will be here
Just as sure as seasons were made for change
Our lifetimes were made for these years
So I will be here
I will be here
And you can cry on my shoulder
When the mirror tells us we're older
I will hold you
And I will be here
To watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here
I will be true to the promise I have made
To you and to the One who gave you to me
Tomorrow morning, if you wake up
And the sun does not appear
I will be here
Oh, I will be here.
I Will Be Here (Steven Curtis Chapman)
The world can only long to find love, like that.
That’s why back in Corinth and here in Cary, the Christian who comes out of his culture and into the church must learn how to love like that.
That’s why God will so clearly spell it out for us in this great chapter on agape where Paul will deliver a radical description – God’s description – of genuine, authentic, true love.