Robert Jeffress - What The Church Needs Now
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. 1 Corinthians 13 contains some of the most well-known Bible verses on love, yet many Christians have allowed the poetic beauty of this passage to obscure its true meaning. Today I'm going to show you how Paul's famous discourse on love ought to create harmony in the church. My message is titled "What The Church Needs Now" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
A number of years ago, the north American mission board invited me to come to anchorage, Alaska to lead a week-long revival. It was a great experience. A number of people were saved, but the host church decided that while I was there, they wanted to give me a true Alaskan experience, and so they arranged for me one afternoon to go dogsledding. I don't know if you've ever been dogsledding before, but if you have, it's an experience you will never forget. And they took me out in the middle of the wilderness. The guy who owned the dogsled team gave me a few instructions. I emphasize, a few instructions. I later discovered not nearly enough, and then he turned over the reins of the dogs to me, eight dogs harnessed together, and off I went into the wilderness.
Now, this was not a 30-minute dogsled ride. This was a three-hour dogsled ride. You know, later, as I thought about it, I don't know if they were trying to show me a good time or that church wanted to make sure they never had to hear from me again. It was the middle of the week, but whatever the motivation, off I went, and I'll have to admit to you, the first 30 minutes were pretty rough, but after a while I started to kind of get the hang of it and actually started to enjoy the experience. And as I was going out through the Alaskan wilderness, I started to think, you know, this is a very good analogy, this team of dogs, of what the church is supposed to be like. I mean, you've got your lead dog. He's the one up front. He kind of sees where everything is, and he's leading the team, but he can't do it alone. He's harnessed together with seven other dogs who are important to the operation as well.
Now, as long as everybody's going the same direction, it works out fine. It's an enjoyable experience. But every now and then, one of the dogs in the back got tired of being in the back, decided he wanted to go a different direction, the rest of the team went the opposite direction, and I ended up in the ditch more than one time. It only worked when everyone was going in the same direction. Now, what a perfect analogy for the church. The fact is, we all can't be the lead dog, but every member of the body is vitally important to the smooth running of the body of Christ. And that's what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. When you have one member of the body going one direction, one member going the other, you have problems. And that was what was happening in the Corinthian church.
Turn, if you will, first of all, to 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Now, remember in Paul's day in Corinth, they didn't have dogsledding, so Paul has to use another metaphor to describe how the church is going to operate, and it's the metaphor of the human body. Paul explains that the human body is one organism, but it has many different parts to it, and all the parts of the body are vitally important to the proper function of the body. You have the visible parts of the body, you know, the head, the arms, and the legs, but Paul argues, remember that many times it's the invisible parts of the body that are the most important of the operation of the body.
Think of the liver, or the kidneys. You can't see those parts, not with the naked eye, but would anybody argue they're not important? All the parts of the body are important for its proper functioning, and in verse 27 of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says, "For you are Christ's body, and you are individually members of it". Now look at how he concludes his chapter in verses 28 to 30. "And God has appointed in the church, first, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? They're not all prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All don't interpret, do they"? And then in verse, 31 he says, "But earnestly desire the greater gifts, and I will show you still a more excellent way".
You see, the problem with the Corinthian Christians was this. Some who had the upfront gifts, the out-front gifts, they were kind of the lead dogs, so to speak. They thought they didn't need the rest of the body that had the inferior gifts, or what they thought were inferior gifts, and so they were out doing their own thing. And then the people who had the lesser gifts, or at least the less visible ministries, they began to think they weren't important, so they moved away from the body of Christ. They went a different direction, and the result was friction, division in the Corinthian church. What's the answer to conflict in a church, in a family, in friendships? Paul gives us that answer, that more excellent way beginning in chapter 13, verse one.
Let me give you a suggested outline of 1 Corinthians 13. In verses one to three, Paul talks about the excellence of love, and then in verses four through seven, he talks about the characteristics of love, and then finally, in verses eight through 13, the endurance of love. We're just going to look tonight very briefly at the excellence of love. Now, remember from our study of Corinthians that the church at Corinth was in many ways like our church. It was an influential church, it was an orthodox church, it was a growing church in an influential city, and yet, in one way it was not like our church. In the church at Corinth, there was no love.
You know, somebody stopped me today, a visitor, and said, "We have never been in a church like this before. This is the most loving, friendly church we have ever visited". That wasn't true of the church in Corinth. You know, quite frankly, it's easier to have a growing church, it's easier to have an orthodox church than it is to have a loving church, and yet love is key, Paul says. Let me remind you that love is not a spiritual gift. It is a command, and the reason God commands us as Christians to make love preeminent over everything else in our individual lives and in the church is because Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:27, "You are Christ's body, and you are individually members of it".
