Saturday, January 21, 2006

Paul, the Purpose Driven Apostle

The Purpose Driven Apostle
Dr Alex Tang

Who is Paul, the Purpose Driven Apostle?
Paul was born in Tarsus in southeast Asia Minor. He was born Saul. The exact dates of his birth was uncertain, probably between 6 BC and A.D.10, probably on A.D.5 (based on the terms ‘young man’ Acts 7:58 and ‘old man’ Phm 9. He was born in an observant Jewish family belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5); his parents gave him a Jewish name- the name of the most illustrious member of the tribe of Benjamin in the history of Israel, King Saul.

Tarsus is a Roman city with Greek culture. For Paul to become a Roman citizen, his father must have some influence. The Romans do not give away their citizenship easily. How Roman citizenship come into the family, we do not know. One archaeological scholar suggested that a firm of tentmakers could have proved very useful to the Roman army in these parts and received the citizenship for the services rendered.

Tarsus is also a university city surpassing Athens and Alexandria. Is Paul a Jewish Theologian or Greek Philosopher? Paul must have learned to speak and read Greek when he was a child. His Greek was too fluent, too eloquent (though he made occasional grammatical mistakes) to convince that he picked up the language after he became a Christian. This meant that he was exposed to the Greek philosophy and has knowledge of their culture, philosophies and worldview.

Paul is trained to in Greco-Roman rhetoric. To understand Paul, we have to understand rhetoric. The purpose of rhetoric is to persuade. Education in the ancient world was primarily rhetoric- how to recognise the way in which someone is trying to persuade you (i.e. how to listen wisely) and how to form a speech in order to persuade someone else (i.e. how to read and write effectively). We learn early on in our cultures the ploys of the advertising industry, for example, how to read television commercials. Unfortunately, we tend to read Paul as two years old watches a television commercial.

Paul was also educated under Rabban Gamaliel I in Jerusalem. Gamaliel was the first to receive the title Rabban and was regarded as the greatest teacher of the Law. This has no doubt given him an excellent knowledge of the Scripture and of the oral Torah which supplemented, interpreted, and applied the written Torah of the Old Testament. Tradition has it that when he heard about the Christians in Tarsus; he hurried back to Jerusalem. This implied that he has completed his training and was back home in Tarsus. Aside form being a tentmaker, he may be a Rabbi of the local synagogue. Like his father before him (Acts 23:6), Paul was with the Pharisees (Phil.3:5), which he calls “the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:5).

1. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion for God.
a. Paul was brought up in the Jewish Pharisee tradition to love God.
“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers”Gal.1:14 (NIV)
Being a Pharisee has very bad connotation for us nowadays. That’s because of the frequent criticism of the legalism of the Pharisees. But the Pharisee has a well developed systemic theology of Yahweh. Their action is often in obedience to what has been revealed in the Torah. And this is based on love for God. Sometimes, when we have so much passion for someone, we then to go to extremes. To give your girlfriend a dozen red roses is acceptable but 9,999 as reported in the Star newspaper? Paul’s zealousness comes from a love of God.

b. Paul was very zealous in preserving the purity of his religion.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)
The reason why Paul hurried to Jerusalem when he heard about the followers of Jesus or ‘the way’ is that of his zealousness for God. He was in Tarsus. But he rushed back to Jerusalem. Why? Because he considers this ‘sect’ of Jesus followers to be a threat to his belief in God. Paul believed that unless he acts, the claims of Jesus’ followers will be a threat to Judaism. He is very passionate about his God.

Have you seen older brothers or sisters being protective of their younger brothers or sisters? Or of friends or family members being protective of your reputation. I once was speaking to the parents of one of my patients. The child was brought in at about 2 pm. It was 4pm and the fever has not settled. The father was frustrated and was angry that my treatment did not make his child well. Suddenly, to my surprise, the parents of my patient in the next bed rose to my defence. They scolded that father, “What do you expect about 2 hours? Doctor is a good doctor”. I did not expect that.

c. Paul found the fulfilment of his religion in Jesus Christ.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” Phil 3:8-11 (NIV)

Paul was not a convert. He is already a believer of God and the Messiah. Paul’s Damascus experience was a reorientation of his worldview 180 degrees! He found that Jesus is the messiah he has been waiting all his life. Jesus is the fulfilment of his greatest hope. Paul with all his great learning in Greek and Hebrew studies has his spiritual eyes opened when he met the living Christ in his Damascus experience. The God whom he loved has done what he said He will do. He has sent the Messiah, the chosen one. How not to have passion for God?

2. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion to serve God.
a. God has chosen him

‘But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Acts 9:15 (NIV)

Frederick the Great of Russia was gloomed to be an emperor since he was born. He was taught the right way to act, the right way to talk, the right way to rule and the right way to live. He has a purpose because he knew that he was chosen to be emperor one day. And he has a passion for his country. Therefore he knew that the moment he became king, he will modernised his beloved country, Russia. So he spent his life preparing for the time when he would become emperor so that he can implement what his purpose is. Paul knew that he was special, a chosen one of God. God is the one who chosen him. Imagine the power and reassurance that you have been specially chosen. It becomes a purpose for your life. Nowadays we speak of destiny. People are chosen to fulfil their destiny. Fulfilling their destiny becomes a purpose for their lives.

b. Paul has chosen to serve God, God’s way
“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” Gal.1:15,16a (NIV)

Aside from the sense of being chosen by God, I believe that Paul has a purpose in life and that is to serve God. But Paul is unique in the sense that he choose to serve God on God’s term and in God’s way. Paul could have wanted to be a Rabban in a Jewish theological seminary. Or he could be a famous rabbi of a famous synagogue. Paul has this unique gift of doing what Henry Blackaby has been teaching us in his book, Experiencing God: see where God is going and join Him in the project. Paul sees that he is to be the apostle to the Gentiles. So his purpose is to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s missionary efforts have some important points which shows that there is a purpose in what he did:
(1)He taught from where the people are. To the Jews, he taught the Jewish way. To the Greeks and other Greek speaking people, he taught as a Greek philosopher.
(2)He chooses areas within Roman territory. Pax Romana is safe, have a nice network of roads and literal in Latin and Greek. He, being a Roman citizen also gives him additional advantages.
(3)He chooses cities that are centres of trade and commerce- Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica.
(4)He chooses his fellow team members from different regions. At one time, Paul’s entourage consists of 9 men: Sopater (Berea, Macedonia), Aristarchus and Secundus (Thessalonica), Luke (Philippi), Gaius (Derbe, Galatia), Timothy (Lystra, Galatia), Tychicus and Trophimus (Ephesus, Asia) and Titus (Achaia).

3. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion to bring people into the kingdom of God.
a. People are lost without God

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Rom.3:23 (NIV)
If there is a great motivation for Paul and for his purpose in life, it’s that people who do not know Jesus Christ and his work of salvation on the cross are doomed. They are going straight to hell. That has been the purpose of the many great missionaries of the past like William Carey and Hudson Taylor. There is only one way to salvation. All other roads lead to damnation. So people must to told. That’s why these missionaries sacrifice so much to bring the message of salvation to the East.

b. People are the glory of God
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”1 Thes. 2:19,20a (NIV)

Paul knows what is valuable and lasting in life. It’s not your money, or your house, your lands or your car. All these things don’t last. It was disappear soon. What last forever are people. That is why Paul said people are his glory and joy. People last forever. Knowing this, it is surprising how much time and effort we invest in things and how little time and effort we spend in building up people. Paul’s purpose is his passion to save the lost. That’s because he knows that people have eternal value. So he spent his time making friends, teaching and mentoring the many people that God brought into his life. Even as a prisoner in his last days in Rome, he managed to convert the household of Caesar.

c. Paul loves the people
“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you”. 2 Cor.2:4 (NIV)

Here Paul reveals his heart. His purpose to save the people is not only because without God they are lost and that human lives have eternal value. It is also because he loves them. Paul’s purpose driven life has no value if he does not love the people. Without love, his purpose becomes a duty. Paul’s life story does not sound like he is acting out of duty. He was stoned, starved, sick, shipwrecked, given a lashing and travelled long tiring miles. Duty would not have carried him so far. But love would. Paul really loves the people.

