What is the Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13.1-3

“The Tragedy of Loveless Service”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

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INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13.1-3

1 Co. 13. Second perhaps to only Psalm 23, we’re turning to one of the most well known passages in all of Scripture. This is a favourite of people who don’t go to church. You can find it on plaques, billboards, books, and picture frames and at funerals.

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ILL: Naturally, people take it out of context. When I was a lost boy in grade school, my heart was all a flutter over someone and I had this on my desk wall thinking I was doing what 1 Corinthians 13 was talking about. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

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As Christians, we may know this chapter is speaking about Christian love. But we may not understand why Paul has to talk to the Corinthians about it.

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There are two main reasons: division and spiritual favoritism.

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1. Division

They were arguing with each other! “I’m of Paul” well, “I’m of Apollos!” (1 Co. 1:11-12). We’re told they were taking each other to court! (ch. 6). They were condemning Paul for his poor public speaking ability (2 Co. 10:10). And so Paul was afraid that when he came that he’d find strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, and disturbances (2 Co. 12:20).

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Christian love is the answer to that kind of division!

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TRANS: But the more immediate concern Paul has is a kind of spiritual favouritism.

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They were valuing gifted people highly simply because they were gifted.

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2. Spiritual Favouritism

In Corinth, if you had the most miraculous spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, you were a great person. If you could speak a foreign language that you’d never learned before, you were among the spiritual elite at Corinth!

And that’s b/c those who have great gifts are great people. So Paul had to correct them in ch. 12 and say, “Don’t forget how you got that gift: that gift is from the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t from you.” What good thing did they have that they didn’t receive?

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And of course tongues would have been very exciting! Look at Jim over there! And Judith here…wow! Don’t they have a gift… amazing! We’d better give her a higher place in the church and if only we had more people like that, we could get more ministry done! Because we all know that in the church, the greater the gifts, the greater the person…and the more rewarded in heaven they’ll be, too…. No no!

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So let’s read this chapter and we’ll have a longer introduction and then address the first 3 verses a little later.

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1 Corinthians 13:1–13 1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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Correcting Our Thinking about Giftedness

It’s not just the Corinthians who are confused about gifted people, we also think that gifted people are great people.

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What do you think of Shrikant Jichkar, who has 18 post secondary degrees?

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He’s medical doctor, a lawyer, has a degree in international law, MBA, BJourn, 8 other master’s degrees, a doctorate of literature, and graduate from the Indian police academy. A politician, dead at the age of 49 in a car accident.

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We think and we do think this… “If only God would save these people, more ministry could get done!”

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Or what about Leonardo Da Vinci

He came up with the ideas for the helicopter, tank, solar power, calculator, and a theory of plate tectonics, in addition to painting famous works like The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.

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These are great people! And so we do this with musicians, artists, public speakers, and movie actors. We value some, not others. Some are the movers and shakers, some aren’t. If you listen to a song on the radio, you may or may not turn the channel because of your view of their gifts. You are value judgments of people all the time because of your assessment of how gifted they are. In the eyes of the world, gifted people are great people.

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But not in the eyes of God.

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ILL: As I look back on our 7 years as a church, the sins I have committed that grieve me the most stem from my lack of love. And I also have to admit that my heartache as a pastor hasn’t been as much on my love but more on my giftedness as a pastor. My ability to preach, my ability to counsel and disciple and lead…these have been my focus.

This is in us all… and to illustrate that, up until now… what kind of pastors conference would you recommend that I attend, one on how to love better or how to preach better?

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Which conference do you think would be more well attended?

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When there is a job posting for a pastor, what are they focused on? One job posting for a pastor I saw was looking for “blockbuster” sermons. Another one I saw was looking for pastor who could preach sermons that were “witty.”

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We’re in a church age of the celebrity pastor … and that trickles down to the church member…the gifted ones are the great ones.

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But that is not so in the eyes of God! We look at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart. It’s what He is looking for that counts. And He’s looking for love!

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One thing alone is necessary. You could have the greatest gifts, the best ability to speak, the greatest knowledge, the greatest faith in God even, and give everything you own to others and die a martyrs death…. but without love, your whole life amounts to nothing. This is the tragedy of a loveless ministry.

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Over the next weeks we will be discussing love so it is important to know what we’re talking about. Because God is love and because the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others and because love fulfills the law, and because without love you are actually nothing in the sight of God, we could say “it’s not a small thing to make sure we’re getting it right!”

