The Love Chapter – The Absence of Love

Title: The Love Chapter - The Absence of Love

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians 13 : 1-3

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Love, Christian



Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and we always associate the month of February and Valentine’s Day with the concept of love, but I’ve thought this week about a song that was written in 1984 by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle. The song was released and went to the top of the charts. It was a song recorded by Tina Turner that asks the question, “What’s love got to do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion?”

I don’t think that love is a second hand emotion, but to ask “What’s love got to do with it?” is a good question, even with regard to the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. In the Catholic calendar, this was a day that honored two or three martyred Catholic saints all named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

Of course, now St. Valentine’s Day has become a widely accepted celebration of love. In fact, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas. So now, Valentine’s Day has everything to do with love. Similarly, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 has everything to do with love because that is the theme of the whole chapter.

It was G. Campbell Morgan who wrote…

From the standpoint of literature this is one of the most remarkable passages that ever came from the pen of man. In the apostolic teaching, however, this whole chapter is a parenthesis, and of great importance and value in its relation to all his teaching. We saw the close connection between the  last verse of chapter 12 and first clause of chapter 14. “Desire earnestly the greater gifts. And the most excellent way show I unto you. … Follow after love.” The words, “Follow after love” contain the declaration of what is the most excellent way. We therefore see that this chapter 13 is a parenthesis. Paul is showing them directly how to follow after love. Now he takes time here in this thirteenth chapter to show what love really is.

Tom Hayes wrote…

In both Chapter 12 and Chapter 14, the Corinthian church is indoctrinated, reproved, corrected, and instructed (see 2 Tim. 3:16) concerning their unusual gifts. And while gifts have their place in Christian ministry and are not to be overlooked, the truth of love, set forth in Chapter 13, is the real heart and strength of all ministry. We are taught that “it is better to have this grace without gifts, than to have gifts without this grace” (W. Graham Scroggie).

In his book “The Doctrine Of Brotherly Love,” W. G. Broadbent agreed when he said…

Agapee is the love of the love chapter 1 Corinthians 13. This love is greater than the gifts, and it abides forever.

James Packer, in his book, “Your Father Loves You,” wrote…

The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention – a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike – Matthew 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and note what these verses have to say about the primacy (vv. 1-3) and permanence (vv. 8-13) of love; note too the profile of love (vv. 4-7) which they give.

Paul magnifies the importance of “charity” or love in this chapter. And in thinking about the concept of love, I was reminded that kids sometimes have an interesting perspective on love…

When some were asked what falling in love is like, Roger, age 9 said, “Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.” Leo, age 7, said, “If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I  don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” When asked what role having good looks plays in love, Jeanne, age 8, said, “If you want to be loved by somebody who isn’t already in your family, it doesn’t hurt to be beautiful.” Gary, age 7, said, “It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me. I’m handsome like anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” Christine, age 9, said, “Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a long time.”

When asked to share some confidential opinions about love, Anita, age 6, said, “I’m in favor of love as long as it doesn’t happen when ‘The Simpsons’ is on TV.” Bobby, age 8, said, “Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” Regina, age 10, said, “I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” Floyd, age 9, said, “Love is foolish … but I still might try it sometime.”

When asked to share some surefire ways to make a person fall in love with you, Del, age 6, said, “Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores.” Alonzo, age 9, said, “Don’t do things like have smelly, green sneakers. You might get attention, but attention ain’t the same thing as love.” Manuel, age 8, said, “Yell out that you love them at the top of your lungs … and don’t worry if their parents are right there.” Bart, age 9, said, “One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it’s something she likes to eat. French fries usually works for me.” Camille, age 9, said, “Shake your hips and hope for the best.”

Some of those ideas about love are interesting to say the least, but I want to share with you some things that the Bible has to say about love. The apostle Paul gives us a virtually full treatment of the subject in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. In fact, A. T. Robertson said, “?Plato and many others have written on love, but Paul has here surpassed them all in this marvelous prose-poem.”

As we study this portion of scripture, we discover that in part 1 of this great chapter, Paul Mentions The Absence Of Love (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).

John MacArthur wrote…

In verses 1-2 Paul uses considerable hyperbole. To make his point he exaggerates to the limits of imagination. Using various examples, he says, “If somehow I were able to do or to be … to the absolute extreme, but did not have love, I would be absolutely nothing.” In the spirit of the love about which he is talking, Paul changes to the first person. He wanted to make it clear that what he said applied as fully to himself as to anyone in Corinth.

Warren Wiersbe puts the passage in context for us when he says…

Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not ministered in love. … The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. It has well been said that love is the “circulatory system” of the body of Christ. … Many people fail to see that Paul was still dealing with the Corinthians’ problems when he wrote these words: the abuse of the gift of tongues, division in the church, envy of others’ gifts, selfishness … impatience with one another in the public meetings, and behavior that was disgracing the Lord. The only way spiritual gifts can be used creatively is when Christians are motivated by love.