My Response
a. Does God have a purpose for your life?
‘The word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:4-5

b. Do you discern where God is working and so join Him there?
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matt28:18-20 (NIV)

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Once Saved, Always Saved

Once Saved, Always Saved
Text: Romans 10:9,10


Whoever once truly believes that Jesus is raised from the dead, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, will go to heaven when he or she dies. Such a person will go to heaven when he or she dies no matter what work (or lack of work) may accompany such faith.


The Presbyterians trace their heritage to John Calvin, one of the most important leaders of the Reformation. He improved on the theology of Martin Luther. The distinctiveness of the Presbyterian or Reformed theology can be summarized as TULIP.

  • Total depravity of man. Man is completely incapable of reaching out towards God. Man is totally at enmity with God (cf. Romans 3:10-23)

  • Unconditional election by the grace of God. There is absolutely no condition in any person for which God would save him. As a matter of fact, long before man was created, God chose or predestined some to everlasting life. He did it out of his own mere good pleasure (cf. Ephesians 1:4,5)

  • Limited atonement. God in his infinite mercy, in order to accomplish the planned redemption, sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute for the sins of a large but specific number of people (cf. Romans 8:29,30).

  • Irresistible grace of God. This is the effectual work of the Holy Spirit moving upon a particular person whom He has called, applying the work of redemption (cf. John 3:5,6)

  • Perseverance of the saints. This is that gracious work of sanctification whereby he enables a saved person to persevere to the end. (cf. Romans 8:30,38,39 and Philippians 1:6)

The perseverance of the saints. Once saved, always saved.

A. Once Saved

Romans 10:9,10
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,
it is with your mouth that you confess
and are saved.

Paraphrased, the passage means whoever once truly believes that Jesus is raised from the dead, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, will go to heaven when he or she dies. Such a person will go to heaven when he or she dies no matter what work (or lack of work) may accompany such faith.

There are two component to be saved, signifying the internal (the heart) and the external (the mouth).

  1. Believe in your heart that Jesus has raised from the dead.
Internal is believing in your heart that Jesus has raised from the dead. It is to believe that something supernatural has occurred. That this Jesus of Nazarene, who was born in Bethlehem about 2000 years ago, has died and came back to life again. Paul asked, ”Can you believe this?” You with your scientific minds. You with your determination that you must see and touch something before you want to believe. Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul has been talking about justification by faith. That Jesus, by his death on the cross and by his blood has paid the price for us. We are justified and regarded as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done. Yet, when Paul comes to the point about salvation, he said one of two things you need to believe is that Jesus has raised from the dead. Look at the day of Pentecost. Peter preached, his theme is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and three thousands believed and were saved. Paul warned the church in Corinth that 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor.15:14-17)

  1. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.
The second component is to confess that Jesus is Lord. This is the external deed. Confess, the Greek homologeo (confess) has the same root meaning of agreeing with or speaking of the same truth. It means we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord. Lord of our lives. It means that we trust in Jesus enough to call Him Lord. It also means the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.
no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor.12:3b).

To receive salvation, we need only to believe that Jesus has raised from the dead and confess that He is Lord. You do not need to know any theology. Salvation is a free gift of God. This is why it is so hard for some people to accept. It is so easy. And it is free. We have been brought up in a culture where we are told that is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything comes with a hidden price tag. Well, there is such a thing that is free. Jesus has brought us free salvation. And don’t let anyone tell you different. Don’t let someone tell you that you can only be saved if you have lived a holy life or you must be water baptized in a particular church or in a particular manner or you have had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul said believe in the resurrection of Jesus and confess that he is Lord then you are saved.

B. Always Saved

There are three component to the perseverance of salvation:

  1. God’s purpose
The Bible teaches that God will saves those He chose. Paul declares in answer to the question:
(Rom 8:35) 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Answer:
(Rom 8:29,30) 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

(Rom 8:38,39) 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus said (John 10:27-30)
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one."

  1. Jesus’ intercession
The author of Hebrews wrote (Heb 7:25)
25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Jesus in John 17 prayed, among other things that the Father would keep those who believe and that they might enjoy the blessings of eternal fellowship with him.

  1. God’s ability to keep
Paul wrote:
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(2 Tim 1:12)
12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

Once saved, always saved. It is a great doctrine for us to believe in and hang onto. Whoever once truly believes that Jesus is raised from the dead, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, will go to heaven when he or she dies. Such a person will go to heaven when he or she dies no matter what work (or lack of work) may accompany such faith.

Let me clarify here the difference between salvation and sanctification. When we are saved, three things happened.

  • We are imputed righteous in God’ sight.

  • We become adopted sons and daughters of God, meaning we become a ‘new creation’.

  • We receive the Holy Spirit.
Sanctification/regeneration/spiritual growth and bearing of spiritual fruits/spiritual formation occurs after salvation and is a totally separate event. Many pain and crisis can be avoided if we recognize this fact. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ in every aspect of our lives.
Lessons for us:

How can believing ‘once saved, always saved’ affect the way we live our lives. Let me give you three examples:

  1. Basis for joy and security.
Without the assurance of salvation, our Christian lives will be a roller coaster of fear and insecurity.
We have to be contantly to be on the alert that we do not sin against God. Imagine the insecurity. If we die at the moment we are far from God, we lose our salvation and go to hell. That means we must be constantly trying to be good, trying to work for our salvation. We know how easily we back backslide. How weak our fresh are. How often we know what is the right thing to do and yet we do not do it. How often we struggle with pride, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, anger, greed, avarice and lack of faith. So how to have joy and security in the Lord. Our Christian life will be a life of fear.

Emperor Constantine refused to be baptized until he is close to death. He feared that if he receives his salvation early and was baptized, if he sinned, he would lose his salvation. So he waited until the last minute to be safe.
The Roman Catholics has the belief of purgatory. It is a place where the dead goes to have a second chance to work for their salvation. The reason is that there is no assurance of salvation. They believed that they could lose their salvation. Hence it is necessary to be given a second chance.

  1. Basis for fellowship with God.
‘Once saved, always saved’ is the foundation for our fellowship with God. It gives us the freedom to love God, to relate to Him and to worship Him. There is no fear that we would unintentionally anger Him and thus lose our salvation. Our fellowship is not based on performance but on love.
Take for example, a relationship between a husband and wife. If they take their marriage vows seriously and commit to remain together, their relationship will be different from one in which the wife said if you do not do what I want, I would leave you. In the latter, the relationship is based on the husband’s performance. If the husband do not live up to her expectation, she will pack her bags and leave.
With the assurance of salvation, we can move on in our relationship with God.

  1. Basis for rewards on the Day of Judgement.
Whoever once truly believes that Jesus is raised from the dead, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, will go to heaven when he or she dies. Such a person will go to heaven when he or she dies no matter what work (or lack of work) may accompany such faith.

