A lesson in love.
The late Baptist preacher Vance Havner one said, “The problem with the church today is that there are too many baptized pagans in the world.” This is because of cheap grace, which we discussed in the first installment in this series.
In some parts of the world (as in the Roman Empire of the early church), being baptized could mean that one was in dire danger of losing one’s life. By receiving the Word of the Gospel, one could be put to death, or if not killed, persecuted. Of all the bishops who met at the Council of Nicea, almost all had been maimed or tortured under the persecution of Domitian. Some had had eyes gouged out. Others, ham string muscles severed. And others yet had lost limbs.
What, then, is the sign that evangelism has brought about a genuine conversion? That sign is love, love for God and love for neighbor. Love is the one true sign of a genuine Christian conversion.
Paul describes genuine Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13. In Corinth, factions were fracturing the church. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul encourages everyone the believers to be of the same mind in correcting the distortions of the faith that were the cause of faction.
Paul addresses the following problems tearing this church apart and instructs them in how they are to be of “the same mind and the same judgment” in correcting them:
- The “wise” in Corinth needed to learn that the cross of Jesus humbles and the knowledge of what the cross signifies is the beginning of true wisdom—1:18-3:9;
- Sexual immorality within the church should be dealt with immediately, not ignored—5:1-13; 6:12-20;
- Lawsuits should be settled within the church, not in the secular courts—6:1-9;
- Marriage is an honorable institution, but if one can remain celibate and unmarried, this, too, is honorable—7:1-39;
- Knowingly eating food dedicated to idols is absolutely forbidden—8:1-13;
- The stronger Christian should not exercise his or her freedom to the detriment of the weaker Christian—8:4-13; 10:23-33
- Idolatry of any kind must be avoided, especially that which involves syncretism—10:1-33;
- The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated in a worthy manner, which was not happening in Corinth—11:17-34;
- Spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, should be exercised with agapē love, not with the result that the gift one has been given makes one feel superior to others—chapters 12-14;
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our own resurrection is the authenticating act of our gospel—chapter 15
Although 1 Corinthians 13 stands alone well and is often read during wedding ceremonies and sometimes even during funerals, in its context of the epistle, 1 Corinthians 13 reveals to us that true Christ-like love means we die to our own supposed rights to be right, and we live rightly under Jesus’ humble example of true agapē love (Philippians 2:1-13). We are to take up our cross moment-by-moment and live in the power of the resurrection. This is the only true way our Christian freedom is to be expressed. Love must put its limits on our freedom. 1 Corinthians 13 is thus a portrait of true agapē love.