In his message from TGCW22, Irwyn Ince explores the characteristics of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and explains how to abide in that kind of love.
Ince discusses the importance of love in relationships, specifically within the body of Christ, emphasizing the transformative power of God’s love, which changes self-centered individuals into self-sacrificial lovers of God and neighbor. He proposes that love isn’t based on likeness or attraction—instead, true love overcomes divisions and reconciles those who may have nothing in common except for Christ.
The hope for Christians is the full expression and experience of the love of God in and through Christ, which endures forever. There’s a day coming, Ince urges, when all doubts will be gone, and we’ll see love face-to-face in the person of Christ. Until then, focusing on Jesus and abiding in his love is how we endure life on this side of eternity.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Good morning. It is my delight and privilege to be with you this morning and I was given the assignment to wrap up our pre conference on this topic. Love that abides, we’ve heard faith and hope. And now love and a text for us is First Corinthians chapter 13, the entirety of that chapter and so if you would, turn in your Bibles to First Corinthians chapter 13. And let us hear, again, God’s word. This is the apostle Paul. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge and I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice it wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away as for tongues, they will see says for knowledge, it will pass away for we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child. I thought like a child I reasoned like a child when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I have been fully known. So now, faith, hope, and love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love. This is God’s word. This year, my wife Kim and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and Amen, thank you. She gets the credit and more than me. When we said I do back in 1992, we had no idea of the roller coaster ride that we were about to take. We just knew we were madly in love with each other. We also made this agreement this pact. early in our marriage, we decided we were not going to celebrate Valentine’s Day. In our youth, we were cynical about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day and a cultural pressure to spend money on chocolates and flowers and cards and and other gifts and we refuse to to have the expression of our love reduced to a single day in the year.
And we held the lie for several years.
But after the third of our four children came on the scene, we gave it and here’s how it happened. We had some college students at our church and they decided that they were going to be a blessing to the parents of young children in our church by by babysitting all the children of the church on Valentine’s Day to give the parents a a date night. Now if you’ve got young children or if you’ve had young children you know what what parents of young children would turn down that opportunity. Right so so that became an annual event and my children are now grown I’ve got a granddaughter and and no one needs any babysitting that have come from from my wife and I and but here’s the deal once you start celebrating Valentine’s Day, there’s no turning back. Once you do it one time that’s it you have to have now established and unbreakable tradition and and sometimes it’s just cards and a kiss. Sometimes it’s jewelry. Sometimes it’s chocolate and flowers. Sometimes it’s a date, but it’s always I’m saying, our celebration of Valentine’s Day is an abiding one. It has, in some respects, become a symbol of our abiding love for each other. You see, there are all kinds of ways in our relationships that we can forget about and neglect the primacy and the priority of love. And this is particularly true in the body of Christ. We know that Jesus said that the greatest commandment is You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul with all your mind and the second is like it you shall love your neighbor as yourself. He said on these to rest all the law and all the prophets. We know that Jesus said that the church’s witness to the world is love. He said this, by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you have love for one another. You may have even heard the Apostle Paul say to the Romans in Romans chapter 13, and verses eight and nine. Oh, no one anything except to love each other for Love is the fulfilling of the law. of family. Let me ask you this question. When those who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ, look at the church do they gaze in amazement because our life together displays an abiding self sacrificing attractive love? Is Jesus attractive to those outside of the church? Because those who claim to know him demonstrate a supernatural love for one another? If not, if that’s not the case, could it be that we too often neglect the priority and the primacy of love? I want to focus on three things from this familiar passage of First Corinthians 13. I want to talk about transforming love, connecting love and enduring love, transforming love, connecting love and enduring love. You see, love transforms. Let’s situate ourselves in the life world of a first century church in in current current the city after being destroyed in 146 BC by the Romans, it was rebuilt under Julius Caesar