When I mention this statement, I can hear alarms bells ringing in the mind of our leaders. Alex, you must not say that. Then our people will not be motivated to be good. To be matured in Christ. To serve in church ministries. They have their ticket to heaven. They are going to sit back and relax.

Well, let me tell you something. Yes, you have your ticket to heaven. That means you have eternal life. That means that you will not spend eternity roasting in hell. But what are you going to do in heaven. And what you do now after you are saved to the time when you reach heaven has eternal significance.

The Bible taught that there is a Day of Judgement. Christ himself will judge. All men will be judged; none will be absent. Even the angels will be passed under judgment. Every aspect of life will come into account, including the ‘secrets of men’, ‘the purposes of the heart’, and ‘every careless word’. The judgment will not be confined to unbelievers. Christians too will face a judgment. There can be no avoiding this coming judgment; it is as certain as death.

Christians will be judged by their Lord in respect of their stewardship of the talents, gifts, opportunities and responsibilities granted to them during the course of their lives. The reference to this judgment in 1 Pet. 1:17 is particularly significant in conveying its character. The divine judgment of the people of God will be a fatherly judgment. It will not be such as to place in peril the Christian’s standing within the family of God; it will have all of a father’s understanding and compassion; and yet it is not therefore to be lightly or carelessly regarded. Christ will exercise this fatherly judgment at his coming. There will be rewards.
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matt. 16:27)
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)
Paul talked about a ‘reward’ in 1 Corinthians, a ‘prize’ in Philippians and a ‘crown’ in 2 Timothy. James talked about ‘crown of life’ and Peter by the ‘crown of glory’.
Jesus said,REV 22:12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Rev.22:12)

Somehow, we take this concept of rewards lightly, as if it is beneath our dignity to motivate our behavior because of rewards. The Bible did not elaborate what this reward, prize or crown is. Paul took it seriously, willing to give all now rather than to live in a ‘rewardless’ heaven.

If rewards do not motivate you, what about punishment? For we have to give an account to Jesus on the Day of Judgement. Some scholars believe that no rewards for eternity is punishment enough. Others believe that God will punish us in other ways.

Many of us are motivated to invest for the future, either in education, in our children and in building a financial portfolio. We are advised to invest for our retirement. It is time to think of investing for eternity. The currency for investment for eternity is not ringgits or the euros or the USD but service for the kingdom of God.

Closing remarks.
C.H.Spurgeon, the great preacher of the nineteenth century, once told this story. He said he was sitting in church and listening to a rather boring sermon. His mind begins to wander. “Why is it that I am a Christian?”, Spurgeon asked himself. “I am a Christian because I heard and believed the gospel,” he thought. He continued, “But why do I believe?”. He answered, “I believe because..” Then like a flash God opened the floodgates of heaven and Spurgeon concluded. “I saw God was at the bottom of it all’.

Once saved, always saved. This is the foundation of our Christian life. God is at the bottom of it all. God is the One who calls us. He is the One who saves us. He is also the One who keeps us saved.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, January 09, 2006

Love is Forever 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Sunday Sermon
Holy Light Church (English)
8 January 2006

       Spiritual gifts are important for the building up of the Church at the present moment
       but agape-love builds our character for eternity.

In the last few sermons, we have been doing a study on Paul’s great thesis on love. Paul wrote this thesis in 1 Cor. 13. The occasion is that the Corinthian church was a church that was very rich in spiritually gifts but poor in love. Or in our modern day English, the Corinthian church is love-impaired! In our study so far:

Sermon on 23 October 2005: The Necessity of Love (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Agape love is defined as an act of will to action
Tongues without agape-love is nothing (v.1)
Prophecy without agape-love is nothing (v.2a)
Knowledge without agape-love is nothing (v.2b)
Faith without agape-love is nothing (v.2c)
Benevolence without agape-love is nothing (v.3a)
Asceticism without agape-love is nothing (v.3b)

Sermon 13 November 2005: Portrait of Love Part One (1 Cor.13:4-7)
  1. love is patient (v.4a)

  2. love is kind (4b)

  3. it does not envy (v.4c)

  4. it does not boast (v.4d)

  5. it is not proud (v.4e)

  6. it does not dishonour others (v.5a)

  7. it is not self seeking (v.5b)

  8. it is not easily angered (v.5c)

  9. it keeps no  record of wrongs (v.5d)
Sermon 4 December 2005: Portrait of Love Part Two
  1. love does not delight in evil (v.6a)

  2. rejoices with the truth (v.6b)

  3. always protects (v.7a)

  4. always trusts (v.7b)

  5. always hopes (v.7c)

  6. always perseveres (v.7d)
The portrait that emerges is of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the total image of love. If we want to know what love is or how love behaves, we have only to look at Jesus. The four gospels are full of details of love in action. This is to be expected because God is love. And Jesus is God incarnate.

Grammatical layout (1 Cor.13: 8-13)
8 Love never fails.
                  But where there are prophecies,            they will cease;
                  where there are tongues,                        they will be stilled;
                  where there is knowledge,                      it will pass away.

                 9 For we know in part and
                    we prophesy in part,              
                                            10 but when perfection comes,
                                                                                the imperfect disappears.
                 11 When I was a child,
                     I talked like a child,
                     I thought like a child,
                     I reasoned like a child.
                                            When I became a man,
                                                                               I put childish ways behind me.
               12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
                                          then we shall see face to face.
               Now I know in part;
                                         then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

                13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

Here it is obvious that the main focus of Paul in verses 8-13 is love- love never fails and love is the greatest. The main body of the passage is his explanation of why ‘love never fails’ and ‘love is the greatest’

  1. Spiritual Gifts are Temporary (v.8)
v.8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away
Here it must be noted that Paul never said having spiritual gifts and exercising them is bad. Here it must be emphasized that Paul is emphasizing the choosing between the better and the best. Paul, being a Hebrew scholar writes in the Hebrew way. In the Hebrew way of writing, the passage is like a piece of paper that can be folded into two. This is called a chiasma. Hence both side of the paper carries the same points. Hence 1 Cor.13:1-3 corresponds to 1 Cor.13: 8-12. The former deals with spiritual gifts being nothing without love and the former love has more lasting value than spiritual gifts.

Paul highlights three spiritual gifts: prophecy, tongues and knowledge. Prophecy because it is the most prominent gifts and one which Paul will go on in chapter 14 to encourage people to desire for. Tongues as the gift that create the most noise and controversy. Knowledge to show the limits of human ability. All these spiritual gifts will end, Paul explained. So what is all the fuss about?

  1. Spiritual Gifts are for the Present Building up of the Church until the Second Coming. (v.9-12)
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Paul continues to show the limitation of spiritual gifts.

  • Knowledge and prophecy  (v.9,10)
No matter how gifted we are in prophecy and knowledge, we are still limited because we are still human and our mind and abilities are finite. Hence we are imperfect in our practicing of our spiritual gifts. But when perfection comes, there is no longer the need for prophecy and knowledge because we shall know and understand all things. The prefect is when Jesus comes again and we receive our resurrected bodies. The Bible said Jesus will come again. When we comes, those of us who are already dead and buried will raise to meet Him in mid air and we will be in our resurrected bodies. Then those who are still alive will receive their resurrected bodies. In our resurrected bodies, we will be like Jesus. We will have no need of prophecy because we know all things. We will be perfect.