Again, Paul is showing them the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 13:31), which involves not merely spiritual gifts but spiritual gifts exercised with love. As A. T. Robertson said, “Paul is not condemning these great gifts. He simply places love above them and essential to them.”

Hugh Kane said…

Love is the divine lubricant in which all the wheels of the Church’s activities are to move, and her varied “gifts” be exercised. The lack of this heavenly element has caused friction, faction and failure in the past. How much we need Love today!

Paul says…

I. Without Love, Our Message Has No Vitality

(1 Corinthians 13:1) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

A. Paul Refers To Communication Involving Great Eloquence

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels..."

tongues – Greek 1100. glossa, gloce'-sah; of uncert. affin.; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired):--tongue.

John MacArthur said…

In the context there is no doubt that Paul here includes the gift of speaking in languages (see 12:10, 28; 14:4-6, 13-14; etc.). That is the gift the Corinthians prized so highly and abused so greatly… Paul’s basic point in 13:1, however, is to convey the idea of being able to speak all sorts of languages with great fluency and eloquence, far above the greatest linguist or orator. That the apostle is speaking in general and hypothetical terms is clear from the expression “tongues of angels.” There is no biblical teaching of a unique or special angelic language or dialect. In the countless records of their speaking to men in Scripture, they always speak in the language of the person being addressed. There is no indication that they have a heavenly language of their own that men could learn. Paul simply is saying that, were he to have the ability to speak with the skill and eloquence of the greatest men, even with angelic eloquence, he would only become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal if he did not have love. The greatest truths spoken in the greatest way fall short if they are not spoken in love. Apart from love, even one who speaks the truth with supernatural eloquence becomes so much noise.

B. Paul Refers To Communication Involving Great Emptiness

"... have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal..."

sounding – Greek 2278. echeo, ay-kheh’-o; from G2279; to make a loud noise, i.e. reverberate:--roar, sound.

brass – Greek 5475. chalkos, khal-kos’; perh. from G5465 through the idea of hollowing out as a vessel (this metal being chiefly used for that purpose); copper (the substance, or some implement or coin made of it):--brass, money.

tinkling – Greek 214. alalazo, al-al-ad’-zo; from alale (a shout, “halloo”); to vociferate (shout), i.e. (by implication) to wail; fig. to clang:--tinkle, wail.

cymbal – Greek 2950. kumbalon, koom’-bal-on; from a der. of the base of G2949; a “cymbal” (as hollow):--cymbal.

It was A. T. Robertson who explained the phrases this way…

Sounding brass chalchos eechoon. Old words. Brass was the earliest metal that men learned to use. Our word echoing is eechoon. Used in Luke 21:25 of the roaring of the sea. Only two examples in the New Testament.

Clanging cymbal kumbalon alalazon. Cymbal, an old word, a hollow basin of brass. Alalazoo, an old onomatopoetic word (a word that sounds like the action) to ring loudly, in lament (Mark 5:38), for any cause as here.

Cf. (Mark 5:38) And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed (alalazo – same as tinkling) greatly.

Again, G. Campbell Morgan said…

Paul says, If I speak with tongues of men and angels, what does it all amount to? Noise. That is all. I can make a noise if I am quite eloquent, but it is all noise, sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. But if there is no love behind my speech, then what am I? I am an instrument like brass or a cymbal, without personality; nothing, emptiness, void of power. … A big noise!

MacArthur says…

In New Testament times, rites honoring the pagan deities Cybele, Bacchus, and Dionysus included speaking in ecstatic noises that were accompanied by smashing gongs, clanging cymbals, and blaring trumpets. Paul’s hearers clearly got his point: unless it is done in love, ministering the gift of languages, or speaking in any other human or angelic way, amounts to no more than those pagan rituals. It is only meaningless gibberish in a Christian guise.

II. Without Love, Our Ministry Has No Value

(1 Corinthians 13:2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

A. He Describes A Ministry That Is Categorically Varied

Albert Barnes said…

This word (prophecy) properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. … The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Acts 13:1. … In 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.”

MacArthur said of the words “all mysteries and all knowledge” that…

Paul uses that comprehensive phrase to picture ultimate human understanding. Mysteries may represent divine spiritual understanding and knowledge may represent factual human understanding. In Scripture the term mystery always signifies divine truth that God has hidden from men at some time. Most often it refers to truths hidden to Old Testament saints that have been revealed in the New Testament. If he could perfectly understand all unrevealed divine mysteries, along with all the mysteries that are revealed, Paul insists that he could still be nothing. … Adding all knowledge would not help. One could fathom all the observable, knowable facts of the created universe, be virtually omniscient, and he would still be nothing without love. In other words, if somehow he could comprehend all of the Creator and all of the creation, he would be zero without love.

