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(1 Corinthians 13:5) Uncommonly Rare, Undeniably Real

(1 Corinthians 13:5) Uncommonly Rare, Undeniably Real

Ref: 1 Corinthians 13:5

Uncommon courtesy; uncommon concern; uncommon control; these are all aspects of the most uncommon thing in the whole world: true love. Unlike other valuable possessions, true love is never hidden away in a safe or a lock-box or a vault. Instead it is constantly spending itself on others. Join Stephen in this message as he shows us why.


“Uncommonly Rare . . . Undeniably Real”

1 Corinthians 13:5

Since it was minted in 1933, one particular gold coin has been stolen, shipped to Egypt, hidden, and almost destroyed by fire twice.

It is the Double Eagle 20 dollar gold coin. An ounce of nearly pure gold—and when it went up for auction just a few years ago, this 20 dollar coin sold for several million dollars.

It all started during the days of the Great Depression. During the worst years of the Depression, people were hoarding their gold, and it was undermining the nation's financial system. As soon as Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president, by executive order, he took the United States off the gold standard, and payment by gold was prohibited.

Thousands of citizens exchanged their now worthless gold at the banks for cash. But someone forgot to send the memo to the U.S. Mint to stop making new gold coins – and they produced hundreds of thousands of these $20 gold coins . . . that is until the Mint got the memo and stopped. All the Double Eagle Coins were melted down.

All except for 10 of them—10 coins that the U.S. mint’s chief cashier had stolen. Eventually, the Secret Service found 9 of them.

The 10th and only remaining Double Eagle had landed in the collection of the King of Egypt – a man who had a strange penchant for collecting old aspirin bottles, used razor blades, stamps, and coins.

In 1952, this last remaining Double Eagle was to be returned to the U.S. after the Egyptian King died. It never made it . . . but it disappeared again. Finally, 45 years later, it showed up in the hands of a dealer in 1996 who claimed to be the legitimate owner.

He went to court and challenged the U.S. government over ownership of the coin. During the court battle, the coin was placed in what seemed to be a secure location—a vault at the World Trade Center.

However, just days before 9/11, it was moved to Fort Knox, where the government agreed to release the coin for auction and split the proceeds with this dealer.

An anonymous telephone bidder won the bid and purchased the 20-dollar Double Eagle coin for 7.6 million dollars. [SOURCE: Adapted from American History Magazine, February 2003, p. 7/, July 30, 2002]

Can you imagine . . . 7 million dollars for a 20-dollar coin you’ll never spend?

Why the interest . . . why the incredible value?

Because it’s one of a kind. There’s no other coin like it in the world.

Rare things are treated differently than common things.

I believe it was the great theologian Mark Twain who once said, “If stones were rare and diamonds commonplace, we’d be wearing rocks for jewelry and throwing diamonds at stray dogs.”

Now, if you’re like me and you wouldn’t spend more than 20 dollars for a 20-dollar coin, the truth remains: the more uncommonly rare something is, the more valuable it becomes.

In First Corinthians 13, we have been exploring the rare sightings of genuine, authentic, uncommon, true love.

We’ve contrasted it to the loves of the world and discovered the rare beauty of agape; we’ve noted the absolute necessity of this kind of love, for without it, we might as well get a bunch of cymbals together and make a lot of noise.

Next, we began to explore how love acts, for remember, verses 4-7 are not filled with adjectives, but verbs. 15 of them.

This is not what love is . . . these are action verbs . . . this is what love does.

We’ve arrived at verse 5, where I was immediately struck by the simplicity of love’s activity. Paul writes in verse 5, “Love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, it is not provoked.”

This is so simple . . . this description of the way love acts is so obvious. 

As one of my friends would say, “This is not rocket surgery.”

But listen, what is obvious to all of us can still be rare among us.

These three actions are like Double Eagle coins . . . not only are they rarely seen in public, but they are becoming more and more uncommon in the church today. They are not surfacing hardly at all.