  • Child (v.11)
Paul then uses the analogy of a child and a grownup. He writes that when we are a child, we talk, think and reasoned as a child. But when we become an adult, the changed status implied that we put away childish things. Often it is interpreted that that when we become mature Christians, our need to act in a more mature way. Another interpretation is that when we are in our resurrected bodies, when we are perfect, we will put away our ‘childish ways’. Such as the need to demand attention, affirmation, fame, wealth, status, power and control.

  • Mirror (v.12)
In the NIV, this verse is translated reflection. In some translations, it is ‘seeing through a glass dimly’. Reflection is more to the point because Corinth is famous for its copperware and new copper is shinning and acts like a mirror. Either in reflection or seeing through a glass, we see only an image of the person. How different it is to meet the real person then. When we meet the actual person, we shall discover how imperfect the reflection is. It’s like looking at a photograph and meeting the real person. We always say, ‘Your photo does not do you justice’. And that is true because the photo is only an image, not the real thing.

  • Knowing (v.12)
Again Paul emphasis that now we know in part but then we shall know fully. But he also added ‘even as I am fully known’. When I read this, I was blown away. ‘Even as I am fully known’ is in the present tense. Thus while I shall know fully in the future, God knows me fully in the present. God knows who I am. Not who I pretend to be.
Paul illustrates that spiritual gifts are useful now because the Church needs to be built up. That is what spiritual gifts are for- the building up of the people of God. But our spiritual gifts are limited as we are limited. But one day, when we are perfect, these spiritual gifts are not longer necessary.

When I was young, my parents bought me a bicycle with trainer wheels. So I was able to cycle around. When I become proficient, they took away the trainer wheels. I was then able to cycle on my own. Spiritual gifts are like trainer wheels. It is help us along until we become perfect and there is no need of them.

  1. Agape-love is forever (v.13)
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Actually faith and hope is covered in love. But Paul again pointed out that faith will be fulfilled when we meet the Lord. Hope will be fulfilled when we meet the Lord. Love will go on and on, even when we meet the Lord in our resurrected bodies. That’s because love is forever and never ends.

The Bible is actually a romantic book. It is a book about love. A love story. Love between God and us and amongst us.

"And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:14).
"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5).
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you
love one another" (John 13:34-35).  
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).
"Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 5:7-8).

Love is relational. Relationship is the key to understanding  1 Cor.13 because love is always a relationship. In the Holy Trinity, there is a love relationship between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ great Commandments, love is a relationship between God and man and between man and man.

Lessons for us

The documentary movie The March of the Penguins follows the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica on their incredible journey through ice and snow to mating grounds up to 70 miles inland. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this beautiful film captures the drama of these three-foot-high birds in the most inhospitable of environments.

  Once the penguins have made the trek to their mating grounds and the females have produced their single eggs, a remarkable exchange occurs. Through an intricate dance, each mother swaps her egg into the father's care. At this point the father becomes responsible for the egg and must keep it warm.

As this part of the story unfolds, the camera shows remarkable shots of the penguin fathers securing the eggs on top of their feet and sheltering them against the cold, which will drop to as low as 80 degrees below zero. Freeman narrates:

“Now begins one of nature's most incredible and endearing role reversals. It is the penguin male who will tend the couple's single egg. While the mother feeds and gathers food to bring back for the newborn, it is the father who will shield the egg from the violent winds and cold. He will make a nest for the egg atop his own claws, keeping it safe and warm beneath a flap of skin on his belly. And he will do this for more than two months….

As the winter progresses, the father will be severely tested. By the time their vigil on top of the egg is over, the penguin fathers will have gone without food of any kind for 125 days, and they will have endured one the most violent and deadly winters on earth, all for the chick.”

That is a great illustration of love in action. How do we love one another? Remember we established earlier that love is not a feeling but a will or determination to action. I wish to suggest two things we can do to love.

  1. Practice love diligently.  
It is one of those graces, above all, which grow by constant exercise.  Strive more and more to carry it into every little detail of daily life.  Watch over your own tongue and temper throughout every hour of the day,--and especially in your dealing with children and near relatives.  Remember the character of the excellent woman: "She speaks with
wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26).  
Remember the words of Paul: "Do everything in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14).  

Love should be seen in little things as well as in great ones.  Remember the words of Peter: "Love each other deeply;" not a love which just barely is a flame, but a burning, shining fire, which everyone around us can see. (1 Peter 4:8)  It may cost pains and trouble to keep these things in mind.  There may be little encouragement from the example of others.  But persevere.  Love like this brings its own reward.

B. Teach others to love.  
Press it above all on children, if you have any.  Remind them constantly that kindness, good nature, and good disposition are among the first evidences which Christ requires in children.  If they cannot know much, or explain doctrines, they can understand love.

Here is my own paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13
‘If I had earned a strings of academic and professional degrees, is a tenured professor in an world renowned university and has mastered the intricacies of ancient Hebrew and the various tenses of ancient Greek but do not care for the poor, the sick, the weak and defenseless and the lost, I am like a bag of hot air or the static caused by the feedback of a MP3 soundtrack. If I can look into the future and discern the winds of change in economies, social and political arenas and if I am a spiritual master who has a large following who believe that I am the Voice of God yet if I do not lift a single finger to help a stranger in need I am as plain useless to one who is hungry and lonely as an empty used chicken rice styrofoam container.  If I am a great philanthropist and give my billions as aid relief to poverty stricken Africa and if I sacrifice my health by burning out in ministry work for the church but did it to achieve a reputation and a name for myself, I have already have my reward which is my 15 minutes of fame. My ulterior motives, the need to please people and other hidden agendas will eventually be revealed for all to see. If I see a person and not see an irritation, an interruption (to my busy schedule), a burden or a lesser being, and if I feel compassion and the need to connect with this person and maybe offer some help, I may have love.

Love has the capacity to stand outside time and wait for the right moment to come along. It is not rushed, dictated by the clock nor hurried by the tyranny of the urgent. Love has time to understand and walk a mile in another’s shoes. Love is gentle and does not carry concealed weapons. It does not see the need to cut someone down to size or make mincemeat of someone else’s ego. Love does not demand to have what others have. It does not need to prop itself up by stepping on others and stand on them to appear more beautiful, more powerful, more rich or more honored in society. Love does not need to show off, wearing masks and be putting on performances all the time. Love reveals its true face. Love speaks softly and politely because its words are words of encouragement. Words to build up and not to tear down. Love uses its words to help others to find and fulfill their full God-given potential. Love has good anger management and does not let the sun goes down on its anger. Love knows anger is but a symptom and will seek the root cause of the anger. It seeks to heal these inner hurts and understand the inner thoughts that lead people to do evil deeds. Love does not bear a grudge nor seek to get even. Love learns to forgive. Love returns good for bad.  Love gathers all into its protective arms, believing that there is some good in all mankind. Love has marched with others in Alabama against racism, being beaten by batons in the salt march in India and stood before a tank in Tiananmen Square. Love believes that justice should be available to all. Love believes that there is always hope in this valley of the shadow of death. Love knows that we are living in the shadowlands and that somewhere there is our true home and that one day, Someone will lead us there by our hands. Love sees that in the darkest night, there is always a ray of light.