Once more we read from A. T. Robertson…

Equally futile is wonder-working faith “so as to remove mountains” hooste oree methistanein without love. This may have been a proverb or Paul may have known the words of Jesus (Matthew 17:20; 21:21).

You can say great things; you can see great things; you can sanction great things … but without love, it is “nothing.”

I remember the story of the man who was in a campmeeting underneath an open tabernacle. And he had gotten very excited during the course of the service and stood to his feet saying, “I see something. I see something.” Unbeknownst to him, a raccoon had gotten up in the rafters, and just as he had stood to his feet looking towards heaven, the raccoon scampered across the beam above his head. And when he saw it he said, “I do see something.” Paul said we can see things in the spiritual realm and the physical realm, but it means nothing without love.

B. He Described A Ministry That Is Completely Vain

(1 Corinthians 13:2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

It was A. T. Robertson who said that the word here does not indicate “nobody,” but it indicates nothing, “an absolute zero.” The word has the idea of “absolutely nothing whatsoever at all in any case.”

nothing – Greek 3762. oudeis, oo-dice'; includ. fem. oudemia, oo-dem-ee'-ah; and neut. ouden, oo- den'; from G3761 and G1520; not even one (man, woman or thing), i.e. none, nobody, nothing:--any (man), aught, man, neither any (thing), never (man), no (man), none (+ of these things), not (any, at all, -thing), nought.

Matthew Henry said…

Had a man ever so clear an understanding of the prophecies and types under the old dispensation, ever so accurate a knowledge of the doctrines of Christianity, nay, and this by inspiration, from the infallible dictates and illumination of the Spirit of God, without charity he would be nothing; all this would stand him in no stead. Note: a clear and deep head is of no signification, without a benevolent and charitable heart.

Paul says, “I would really be something with all these ministry gifts … Not!” Not without love.

III. Without Love, Our Magnanimity Has No Virtue

(1 Corinthians 13:3) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

magnanimity – to be magnanimous – an adjective that means courageously noble in mind and heart; very generous, kind, or forgiving; unselfish.

A. Notice The Benevolence That Is Mentioned

Barnes says…

The Greek word used here (for bestow) meant properly to break off, and distribute in small portions; to feed by morsels; and may be applicable here to distributing one’s property in small portions.

Charity or alms to the poor, was usually distributed at one’s gate (Luke 16:20,) or in some public place. Of course, if property was distributed in this manner, many more would be benefitted than if all were given to one person. There would be many more to be thankful, and to celebrate one’s praises. This was regarded as a great virtue; and was often performed in a most ostentatious manner. It was a gratification to wealthy men who desired the praise of being benevolent, that many of the poor flocked daily to their houses to be fed; and against this desire of distinction, the Saviour directed some of his severest reproofs; see Matthew 6:1-4.

“Goods” are defined as…

goods – Greek 5224. huparchonta, hoop-ar'-khon-tah; neut. plur. of pres. part. act. of G5225 as noun; things extent or in hand, i.e. property or possessions:--goods, that which one has, things which (one) possesseth, substance, that hast.

The scene would be like the one in Gary Cooper’s movie, “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town,” when he is giving away portions of his 20 million dollar inheritance to hundreds of needy men.

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary says…

Give my body to be burned – (means) literally give up my body to such a degree as that I should be burned. As the three youths (Daniel 3:28) “yielded their bodies.”

(Daniel 3:28) Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.

Note that A. T. Robertson said that the Greek word that is here translated “be burned” could have the idea of “that I may glory.” So that one may “give their body so that they may glory” in that sacrifice.

B. Notice The Benefit That Is Missing

MacArthur said…

Agapeô love is always self-sacrificing, but self-sacrifice does not necessarily come from love.

We see that A. T. Robertson said the phrase “It profiteth me nothing,” is “literally, ‘I am helped nothing’.”

The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says of this word “profiteth” (NT:5623 – oofeloúmai) that it means…

to assist to be useful or advantageous, to help or profit one in a thing. And with the accusative ouden (nothing) it means to be of no use, to effect nothing;

There is a story from D. L. Moody that is most fitting…

Show me a church where there is love, and I will show you a church that is a power in the community. In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home. “They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply. “Why not?” she asked. “Because they love a fellow over there,” he replied. If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love replace duty in our church relations, and the world will soon be evangelized. (From Moody’s Anecdotes)

Cf. (Jude 1:22) And of some have compassion, making a difference:

It has been said that people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.

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