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Painful Delight: Timely Insight into 1 Corinthians 13

by Andrew Davis on June 09, 2020

As I have observed the terrible events of this past week after the death of George Floyd, my soul has been crying out to God for answers and for hope. Like so many other Christians, I have been praying about all these issues—wise and just law enforcement, systemic injustice, racism, anarchy, opportunistic violence, lawlessness, indifference, poverty, rage. The muck of the human condition pumped out day after day by the sin of all human hearts. I prayed for wisdom, and for guidance, and for courage and energy to act in a way pleasing to God. As I did, I believe he led me to think again about the strong feelings I have had in the recent sermons I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians 13…the love chapter. I hope these words will be a healing balm to some.

Early on in the series, I became strongly aware that the chapter is not some sweet piece of wedding poetry. It is law. The Law of God. The Second Great Commandment, unfolded and described in great detail. “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude. Love is not selfish, love is not easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8). I was urged by one preacher to line myself up with each description, positively or negatively… “Andy is patient, Andy is kind…” I was immediately stabbed with conviction. It became too painful! And it has continued to be painful, week after week as I have gone very slowly through this list. I began to look on the chapter rather negatively, like it was here to beat me up. In John Bunyan’s allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian pilgrim named Faithful recounted his run-in with a man who pursued him swiftly and beat him mercilessly:

So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said, because of my secret inclining to Adam the First; and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward; so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So, when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to show mercy; and with that he knocked me down again.

That was how I felt about 1 Corinthians 13. All it does is beat me up, knock me down, show me my wicked lovelessness. We find out in the account that the man who relentlessly beat up Faithful was Moses, representing the Law of God. But in the allegory, Christ came to Faithful’s aid and made Moses stop.

Now, as I was driving on a Sunday morning to our church to preach yet another convicting sermon about love, I believe the Holy Spirit came to me and said I was thinking far too negatively about this chapter. It soon resolved into a combination I now call “Painful Delight.” I relate it to you because I think it is relevant also to our quest for an end to all the wicked lovelessness we are seeing played out before our very eyes day after day in the streets of our world. The “Painful” aspect is in one part; the “Delight” aspect comes in three parts.

Painful: The love chapter is painful because I am deeply grieved at the lack of love I see in my own heart, and the clear evidence I see all around me. Painful because we are not patient or kind. Painful because we bitterly envy the blessings given to others. Painful because we boast arrogantly over the blessings we ourselves have received, not sharing them with others. Painful because pride is at the root of all of our sins. Painful because we are so rude…increasingly ill-mannered as a people. Painful because we are so incredibly selfish…fanatically committed to self-interest every single moment of our lives on Earth. Painful because we are very easily angered…hair-triggered, at many dimensions—from mild irritation to murderous rage. Painful because we keep a long meticulous history of wrongs, and we are so unforgiving. Painful because we seem to delight in the evil we see in others’ lives and have no delight in the truth. We do not bear much, do not believe the best about people, do not have much hope for what could happen in someone else’s life, and we give up on others. Painful.

"We will remember evil in heaven...We will know the history of racism and injustice and anarchy, and we will see it dead at our feet. And we will celebrate that victory together for all eternity!"

Delight #1: The fact that these things cause me such pain is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life. Along with that, I humbly acknowledge that I do see some evidence of 1 Corinthians 13 love working in my life and in the lives of many people around me. I ascribe that evidence to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ…it has not returned void, but has worked some love in this sin-saturated world.

Delight #2: I believe that the words of Scripture (especially 1 Corinthians 13) is exactly what we need right now…God’s Word is perfect, and perfectly relevant. Therefore, any new efforts made by Spirit-filled Christians toward love, justice, benevolence and social transformation from evil to good will sweetly improve life on Earth. Marriages can be improved. Families can be improved. Churches can be improved. Cities and towns can be improved. Nations can be improved. Only by faith in Jesus Christ the Savior can sins be forgiven. Only by the power of the Spirit can this transformation occur and these realms be improved. But I have hope that these words can make an amazing change in my world. I will not yield to Satan’s hopelessness, but trust in God’s Word.

Delight #3: 1 Corinthians 13 ends in a promise of a world of love…heaven, a place where we will see God face to face, no longer through a mirror darkly. A place where these imperfect expressions of love will give way to absolute perfection. Faith will become sight. Hope will be fulfilled in reality. But love will remain eternally…a love that radiates with the glory of God. Heaven will be a place where the past will be remembered, but only as triumphant evidence of the power of the grace of God to save sinners from every nation, tribe, people, and language, transforming them from loveless sinners to radiantly loving saints. We will remember evil in heaven, and all its details, so that we can see how God conquered it through the blood of Christ. We will know the history of racism and injustice and anarchy, and we will see it dead at our feet. And we will celebrate that victory together for all eternity!