Love is the energy that drives the universe. It never runs out, tires or loses its power. Love is for eternity. We have begun to realize that knowledge has its limitations. Quantum theory robs us of certainty and Chaos-Fractal theory robs us of control. The only constant in our lives is change. We have not being able to develop a Unified Theory of the Universe. Hence we see in part and we understand very little. Coming to the realization that there is nothing certain in this universe and the ability to control our destiny is an illusion, we begin to understand that we have been thinking like a child. It is time to grow up and see the world as it really is. To see through the illusions that Satan has deceived us for so long. To realize that we had spent large portions of our lives chasing after the non-essential and neglecting the relationships with other people that we should have nurtured and developed.  Adult thinking will help us to focus on things that are eternal. These eternal are our souls and the souls of other and the need now on earth to purify and nurture our souls. In the process we develop faith and acquire hope. But most important of all, we see and experience Love. And in the end, it is only LOVE that matters.’

Soli Deo Gloria

The Portrait of Love Part One 1 Corinthinas 13:4-7

13th November 2005
Sunday Sermon
Holy Light Church (English)

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (TNIV)

  1. Introduction
A portrait is a painting of a person. A portrait is different from a photograph. A digital photograph captures an image by the use of light and electronics. It captured exactly what the eye sees. A portrait on the other hand is hand painted by an artist. The image of the portrait though has a likeness of the person, also contain the artist’s interpretation of the person. It is said that a good portrait shows the character of a person. It may be good or bad character flaws but it shows us as we look at a completed portrait. Oscar Wilde wrote a powerful story, The Picture of Dorian Grey. Dorian was a vain young man who made a pact with the devil. He has his portrait painted. All the evil that he does will be reflected in the portrait while he retains his youthful and innocent look. As the story goes, the more evil he becomes, the uglier his portrait becomes. Dorian was afraid to look at his own portrait, to see who he really is. He was finally destroyed when he was forced to see his own portrait and faced the ugly reality of his own evil.

In the last sermon, The Necessity of Love, we have seen Paul commenting on the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church has many spiritual gifts and they are able to make powerful use of these gifts. But instead of using these gifts for the building up of the church which these gifts are for, they were more interested in the gifts themselves. They used these gifts to make themselves more superior in the church. Those who have the gift of tongues  deem themselves better than those who do not speak in tongues. Similarly those who has the gift of prophecy, of knowledge, of  faith, of giving and of sacrifice deem themselves better than others who do not have these gifts. Paul however taught that these gifts without agape-love produces, become and gain nothing (13:1-3). Agape-love is a self sacrificing love that acts for the good of others. To further illustrate the point of agape-love, Paul goes ahead in verse 4-7 to paint of a portrait of what a person who has agape –love look like. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. So Paul in using a word picture paints the portrait of Love himself so that we can both understand and see what agape-love is. As you would have guessed, this is a portrait of Jesus Christ who is God and God is agape-love. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Here is where you are now. Nothing you do with your spiritual gifts matters because you do not have agape-love. Just so you understand what agape-love is, I am going to draw you a picture.”

  1. The Painting of Portrait of Love
As we look at the various description of agape-love, notice one thing. It is not a theological statement but a behavioural statement. The entire description of agape-love is based on behaviour. Here Paul describes agape-love by giving us 15 behaviour patterns that a person with agape-love will do.

  1. Love is patient, (v.4a)

Love is patient. In the Greek, it is makrothumeo which means ‘to be long tempered’. It describes people with ‘long fuse’. It is used again and again in the New Testament to describe patience with people. It is not used in reference to circumstances or life opportunities or events. It is only used in relationships with people. Chrysostom, an Early Church Father said, “It is the word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in is power to avenge himself but will never do it.’ That’s the word used of a man who is wronged but never take revenge.

Do you know that patience is such a unique behaviour in the Greco-Roman world that they could not believe someone could practice this. Achilles in the Iliad by Homer is considered by the Greeks to be a hero because he would not bear any insults and would retaliate at the slightest provocation. Not to retaliate is a sign of weakness. According to the Greeks, you are a big man if you really whacked away at your enemies. The Chinese also respect patience. In most Chinese Kung Foo movies especially Wong Fei Hong, the hero usually was very patient when insulted. He would bear insults after insults until at  the end of the movie, he reaches the end of his endurance and whacked everybody. And is it so in the modern world, you show people who you are if you react with aggression and retaliate. Do let anyone get away with anything. “Don’t get angry, get even”. That’s heroism to us, but God’s agape-love shows a different behaviour. Agape-love does not retaliate.

Jesus Christ was accused unjustly, beaten and whipped and dragged in humiliation through Jerusalem. Then while dying and hanging the cross, you know what he said? He did not say, “Damn you all to hell!” as Charleston Heston said in the movie Ben Hur. Jesus Christ said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”(Lk 23:34a). Agape-love is patient.

Abraham Lincoln made a lot of friends but also a lot of enemies. One of them is Stanton. Stanton hated Abraham Lincoln. He called Abraham Lincoln the ‘original gorilla’. He said publicly that it is not necessary for people to go to Africa to see a hairy gorilla because they can easily find one in Springfield, Illinois. He was very bitter towards Abraham but Abraham never said a word in reply to all of Stanton’s attack. When Abraham Lincoln became president, to the surprise of all, he appointed Stanton to be war minister for the United States Cabinet. When asked, Abraham replied that Stanton was the best man for the job. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Stanton was standing before the cold body, he said, “There lies the greatest ruler of man the world has ever seen”. Stanton never accepted Abraham’s politics but he could not resist the non-retaliating spirit of the man. Agape-love is patient.

  1. love is kind.(v.4b)
Kindness is the flip side of patience. Patience endures the injuries of others but kindness pays them back with good deeds. Patient says, “I’ll take anything from my enemies.” Kindness says. “I’ll do anything for my enemies to meet their needs”. In the Greek, the word for kindness is “useful”.

In Matt. 11:29-30, Jesus said, “Take My Yoke upon you, and learn of Me… For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The word ‘easy’ in the Greek is the same word as ‘kind’ in 1 Cor.13. Jesus is saying that ‘follow me and I will be kind to you’.

Two men were going in opposite direction on a very narrow mountain trail until they meet each other head on. There was not enough room to them to squeeze around without falling. And it is too far for one of them to move backwards. Suddenly, without a word, one of the man lie down flat on the trail so that the other man can  step on him to continue on his way. Agape-love is kind. It doesn’t mind being stepped upon if it is going to benefit someone else.

With agape-love described as patient and kind, Paul is saying to the Corinthian church, “If you will only use your spiritual gifts in a non-retaliating self sacrificial manner, returning kindness instead of avenging yourself, then your spiritual gifts may mean something.”

  1. It does not envy,(v.4c)

Another word for envy is jealous. The Greek word for envy means ‘to boil’. It refers to the inner boiling, seething or steaming over something someone has and you do not. The Corinthian are envious of each other’s spiritual gifts. There are two types of envy:
  1. superficial envy – “I want what you have”

  2. deep-rooted envy- “I wish you didn’t have it”.
The first type of envy is wanting what someone else has, but the second type is resenting that they have it. Deep envy is not just that you want something, it also mean that if you do not have it, you don’t not want anyone else to have it too. It is real mean.

Jesus Christ said in John 8:50a “I seek not my own Glory but that of My Father..” There is no envy in agape-love.  There is no envy in Jesus because he is not self-seeking. He is only seeking to glorify His heavenly father.

The devil was crossing a desert came across a group of demons who was trying to cause an old hermit to sin. This saintly hermit has taken his vows very seriously, left everything he had behind and came to the desert to live alone and pray. The demons have tried in all sort of ways to tempt the old man but was not successful. The demons told the devil they were not able to tempt this holy man. The devil smiled and whispered something in the old hermit’s ear. Instantly a look of malignant jealously crossed his face. What did you tell him, the demons wanted to know. The devil said, “I told him that his brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria”.

