MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 6, 2005 FROM FIRST CORINTHIANS 13:6
This week, we move forward in our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as we continue in chapter 13. Paul here writes about agape, God-like love and the past two weeks we have been examining what he says love is NOT. In other words—he addresses some of the behaviors and attitudes the Corinthians were manifesting that were decidedly NOT loving. To not love is the most godless sin of omission possible. Both of the greatest commandments—that glorious summary of what every follower of Christ is to do in life--are all about love—“love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the summation of all Biblical, ethical teaching; so to fail in that area is to betray the very heart of what it is to live like a believer. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit lists several qualities that are NOT love.
Last week, we saw that love is not “irritable or resentful.” To be irritable we said—as the NIV translates it, is to be “easily angered.” Irritability is seen when a person is smiling one minute but when something pushes one of their buttons, they suddenly lose it—either erupting like a volcano—or brooding in silent rage. We saw that although the world frequently blames past hurts and abuses we have suffered for our outbursts of anger or short fuses, the Bible tells us the problem is with our hearts. Jesus in Mark 7:15 says, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him…[v.20-21]…what comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”
If we are prone to anger, the cause is not our past or the people who get under our skin; it is what is in our hearts. We cannot blame our anger on anyone other than ourselves. Our past hurts may more overtly manifest our native sinfulness—dramatically bringing out the sin that is in us, but no one or no thing can MAKE us more evil than we already are. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If you kick someone in the shins, you are not placing new anger in their hearts, but you can stir up the anger already there. The bottom line for Paul here is--anger influences our hearts when love does not. The reason we become angry in an unrighteous way is because our hearts are absent love. If love were there, unrighteous anger would not be manifest because “love is not irritable” or easily angered
Second, we saw that love is, “not resentful.” Love does not keep score—it doesn’t maintain a private file listing all the things a person or people have done to you so you can justify your rage towards them. That’s the idea behind the word translated “resentful.” Agape, God-like love does what God does so often when He has been sinned against—it forgives. Paul says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The ground of our forgiveness is the fact that we have been forgiven. If we do not show this God-like love and forgive, we saw from Second Corinthians 10 that we open a door to Satan in our life. A heart of resentment and unforgiveness is an engraved invitation for Satan to come into your life and shape the entire course of your life. Love is not resentful.
This week, we move to the last area Paul lists that is opposed or contrary to love. He says in verse six, “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Before we can get an accurate picture of what Paul means here, we must do a little thinking about the key terms he uses here. What does he mean by, or how is he using the words “rejoice” and “truth” and “wrongdoing?” The word “rejoice” simply means to “make glad.” To rejoice is to outwardly express the gladness or joy that is in your heart. In the New Testament we are commanded to rejoice a few times, but most of the time to “rejoice” means to outwardly respond to something that has happened.
On one occasion, Jesus’ disciples were thrilled they were casting out demons in his name. He tells them in Luke 10:20, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." The disciples were rejoicing in response to something but Jesus says here that they were rejoicing in response to the wrong thing. He tells them to rejoice in response to something much better. Later on in this letter, Paul rejoices in response to something. In 16:17 he says, “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence,” Paul rejoices because something good has happened—these three men have come to him. We repeatedly see this understanding of “rejoice”—to make glad or express joy in response to something that has happened.
Another key word here is “truth.” What does he mean by that? Jonathan Edwards, in his message on this text, rightly says that in the Bible truth is used three ways. Truth can refer to doctrine that is Biblically accurate. This is Paul’s favorite use of the word and we see it in places like Ephesians 1:13. Speaking of Christ he says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” The Ephesians had heard the most important doctrinal truth—the truth of the gospel. This word can also mean that which is faithful or veracious. A person who says something corresponding to reality is telling the truth. Paul in Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Tell the truth—that’s Paul’s meaning.
Finally, truth in the Bible can mean virtue or holiness. We see this in places like Romans 2:8 where Paul, speaking of unrepentant sinners says, “but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Here, truth and unrighteousness are contrasted and the word translated here as “unrighteousness” is the same word translated “wrongdoing” in our text for this morning. They are pictured as two opposing spiritual poles. At one end is truth; while at the other is unrighteousness or wrongdoing. You can either obey truth—be holy and virtuous in Christ or you can obey/submit to wrongdoing/unrighteousness—that which is evil. All three of these meanings for “truth” are in some way included in Paul’s usage but the third more general understanding of truth as holiness or spiritual virtue is probably the main idea here. We could define Paul’s use of the words “truth” and “wrongdoing” by saying that “truth”—as Paul uses it here in verse six is that which is conformed to, or reflects Christ while “wrongdoing” is that which is opposed to Christ. Paul is speaking in very broad terms here. These two terms encompass a very wide area. When you consider these three key words together verse six is saying, “Love does not respond with joy or gladness to what is opposed to Christ, but responds with joy or gladness to what conforms to, or reflects Christ.”