The local church, listen to this, is the visible representation of Jesus Christ. We are the body, we are the physical manifestation of Jesus. Jesus cannot be seen in the world today. People say, "Well, you ought to concentrate, not on the church, but on Jesus". Well, too bad, Jesus has left the building. He's in heaven right now. Nobody can see Jesus in the world today. The only way the world sees Jesus is by looking his body, the church. We are the visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that's why Jesus cares so much about the local church and how we conduct our business. We are his representatives. Dorothy Sayers says, "In the greatest humiliation of all, God has entrusted his reputation to human beings like you and me". He's entrusted it to the church of Jesus Christ.
Remember in John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this all men will know you are my disciples". By your orthodoxy? Your doctrinal purity? Your knowledge of scripture? He says, "By this all men will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another". Love is the way we keep the body of Christ functioning like it should function, as a good representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. What the world thinks of Jesus Christ is largely shaped by how the world thinks of the church, and that's why this chapter is so critical for all of us.
Now let's start by looking at a definition of love. We're going to be talking about love in these first three verses. Let's understand what we mean when we talk about love. The kind of love that's being talked about here is that giving love, that's more interested in what it can give than what it can receive. It's the kind of love that God demonstrated for us in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he," what? "That he gave". This is the kind of love, a self-sacrificing love that Paul is describing here. Now let's look at the preeminence of love that Paul describes beginning in verse one. He talks about the preeminence of love. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal".
Notice Paul says, first of all, love is superior to eloquent speech. He says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels". The word tongues here, glossa, means a language. It doesn't mean a secret language, it means an actual language. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels". It's the same word that's used in Acts 2 in relation to Pentecost, and in chapter 14 when Paul talks about the gift of tongues. Now, some are mistaken when they say, "Oh, Paul talks about the tongues of angels. There must be this secret, heavenly speech that angels engage in, and that perhaps if we learn the secret, we can speak in this language of the angels".
There's never such any suggestion here at all. He's speaking in hyperbole. He said, "If I speak eloquently, even if I could speak as the angels speak, but my speech is not tempered, seasoned with love, it is absolutely worthless". In fact, he says, underline this in your Bible, "It is just a noisy gong or a clanging symbol". Paul didn't use those words by accident. He had a purpose in using those words, and the Corinthians understood it.
Remember in the city of Corinth, on the Acrocorinth, the hill, there was a temple to Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, and her worship was accompanied by 1,000 temple prostitutes and they would come down from the Acrocorinth, and they would solicit Corinthians to come up and involve themselves in this pagan sexual act of worship, and part of the worship, pagan worship of Aphrodite including the sounding of the gongs and the clashing of cymbals and engaging in getting yourself worked up into what was called ecstasy, and starting to speak this ecstatic gibberish that nobody could understand. That was part of the worship there, and Paul's going to relate that to some of the conflict that was going on over the gift of tongues in chapter 14.
But notice what he's saying here. He says that if you speak eloquently, but it's not motivated by love, your speech is just as meaningless, as empty as that gibberish that you used to speak when you were involved in heathen worship. That's what he's saying here. Love is superior to eloquent speech. Secondly, it is superior, love is superior to spiritual gifts. Look at verse two. "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".
Paul had spent a great deal of time talking about spiritual gifts in chapter 12. He talked about the gift of prophecy. He said that was the lead gift. In fact, Paul himself had the gift of prophecy, I believe. Prophecy was not foretelling the future, it was forth-telling the truth of God's word. That's the gift of prophecy. But he said, "Even if I have the gift of prophecy, but it's not motivated by love, my spiritual gift is worthless". You know, people are engaged in ministries, whether it's paid ministry or volunteer ministry in the church. People involve themselves in ministry for all kind of different motivations. Some do it for recognition, some do it for power, some do it to alleviate guilt they feel, but any ministry that's not motivated by a genuine love for other people is worthless, Paul says.
Thirdly, he says, love is superior to self-sacrifice. Look at verse three. Just as you can minister to others for all the wrong reasons, you can sacrifice for all the wrong reasons. Verse three. "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor". The rabbis in Paul's day said you were to give no more than 20% to help feed the poor. Paul said, "I'll up you one. What if I give everything for the poor? If I don't do it for the right reason out of genuine love, it's worthless".
I remember in one of my churches we had William Murray, the son of atheist Madeline Murray O'Hare come and address our church, and he told about a time that he was working with his mom in the American atheist association, and they were just getting Hammered in the press, and he suggested to his mom, "Maybe we ought to make a big charitable donation to a hospital to help our image". She wasn't real keen on that idea, but a lot of people give money for that reason. They sacrifice in order to be well known by others and thought well of by others. Paul said that is worthless. He said, "Even if you surrender your body to the flames," martyrdom, "For the wrong reason, it's worthless".