  1. it does not boast,(v.4d)
The Greek word for boast is ‘windbag’. Agape-love is not a windbag. Agape-love is not always shooting of its mouth about its own accomplishment. Instead of singing ‘How Great Are Thou’, it is singing ‘How Great I Am’. Agape-love is not ceaseless baseless chatter designed to make me better than you and make you look small.

Again you see a pairing here. Envy is wanting something other people have that you do not have. Boasting is making other people want what you have. It is to make you stand out and make others feel inferior to you.

Want to know a test for boastfulness. Listen to your own conversation. Who is the topic of your conversation? Then you will know if you are indeed boastful if your conversation is all about you. As Rick Warren stated in his Purpose Driven Life program, ‘it’s not about you’.

If anyone has something to boast, it must Jesus Christ. Son of God, God Himself.  Yet we never hear Jesus boasting. His words have always been encouraging. His words were to heal and not tear down another’s ego. In John 12:50, Jesus said, “I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." Here is agape-love speech. This are not the words of a man boasting. Jesus is saying that whatever He says come from the Father.

  1. it is not proud. (v.4e)
The Corinthian church is very proud, it is proud about

  • Their biblical knowledge: their teachers were Apollos, Paul, Cephas        (1 Cor.4:18; 8:1)

  • Sexual accomplishments (1 Cor. 5:1)

  • Their spiritual status (1 Cor. 4:6-10)

  • Their Spiritual gifts  (1 Cor. 12)
The wisdom literature is full of warning about pride.
Proverbs 8:13
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
Proverbs 11:2
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Proverbs 13:10
Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 29:23
A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

Notice that the previous attributes of non agape-love hurt other or damage others,  pride hurt ourselves and damage our souls. Lucifer was one of the archangels, one of the greatest angels created by God. He is called the Angel of Light. And light is associated with God who drove away the darkness. Yet he rebelled against God because of his pride.

Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus, the rabbi doing such a menial job of washing his students’ feet. I can understand Peter’s reluctance to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus lowering himself down to the level of a servant. The King of kings. God Himself. Yet this is a demonstration of agape-love. There is no place for pride in agape-love.

William Carey was one of the greatest missionaries. He translated the Bible into 34 Indian languages. William started life as a cobbler and because of his humble background, find it difficult to be accepted by the higher society of the British in India (including other missionaries) and the Indian higher caste. At one dinner party, a snob said, “I hear, Mr.Carey that you once worked as a shoemaker?”  It is a reflection of William’s character and humility that he did not respond to the slight but answered, “Oh no, your Lordship, not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.”

  1. It does not dishonour others, (v.5a)

In the NIV, it was translated ‘rude’. In the Greek ‘rude’ is translated as ‘to behave in an unbecoming manner.’ It refers to poor manners-rudeness. Now, why would agape-love be concerned with rudeness. The reason is that rudeness dishonour others. Rudeness says. “I can behave anyway I want and I could not care less about what you think. I could not care less whether my behaviour affects you or not.” Rudeness is very self-centered. That’s why it is incompatible with agape-love.

The Corinthian church was very rude, dishonouring each other by
  • The love feast-they were very rude. They came to the love feast and ate all their own food before those who had none came. They overindulged.

  • The Lord’s Table-their behaviour at Holy Communion was so bad that they got drunk because they keep taking the cup.

  • The women- they have overstepped the cultural propriety of their times by not wearing veil and usurping the role of men in the church.

  • Tongue speakers- they were causing so much confusion by showing off their spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.
Paul pointed out that agape-love is concern about others and respecting others. Rudeness means there is no respect for another person.

If our behaviour is different when we are with our boss and when we are with someone whom we regard to be at an inferior status to us, then we are rude . We are rude because we do not respect persons but status. That is not agape-love. One of my favourite scenes from the movie musical, My Fair Lady staring Harrison Rex and Katherine Hepburn, was when someone complained that Professor Higgins (Harrison Rex) treated Elisa Dolittle, a flowergirl, badly. Higgins, a self-centered rich man was confused. What’s wrong with that, he mused. I treated everybody the same. I treated even a duchess like a flowergirl.

Jesus on the other hand, treated everyone the same- the rich and poor, the unrighteous and the righteous, the pillars of society and the prostitutes. He spoke to a Samaritan woman and asked for a drink of water at the well. That’s unusual because
  • Jews regard Samaritans as half breed and contaminated-both spiritually and physically

  • Jews would not drink water drawn by a Samaritan

  • Jewish men do not speak to Samaritan women

  • Coming out in the mid-day means that woman is of questionable moral character.
Yet Jesus spoke to her and told her that he is the Messiah. Please note that the first time Jesus admitted Himself to be the long awaited Messiah is not to his disciples, the religious Pharisees and priest but to a Samaritan woman of questionable moral character. This is agape-love. It is not rude or dishonouring to others.

  1. it is not self-seeking, (v.5b)

In other Bible translation, love is not ‘selfish’ or ‘seeketh not its own’. The Corinthian church is extremely selfish. This is seen in the way they used their spiritual gifts to edify themselves. Instead of using their spiritual gifts for others, they are using it to individually build themselves up. This is especially true of the gift of tongues. Agape-love is not selfish. This means it is not self-centered but other people centered. It is more concern about other people’s welfare than its own welfare. In Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities,  A friend of  Sydney Carton was captured and was about to be executed in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. He was about to be guillotined. Sydney went to Paris and took the place of his friend and was executed. You want to know more, read the book. That’s agape-love. A love that is self-giving, not self-centered. A love that will give his or her life for another when necessary.

Jesus is the perfect of example of the love that is not self seeking or selfish.           Matthew 20:28 “ just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The Son of God come as a servant and to serve unselfishly even until the death. Jesus came to give His life. He is here on earth to be the ultimate sacrifice. And to be sacrificed is to die. Now, that’s agape-love.

  1. it is not easily angered, (v.5c)

The Greek word for easily angered is paroxuno. It is the word from which we get the word paroxysm. It means ‘a sudden outburst’. This means agape-love is not like a volcano-boiling inside and liable to a sudden eruption. It is not irritable and get angry easily. Some of us walk around like a porcupine. Anything that irritate us and suddenly the spikes goes up. “Good morning” “What! What’s so good about this morning? You trying to be funny?” I used to work for a boss like this. He has a very irritable personality and very easily angered. Then he will take it out on his junior doctors. During the ward rounds, he will find faults. We have a series of code which we always ask his secretary because she will be the first person to meet him in the morning. The secretary will send us the weather report: rainy, stormy and typhoon. At typhoon, we will all run for shelter and I will volunteer for something that gets me out of the ward round!

Does this means a Christian cannot get angry? Didn’t Jesus get a little bit angry when He cleansed the Temple? Didn’t Martin Luther get a little bit angry when he nailed his Ninety-five theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg?  Actually you cannot be a good Christian unless you have a little anger. You have to be angry at Satan. You have to angry with the flesh or old nature which keep tempting you to sin. You have to be angry at all the injustice in the world that is corrupting God’s creation. You have to be angry at how people are twisting God’s truth. This is called righteous anger. And agape-love is righteous anger.

But agape-love is not self-centered anger. This is the anger that says. “I want my way and I want it the way I want it. I want it now. And if you do not do it the way I want it, I’m going to hurt you.” You know why we are angry so much of the time? That’s because we think of ourselves all the time. We are constantly getting angry because we are not getting what we want and the way we want it. We want our rights. You were driving along and suddenly someone cut into your lane. What is your reaction? Do you get angry and horned the driver? Why? Because that’s your space and he or she has taken it. It is your right to be driving in this lane. William Barclay said, “There are in this world only two kinds of people: those who are continually thinking of their rights and those who are continually thinking of their duties.” Our duty is to agape-love.

