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.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 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. 12 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.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Many of you have thought about new year’s resolutions for 2012. I know I have and my family has. I really like going into a new year. I take it as a new start. I think of it in the context of Philippians 3.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Paul is talking about sanctification, Christlikeness. He is not saying we should forget about God’s past faithfulness, but that in living, what we have is ahead of us and what is ahead is what we have to deal with. Past failures can be left in the past, but as for the future, let’s press on in Christ Jesus toward the goal of living for Him.
As we consider new resolutions for this year, I think we might want to consider 1 Corinthians 13. That is, how do we show the love of Christ to others more in 2012, more than we did in 2011? Maybe that 2012 can be a year of selfless living. That we can be so focused on Christ, His love, His provision for us, His comforting hand of peace and grace in our lives, that we can be free to live for the good of our neighbor. We can only live for the good of our neighbor if we are fully satisfied that our needs will be fully met in Christ. So we don’t have to scramble, to fight, to use up all our energy caring for ourselves, getting what we want, trying to conform the world to our ideas and preferences. We no longer have to labor to make people like us, to go after our own longings for acceptance, for popularity, for a significant place in someone’s life. No, if we are satisfied, content as a son of God, as a joint heir with Christ, if our identity and emotions are wrapped up in Christ, then knowing we have everything we need, we can focus on the needs of others. Why? Because we already have it all! We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3.
So if we believe that we are fully loved by God, by Christ, then we are free to fully love others. In fact, I would say that not only are we free to love others, but we will love others because the fullness of God’s love in us will spill over in the way we love other people. We have been so loved that we will love.
This morning we move into verse five of our study through 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul gives us a sixth aspect of love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5a)
Love is not rude. It is important that if we are going to love as God has prescribed that we have some understanding of what this word translated “rude” means. The Greek word is found in many places in the New Testament and is translated in various ways. Sometimes it is translated with the word “unbecoming” or “indecent.” John MacArthur says, “the principle here has to do with poor manners, with acting rudely. It does not care enough for those around it to act becomingly or politely. It cares nothing for their feelings or sensitivities. The loveless person is careless, overbearing and often crude.”
So in general Paul is telling us that real love is a person who will not be inconsiderate, crude, rude, or discourteous toward others. That it will avoid embarrassing others or putting them to shame, will avoid treating people in inappropriate ways, but will treat others with dignity.
Just like with arrogance, we can find examples of rudeness right here in this book of 1 Corinthians. Do you recall how Paul had to address their behavior regarding the taking of the Lord’s table and their conduct in worship? With the Lord’s table in chapter eleven we can read that “each one takes his own supper first, and one is hungry and another is drunk.” And in worship it was like everyone wanted to talk at once and try to out do each other, being the most dramatic and prominent. This is self-centered and rude behavior. Paul says love, true love, is not rude. The Christians at Corinth needed this teaching, and I’m sure we can all benefit from it as well.
There are some general principles in the Bible that can help us with this, can help us to understand how to not act rudely in the ways we relate or interact with other people.
32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33)
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1-2)
These are two fascinating passages. And they do, I think, relate to this idea of love and and this aspect of love that says if we love we will not be rude. Paul is saying that he will not offend the Jew or the Greek or the church. And even goes a step further to say that he tries to please them and everyone in everything he does. And in Romans again, “Let us please our neighbor for his good.”
Now certainly, we know from Paul’s life example and his writings that he never chose to compromise on truth in order to please people. He was never weak on truth and he would not encourage us to be weak on truth. But I think what Paul is saying here is more about how we present truth rather than the content of the message we present. He is talking about the importance of wisdom as we relate to people, not about pleasing people with a compromised message. He is saying what it says in Proverbs 15:2 – “the tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable.”
We could take these passages our of context and say that Paul was a people-pleaser or to use a popular term that he was co-dependent. We usually use phrases like people-pleaser or co-dependency to describe those who have an idolatrous desire to please people in order to have others think well of them or to get something that they want. Paul was not this way. Paul understood that his completeness and sufficiency was grounded in Christ alone and not in other people. He was complete in Christ as he states in Colossians 2:10. His desire then to please people was not wrapped up in what he could gain, but in looking out for the good of other people. He states his motive for pleasing people in 1 Corinthians 10:32, which was that others may be saved, and in Romans 15:2 that others may be built up. His desire to please others was for their benefit.