in 44 BC as a as a modern planned city, and it served as the capital of the province of Kea and as a center of government and trade. Corinth was characterized by by the power that the Roman presence represented and the wealth that was brought into the city by commerce. You could describe the city of Commons at that time with with four P’s It was powerful, it was prosperous, it was pluralistic, and it was promiscuous. And because it was a crossroads for trade, and was also a crossroads for ideas and, and religions. And not only that, over time, the phrase to live like a Corinthian came to mean to live a life of immorality. And Paul, the apostle shows up in Corinth around 49 or 50 ad, and on his second missionary journey, we find out in Acts chapter 18, and verse 11, that he stayed there for a year and a half working in his tent, making trade and teaching the Word of God and after leaving Corinth, he went to Ephesus and, and he and he wrote this letter to this church sometime between 52 and 55 ad. And I bring up all of that background for for a couple of reasons. One, to give you all a sense of what life was like for the people trying to live as Christians in that city. And to point out that what we find Paul saying in this love chapter, First Corinthians 13, is intimately connected to who they are called to be in that city as they bear witness to Jesus Christ. He tells them this in the first chapter of the letter in the opening words as he introduces this letter, he says to them, you In verses 123 of church of current First Corinthians one says Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus and our brothers sauce, the knees, to the Church of God that is incurrence. To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours Grace to You, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are sanctified, set apart by God through faith in Jesus Christ declared holy and called to be saints, called to be holy ones, together with every believer in every place. And then those first three verses of chapter 13. It is, they are exalted, exhorted by by Paul to grasp the reality that the love that they have been brought into is one that transforms them from self centered idolaters, to self sacrificial lovers of God and neighbor. You notice there are three negative statements that Paul makes in First Corinthians 13, verses one to three. If I don’t have love, I’m a noisy gong in a clanging cymbal. If I don’t have love, I am nothing. If I don’t have love, I gain nothing. to the Corinthians problem is that they were so wrapped up in the gifts that the Spirit gives, that they ignored the giver of the gifts. And this was evidenced by the fact that they live like them. Those gifts are for their own personal possession and benefit. He told them in chapter 12, verses four through six, he says there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord and there are varieties of activities, but it’s the same God who empowers them all in everyone. And then he tells them right before the beginning of our chapter two out tells them at the end of chapter 12 And verse number 31, but earnestly desire, the higher gifts, and I will show you a still more excellent way. And at the beginning of chapter 14, after this love chapter, he comes back around to desiring spiritual gifts, he tells them in verse one of chapter 14, Pursue love, earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. So the issue is not with them with the gifts themselves or with their desiring spiritual gifts. The issue is that every aspect of their lives is supposed to demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus Christ and His gospel. They have been brought into God’s abiding love through faith in Jesus Christ, and this love is to flow through them to their sisters and brothers in the faith.
And so he says, speaking in tongues, whether it is human or angelic, absent of love, having the gift of prophecy, having the gift of prophecy, absence of love, giving my goods or even sacrificing my body, apart from love, is the equivalent of idolatry. Without love I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Without love, he says, I’m nothing. Without love. He says, I gain nothing, it profits me nothing. This describes the impact of idolatry. in First Kings, chapter 18, in the Old Testament, you may be familiar with the the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of the ark. And it says in first grade, first Kings 18 That that the for those 450 profits have been all they they cried out more from morning to midday, louder and louder and louder being much more expressed. As they were calling for by all the false god to bring fire on the sacrifice. And the writer says in verse 29, the first Kings 18, no one answered. No one answered, no one paid attention, all that noise all that noisy, gone clanging cymbal symbol it amounted to nothing. The second chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says to his people, in verse number five, Thus says the Lord, what wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me and went after worthlessness and became worthless? You went after those as you went to nothing and you became nothing? Then later in that same chapter, the Prophet says in chapter two and verse 17 of Jeremiah, you forsaking the Lord, what do you gain? Going to Egypt to drink from the Nile? What do you gain going to a Syria to drink from the river Euphrates? And it’s a rhetorical question because the answer is nothing. Listen, the love of