Love – No Fear
by Greg Albrecht
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.—1 Corinthians 13:4-8
1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter many have come to know as the “love chapter” of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 13 is arranged in three separate sections, two of which we will briefly examine:
The first section, in verses 1-3, is about love as being indispensable. If you’ve ever been to college, you’ll know that there are courses for which there are prerequisites. If a class has a prerequisite, you can’t take that class unless you have already taken another, more basic, fundamental class.
In this first section of 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is saying that love is the fundamental definition of a Christian. Love, for Christians, is a basic requirement—an absolute necessity, a core essential for our relationship with God and for our relationship, as Christians, with mankind at large.
Martin Luther once gave a sermon about this chapter in which he contended that verses 1-3 of 1 Corinthians 13 are intended as what we would call today a reality check.
Of course Martin Luther didn’t use the term “reality check”—he simply said that these first few verses serve to silence and humble haughty Christians, particularly teachers and preachers who become impressed with themselves.
In the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, God inspired Paul to explain that God has given human beings many differing gifts. But the gift of God’s love is the prerequisite for any other gift of God. Unless we have God’s love chances are we will abuse our other God-given gifts and talents, and wind up seeking our own honor and our own advantage.
The original audience to whom Paul wrote was, of course, the church in Corinth. This church was filled with individuals who had many talents and gifts, people who spoke in different languages, people who were gifted speakers and teachers, people who volunteered their time, sacrificially, to serve others. In today’s vernacular, Paul said something like this, “You know what? If you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothing! Everything else you might have or do is nullified because you don’t have the prerequisite, the core essential, the absolute foundation for a relationship with God.”
As he begins to write this powerful chapter, Paul says that any other gifts we have are nothing unless we allow God’s love to flow in and through our lives.
Thus these powerful words:
And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.—1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Whereas the first section, vs. 1-3, talks about the necessity of love, this second section, in vs. 4-8, talks about the nature and character, the attributes and qualities of love.
Love is an ambiguous word in our culture. It can mean so many things. We might even say that the word has been hijacked and redefined by our modern culture.
Beyond the meanings our culture attaches to the word “love” we must also deal with the reality that the English language has only one word to cover a wide range of meaning.
Valentine’s Day is a day which can encourage us to express our love by sending cards, flowers and candy. From a biblical perspective, Valentine’s Day is neither essential nor necessary, nor is it evil or wrong.
Of course, for many, the meaning behind the kind of “love” associated with Valentine’s Day is self-centered. That fact makes our point about how this word “love” is used within our culture.
We can say,
“I love my dog.”
“I love Italian food.”
“I love my football or baseball team.”
“I love my wife.”
“I love to watch the sunset.”
“I love how my boyfriend or girlfriend makes me feel.”
“I love to read.”
“I love my parents and I love my children.”
“I love to fish.”
What Paul does in our keynote passage is to help us understand what he means by God’s love. God’s love is, as we find out, the love that only God can give. This perfect love, whose attributes and qualities are described for us in vs. 4-8, is a love that can love even the unlovable. The chief model for this kind of love that Paul is describing, the most sublime, rare and precious love of all, is God himself.
God showed us his love, his perfect love, by sending us his Son. We know, by that act of love, that he loves us.
Where would you go if you wanted to find this kind of love being expressed? Where would you look for a model of this kind of love?
Would you walk down the street until you came to a building that had a sign outside that announced itself to be a church, or for that matter, some other kind of religion—some non-Christian religion? Would you expect to find more love practiced in such a setting than any other place on earth?
For contrast, let me suggest substituting what some believe is the highest form of connectivity with God, the most supreme way to contact and please God, the absolute essential activity in which we must engage if God is to love us, for the word “love” in our keynote passage. Let’s see how this works as I substitute the word “religion” and “church” for the word love in this passage:
Religion—my church is patient.
Religion—my church is kind.
Institutionalized religion does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Religion (and all of its performances, prescriptions, potions and procedures) is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered.
Legalistic, authoritarian, controlling religion keeps no record of wrongs.
Religion does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Religion always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Religion never fails.
That doesn’t work, does it? What’s the problem with substituting religion for God’s love? The problem is that toxic religion is based on shame and honor. Institutionalized religion is based on shame and honor which in turn produces fear.
We Christians in the western world can see this so well, with such perfect clarity of vision and understanding, when we examine Islam. From a western, Christian perspective, we can see the problem with Islam, can’t we?
Islam is based on shame and honor. Within Islam, when someone brings shame to Allah, or to a country, or a city, or a family, then honor must be defended. Honor has been offended, and recompense must be sought.
We have heard of honor killings, when Islamic men determine that a woman is involved in a relationship with a man that it outside of Islamic law and tradition. The woman is said to have brought shame, and as a result revenge must be taken so that Islamic honor is restored.
What we western Christians often don’t see with such clarity of vision is that much of organized Christianity, as we know it, is popularly understood and administered on similar principles. Many branches of Christendom believe that God’s honor was wounded by Adam and Eve’s sin, and that God had to find an appropriate way to punish them so that his honor could be restored.
Many in Christendom are fond of talking about God’s wrath in this respect. God, according to popular interpretations and beliefs within Christendom, had to find a way for humans to repay him once humans messed up the perfection he had created within the Garden of Eden. But, of course, humans are not capable of repaying God, so God had to send his Son, who, in becoming a human himself, could repay God and restore his honor.
