Love Is the Greater Sacrifice

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

We continue this morning to look at “a still more excellent way.” Paul said in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 in the last sentence that there is a more excellent way for us to live. A more excellent way of life that honors God, that compels us to live not for ourselves and the vanity associated with that sort of living, but a more excellent way in which we can honor Him who has saved us. There is a way to live that is better than living for self and selfish desires. There is a better way than to live for a moment of gratification. There is an excellent way in which purpose unfolds, where joy reigns, where we live out what God has created us to do. What is this excellent way? The way is that we “love.” This is the Christian way to live. Living life loving God and loving others is what makes our ways distinctively different than the way of non-Christians. It is again, distinctive Christian living. You won’t find this in business schools or in law school. You don’t hear this on the streets or at sporting events or newscasts. Now, it is true that the world speaks about love, but it is not the love that we are talking about here, it is not the biblical love that Paul presents to us.

The world says, “Love so that you get what you want. Show enough love to manipulate others so that they will go your way, do your thing, or so they will live to serve your pleasure. Love yourself more than you love other people.” Love has become a common word in our day, but Christian love, Christ’s love, has not become common. And so it is very easy to be confused. And since it’s easy to be confused, I am glad that the Bible is clear. I am glad that we have a source of truth to go to. I am glad that we don’t have to rely on other people’s ideas of love. But since there is a great deal of confusion we need to be careful. 

There is a sense in which we need to look at love in a fresh sense, and what I mean by that is we need to look at it in a purely biblical sense, love as God defines and describes it. So for some of us that means we need to forget some things. Forget our old, tainted definitions of love. Forget maybe what we have been taught by others concerning love. Commit to learning about and then thinking about love biblically. Commit to elevating this love as high as God does. So if God in His Word talks about love in a radical sense, then that is how we must think about it too, right? None of this, “Oh, that is how God sees it, good for Him, that is ideal, I know, but it’s not for me.” No, God shows us love, demonstrates love, teaches us in His Word about love, so that we can not only understand how He loves us but how we ought to love others.

But before He begins to define love for us specifically, God through Paul elevates love to an incredible standard. He spends time convincing us of the importance of love and then he begins to describe love. How important is love?

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Every time I read these verses I am blown away by the implications of them in life and in ministry. In the last few weeks I have read them dozens of times and every time I do I am left almost stunned. It forces me to evaluate all that I have done and all that I am doing and ask the question, “Is love a part of it?” Because if it is not, then am I just wasting my time?

We have looked already at verses 1 and 2, and we saw that we could be the most eloquent linguist, speaking the languages of both men and of angels, and we could have all power to know every mystery of God, we could know everything period and be able to articulate all of what we know so that all people could understand it. And we could have all faith so as to remove mountains, we could possess all of this, and if one thing is missing it would be irritating to the ear and just useless information. If love is not present we are wasting our time.

Do you think you have done good deeds? Did you do them in love? If you didn’t do them in love then you were perhaps wasting your time. In fact, those deeds may have harmed the gospel instead of helped. They may have harmed the name of Christ instead of glorified His name. This just seems crazy, doesn’t it? I mean. to think that we could have labored half or our lives, worked really hard in ministry, in service, in doing good, but if we did it with a bad attitude, or in selfishness, or simply by obligation, it is useless? That is what Paul is saying. Let’s not think that motives are not important, they are critically important, massively important, what motivates us to do good? To be effective, useful, God-honoring, it must be from a motive of love.

Paul continues in verse 3, as if verses 1 and 2 weren’t enough we have verse 3:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Paul makes two more points in verse 3 about the elevated importance of love before moving on to define love. His first point in verse 3 is basically this, in part: love saturated lives are more important than being super generous. It is more important that our lives be permeated, saturated in love, by real love, than it is that we give all we have to the poor. Verse 3 is about sacrifice, radical sacrifice, sacrifice that would captivate people who would know of it, would impress those watching but would be fruitless in the eyes of God. Giving all that we have to those in need of it is no substitute for Christian love.

Paul is saying, “Let’s suppose that I am the most willing giver on the planet ever. And starting today I make it my work to begin selling everything that I own.” Start with some smaller things. All my furniture, then stuff I bought, and the more sentimental things handed down to me. Even that fifth generation antique that came to Texas in a covered wagon. It’s not really worth much except for its sentimental value. Sell it all. Next is all the jewelry, including wedding rings, anniversary gifts, all of it. Musical instruments, those that I enjoy playing. All of my hobby assets. Fishing gear, boat, athletic equipment, whatever you have, tools, guns, arts and crafts materials, cameras video equipment. Next all that we have to entertain ourselves. TVs, sound equipment, computers, handheld devices. Next cars, RVs, tractors. What else? Real property, house, land, sold. There is more for some. Stocks, investments, 401K, that too must go. All is sold and you take all the cash and put it in a checking account, everything. And you begin writing checks to organizations who feed the poor until it is all gone. Let’s assume that we do what the rich young ruler was unwilling to do in Mark 10. Wouldn’t that be admirable?