That means by implication—if your heart is filled with agape—if agape is the predominant influence in your heart, then you will NOT respond with gladness to what is opposed to Christ and His word. If your heart is filled with love, you WILL respond with joy to everything that conforms to Christ or reflects Him. Paul implies the way we respond to either Christ-honoring things or people, or wicked things or people is determined by whether agape is influencing us. If your heart is filled with love and something happens that conforms to or reflect Christ—you will rejoice—you will outwardly express the loving joy in your heart. But if there is unrighteousness or wrongdoing—that which is opposed to Christ occurring and your heart is filled with love—you will certainly NOT respond with gladness. The massive implication is--how we respond to either good or evil is determined by whether or not love is influencing our hearts.
Now that we have a more precise understanding of what Paul is saying, let’s apply what he says about what love is NOT and what love IS as it relates to rejoicing. First, let’s apply to our lives the truth, “love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.” Let’s think about just a few areas where, if love controls our hearts, we should not be rejoicing. First, love does not rejoice when something bad happens to those who oppose us. This is related to last week’s truth about love not being resentful. It’s so easy for us to rejoice when those who have opposed us or hurt us or beat us out for something take a fall. Can you this morning think of some person or some organization that has misused you in some way? If something bad were to happen to them would your response be, “serve’s ‘em right!” Or maybe, “I’m not going to waste any of my tears on them.”
Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be
glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased and turn away his anger from Him.” This is a remarkable truth. First, there is the prohibition to NOT rejoice or let your heart be gladdened by the fall of your enemy. Second, the reason for this prohibition is because this displeases God and third, God will at times actually rescue the person or persons from their calamity if you are delighting in it. That is astonishing! There may be several reasons for God’s suspension of judgment, but one is certainly that God will not allow Himself to be seen in our eyes or the eyes of others as our personal divine “hit man.” He does not judge or discipline people who have wronged us for the purpose of settling OUR score with them. He judges them because they have violated HIS holy character and He will not be seen as our personal Agent of vengeance. Proverbs implies--if we see Him that way, he may actually suspend his judgment of the person that has wronged you.
Proverbs 17:5 takes it one step further. It says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” God not only will not allow himself to be seen as our servant for vengeance sake, he actually says that if you are glad at the calamity of another—YOU will not go unpunished. This is a complete turning of the tables. The person who has been hurt or victimized in some way will actually receive punishment—in addition to, or perhaps—instead of the one who initially perpetrated the offense if they are rejoicing over their offender’s calamity. When you are hurt or wronged by someone, don’t yield to the temptation to cheer when your enemy is circling the drain. Instead, cry out for God’s mercy on them as Christ did on the cross for his assailants. If we are inclined to rejoice at the wrongdoing perpetrated upon your enemies or even the judgment of God on them, know that the fundamental problem is this: where God-like love for them should be—we are instead harboring resentment.
A second area where love would never rejoice at wrongdoing is negatively exemplified in people with a critical spirit. Love does not rejoice in finding real or imagined fault in others. There are people in the church who rejoice—whose hearts are made glad by discovering the wrongdoings of others because they yearn to criticize them. Now, we all have sins and we must be willing to be lovingly corrected by one another. This is not that. These people are GLAD when something is wrong with another person or organization because they delight in being critical of the sins and failures of others. This is the critical spirit. This is what Jesus is speaking of in Matthew chapter seven. He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
These are people who ultimately take delight in slamming people and they may be deceived into thinking they have a “discerning spirit” or some sort of “prophetic anointing.” In truth, they are just judgmental and rejoice in finding fault in others. They use an electron microscope to magnify the sins of others and Jesus says they will discover to their dismay that God uses the same instrument to measure their sins. They are speck inspectors—who have far more interest in discovering what is wrong with other people than what is right with them. They may ACT as if they are grieved by sin or affect some sort of phony “righteous indignation,” but really they are just Pharisees—people who like finding fault in others so that they can be seen as righteous and so they can studiously avoid their own sin by focusing on the sins of others. Paul says in Romans 14:10, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;” Paul implies that at the heart of this critical spirit is the perverted desire to be God because judgment is God’s job, not ours. A heart filled with love desires mercy, not condemnation for the sins of others.