So he is saying, “I am concerned about pleasing others, and I am living and speaking and relating to them, avoiding rudeness and seeking to refrain from doing anything that would unnecessarily offend others. I live this way not for my own benefit, but because I truly want to bring great benefit to them, with the greatest of all benefits being that they repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the human realm as I relate to you I have a choice. I can please you, or I can please me. If I choose to please myself then in all probability I am acting rudely, as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, toward you. I am not looking our for your good but for my own. Even in Romans 12:17 we read, “do what is honorable in the sight of all men.” Or Proverbs 3:3-4 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” John Calvin comments on Romans 12:17 saying, “What is meant is that we ought diligently to labor, in order that all may be edified by our honest dealings…that they may, in a word, perceive the good and sweet odor of our life, by which they may be allured to the love of God.”
Unless it violates the Scripture, we should do what others consider right behavior. That is what real love does. Paul is saying, telling us to adapt ourselves to them and that whenever we can, without abandoning the truth, we should refrain from doing or saying anything that offends people. For the sake of Christ and for the sake of winning the lost or edifying other believers, show them love that does not seem rude.
This can be tricky, difficult. If we are going to do this we must know some things about those we are around. What do they think is rude or offensive? We have to know how others live and think and so on.
In Colossians 4:5-6 Paul says, “Conduct yourself wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Paul is saying, “Make sure you behave wisely toward unbelievers so that you may have an opportunity to be Christ in their lives.” He is encouraging wise behavior around people who are much different than we are! How do we do that if we really don’t know them?
What is rude to one set people is not to others. What is rude in our culture may not be rude in some other culture. General wise behavior, business dealings, conversation, even dress, use of time, these things are not standard across all people groups.
What does this look like in real life? Let me tell you about a man named Hudson Taylor. I think we see in example in his life of a love that follows the admonition of 1 Corinthians 13 that love is not rude. We see how he made great effort not to offend a people of a different culture than his own in order that he might win some to Christ.
Hudson Taylor loved Christ and he loved people. Taylor went to China as a missionary. He soon came to the conclusion that if he was going to reach the Chinese for Christ, he should, as much as he could, become Chinese. That meant several things for him. At a minimum he needed to learn their language. But it also meant as much as possible that he would live the way they lived. He determined that he would not oppose their customs unless a particular custom clearly violated God’s Word. To oppose their customs would, he thought, appear rude or as unbecoming behavior to the Chinese, putting up an unnecessary road block to the Gospel. Taylor wanted to please those to whom he ministered.
So what did he do? He gave up his native, British style of clothing and began to wear Chinese dress. He adopted the hair style of Chinese men and encouraged his missionary friends to do the same. He began using chopsticks. His life style changed dramatically, adopting the customs and courtesies of the Chinese. His wife even began walking a few steps behind him in public instead of arm in arm as they had been accustomed to doing.
For all of this Taylor was criticized by other missionaries from Great Britain. But he was convinced that loving people meant they should not unnecessarily violate the customs of the people and thus be offensive to them unless it violated God’s Word.
This is good stuff! This is challenging. What about how we live even here? Do we do things that may seem rude to unbelievers in our very own culture? Do we try to do things that will please non-Christians, gain their trust in order that we might be a significant witness to them?
Here are a few passages that can help guide our thinking as we relate to other people…
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24)
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood (1 Peter 2:17)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Give preference to one another in honor. (Romans 12:10)
Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others. (Philippians 2:4)
John MacArthur has written, “Love is much more than being gracious and considerate, but it is never less. To the extent that our living is ungracious and inconsiderate it is also unloving and unchristian. Self-righteous rudeness by Christians can turn people away from Christ before they have a chance to hear the Gospel…the messenger can become a barrier to the message. If people do not see the gentleness of Christ, they are less likely to see Him in the gospel we preach.”
Do we want to have a more powerful witness for Christ? Then perhaps we need to think about our manner of life, our customs, our methods of interacting with people, our preferences, and ask, “Am I thinking of others, or am I just holding to what I want, what I like? And is that coming across as rude, as a hindrance to the Gospel?” Or we could ask, “Would other people describe me as a courteous and considerate person?” What about your spouse or someone close to you? Would he or she describe you this way? Is that what your children would say of you, or is that what your parents would say of you?
I pray that God would help you and me, us as a church body, to be those who truly look out for the interests of others, and that He will keep us from rudeness, even reveal to us where we have been unknowingly so.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5a)