So the Cross of Christ, for many within Christendom, is really about religion, not about God’s love, because religion that calls itself Christian insists that the Cross of Christ is more about Jesus absorbing God’s wrath, so that humans could be saved from God’s wrath than it is about God’s love.
No matter what name or title religion may use, no matter what container it may be packaged in, it’s all about stuff we have to do to get back into God’s good graces. Call it Islam, call it Hinduism, call it Judaism, call it Christianity; it’s religion if it’s all about God’s honor being offended and us having to scramble to find a way to keep him from torturing and roasting us on a spit for all eternity in hell.
That’s religion, that’s far from the gospel of Jesus Christ! Why? It’s religion because it’s grounded on something other than the love of God, which is the essential, the prerequisite, the absolute fundamental necessity for authentic Christianity.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says that God’s perfect love is kind, not proud, and it is not easily angered. Our passage says that God’s perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, but religiosity, Christ-less religion attempts to control you and me by fear, with the grim prospect of a hellish barbeque where our goose will be cooked for all eternity so that God’s honor can be restored and his wrath appeased.
Friends, I have to tell you that there’s something terribly wrong with the picture that so many attempt to paint about the nature of the relationship we have with God.
The perspective of God taught by much of Christendom is terribly wrong because it disregards the basic foundation, the core essential of God’s perfect love—a love that is not produced by doctrinal creeds or ritualistic performances—a perfect love that is only generated and given by God’s grace.
God is love. These attributes of his nature, described in our keynote passage, vs. 4-8 of 1 Corinthians 13, are not humanly derived or produced. These qualities can only come from God, by his grace.
You see, living in love and living in and with God are one and the same thing. You cannot love God and fail to have these divine attributes as a part of your life, however insignificant and even seemingly invisible they may be right now. If you absolutely, without reservation, love God and accept Jesus Christ, and surrender all of your religious ideas about how to please and appease God, then these elements and attributes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 will be in your life.
How do I know that? God’s love is completely devoid of fear. That’s what we read in 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.
Christ-less religion, no matter whose skirts it hides behind, whether it flies a flag with a cross on it and uses the name Jesus or not, is all about shame and honor. Christ-less religion convinces human beings that God is upset because we have shamed him and that somehow, some way his honor must be restored. Within the legalistic religions that operate in Christendom, God’s honor is said to be absorbed, repaid and restored by the Cross of Christ.
Within Christendom there are many who say that this is what the Cross of Christ was all about—Christ mollifying God, making sure that God’s wrath was appeased, so that we might be saved. Saved from what? Well, if you believe legalistic religion and its teachings, you will be saved from eternal torture in hell, which would, presumably, be the price God would demand to have his honor restored.
You see how twisted and perverted this message is? It presents a God of wrath and redefines what happened on the Cross, even though the New Testament continually tells us that, as 1 John 4:9 says;
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
There is absolutely nothing about shame and honor and fear in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to hear about shame and honor and fear you have to start listening to grace-less religion. God’s perfect love drives out fear, and fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18). God’s love is not based on fear. Christ-less religion is based on fear.
The god that most people fear, the god who can’t wait to punish and torture you in an eternal hell is not the God of the Bible. That god is the god of religion. How can I say such an audacious and bold thing? I say so on the authority of our loving God and most specifically, I say so based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 which carefully defines God’s perfect love, which is his very nature.
God’s perfect love is not just any kind of love. God’s perfect love is not the kind of love that most people think of when they hear the word “love”—not romantic love, not the love of infatuation, not the I’ll-love-you-as-long-as-you-are-loveable-and-make-me-happy kind of love.
God’s love is a love without limits. God’s love is a completely selfless kind of love modeled for us in Jesus’ earthly life. God’s love is generated and produced in only one way and by one Source—God. God’s love is unconditional, in-spite-of, not because-of love. God’s perfect love is a love that loves the unlovable.
So, let’s re-ask the question I asked earlier, “where are you going to go to find God’s perfect love, whose attributes are explained in our passage today?”
First and foremost, above all, if you wish to find God’s perfect love, you are going to go to Jesus.
There are earthly destinations, earthly institutions, earthly relationships, in which we may, or may not, find God’s love at work. God’s perfect love can be found in some churches, and will not be found in others.
It may be found in your next door neighbor, or a good friend, or in your husband or wife or son or daughter—or it may not. There is no fool-proof, guaranteed human destination or relationship where you can find God’s perfect love in action. But, there is one destination, one spiritual relationship where you can go and never, ever be let down. Jesus is the Son of God who demonstrated his love to you and me, dying for us on the Cross, not to save us from God’s wrath, but to give us life in him.
Earlier we substituted the word “religion” for love in our passage (vs. 4-8 of 1 Corinthians 13) and that exercise didn’t work out too well, did it? Let’s substitute another word for love in this passage, and you will see that it is the only perfect equivalent for God’s perfect love, and you will see that it supplies us with an answer to our desire to connect with God. This divine Person holds the key to our relationship with God, both now and forever.
Jesus is patient.
Jesus is kind.
Jesus does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.
Jesus is not self-seeking and he is not easily angered.
Jesus keeps no record of wrongs.
Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Jesus always protects, always hopes, always perseveres.
Jesus never fails.