1 Cor. 13:1-3

Francis Schaffer was one of the greatest Christian apologists of the previous century. In his work, The Mark of a Christian, he asserts there is a distinctive mark that if we do not display, the world has a right to say we are not Christians. Jesus said it this way in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love was lacking in ancient Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11 Corinthians 4, Paul addressed divisions in the church. In 1 Corinthians 5, sexual perversion was being tolerated. In 1 Corinthians 6, the Corinthians were going to court against one another. In chapters 1 Corinthians 81 Corinthians 10, there were disagreements about personal freedom. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul confronted selfishness at the Lord’s Supper, and in chapters 1 Corinthians 121 Corinthians 14, there was pride regarding spiritual gifts. The mark of a Christian was lacking at Corinth. This overall context of 1 Corinthians makes Paul’s discussion about love all the more pertinent.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, we find a life that lacks love lacks everything. Verse 1 tells us even if one has the gift of speech and can rally people to a cause, but does not have love, then that person is no better than a monkey banging on a cymbal.

In verse 2, we find the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and faith are of no value apart from love. You may be a very wise person. Maybe you are the one friends come to for advice. You are the one people count on when making tough decisions. The Word of God says if you do not have love, then your wisdom is worthless.

What about benevolence? Are you someone inclined to give to the needs of others? Verse 3 says you could spend your entire life meeting the needs of others; but if you act out of self love and not a genuine love for God and others, then your service amounts to nothing.

When I was a teenager growing up in Dallas, the street I lived on began to crack and form massive potholes under the hot Texas sun. The city contracted an outside company to repave the street. The existing street had to be busted up and removed. For weeks, our lives were inconvenienced as we could not pull into our driveway and had to deal with the constant noise of construction and some days park at the end of the street and walk home.

Once the street was completed, the workers packed up and left. As far as we knew, we had a nice new street that would last for many years. Sadly, that was not the case.

I remember leaving home one morning less than a month after the new street had been paved and seeing cracks running down the middle of the street. During the next few days, the cracks grew and grew, becoming apparent to all there was a problem.

Upon investigation, it was discovered the company that had paved the street had not used enough rebar in the foundation and had watered down the concrete in order to cut cost and pocket additional profit. The company failed to include some of the most essential ingredients in paving a street; thus, we were left with a mess. It was a street that was worse than before. In other words, it was worthless.

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 may seem harsh at first glance, but that is because Paul understood the importance of love. Without love, the most important ingredient of the Christian life, everything else becomes worthless.

In verse 2, Paul used the Greek word outhen that when used literally can be translated as “zero.” In the case of 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul used this word figuratively to say that apart from love, we are worthless and our actions are counted as invalid. You see, a life that lacks love, lacks everything.

With love being such an essential part of the Christian life, we must understand there is no alternative to love. No other ingredient may be substituted in its place, and nothing can cover up a lack of love. When love is missing, it is painfully apparent.

I remember one night as we were preparing to eat a family dinner at home, I was making some guacamole and realized we were out of lemons. In my household, you don’t have real guacamole without lemon juice. So, what did I do? Did I squeeze an apple? No! Did I crush up some grapes? No! I ran to the grocery store for one thing…lemons.

Love is the essential ingredient to the Christian life. When it is missing, it is painfully apparent. A life that lacks love, lacks everything.

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