A third way love would never respond with gladness at wrongdoing is in the area of gossip.
Love does not rejoice
in gossip. Though only a few believers would admit
they struggle with gossip, most will gladly listen to it and even seek it out at times.
Here’s a test. You are walking down the hall toward the
Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” The gossip loves to feast on the bad news of others or slanderously spread their own banquet of raunchy opinions about other people. To use Paul’s phrase, they “rejoice in wrongdoing.” Proverbs 20:19 tells us how we are to respond to a gossip. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” Those who regularly practice gossip should be shunned as “simple babblers.” How sobering and even tragic for a person created in the image of Almighty God to be referred to as a “simple babbler,” yet the Bible says that is precisely what gossip reduces a person to. If you regularly engage in gossip, Paul says that among other things, it shows that what is guiding your heart is not love for others, but a perverse hunger for filth. Those who gossip rejoice in the “delicious morsels” of other people’s sin and misfortune rather than in the truth.
said, Paul not only tells us that “love does not rejoice in wrongdoing…” but finishes the verse with “but
rejoices with the truth.” Because this verse has two halves,
it’s not sufficient for us to only say, “I do not respond with joy
when that is not appropriate.” Love is not simply seen
in the absence of improper rejoicing. Love is also manifest when
we actively rejoice with the truth. If we want to know if our hearts
are filled with God-like love we must also ask ourselves the question, “Do
I rejoice over things that conform to Christ or in some way reflect Him?” Paul says—that is the other
side of this rejoicing coin—the positive, proactive side. We mustn’t miss the fact that Paul says love REJOICES. That means that
if our hearts are filled with agape, we will be a rejoicing people. There
will be genuine gladness in our hearts that will make its way out to our countenances and over our lips.
The typical Baptist (especially in our rather subdued
Let’s briefly treat three things that according to Scripture should cause us to rejoice if we are filled with God-like love. Do I rejoice over the salvation of sinners? When you hear someone has been soundly converted to Christ, do you rejoice over that glorious news that magnifies the grace and mercy of God? Jesus says in Luke 15:10, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." If the angels of God—who have themselves never experienced grace rejoice over even one sinner who repents—how much more should we, who can relate to the horrors of living as a lost, rebel sinner before a holy God, rejoice when we hear that news. In the parable of the lost sheep Jesus likens God to a man who has lost one sheep out of a hundred. In Matthew 18:13 he says, “And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.” God rejoices over the salvation of sinners—His LOVE compels him to do that and if we have God-like love we will as well. If our hearts are not filled with joy at the news of a sinner who repents, Paul says it’s because our hearts are not loving. Perhaps the reason there is so real evangelism in the church today is because we are not gladdened by the salvation of sinners. One would think we would be more excited about reaching the lost if the salvation of sinners caused us to rejoice.
do I rejoice at a testimony
of God’s work in someone’s life? Testimony
times in church should be filled with rejoicing because what reflects or brings honor to Christ is being shared
and love rejoices in that. In his concluding remarks to the believers at
If our hearts are filled with love, we won’t turn the good reports from others to be about us—we won’t try to one-up them or throw a pity party because we “could never be as good as they are.” Here’s what love does—it REJOICES! “Praise the Lord—Bless God! God is at work in you—that makes my agape-filled heart rejoice.” John, the “apostle of love” shows us the pattern. In Third John verse three he says, “For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.” John didn’t have to ask anyone how best to respond when he heard of God’s grace in these people’s lives. He rejoiced greatly. The old saying goes—“You can tell a lot about a person by what makes them glad and what makes them sad.” There is truth in that because what makes us glad communicates volumes about whether our hearts are filled with love or self.
Third, do I rejoice in the Lord? If love rejoices in the truth and God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all the Truth—doesn’t it follow that agape would compel me to rejoice in the Lord? John the Baptist was asked by his disciples for his response to the growing popularity of Jesus in the face of his own diminishing influence. He illustrates from a wedding to describe his reaction. He says of Jesus in John 3:29, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. John says in effect, “I’m rejoicing because as a friend of the bridegroom, I get to be around Him. I rejoice in HIM. Whatever makes Him happy gives me joy.” That’s what is important. Several times Paul calls us to rejoice in the Lord. In Philippians 3:1 he says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Later in 4:4 he gives us a double command, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
have agape, God-like love in our hearts that rejoices in the truth, we will rejoice in the Lord.
Do we express joy in the Person of Jesus? Do we regularly
have gladness in our hearts because Jesus is Lord and He loves us and gave himself for us at
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