The Greek word for give means to “dole out over time, to continue to give.” So this would mean that even as we continue to work and earn more, we continue to give in this way. This is the person he is describing. You may say, “That sounds crazy, not doable, no one can live that way.” Well, with some minor adjustments it is possible. In fact, I think this is what Paul actually did.

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul suffered the loss of all things. Whatever he had or even continued to have he considered it dispensable for the sake of knowing and living for Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 6 he tells the Corinthians that he was poor, often hungry, and had nothing. He describes his state as having nothing and yet possessing everything!

33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:33-35)

So Paul was a man who gave and continued to give. He was not one to live a life of comfort nor to amass a fortune in life. He, as he wrote this, believed that people ought to be generous givers to the poor. He is not downplaying the kindness of giving, for he was a radical giver. Paul would have approved of what Barnabas did in Acts 4:36, who sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to be distributed to those in need. Paul even raised funds for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul wanted people to give, “Give and give more,” I think he would say. “Count it all as loss. Don’t lay up your treasures here on earth, for if you do this earth will possess you, possess your heart. No, lay up treasures in heaven, give to those in need.” But in our passage this morning, Paul says we can do all of this, sell it all, give everything away, everything, and do that without love. We can do something as radical as giving everything away and yet be motivated by things other than love. Like wanting others to approve of us, wanting attention, to be thought well of, praise of man, a sense of legalistic duty, to try and earn God’s favor, to relieve a guilty conscience.

We can, any of us can be extremely over the top generous, and if we are and it is not motivated by love, it profits him nothing. The only kind of giving that pleases God is sacrificial, cheerful, and motivated by genuine love. When we put an offering in the basket, what is going through our minds? “This is my duty, this is my routine, this will appease God, I hope God uses this, because I know I could have used it”? When we give to the poor beggar on the street, what is behind it? What we think is spiritual and even sacrificial may in reality be an offense to God. I don’t know how to read this any other way. Speaking of possessions. All that we have has been given to us. We really need, I believe, to solidify that principle in our minds.

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:16-17)

What we own was given to us. What we have is a gift. Sometimes those gifts, what belongs now to us is given so that we may give it to others. It is all, or can be very transient, never permanent. And so we hold things loosely as things that we can easily give up, give away, that is the way for us. This world is passing away and all that is in it. Our citizenship is in heaven, it is not of this earth. Living in light of that, we hold things very loosely. We can do without things. We can let them go. But if we cannot let them go with joy, out of a love for Christ and a love for those in need, then we might as well keep what we have. Love is greater than generosity.

And then if giving all of our possessions away without love is not enough to make a strong point on the importance of love Paul goes on to say: “and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Love saturated lives are more important than it is for us to be willing to suffer and even die and be martyrs for the cause of Christ. Paul is saying, “Let’s assume that I don’t just talk about a willingness to die for Christ, but I actually do it.” Persecution and even death for Christians has been a reality in every generation all over our world. Things are not easy for Christians, especially so in certain time periods and places. Paul himself suffered greatly.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:25-28)

Paul is simply saying that it is possible to suffer greatly and even to die a martyr and for it all to be unprofitable, that is no profit to himself, to others, or to the cause of Christ. Muslims do this regularly, but for selfish reasons. You see for them, they believe that through martyrdom they can be assured of a place in paradise. In fact, they could live the most sinful life, selfish life, do whatever their passions lead them to do, and end life as a martyr, and for them they believe the scale would be tipped and paradise would be their destiny. Being a martyr can be purely selfish without love for anyone except of self. Listen to how Jerry Bridges illustrates this point. He says, “Write down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled a whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are zeros on the page. Without real love they count for nothing. But put this quality in front of them and they have value. And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number 1 does, more and more of real love in our lives can add exponentially greater value to our gifts.” God wants us to bear fruit in the lives of others. That is why He has given us gifts. But what will it take for that to occur? It takes love.

My hope has been that over the last three weeks that the Lord would do one thing through these messages. That is that He would instill in our hearts, by His Word, a deep conviction that all that we do in life, in ministry, in our interaction with each other and with others outside of this building, that all must be done in love if it is to count for anything and be pleasing to our Lord. The level of love we have been talking about is lofty and may seem unattainable. We may think that even more as we begin to define this love. One thing we need to carefully avoid is to begin beating ourselves up with a defeatist attitude of, “I haven’t lived this way and I can’t live this way.” This can lead to self-condemnation. Self-condemnation because we think this is our doing. Here is what we need to know: this love is a reciprocal love, it is a love that is in us, flows from us in response to something. It saturates us and is to flow from us in response to God’s love for us. We must first be overwhelmed by His love in our lives before we will ever love as He has called us to love. John wrote about this: “we love because He first loved us.” If we are doubtful about His enduring, perfect love for us we will not love as He has called us to love. One author speaks of His love in this way: “[it] warms the heart, and sweetly and powerfully influences our affections to delight in, and to walk in love with such an exceedingly gracious and merciful God.” Want to love more? Bask in, be overwhelmed by, understand, and delight in His unmatched love for you.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)