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First, some clarifications. And this first clarification is slightly academic. The concept of Christian love is not carried in the term itself. You probably have heard the Greek term “agape” before and have heard that it is the highest form of love. But agape was the term used in the LXX to describe the kind of love that Amnon had for his half-sister Tamar, whom he raped. The Greek word agape, like our English word love, is a general word for love.

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What Paul is describing in this chapter is obviously Christian love, love in a Christian context. And so Christian love is not the feeling of affection or attraction. Out of our sin natures, we have a sensation we’d call love often when we find something or someone attractive. This is why divorce and separation is so rampant. The world teaches us just love the lovable. So when we no longer find someone lovable or attractive or having something to provide for us, we no longer love them.

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But Christian love isn’t a feeling, it is an act of the human will. Christian love is an act of the will; it’s a choice made, not a feeling felt.

We’re not told to have affection for our enemies, but to love them. It’s action. That’s why every one of the descriptions in verses 4-7 is an action word. They are all verbs. Christian love is something you do.

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But if we were honest this morning, we would have to admit that we tend to be patient and kind and loving when we ourselves feel loved. Or we love when we view something or someone else as deserving of love. I’ll be patient with you as long as I sense that you’re patient with me. Once I feel like you’ve lost patience with me, I lose it with you… in fact, I feel like I have a right to lose it with you, because you lost with me first! Grievous…that’s in our hearts!

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And so what is Christian love? Christian love is an act of the human will empowered by the grace of God to do as described in verses 4-7 of this chapter.

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And our Heavenly Father is the perfect example of what it means to love. We know that God has loved the world. And it is definitely not because he sees in the people of this world loveliness or beauty. He has seen us in the depth of our sin and in our wretched rebellion against him. But he loved the world to this extent: that he gave his unique son, Jesus Christ to be crucified by the hands of godless men, that he might save those very godless men to be with Him forever!

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He gave His Son to be crucified by godless men, so that He could bring those godless men into His presence! I am that godless man! My sin against God held Christ on the cross! And he loved me and loves me and will keep on loving me forever and ever!

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ILL: This kind of love is like a dad and a son giving over the willing son to his son’s murderers to somehow rescue those murderers and so that the dad and the son can be with those murderers forever in perfect harmony. Wow, talk about loving your enemies!

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And so love is an act of the human will, a choice made not a feeling felt. Unfortunately, my wife knows the experience that loving me sometimes has to be an act of her will! Let’s face it, I’m not the most lovable person on the earth.

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And so to truly love someone requires strength, not cuddliness. To love someone takes spiritual discipline not the managing of emotions.

To truly love takes power from above…it’s take power in discipline when someone annoys me or bothers me or says something to me or about me that I don’t like. So Christian love is way more about strength and power and discipline then it is about passion and emotion. It is more self-denying than self-fulfilling.

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So often when you hear the world talk about love, you hear how they love, for example, this musical artist. What they mean is that they are leeching off of that person and sucking that person dry of all of what they can give to me to fulfill my lust. I love this music or I love this movie… This is all saying I can leech off of this movie to get from it what I wanted it to give me.

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But Christian love is the exact opposite of that. Christian love seeks to give patience and not give anger. Christian love gives, expecting nothing in return!

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TRANS: Again, Christian love is an act of the human will empowered by the grace of God to do as described in verses 4-7, which we will study another time.

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But to motivate us to have love, Paul in the first 3 verses exalts love over giftedness.

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And what Paul is saying in the first three verses is that truly gifted Christians, gifted by the Holy Spirit, … That truly Holy Spirit gifted people exercising their ministry without love is a tragedy. That life was a wasted life. All gifts, no love is a wasted life!

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So I want to challenge us today to change our thinking when it comes to what truly matters in our church. You may be jealous of somebody else’s gifts or you may think that somebody else is more pleasing in the sight of God because they have better gifts. No! You may be discontent with some aspect of our ministry… You may be discontent with some aspect of your ministry… And so clearly you are exalting giftedness above love.

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You may be impressed with your musical talents, your knowledge, your ability to speak and persuade, your skill to lead and others may be impressed with your ability to do those things, but if you don’t have Christian love your life is a waste! And you’ll be one of those Christians who are saved so as by fire.