These are the expressions of true, selfless, willful, committed love. 

We’ll call them: Three Uncommon Expressions of Love:

The first one is uncommon courtesy.

Paul says in verse 5, love does not act unbecomingly.

You could translate this, “agape does not treat others rudely”

One author translates it, “does not behave indecently.” [SOURCE: David Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Baker Academic, 2003), p. 618]

In the Corinthian church, they were selfishly overindulging at the church feasts, some even to point of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 11:20-22); they were suing one another for all sorts of things (1 Corinthians 6:1-7); they were hogging the floor and taking over the assembly with their own personal agendas (1 Corinthians 14:26).

What was becoming more and more rare was the uncommon expression of courtesy.

Instead, they were uncouth, unlovely, and had unattractive demeanors that cared little for the sensitivities of others.

It is the absence of tactfulness. Someone said that “tact is making people feel at home when you really wish they were.”

One author wrote that this verb for “rude” or “unbecoming” conveys the idea of inappropriate dress, inconsiderate talk, disregard for other people’s time or moral conscience, taking advantage of people, running roughshod over others' plans and interests, inappropriate behavior with the opposite sex, basic discourtesy and rudeness, and a general disregard for proper social conduct, all evidence of a lack of love. [SOURCE: Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love (Lewis & Roth, 2006), p. 61]

This phrase can refer to those who are considerate of how their behavior affects others, even in little things. [SOURCE: Ibid p. 60]

I can remember sitting in the balcony of Moody Church with Marsha and our children, listening to Ravi Zacharias preach. It was a tremendous sermon, and the church was packed with several thousand people in attendance. I can remember about halfway through his sermon, hearing a cell phone ring somewhere in the audience. I remember thinking, “Poor guy . . . how embarrassing this must be . . . right here in Moody church where everything echoes around the sanctuary. Everyone heard the ringing.” After a couple of rings, I heard, as hard as this is to imagine, a man say, “Hello?” Those of us in the balcony especially, saw to our amazement a man seated in the middle of the sanctuary, get up out of his seat, clamber over a couple of people, and talk out loud as he walked down the aisle to the back of the church. 

It’s one thing for a phone to ring in church . . . it’s another thing to answer it . . . it’s another thing to carry on a conversation as you walk out.

That’s unbecoming.

Paul is speaking as practically as he possibly can. True love is politeness toward others – it is a consideration which is becoming all the more uncommon.

Proper, discreet conduct in dress, speech, and action.

This verb can refer to uncouth speech. In fact, one commentator believes the thought in Paul’s mind is the behavior of the man in chapter 5, who is sexually immoral. 

So “acting unbecomingly” refers to the purity of action and speech.

To put it in common language, “true love is not off-color” . . . it doesn’t tell dirty jokes. There is no such thing as, “Oops, forgive my French.” 

A great missionary of 100-plus years ago by the name of Hudson Taylor speaks to the church like never before with this challenge. While he was referring to missionary work in China, where he was known for his sensitivity toward the Chinese culture and customs, his words are for us as we reach out to our own people. He wrote, “Rude people will seldom be out of hot water in China and though earnest and clever and pious, they will not accomplish much. In nothing do we fail more, as a Mission, than in lack of tact and politeness. [SOURCE: Strauch, p. 61]

Tact is making someone feel at home when you really wish they were.

It is the winsome witness of a polite believer that will often make the most profound impression.

Uncommon courtesy is synonymous with true love.

Paul refers, secondly, to uncommon concern.

Paul writes further in verse 5, “love does not seek its own.”

True love does not pursue the blessing and comfort and advantage of self.

You could translate it, “Love does not insist on its own way.”

Paul brought this rare coin out in public view of the Corinthians time and time again.