God, in Jesus Christ works to trance form us from self centered idolaters, to loving servants of the living God, God’s immense and deep love pursued hard after us, bringing us into His family, transforming us, and it is a love that will not let us go. And what the apostle is doing here in this first part of the chapter is giving them this corrective word. This corrective word, reorienting their, their hearts and their minds away from the stuff that God gives, whether it be spiritual gifts, or anything, because he knows that at the end of the story for God’s people, is an abiding love that flows from God to us and through us to the world. This transforming love and this transforming love, this love that transforms God’s people. It actually works itself out as a connecting love working itself out in diverse and difficult relations with others. It works itself out as a connecting love in the context, particularly of diverse and difficult relationships, particularly in the body of Christ. Look again with me. As Paul begins to define love, he describes it, and he defines it in verses four to six. He describes and defines it by how it acts. What it does and does not do he brackets. This with two positive statements about what love is and then five negatives he says love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. Love is not arrogant, or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing or at injustice. But it rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things endures all things hopes all things. Love is a it’s a reality that is somewhat difficult to to capture in words. And it’s a term of deep endearment that we use all of the time. It carries with it a sense of affection and and a sense of of care. I tell my wife every day I love you. I did it this morning over in emoji on my iPhone. I tell my children every day. I love you, I love you. I love you. And when I say it, I mean it. When I say it, there is an internal feeling of being drawn To the one I have just spoken those words too. But these verses, they help us to move love out of the abstract and into the concrete. Love does love acts. The Apostle says love is patient and it is kind. Love does not envy and it does not boast. Notice these are all verbs is not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not irritable, it’s not resentful. It doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, it does rejoice, but it rejoices with the truth. It bears all things. It endures all things it, it hopes all things. This makes no sense apart from being connected to other people. This is not about me, being patient with myself. This is not about me, being kind to myself is not about me being a non boastful with myself. It is about how do we as God’s people relate to one another. I said that God’s love is a transforming love, that that connects working itself out in diverse and difficult relationships. And I want to let you know make no doubt about it. I am describing the church when I say diverse and difficult relationships. You don’t have to go far to see that that’s what the apostle is referring to as well. In chapter 12, he says to them, in verse seven, to each is giving given a manifestation of the Spirit, for the common good. Your gifts are not for yourselves. They’re not for yourselves, they are for the benefit of others. And then he says this about the body about the church in verses 12 to 14 of chapter 12. For just as the body is one, and has many members and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit, we all were baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slave or free. And we are all made to drink of one spirit for the body does not consist of one member, but of many. What is this body to whom he is writing? It is a diverse group of people, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, ethnically and culturally diverse. Its socio economically diverse. Like, I don’t know about you, but like I have enough difficulty living out the description of love we find in these verses with the people with whom I share common culture and social status.
How much more does the challenge and the difficulty escalate and, and and amp up when you bring all of these different kinds of people together in one body? I need to say this to us. That the expectation of the New Testament, the expectation, as we read particularly the New Testament is that the local expression of God’s Church is going to be diverse. The expectation is that people will come into fellowship with Christ and with one another across as many backgrounds and diverse contexts as you find in a given community. We hear the same kind of expectation in Paul’s letter to the Colossians and chapter three verses 11 to 14 of Colossians where he says to them Colossians here There isn’t Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free, but Christ is all and in all and then he says put on then as God’s chosen ones who are holy and love, compassionate hearts. kindness, humility, meekness and patience bearing with one another, he says, And if one has a complaint against another forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these, he says, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. He’s speaking to people who he says, are Greeks and Jews, barbarians, giffy, and slaves free. The Apostle says to the diverse church of Ephesus, he says in chapter five verses one to two of Ephesians, therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. I’m a Presbyterian.