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How many pastors and church leaders will go out into eternity and the whole thing was a waste! Saved … But their entire ministry was done out of a motivation other than love.

By the grace of God I will rather have five times the love than five times the preaching skills. So if you want to pray for this pastor, pray that I truly love! There goes a man who truly loved! May we be a people who are truly known for our love!

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But the people in Corinth are using their gifts, some of them miraculous gifts like tongues, to say, “look what I can do! Can you do this?”

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So Paul has to correct them on gifts and so he says first, that the greatest speakers, without love, are just a noisy annoyance.

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  1. The greatest speakers, without love, are just a noisy annoyance.

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1 Corinthians 13:1 1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 corinthians 13:1

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EXP: He uses “I” perhaps because he wants us to know that it applies even to the apostle Paul. And it applies to me! It’s searching!

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And he’s focused on tongues, again, because they were obsessed with it. Tongues has never has been ecstatic speech or unintelligible speech or a heavenly prayer language; it’s always been a miraculous ability to speak a language you’ve never learned before. Like Chinese got downloaded into your brain!

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And even if…this is hyperbole…an exaggeration to make a point, even if I could speak with angel talk, but didn’t have love, I would be a noisy annoyance.

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But in Corinth … if you had that gift of languages…of tongues, you were somebody who was somebody! Really though? Without love, you’d just be a clanging cymbal!

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ILL: Imagine with me this morning if I brought a gong or cymbal with me to the pulpit. And then I kept banging and banging the thing … [GONG SOUNDS!] you’d be going bezerk but I’d just kept going [GONG SOUNDS!] …. What would you do with your ears?

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With the best speech gifts but without love, to the ears of God, I’m nothing more than an annoyance. I’m provoking Him.

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ILL: You would do with your ears in that moment what I did with my nose a while back in our house. We just got a new bag of dog food, $50. And we put it in the container and left it outside by accident and it got rained on. So, we had to dry it out so that it wouldn’t mold. To dry it out, we put it downstairs spread out all over the washroom floor next to a dehumidifier….and dry dog food smell is bad enough. This is wet! And when I’m in my office, that’s my washroom. And over the years, I’ve gained the ability to stop smelling without holding my nose. From all the dirty diapers, I guess.

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But that’s what God would do toward someone who has an amazing speech gift but no love.

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APP: So, wow, can she ever speak or sing with the tongues of angels! She must be a gifted person! Yes, she is. But is she pleasing to God? I don’t know, I’d like to talk to her family or be with her at work and see if she has patience and kindness. Because that’s what makes someone a great person. God isn’t impressed with you just because He gave you a wonderful speaking gift.

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ILL: God impressed with someone’s giftedness is like me being impressed with my kids’ ability to earn money if I gave them each $1m. Not impressed!

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TRANS: The greatest speakers, without love, are just a noisy annoyance. What a tragedy! Now verse 2, the wisest and most faith-filled people without love, are nothing.

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  1. The wisest and most faith-filled people without love, are nothing.

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    You say, “Well, I don’t have speaking gifts.” Ok, what about the wisdom gifts… like, do you have prophecy…that is, to the Corinthians, do receive direct revelation from God and give it forth to the rest of us? Or if it’s today, can you preach? “No, that’s really not me.”

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    Ok, what about knowing ALL mysteries? Do you understand all of the hidden secrets of God? “Let me think…ah, no that’s not my gift.” But that’d be pretty amazing if someone could, right? “That person would be a gifted person if they knew ALL Mysteries! We’d love to invite him to come and talk to us!” Oh, certainly he’s gifted…but would he be great person in the sight of God? And we wouldn’t know, because greatness to God isn’t determined by your giftedness.

    In the eyes of decaying human flesh, gifts can get you highly esteemed among men, of course. But for Christians whose eyes are set on being with the Lord of all for ever and ever, what matters is your love.

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    And perchance from verse 2 you have the rather remarkable gift of knowing all knowledge? You have a gift to understand…literally, everything knowable to the human mind! “Well, that doesn’t seem like…wow, I must not be that gifted of a person then”…yes, but wait a second, are you a loving person? Because love and being patient and kind, and not being jealous, that makes all the difference.

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    Ok, so maybe you have ALL faith so as to remove mountains! And he’s again, exaggerating, obviously. “Wow, he trusts God in the midst of all that difficulty!” Or, “She trusted God to give her a million dollars and God gave it! … She must really … I mean, I’d want her to be praying for me! She must have the ear of God! She’s a gifted person!” Oh, that she is.