It is astonishing to note that aside from the incident of the cleansing of the temple, the gospel never mentioned about Jesus losing His temper. Even when one of His disciple, Judas was betraying Him, he did not lose His temper. When He looked upon Jerusalem, He did not get angry. Jerusalem represented to Him the whole of the call of Israel to be the people of God. Jerusalem represented to Him the betrayal of His father when Israel rejected God, His father. Jerusalem will be where the mantle will be passed to the Gentile. Instead of getting angry, He wept! That’s because He is not self-centered. His whole emphasis is fulfilling His Father’s work.

  1. it keeps no record of wrongs.(v.5d)

The Greek word used is logizomai. Logizomai is an accountant word which can be translated as ‘to keep a mathematical calculation’. It is used to refer to the accurate book keeping of an accountant.  Paul is saying that agape-does not keep a record of all evil done to it. It never keeps record of other people’s offences. It always forgives and forgets Many of us keeps records of offences done to us. Some of these may be real offences or wrongs done to us. But some may be imagined offences. Never mind, it goes into that little black book in our head where we keep a record of all wrongs done to us. Why? So that someday we can get even. But that’s not agape-love. Agape-love tells us to tell these wrongs to God and commit it to His hands. It also tells us to forgive and to forget.

Do you think Jesus keeps records of wrongs done to Him? Today, Peter denied me three times. That day, Peter, James and John fell asleep while praying. I don’t think so. There is no record that Jesus keep track of wrongs done to Him. The only time He bring up these wrongs is to forgive them as in the case of Peter’s denial. Agape-love does not keep track of wrongs.

  1. The Portrait of Love
Our portrait of love is not complete. We shall complete it in the next sermon. Eugene Peterson paraphrase it in the Message as

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when other grovels,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
Put up with anything,
Trust God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (The Message)

  • The Five keys to Practising  Agape-Love in our Lives.

  • Acknowledge love is a Command (Rom 13:8-10)

  • Agree you have the power (Rom 5:5)

  • Understand it is normal Christian behaviour (1 Jn.4:7-10)

  • Realise that it is the Spirit’s work (Gal.5:22)

  • Practice it! (Peter 1:22; 4:8)

The Portrait of Love Part Two 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

4th December 2005
Sunday Sermon
Holy Light Church (English)

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (TNIV)

  1. Introduction
In our last sermon, we were painting a portrait of Love. It is word picture of how love looks like.

  • patient, In the Greek, it is makrothumeo which means ‘to be long tempered’. ‘It is the word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in is power to avenge himself but will never do it.’ Patient says, “I’ll take anything from my enemies.”

  • kind. Kindness says. “I’ll do anything for my enemies to meet their needs”. In the Greek, the word for kindness is “useful”.

  • does not envy. Another word for envy is jealous. The Greek word for envy means ‘to boil’. It refers to the inner boiling, seething or steaming over something someone has and you do not. The Corinthian are envious of each other’s spiritual gifts. Envy is wanting something other people have that you do not have. There are two types of envy:

  • superficial envy – “I want what you have”

  • deep-rooted envy- “I wish you didn’t have it”.
The first type of envy wants what someone else has, but the second type is resenting that they have it. Deep envy is not just that you want something; it also means that if you do not have it, you don’t not want anyone else to have it too. It is real mean.
  • does not boast. Boasting is making other people want what you have. It is to make you stand out and make others feel inferior to you.

  • is not proud. Pride hurt ourselves and damages our souls. Pride is thinking that you are superior to all those around you.

  • does not dishonour others. In the NIV, it was translated ‘rude’. In the Greek ‘rude’ is translated as ‘to behave in an unbecoming manner.’ It refers to poor manners-rudeness.The reason is that rudeness dishonours others. Rudeness says. “I can behave anyway I want and I could not care less about what you think. I could not care less whether my behaviour affects you or not.” Rudeness is very self-centered.

  • is not self-seeking, In other Bible translation, love is not ‘selfish’ or ‘seeketh not its own’.

  • is not easily angered, The Greek word for easily angered is paroxuno. It is the word from which we get the word paroxysm. It means ‘a sudden outburst’. This means agape-love is not like a volcano-boiling inside and liable to a sudden eruption. It is not irritable and get angry easily.

  • keeps no record of wrongs.
Today, we shall continue our portrait painting.

2.     Painting of the portrait of love continued.
10)     Love does not delight in evil but (v.6a)

Agape-love does not love sin. There are many ways in which people delight in sin. Have you hear about people bragging about their sin?  “You know what I did? I did this and this and this...” Incest was committed in the Corinthian church and they were bragging about it (1 Cor.5:1-6).

While on earth as a man, Jesus faced all types of temptations but He did not sin or delight in evil. In fact he denounced evil whenever he confronts it. However, he condemns the sin but forgive the sinners.

Earnest Hemingway was a very prolific writer whose life is as exciting as his novels. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. His famous novels are The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Sun Also rises. Hemingway rejects the old Victorian culture of morality. He felt that one can sin and get away with it. Hemingway’s books and his life reflect this philosophy. He believed that you can sin as much as you want as long as you do not get taught. His life is as exciting as his novels. He had affairs with many women, a drunken, host wild fancy parties, big game safari hunter, was an ambulance driver in World War One and a United States agent in World War Two. One day, Hemingway took a gun and blew his brain out. He can only delight in evil only so long.

  1. rejoices with the truth. (v.6b)

Here Paul contrasts ‘not delighting in evil’ with ‘rejoicing with the truth’. What has truth to do with evil? Truth means understanding and knowing God’s teachings. Without truth, we would not know good from evil. Without truth there is no knowledge of saving grace. Thus agape-love is love that is lived out in God’s truth. That is because truth is freedom. You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. The devil is the father of lies. He is always lying to us. Before we became Christian, he is throwing doubts on how easy it is to be a Christian. What just believe? How come, so easy? Nothing is so easy. After we became Christian, he challenged us; Are you sure you are a Christian? Did you say the prayer properly? Maybe you are not good enough? Perhaps you should work for your salvation more?  All these questions can be answered by the Word of God. The Word of God is the Bible. But the ultimate Word of God is Jesus Christ. And Jesus is the Truth. So agape-love rejoices in the truth.

On September 1889, Sundar Singh was born in Rampur, in the region of Patiala northern India. He was raised in the luxury of his family's wealth. As a Sikh, Sundar was taught about Sikhism and also about Hinduism. By the age of seven he had already memorized Bagawadgita, the songs of blissful people, which is a long and intricate verse containing lessons of life. At sixteen, not only had he mastered Veda, the ancient sacred books of Hinduism, but he had also read Koran, the sacred book of Islam. He then got acquainted with some Sadhus who taught him Yoga. However, he never achieved peacefulness in his meditations. Owing to his mother's connections with some women from a British mission in Rajpur, Sundar was able to enter the school run by the missionaries. It was there that Sundar was first exposed to the Bible. He wasn't interested in the Bible at that time. Instead, he ardently buried himself in the occult art of Hinduism. His mother died when he was 14 years old. Since then his life changed dramatically. Convinced that what Jesus had taught was completely wrong, he tore the Bible apart and burned it. He even threw stones at preachers and encouraged others to do likewise. Still, however hard he tried, he couldn't find the peace he had been seeking for in his own religion.

