SESSION 18 — “To a Church in Crisis, With Love,” a Bible study of 1 & 2 Corinthians

Text: 1Corinthians 13 

In the first twelve chapters, Paul, who loves the church with God’s own love, has reprimanded, beseeched and instructed the troubled church in Corinth. All of what he has written, and all that they have said and done, reflects their infancy in Christ. They have not comprehended that Christianity is not about outward works or who is the greatest, but an inward work in their hearts. 

In Chapter 12, Paul stressed that the gifts are from the Holy Spirit, their ministries are from Jesus Christ, and their power is from God. And all that the Spirit gives them is for the common good. He has addressed their lack of unity and one-upmanship. 

Now, Paul teaches them the more excellent way —  a superabounding, much, much better, abundantly better, beyond measure means of walking as a Christian.

If I were to give this a title, it would be, “Compelled By God’s Divine Love.” 

I’d give it that title because nearly the entire church and almost all of its commentators miss the entire point of 1Corinthians 13, applying human love in their interpretation.  In no way does Paul intend us to define love by way of human emotion and moral sensibility, as the commentators suggest!

Here’s the truth of the matter — in order to be the church, our hearts must be filled to overflowing with God’s actual love — the same love the Father has for the Son!  Then, and only then, can we walk in this more excellent way, this way that is  superabounding, abundantly and immeasurably better! 

And it is a lovely, joyful, powerful walk. What kind of power? The power of God’s divine love, in human hearts! That is the wellspring for all of the gifts of the Spirit, beloved! Hallelujah! Is it just for some? No! Jesus Christ commands all of His followers to be filled with the Spirit and the divine love of God!

2Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us (compels us, takes us prisoner — I love this!), having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

The problem in Corinth is lack of unity, which reflects (once again) that they are infants in Christ. They are not yet filled with the Spirit, and therefore, they are not yet filled with God’s actual love. And His divine love is the means by which everything works as He requires it to work, in the church. When you are taken captive by His divine love, all ministry is then done in the power of His love and His Spirit!

Paul will spend a good portion of 1Corinthians 14 exhorting the believers at Corinth not to be children in their thinking (Verse 20 of that chapter). Why? Because they are still infants in Christ, as are many in today’s church. 

But the Holy Spirit purifies your heart, crucifies your sin nature, and fills you with God’s divine love! Then you are no longer children, but Christ’s witnesses here, compelled by and captives of that love! That is what Paul is teaching us all, in this chapter!

So, let’s get to it!

Verse 1 —

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noising gong or a clanging cymbal. Why?

So, if you are not filled with God’s divine love, yet you speak in the tongues of men (a foreign language they do not know) or of angels (a heavenly language), you make a lot of noise, but it benefits no one. It cannot, because you have not been  taken captive by, and thus compelled by, God’s divine love until the Holy Spirit has filled your heart with it!

“If I speak . . . but do not have love.” Paul repeats this phrase three times in the first three verses. The church lacks something. There is something they need that they do not have. My leader in another denomination told me I should never tell Christians they need something they don’t have. We don’t want them to feel bad about themselves. They have had a hard week. Just preach something nice. May it never be that I would follow that particular exhortation! 

Paul is not referring to natural, human love. Even pagans have that kind of love. But Paul is referring to having the divine love that God pours out WITHIN us —

Romans 5:5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

It is the love OF God, not love FOR God. It is to have within you the same love the Father has for the Son! How do we possess this love within us? It is poured out to overflowing, spilling out to everyone around us, when we have been filled with His Spirit!  Oh my! It is a whole new kind of love — selfless, outward-focused, self-giving —  that you do not possess when you are born.

It is Jesus’ prayer answered —

John 17:25   “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

I pray you understand! It is the same love with which the Father loves the Son. And it fills those who are filled with the Holy Spirit! 