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    But is she a great person in the sight of God? Does she truly love? Because without love, I am nothing. I would be what you would get if you divide by 0. I would be what existed physically before the created universe.

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    ILL: Scientists and philosophers have debated the meaning of nothing and often talk past each other. I saw that there was an hour long panel discussion on the topic of the meaning of nothing. They could go on and on about literally nothing!

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    But theologically, to be more than nothing … to be something…demands that you have love. To steal Descartes phrase, Paul would say, “I love, therefore I am, I matter; I’m worthwhile.”

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    And so the biggest challenge that we face will never be we don’t have enough talented musicians, which we do … but that will never be our problem…our greatest trouble won’t be that we have a pastor who is a mediocre preacher or a mediocre pastor…our greatest trouble will never be our lack of gifted people with knowledge … our greatest trouble will always be lacking love. That’s because the great people in the world in the eyes of God, are those who truly love.

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    Jesus doesn’t say … “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you are extremely gifted speakers and servants and have all knowledge.” No! He says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another!”

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    So even if I could bring to light ALL the hidden mysteries of God that have been shrouded in darkness for thousands of years and even if I could plumb the depths of every field of human knowledge over all the created universe, and even if I had the kind of faith that ascends higher than the mountains and can even move them …but if I do not have love, I’m less than empty space. I’m nothing. That’s the tragedy of a loveless ministry.

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    TRANS: Finally verse 3, the greatest givers without love get nothing.

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  2. The greatest givers without love get nothing

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1 Corinthians 13:3 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

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If I literally give everything I own away and use it to feed the poor (which the early Christians didn’t do; they had fellowship from house to house…they kept their houses) … but even if I did do that…and even if, as our text understands it, even if give over my body to be burned, I actually don’t profit from that…if I don’t have love.

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Willingly dying a martyrs death…and willingly giving over everything I own for others, without love it’s pointless.

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“But, wait, I thought God so loved the world, that He gave …how could you give so much yet have no love?”

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People often give in order to get. People can give because they feel guilty. People could give to make the newspaper. Our twisted human hearts can turn giving into something selfish. And so if I don’t have love, it profits me nothing!

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But with love, my speech would be like apples of gold in settings of silver…a word spoken in a fitting circumstance. And well received.

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And with love, any gifts that I do have, can actually be profitable for God’s glory for all eternity. And so then I am something!

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With love empowering my giving, it will profit me something!

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But without it, it’s futile ministry. What a tragedy!

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The eternal trainwreck can all be avoided however…not with more reading about increasing your giftedness…not with giving more…not with increasing your faith and knowledge … but this tragedy that it could all amount to nothing in the end could all be avoided if you have love within yourself!

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The Scriptures teach that every believer has a spiritual gift. You may not have many or you may not be that skilled in your spiritual gift. Just because you may not be gifted, doesn’t mean you’re not great. Because your giftedness doesn’t determine your greatness in the eyes of God. No…love…love determines whether or not you are a success in the sight of God.

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This passage, as I’ve studied it over the past few weeks, has reoriented my thinking about my own giftedness. It has relieved me of pressure to make sure that I perform well with my gifts! And now I’m refocused. I needed to stop being so focused on giftedness and I needed to start pursing love.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of 1 Corinthians 13.1-3

And so as we transition to the table, I’d like to ask this question, “How can I have love in myself?” How can I love? Turn to Luke 7:41 and we’ll end the message with this…Luke 7:41.

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One statement of our Lord came to mind on how to love: He who has been forgiven much, loves much!  In Christ, our sins, which are many, are all forgiven. Upon confession of sin and upon trusting in Jesus Christ, and laying it all out in His presence…He forgives.

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Luke 7:41–47 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

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The more you understand how much you have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, the more you’ll love. The more you understand how much our gracious Father has loved you, the more you’ll love God and others. “We love because He first loved us.” Study and meditate on the love and forgiveness of God in your own life.

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If you are trusting Jesus Christ and if you remember your sins, just praise the Lord it’s all under the blood and you’ve been washed, you’ve been cleansed, and you’ve been sanctified forever! And take that love of God to heart and give, give it to others. Give it to them when they are testy with you…give them love when they give you grief, give them love, when they don’t give you grace. And you love like that because God has loved you with an immeasurable love.

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