He said, “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many.” (1 Corinthians 10:33)

Earlier, he wrote, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

A few verses earlier in chapter 10, Paul challenged the Corinthians to, “Let no one seek his own advantage, but that of another.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)

There are two kinds of people in this regard: those who insist upon their own privileges and those who remember their own responsibilities; those who are always thinking of what life owes them and those who never forget what they owe life. [SOURCE: William Barclay, 1 Corinthians (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 122]

Agape is rare because it is an uncommon concern for others.

It is the selfless pursuit of another’s blessing. And it is so remarkable because you rarely see it in public.

Selfless, self-defacing, self-serving, self-demoting, self-sacrificing love.

Listen, “seeking your own” is the law . . . it’s your right. The most natural and human thing is to stand up for one’s rights. Here, then is that rare, unnatural thing that goes against human feelings and reactions. [SOURCE: Adapted from Roy L. Laurin, First Corinthians: Where Life Matures (Kregel, 1987), p. 233]

This is the opposite of selfishness.

Lenski penned this provocative statement, however, when he wrote, “Cure selfishness and you (re)plant the Garden of Eden.” [SOURCE: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of First and Second Corinthians (Augsburg Publishing, 1937), p. 557]

True love is always unselfish. How easy to say, right? And how hard to live out.

That’s why selfishness is as common as rocks . . . and unselfish living is as rare as a Double Eagle 20 dollar coin.

In a devotional I’ve been reading, the author referenced two tombstones in England that perfectly illustrated this verb in 1 Corinthians 13:5. This one in a small English cemetery reads,

Here lies a miser who lived for himself,
And cared for nothing but gathering wealth;
Now where he is or how he fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.

This man evidently lived, “seeking his own advantage.”

In contrast, a tombstone in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads,

Sacred to the memory of General Charles Gordon,
Who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak,
His substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering,
And his heart to God.

[SOURCE: John MacArthur, Drawing Near (Crossway Books, 1993), August 19th entry]

I might add that it would be this last line than enables the first lines. He gave his heart to God; he gave his affection, his longing, his weakness, his sin, his failure, his faults to God. And that alone allowed him and anyone else the ability to give your substance and your sympathy and your strength to others.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)

Without me, Christ said, you can do nothing (John 15:5)

Even the rare, uncommon expressions of love.

Uncommon courtesy . . . uncommon concern.

And thirdly, Uncommon Control.

Paul writes, “Love is not provoked”

Love does not become cantankerous when disappointed.

The Greek word is transliterated to give us our word, paroxysms – a fit of anger.

The word means to have an inward state of arousal. By the way, it can have the positive meaning of inspiring another. The negative side has to do with irritating another, or, in its passive form, to be irritated. [SOURCE: Adapted from Garland, p. 618]

You read that phrase, and immediately, every one of us just might as well stamp “guilty” on our foreheads, right?


It does no good to argue with Paul and say, “Well, I lose my temper a lot, but it’s over in a few seconds.” So is a nuclear bomb.

One author wrote about being on a flight where 2 young children were sitting near him, arguing and fussing and quarreling. Some of your moms are going, “I wonder if they were my children?” I’m sure they weren’t. Anyway, the flight attendant knew exactly how to handle them. “She went over to their seats, smiling and said, “What’s all this squawking up here?” The children grew quiet. Then she leaned over them and said in a serious, quiet voice, “I must remind you, this is a non-squawking flight.” [SOURCE: Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 397]

Paul is effectively saying true love views life as a non-squawking flight. 

And since it takes two people to have a provocation, Paul says we are to refuse to become the second person.

You read this phrase, “love is not provoked,” and you think, “Yeah right!” Paul doesn’t expect me to take this literally, does he?” This verse is for people like the Apostles . . . this is for dead people. They can live without being provoked! This is a verse for Paul.

The secret to this uncommon control is not that you have some sort of amazing self-control. This is Christ-control. To be mastered by this love is the same as being mastered by Christ. [SOURCE: Laurin, p. 234]

Our inability to demonstrate this love is not so much a lack of self-control but Spirit-control.