He reached a point in his life where committing suicide crossed his mind. Three days after he burned the Bible in front of his father, he woke up at 3 a.m. and said to himself, "Oh God, if you do exist, show me the right way, or I will kill myself." He was thinking of throwing himself in front of a train that usually passed at 5 a.m. every morning behind their house in the hope that he would find peacefulness in his future reincarnation. He repeated his prayer once again. All of a sudden he saw a brilliant light. At first he feared that the room was on fire. But nothing happened. He then thought that it might be an answer to his prayer. While watching the light, he suddenly saw Jesus' figure in the radiance. He then heard a voice in Hindi saying, "How much longer are you going to search for me? I have come to save you. You prayed for the right path. Why have you not followed it?" At that time, Sundar realized that Jesus had not died and that He was alive. Sundar fell on his knees before Him and experienced an astonishing peacefulness which he had never felt before. The vision disappeared, but peace and joy lingered within him. That’s what Paul meant by rejoicing in the truth because it brings life.

  1. It always protects, (v.7a)

The last four attributes brings to a conclusion, Paul’s thesis on love. These four is all encompassing because it begins with ‘always’. Here Paul is moving away from the specific problems of the Corinthian church  to a wider view of agape-love.

Agape-love always protects. Who are those who need protection? The poor, the exploited, the aged, the sickly, the widows, the single mothers with children, the children being sold into the flesh trade, the oppressed, the prisoners and the orphans. Agape-love always looks beyond the immediate area of our family and of our church into the larger area of our community, our state, our country and the world. Agape-love seeks to put a mantle over these defenceless persons and protects them. Agape-love always is concerned with others’ welfare.

The church or the community of Christians are to reach out and protect those who are outside their communities. This has always been a distinctive characteristic of Christian- their love. Orphanages and hospitals were started by Christians. As missionaries moved into new areas, they bring medical healthcare and education to the local populations. They build shelters, dig wells and become friends. The many aid agencies who bring help and hope in many parts of the world when disaster strikes such as the Red Cross, World Vision , Tears Fund and Habitat for Humanity are formed by Christians.

Christians has always been active in politics and lobby for political reforms. Historian has stated that the United Kingdom did not suffer a political revolution like the French Revolution with its tremendous loss of lives is because the tireless work of a few Christians in Parliament like Lord Shaftsbury. Others like William Wilberforce get the British Parliament to abolish slavery. In last century, it is the work of Martin Luther King and others who highlights the blatant racism in the United States and the Segregation Act. Social Catholic worker, Dorothy Day brought better working conditions for the workers.
Agape-love sees the need of our hurting world and seeks to protect.

Jesus has always protects the sinners but not the sin. One example is when He stood between an angry crowd and a woman caught in adultery. The woman has been judged and sentenced to death by stoning. A nasty way of dying. Jesus protected the woman. He did not pretend that the woman has not sinned. He knew the woman has repented in her heart. So He forgave her.

  1. always trusts, (v.7b)

Agape-love always trusts in the sovereignty of God. Sometimes it is difficult to trust in a world gone mad. Reading the papers everyday and watching CNN is a traumatic experience. Once, a war is where young men from each country go and shoot at each other. And we know there is a war going on.

Today, someone in the name of religion will strap himself or herself with explosives. Then they will choose the busiest time of the day and blow themselves up in either a marketplace or a train station or a bus. The aim is to killing as many people as possible. It does not matter whether these are innocent people who have not idea what it is all about. It does not matter these people may be sympathetic to their cause. It does not matter that there are children and women.
Or when a natural disaster strikes, it does not matter that aids are not getting to those most in need. Money is enriching many corrupted people. These are blood money. But greed knows no bound.

So how can one retain trust in a world like this? Where is God? Is He on vocation? Can one still retain trust in God today?

Jesus must have wondered about this as He ends his 3 years ministry and heads towards Jerusalem. The people who are supposed to represent God to the people hated Him. The Priest, the Pharisees and the Scribes hated Him. The merchants hated Him. The Romans hated Him and regard Him as a troublemaker. A scaffolding collapsed and many workers were killed and people were asking why. After all these years an all these miracles, the Israelites were no closer to God than when Moses walked among them. Jesus must have wondered whether he can trust God after all. He struggled with this issue in the garden of Gethsemane.  In the end, He chose to trust. Thy will be done.

Agape-love is choosing to trust in God and his promises when everything around you is falling apart. It is choosing to trust God when God seems so far away. Agape-love is trusting in the sovereignty of God. That no matter what is happening, He is in control. God never took a vocation. He is here all the time, with us in the midst of our pain and sufferings.

  1. always hopes, (v.7c)

Closely linked with the ‘always trust’ is ‘always hope’. Agape-love always hopes. It hopes for the sinners to repent. It hopes that one day an unbeliever spouse will come to the Lord. It hopes that children who wandered away from the Lord will come home. It hopes for the salvation of our parents. It hopes for healing of our diseased bodies. It hopes for a better future where there is an end to pain and sufferings. We all need hope. Hope is what keeps us alive. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who was a holocaust victim noticed that these inmates who survived are those who have hope. This who has lost hope died quickly. Agape-love always hopes. It hopes for a better future. It hopes for Jesus’ return and the building of a new heaven and earth. It hopes for eternal rest with God.

Hope is also what sustained Jesus during His earthly ministry. Faith and hope is closely related. Faith is the hope of things not seen. Jesus in His earthly ministry is building faith in His disciples. He knows faith is what will carry them through the tough times because He Himself has enough faith of His heavenly father.

Agape-love always hopes. Hope is what wills what keeps us going.

  1. always perseveres (v.7d)

Agape-love always preserves. The Greek word has this meaning of standing firm in a battle field. In a battle during the Roman times, the Roman soldiers form a protective shelter with the shields and stand behind it. The enemies will charge the shields. The soldiers holding the shield will bear the blunt of the attack but those soldiers behind will be pushing against them so that they front line do not topple and fall backwards. The Romans found that the attack of the enemies will break after a few charges against the disciplined Roman soldiers. This is what makes the Romans legions the finest fighting men and a great world power of their time.

Agape-love means to stand, to dig in and never give up. In spite of all opposition, rumours and failure, agape-love never gives up. Jesus could have given up at the garden of Gethsemane. He could have walked away, find a nice Jewish girl, start a carpenter shop in a small town and raise a family. There will be no pain, no humiliation and no death by crucifixion. But He knew what His mission was. So fully aware of the horrors awaiting Him, Jesus chose to submit to God’s will and surrender to His enemies. That is agape-love.

Augustine was a playboy from a rich family. He was wild and undisciplined and his family did not know what to do with him. They send him to theological school and to business school but he will often play truant. At a young age, he has a mistress and many girlfriends. His mother, Monica never gave up hope on Augustine. She would pray for him everyday until the day the Lord touched him. Even after that, I am sure Monica continued to pray for her son. Augustine went on to be the Bishop of Hippo and one of the finest theologians of the Eastern Church.

3.     The Portrait of Love

Now our portrait of agape-love is complete. Our portrait of Jesus is also complete.
The word picture is as follows:

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonour others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus 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 trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

4. How do We Measure up to this Portrait?

Why do we measure up to this portrait?  What happens when we put our name in the blanks?

__________ is patient, _________ is kind. __________ does not envy, _______ does not boast, _________ is not proud. ________ does not dishonour others, _________ is not self-seeking, __________ is not easily angered, _____________ keeps no record of wrongs. ____________ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. __________ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Soli Deo Gloria