You Need Love!
Series: Love Is
Since love is the epicenter of a gospel culture growing strong, today we begin our fall sermon series in 1 Corinthians 13, which the Apostle Paul wrote to teach a church how to love one another. Let’s begin our journey by reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: 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. The big idea of these verses is both simple and significant: You Need Love! I wonder: what do you feel like you really need these days? Paul’s aim in these opening verses is to convince you that what you really need right here and right now is love. To help us see that we need love, we’re going to explore two things. You need love even if (1) You have great gifts, (2) You do great things.
Jonathan Edwards – Charity and It’s Fruits
Phil Ryken – Loving as Jesus Loves
Ray Ortlund – The Gospel
David Garland – Baker commentary on 1 Corinthians
Thistleton – New International Greek Commentary on 1 Corinthians
STRENGTHENING A GOSPEL-CULTURE
Today marks the beginning of a new ministry year for Citylight Church. As such, I want to begin our time together by considering a question: What is God doing in Citylight in this season? Citylight Church exists to make disciples of Jesus to the glory of God in every season. But how can we join the Lord in what he’s doing in Citylight in this season so that we can grow in making disciples of Jesus to the glory of God. What is God doing in Citylight in this season and where are we heading? As the Citylight pastors and staff have prayed this question, we have repeatedly sensed that the Lord is providing Citylight with a gracious opportunity to return to the basics and strengthen the very foundation of our church. Therefore, this year Citylight Manayunk’s particular focus will be: strengthening our gospel culture.
What is a gospel culture? A gospel culture is a church that makes the truth of the gospel visible through our life together. A gospel culture growing strong is a church that prioritizes both doctrinal depth and relational warmth so that the world can see in us the difference that Jesus really makes. Perhaps another way to think about it is that a gospel culture is a church where we both deeply experience the deep truth of God’s love for us in Christ and bend that love out toward one another that the world can see us and know that we belong to Jesus. A gospel culture connects the doctrine of the gospel to the lived experience of the church; orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Ray Ortlund says that gospel culture has three ingredients: Gospel doctrine + safety + time = gospel culture. This year, we want more…
• Exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other;
• Of the safety of non-accusing sympathy so that we can admit our problems honestly; an
• More time to rethink our lives at a deep level, because we are complex and changing is not easy.
Why strengthening our gospel culture?
Citylight Church’s story is one of growth. From 2011 to January 2020, we grew from eleven people meeting in an apartment to 800 people gathering in three congregations. Through COVID-19, the Lord is providing Citylight Manayunk with an opportunity to shift from keeping up with rapid growth to strengthening our foundation so that Citylight can grow and multiply healthier in the coming decade than we would have if the pandemic never happened. In this season, in my opinion, churches have two options. Churches can either clamor and crusade to get back to life as usual or they can play the long game. Strengthening Our Gospel Culture is your pastors choosing to play the long game so that out the other side of the pandemic, our foundation is deeper, stronger, and better to build on as we move closer to our second decade as a church.
How do we strengthen our gospel culture?
1. Re-gathering: Establish in-person gatherings in the suburbs & in Philadelphia
2. Citygroups: Citygroups become safer spaces for gospel community and mission – mini-gospel-cultures (tell them about the book)
3. Christian Formation: Start Christian Formation Track designed for Covenant Members
4. Culture Project: Warm up and simplify at least one structure of the church (“back to basics”) Tell them about membership
Now, let’s be humbly self-aware; We don’t build or strengthen a gospel culture. Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “We are not building God’s kingdom. He is building his kingdom, and we are praying for the privilege of being involved.” How can we be involved? What can we all pursue as we strengthen our gospel culture? In a word: Love! Love is the epicenter of a gospel culture. God’s lavish love comes down upon us in the gospel of Christ and love is what we bend outward toward one another to show a skeptical world the difference Jesus really makes. “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.”(John Piper). Since love is the epicenter of a gospel culture growing strong, today we begin our fall sermon series in 1 Corinthians 13, which the Apostle Paul wrote to teach a church how to love one another. Let’s begin our journey by reading 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: 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. The big idea of these verses is both simple and significant: You Need Love! I wonder: what do you feel like you really need these days? Paul’s aim in these opening verses is to convince you that what you really need right here and right now is love. To help us see that we need love, we’re going to explore two things. You need love even if (1) You have great gifts, (2) You do great things. You need love…
EVEN IF…YOU HAVE GREAT GIFTS
Paul begins 1 Corinthians 13 by mentioning several great gifts of the Spirit that we should earnestly desire. In verse one, he begins with the gift of tongues. The gift of tongues can refer to the miraculous ability to speak a human language like Mandarin even though I’ve never studied Mandarin, or it can refer to the miraculous ability to pray in a heavenly language that only God knows, especially when I don’t know what to pray. Some of the members in the church at Corinth received this miraculous spiritual gift, but they didn’t have love. They flaunted their superior gifting, exercised it without anyone to interpret, the speaker was spotlighted, but no one was built up. The extraordinary gift of tongues, without love, is meaningless noise.