Probably Paul had in mind here the famous Indian tomb in the city of Athens that commemorated the death of an Indian who set himself on fire in order to attain immortality. The quality of love is superior in importance to ministry and to sacrifice. Now, Paul has talked about the superiority of love. Now he's going to talk about the characteristics of love. How do I know if I am really, truly loving other people as God commanded me? Ck barrett and other commentators notice that in this next section, when Paul is talking about love, he doesn't use adjectives. That's how the English translation comes out. Love is this, love is this, love is this, adjectives. But actually in the Greek text, these are verbs.
You see, love isn't something that is static. Love is something you do. It's active, not passive. So notice these characteristics of love. We're going to look at two of them tonight. First of all, he says that love is patient. Love is patient. That word patient, makrothumeo, is a word that means long-tempered. Now, we use the word patient all the time. We think for example, you know, if we sit at a red light that hasn't turned green for a couple of minutes without blowing our stack, that's patience, you know? Or the washing machine breaks down and there's a load of wet clothes in it, and we don't kick the dog, you know? Well, that's patience. But it's interesting, when you look this word up in the Greek dictionary, the word is used 10 times in the Greek New Testament, makrothumeo. Nine of those 10 times, patience is used to refer to people, not circumstances.
See this word, makrothumeo, to be patient, means not so much how you deal with trying circumstances, but how you deal with the trying people who are in your life. Anybody have trying people in your life right now? Don't point. It's not polite in church, okay? But we've all got those, don't we? People who just irritate us. How we deal with those people determines if we are truly loving. True love is patient. A good synonym for that is love is long-fused. You know people who have a short fuse? Doesn't take much to set 'em off. One thing goes wrong, boy, they blow up. Paul said genuine love is makrothumeo. It is long-tempered. Of course, God demonstrates patience toward us.
You know, if God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be alive right now. None of us would be alive. The fact that we are walking around this evening is demonstration of God's patience. In 2 Peter 3, verse nine, Peter said, he explains why the Lord has not returned yet. He said, "The Lord's not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but he is," what? "Patient toward you, not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance".
Aren't you glad God doesn't have a short fuse? Aren't you glad that God is long-tempered? The Bible says if we are his followers, we exhibit that same patience toward other people. Secondly, love is kind. It's kind. That word translated kind means to do something useful for those who harm you. You see, to be patient means to endure mistreatment from others. That's one thing, to endure mistreatment, but patience goes the next step. It actually does something good for those who wrong us, to those who offend us, to those who hurt us. It means to do something practical, to give people what they need rather than what they deserve.
We looked this morning at Titus chapter three, verses four to six. Here is a great word that describes what kindness is. "But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not on the basis of deeds which were done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior".
The kindness of our God. God didn't give us what we deserved. If he had given us what we deserved, he would have destroyed us and we would spent eternity in hell. But instead, the kindness of God our Savior meant that God gave us not what we deserve, but what we needed. We needed a Savior, and that's why God sent a Savior. It was an amount of great self-sacrifice for him, but he was filled with kindness toward us, wanting to do something useful for us. The Bible says the test of whether or not we truly belong to Christ is our love that we have for one another.
John 13:35. "By this all men will know you're my disciples, by your love for one another". Now, are you patient toward other people? Are you kind toward other people, giving them what they really need, not what they deserve? You know how you can test your love for other people? There are really two places that the authenticity of our love is demonstrated. The first test tube is in the home. How we treat family members is a great indication of whether or not we truly understand what it means to love. Husbands, wives, children, parents, how do you treat those in your home? Do you blow up at them constantly, or you're always trying to get from them? Or when those family members hurt you, wrong you, betray you, do you give them what they need, rather than what they deserve?
The first test tube of our love for other people is the home, and the second test tube is the church itself. How we treat other people in the church is a great indication of whether or not we really know what it means to love. Let's face it, it's not easy to get along with everybody in the church, is it? I mean, back to the dogsled analogy for a moment. It is not easy to be harnessed together with other Christians, because unless you're the lead dog, neither the view nor the smell is very good.
It's the same way in the church. It's always not easy being bound together with other believers, but agape love, self-sacrificing love means giving people what they need rather than they deserve. In the church, you're going to be be mistreated by people, you're going to be wronged by other people, you're just going to be irritated with other people in the church, but true love, the Christ-honoring kind of love, is a love that looks out for the needs of others rather than our own needs.
I came across two great statements about love this week. One came from Anne Lamont. She says, "You can safely assume that you created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the very same people you hate". The other comment from Dorothy Day was, and this is the one that really stood out to me, "I only love God as much as I love those I love the least. I only love God as much as I love those I love the least". Isn't that what the apostle John said in 1 John 4:7 and 8? "Beloved, love one another, for love is from God. For everyone who loves God is born of God, and knows God, but the one who does not love does not know God, for God is love".