And when Jesus prays about giving us His “glory” which the Father has given  Him, He is speaking of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. He is asking His Father in advance of Pentecost, so that at Pentecost, it will be made so —

John 17:22The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

Beloved, either you have experienced your own personal Pentecost and have His love, or you do not have His love because you have not yet been filled. I speak these words to show you that your own natural, human love will never do. It fails every time, despite your own estimation that your intentions are good. But Paul will show you that if you have been taken captive by and thus compelled by God’s divine love in your heart, His love in you will NEVER fail!

Believers in today’s church have tried to love each other with human love, and the landscape is strewn with those they wound with their words and their actions. Many have been driven away from local churches because the members are not taken captive by God’s divine love, and compelled by it.

But the Lord is ready, here and now, to fill you with His Spirit and His love, just as Jesus commands you! That is the very good news of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ!

Verse 2 — 

Again, you may have the gift of prophecy, you may know all mysteries and all knowledge, and even have faith to move mountains. But if you do not have love, you are nothing. You are not anything at all, in God’s eyes!

Again, your motive cannot be right, because you have not been filled with God’s actual love. So you have not been taken captive by, and thus are not compelled by it.

Many study for years and obtain many degrees so they can analyze and dissect the Word of God. They have plenty of man’s knowledge of the Word of God. But because they don’t know and are not filled with the Author, they twist it. Or they abnegate and disallow the truths that are in the Word. They do these things because they are not filled with God’s love. They are not its captives, and thus, they are not compelled by it!

Even if you have faith to move mountains, your mountain-moving is useless. You must be filled with God’s Spirit and His love, so that you are taken captive by it, and compelled by it! Otherwise, your motive will not be right, and what you do will not be for the common good of the Body of Christ. 

In today’s church, those who are not filled with God’s love, taken captive by it and compelled by it, will go after well educated men with seminary degrees. But in many cases, these men have no degree of experiential knowledge of the Lord, and are not filled with His love. It isn’t about “head knowledge,” but about being filled with God’s Spirit and God’s love, taken captive by it, and thus, compelled by it!

Verse 3 —

If God’s divine love has not filled your heart, then giving all your possessions to feed the poor, or surrendering your body to flames in place of another, profits you nothing. It is noble. It is an act of human philanthropy, human compassion, human love. Even pagans do such things. 

Apart from being filled with and taken captive by and thus compelled by God’s actual love, these sacrificial acts have no eternal value in the kingdom of God. Do they have eternal value if you are humble and do these things in secret? No. Unless you are filled with God’s actual love, taken captive by it and compelled by it, they will profit you nothing, when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 

Why? Aren’t these good deeds? Don’t poor people get fed? Haven’t I taken the flames so someone else is spared? How brave I have been! Yes, but those you have helped or those for whom you died have not received from you the very thing they need more than anything else — the gospel of Jesus Christ! 

Only through believing into Christ can they be forgiven for past sins, and be given a new heart full of His Spirit and His actual love! Only then do they gain freedom from slavery to sin. Only through Christ will they receive eternal life rather than eternal death. If God’s actual love in your heart has made you its captive, and you thus are compelled by it, you will surely tell the world this great gospel!

Verses 4-7 — 

So how do you know whether God’s actual love has filled your heart? Being filled with God’s Holy Spirit and His love is an indescribably powerful, moment-in-time experience! Then, you exhibit God’s fruit, not the human variety —

— You are patient. You are glad to suffer long, in spite of troubles caused by others, for the sake of Christ. It is His patience in you.

— You are kind (gracious). You are full of the grace of God — that is, His divine work in your heart which is reflected in your life — when you are filled with His Spirit!

— You are not jealous (envious). There is no one-upmanship in you, there is no desire to wield power over others in the church, no desire for prestige, and you do not envy anyone. All of that was taken away, when your sin nature was crucified and you were filled with the Spirit.

— You do not brag. You do not boast about yourself, but always boast in Christ, and what He has done in your heart!

— You are not arrogant, which is to inflate yourself so that you seem bigger than those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. 

— You do not act unbecomingly. You adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ, by your words and actions. 