Paul then moves from tongues to higher gifts. Verse 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. Prophecy is a human report of a divine revelation, which always submits to and is weighed by Scripture and is communicated to build up the church. Understanding and knowledge refer to the privileges of being especially empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak with godly wisdom or knowledge into a variety of situations on the basis of Scripture (different than prophecy). Faith refers not to saving faith by which every believer first trusts in Christ for salvation but to the extraordinary gift that some believers have to trust God for what seems to be impossible, especially in the work of his church and the growth of his kingdom. These gifts are God’s gifts and, yet, notice what Paul says. I can have all of them, but have not love, and I am nothing. It’s so interesting that Paul concludes verse 2 by saying “I am nothing.” That’s an identity statement. In the absence of love, the Corinthians built their identities on their gifts. They looked to their gifts to make them somebody, but since they didn’t have love, Paul says, they’re a bunch of nobodies.
Two sets of questions: First, how has God gifted you? What has God made you good at? What do you know a lot about? Next question: Do you really believe that you can have great gifts, but have not love, and you’re nothing? There are some simple ways to tell if you have gifts, but not love. First, if criticism in the area in which you are gifted makes you defensive or discouraged, then you probably have gifts without love. Your gift is about you, so criticism is devastating. Another way to tell that you have gifts without love is that you feel threatened by others with similar gifts like a co-worker or you are desperate for affirmation by those who have your same gifts but are a bit further along. Your gifts are for serving you. A final sign that you have gifts without love is that you try to use your gifts to set others straight or take them down a rung. Here is the problem: Paul says that you can have all of these gifts, but if you build your identity on them instead of using them in the service of God and others, if you don’t have love, then you have no identity at all. The irony is that when I build my identity on my gifts, rather than through love serving God and others with my gifts, I am actually nobody, just noisy. Do you see that? If so, then you’re beginning to develop the conviction that you need love and that’s Paul’s sole aim in 1 Cor. 13:1-3. You need love even if you have great gifts. At this point, most of us are still tempted to short-circuit love. We think, “well then surely what matters is that I actually do something loving with my gifts, right? Not quite, because the next thing we’re going to see is that you need love…
EVEN IF…YOU DO GREAT THINGS
1 Corinthians 13:3: If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. It’s not enough to simply stop using your great gifts to serve yourself and build your identity and start using them to serve others. That’s not the answer because Paul says that we can serve others in the most sacrificial of ways without actually loving them, and it gains us nothing. We can do great things on behalf of others without actually loving them and that profits no one. Does that surprise you? It surprises me. What is love if it’s not doing great things for others? It’s common in Christian circles to say that love is an action, not a feeling, but according to 1 Corinthians 13:3, that’s not quite right. We can do loving actions without love and it gains nothing. So, what is love? We’ll explore that question more in the coming weeks, but for now we can at least say this: Love cannot be reduced to actions, nor can it be reduced to a feeling: It is more of a disposition or an attitude, a state of being even, that is fundamentally outward and other-centered. Love is when others are actually dear to you. It’s when you are for them, when your desire is their good. And yes, it is possible, perhaps even common, for you to give away all that you have and suffer greatly, to even engage in great acts of charity, with an ultimate aim that is not the good of another.
Again, two sets of question: First, who are you serving? Who are you delivering up your time, talent, and treasure for at home, work, or in our church? What critical causes or issues are you championing these days? What ministries or discipleship relationships are you giving yourself to? Next question: Do you really believe that you can do genuinely great things for others without them being dear to you and gain nothing from it? There are a few tell-tale signs that you are doing great things for others without them actually being dear to you, without loving them. The first is that you long for your great acts of service to be seen and acknowledged by others. This is a sign that you’re doing great things not because the other is dear to you, but because you’re dear to you. Social media has only increased the temptation to prize looking righteous over being righteous. Another sign is that when your great acts of love aren’t reciprocated, received with thanksgiving, or there seems to be an imbalance between how much you and the other give, you become despondent and angry. It’s a sign that you’re dear to you, not them. And here is the problem: if they’re not dear to you, you won’t be able to keep up the activity for long without becoming deeply bitter and toxic. You’ll gain nothing. Do you see it now? Do you believe that you can have more gifts than anybody, more knowledge than anybody, and give more to a cause than anybody, and still be nobody if you don’t have love? Do you believe that having great gifts and doing great things without love is like a boat with no oars? Citylight, to strengthen a gospel culture, you need love. We need God’s glory and the good of others to become dear to us. You need love! That’s why Paul’s closing application at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 is: 1 Corinthians 14:1: Pursue love… How do we pursue love? The answer brings us back to the epicenter of gospel culture. We pursue love by receiving again and again, with the empty hands of faith, the matchless love of God for us! you pursue love by experiencing the truth that God loves you. 1 John 4:10-11, 19 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… 19 We love because he first loved us. Citylight, we love because we’re loved. We pursue love by being loved. God shows his love for us in that when we were still sinner, Christ died for us. To experience the truth of God’s love for you, set your gaze daily on the cross. At the cross the holiness and grace of God meet. God is infinitely holy. Our sins deserve infinite and eternal wrath. But God so loved the world that He gave his sinless Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation means removal of wrath. God gave His Son and poured out his holy wrath upon Him at the cross so that we sinners might be forgiven and adopted as God’s children by grace through faith though we have no righteous works. You’re so dear to God that he poured out his wrath on his Son so that you could be forgiven and his forever. Don’t let a day go by when you don’t preach the love of God into your heart, read it in his word, praise Him for it, and fellowship around it with other Christians. You need love and God has met your need. He’s poured out his love into your heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given. Sit under the fountain of his love every day and let his love gush over you to others. You need love. God is love. Come to Him!