And again, I take you back to the fact that agape is not difficult – it’s impossible; apart from surrender to Christ.

The Lord began to reveal this radical way of living as He preached in His sermon on the mount.

He said in Matthew 5:39, “Do not oppose – or fight – an evil person – even if they slap you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Most people misunderstand what Christ is saying – they think that this is referring to letting someone punch you in the face – don’t punch back, but turn the other cheek. Then after they’ve hit you the second time, you can send them to the hospital.

No, this is effectively the same demonstration of love that Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 13.

The text gives us a clue about the culture of Christ’s day. The Lord specifically mentions being slapped on the right cheek.

Now, most of our world and His was right-handed. You gotta have to watch out for the right hook. However, Christ specifically mentions being struck on the right cheek.

In other words, for this man to be struck on the right cheek by a right-handed person, he would have to have that man swing back-handed, slapping him with the back of my hand across his right cheek.

Which in the culture of Christ was the ultimate insult.

What Christ is saying is that if you are insulted by someone to the maximum degree, be willing to be insulted again.

To refuse to be provoked means you are willing to forfeit personal dignity.

Look down further in Matthew 5 to verse 41, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

Again, something that the generation of Paul would clearly understand as an incredibly insulting, aggravating, anger provoking event.

During these days, the law of the land gave a Roman soldier the right force a anybody in the empire to carry his gear for one mile. The Jews especially hated this practice, not only because it interrupted their schedule, but because they had to help their enemy. A mile was considered a thousand steps. And so the poor person who’s just been drafted to carry the gear, would begin walking along, counting – sometimes aloud – the number of steps; 1 – 2 – 3 – 998 – 999 – 1,000.

As soon as he reached 1,000, he could legally and legitimately say, “That’s far enough.” And there wasn’t anything the soldier could do.

Christ says, “If you are compelled to walk 1 mile, go with him 2 miles.

This is where we got our phrase, “going the extra mile.”

Can you imagine the surprise of the Roman soldier? “Hey, listen, I know I’ve already walked 1,000 steps in the opposite direction, but I’m willing, because of my love for Christ – and you – to walk another mile.”

Which meant that he’d have to walk another 2 miles to get back. 4 miles . There goes your plan for the afternoon.

Love that refuses to be provoked is willing to forfeit not only personal dignity but personal convenience.

You have every right to let him know how unhappy you are that he picked you . . . that he insulted you – that was a long 1,000-step journey.

Paul writes that true, genuine, self-less, servant-like, Christ-honoring, God-exalting love is this kind of love – this agape which is rare and precious action. Instead of provocation, it proceeds another thousand steps.

This is indeed uncommonly rare love, but undeniably real.

Ladies and Gentlemen, some guy is eventually gonna die with a 20-dollar gold coin in his safe. What good did it do but allow him to think he really had spent his money well and now owned something valuable only because it was rare?

Listen, the most valuable things in your life are indeed rare – but they are not kept in the safe. They are evidenced in your life.

Especially this rare thing called true love; love that demonstrates these uncommon expressions:

  • Uncommon courtesy;
  • Uncommon concern;
  • Uncommon control.

Here’s something to put into practice, and with this I close.

A young father was in the grocery store pushing a shopping cart with his little son strapped in the front. The kid was a little terror, fussing, irritable, and crying. The other shoppers gave the pair a wide aisle because the child would pull cans off the shelf and throw other cans out of the cart. In spite of it all, this brave father continued to encourage his son with kind words, “It’s okay Donnie . . . don’t worry Donnie . . . listen, Donnie, we’ll be done in a few more minutes . . . it’s all right Donnie. One mother who was passing by was so impressed by this young father’s attitude. She said, “You certainly know how to treat your son – and then bending down to the little boy, she said, “Now what seems to be the problem, Donnie?” “Oh no,” the father said, “he’s Henry, I’m Donnie.” [SOURCE: John Huffman, “The Fruit of the Spirit is Patience,”]

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