— You do not seek your own. You do not seek to have your rights honored and met. Your  heart was cleansed of that, when you surrendered to the Lord and asked Him to fill you with His Spirit. You gave up your rights to yourself. 

— You are not provoked. You do not quickly become exasperated and speak sharp words against those inside or outside the church. 

— You do not take into account a wrong suffered. You do not keep a tally. You forgive, because when you are filled with His Spirit, you are filled with His love and His forgiveness. You desire no retribution. Like Christ, you pray for those who spitefully use you (Matthew 5:44). You bless your enemies and do not curse them (Luke 6:28).

  — You do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoice in the truth. You do not take pleasure in what is done by the world. You are in the world, but not of it (John 17:14). The things done by those who are in the world is not pleasing to you, any more than such things are pleasing to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who fully indwell you. 

Instead, the truth, the very truth of God and the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gives you great joy, and you cannot stop speaking of what you have seen and heard Acts 4:20)!

— You bear all things (for the sake of Christ), you believe all things (all the promises of God). You hope all things, which means you are confident in the Lord and expecting that His promises will be fulfilled, just according to His Word. And you endure all things — even persecution, imprisonment, and death for the sake of the gospel.

Verse 8 —

Human love will fail and fall. Something will happen to make you stop loving. 

But God’s actual love in your heart will never fail. Never! If His Spirit has filled you and His divine love is in you, nothing will shake you, and you will have the right motive in all things! His love in your heart will be the motive, compelling you because you have become its captive! 

Prophecies will fail; they will no longer be needed, one day. Tongues will no longer be needed. And knowledge (gnosis, first knowledge) will pass away. It will no longer be needed. Note that these are things that the believers at Corinth have become fixated upon.

Why? The end times will have come, everything will have been revealed, and a new heaven and new earth will have been created by the Lord! There will be no need to prophesy, and all believers will speak one language!

Verses 9-10 —

Now we know in part and we prophesy in part, but THEN, the perfect (the completion, the complete fulfillment of the plan for us to intimately know God the Father and God the Son) will have come. We will know Him perfectly, completely. So we will no longer need the gifts that give us only a partial understanding.

Verse 11 — 

Paul speaks to the infants in Christ at Corinth as children, and uses a metaphor to show them that they must seek to be filled so they become mature.

Children speak like children. Children think like children, and reason like children. They are children!

But beloved, when you are filled with the Spirit in a moment of time, just as Paul was in the house on Straight Street in Damascus, you no longer will speak or think or reason like an infant in Christ. You become mature in a moment of time.  When you are filled, you put away childish speech, thoughts, and reasoning. 

Yes, the Lord will continue to form His character in you, throughout your life (2Corinthians 3:18). But you will know Him intimately, and it will be a joy to continue to learn from Him! And you will no longer willfully disobey Him. In all things, His love will be the compelling force, for you have become captive to His love! Praise God!

Verse 12 — 

Do you  understand that now we see in a mirror dimly? Even those who are filled with the Spirit do not see absolutely everything of God! 

We see through a glass darkly, says the KJV. It isn’t that God hides anything, but it is just that we do not have the capacity to see it all. 

But then, when we stand before Him, we will be face-to-face with Him, and we will fully know, in a way that only a face-to-face meeting in the kingdom of heaven can provide.  We will know Him to the ultimate degree, in a way that no human, even one filled with the Spirit, can know Him. We will know Him as fully as He already knows us!

Verse 13 —

Three things remain — faith, hope and love. We must have faith to believe into Christ. That faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We must have faith to believe that He will fill us with His Spirit if we stay and wait. We have the expectation that His promise of the Spirit will be fulfilled.

But the greater — the exceedingly great, large and high, of these three — is to have God’s actual love fill your heart. That is the exceedingly greater! That is what the church at Corinth and today’s church must seek! That will cure all of her ills! That will set her on the path of righteousness! Then she will be compelled by no other motive but God’s love, to which she will be a captive forever! Then she will be Christ’s witnesses here! Amen, Lord Jesus! So be it!