And what that means, among other things is that congressionally I adhere to and look to you and embrace the Westminster Confession of Faith written in the 1640s. I embrace it as a faithful representation of the form of doctrine that is taught in the Scriptures. And the Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 26, is titled, of the communion of saints. And it is a description of what it means for Christians to be in fellowship with one another, what it means for us to be in communion with one another. And I’m not going to read all of it, but but it makes a very poignant point about what the Scriptures teach. And it says they in chapter 26, all saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him. In his grace, sufferings, death, resurrection and glory and being united to one another in love. They have communion in another’s gifts and graces, and are obligated to perform such duties, both public and private, that that make for their mutual good, both inwardly and outwardly. As it says, This communion, as God offers opportunity is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, quoting directly from First Corinthians chapter one and verse number three. And here’s the point. This love is not a love, that is based on whether or not we are attracted to one another. This love is not based on whether or not you are the kinds of people I want to be with I do. I love what theologian George Henry said a generation ago, as he was commenting on this section of the confession and talking about the love it’s referring to as a reflection of the love that the scriptures call us too. And he said that this love is not one that’s based on mutual attraction, but it is a love that overcomes division, and reconciles contraries and brings into communion, those who might not have anything in common, save the fact that Christ gave Himself for them. That this love isn’t based on mutual attraction. It is a love that is specializing in overcoming division in overcoming hostilities, and bringing into loving fellowship, those who might not have anything in common except this one thing Christ gave himself for us. This is the expectation. So in other words, this love that we find here in First Corinthians 13 And then the rest of the New Testament, it is a supernatural love. It is a supernatural love. It is a love that comes to us from above. It is a love that that works in us and works through us. It has to be that it has to be that because you know we will all fail to perform this love whoever us in here can say in my walk of faith with Jesus Christ, I’ve demonstrated love across lines of difference in the body of Christ that has been patient and kind, not boastful or arrogant, not insisting on my own way in the church. Who among us can say that we’ve done that? Well, how will this kind of love abide? How will this kind of love endure? Where do we get the resources? Where do we get the strength? Where do we get the vision to persevere in this love? I’m glad you asked. Because the answer to that question about enduring and abiding love is, is here in this last section of the chapter verses eight to 13. Most particularly in verse eight, and then the end he says, he says this, in verse eight Love never ends. As for prophecies, they’ll pass away and for tongues, they’ll see central knowledge, it will pass away, Paul begins to wrap up this love chapter with this simple statement. Love never ends. And that word for ends has the sense of falling. He’s saying that this supernatural love will never fall to pieces, it will never collapse. Love is the greatest of these among faith, hope and love, because everything else has an expiration date. Prophecies will pass away, tongs will cease knowledge will pass away, these things have an expiration date, because there’s a day coming for God’s people, when we will see Him face to face. There’s a day coming when all of the things that make us doubt about the Lord were all the things that make us doubt, our sisters and brothers in Christ and all the things that tempt us to move away from one another. When there’s conflict and difficulty when it gets hard. All those things will be done away with and all we will see is the radiant glory of our God face to face. And what’s more is that we will see that radiance reflected in each other. What will remain and come into its fullest expression is love. Love abides because God is love. John said it in first John 14, In this is love not that we have loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And then he says in verse 16, of that same chapter, so we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us, God is love. And Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. love abides because it was there at the beginning of creation, and it will be there at the end in the new heavens and the new earth. When God created the world. He did not do it. For utilitarian purposes. He didn’t do it because he was lacking in any relational love or worship. He has always been full and complete in his love. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He created the world as an overflow of His love. That’s why love will never collapse. We endure in love as we, as we hold this reality close by the love that describes it that’s described in First Corinthians 13 It really is the resume of Jesus is the resume of the Son of God who had an immeasurable supernatural love for us. He just demonstrated His great love to people who struggle to love He lived a life of perfect love on our behalf. He died as our substitute to cancel out all of our failures of love. And he rose from the dead to empower us to live the life of love. Can you imagine? Can you imagine that there’s a day coming when faith will no longer be necessary. You’re already heard this morning from SR trillia. That that faith is the assurance of things hoped for the evidence of the things we don’t see is a day coming when the things we hope for have become Reality and the things we don’t see have come into view because we see Him face to face. The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter six, that he desired that they had the full assurance of hope, all the way to the end, that we have this hope, as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a foreigner on our behalf. Well, there is a day coming, when hope will no longer be necessary. Because we will be with him and we will see Him as He is. We will at that time have come into the full expression and experience of the love of God for us in Christ. Family, this is the love that transforms. This is the love that connects and keeps us connected. And this is the love that endures and abides forever and ever into eternity.
Would you pray with me? Thank you, Lord God, that you are love, and that you have graciously invited us welcomed us, brought us into that love. That imbibed and adored endures forever. And I pray, Lord God for each of us in here that you would empower us by your Spirit, to live the life of love, across lines of difference in your body, especially when it becomes difficult. Especially Lord, when there’s conflict, would you give us the grace to move toward one another in love, that the world might look at your people and be drawn to you because of the love with which we have for one another. Do this for your glory and are good in Christ’s name? Amen. Amen. Amen.