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Martyrdom Without Love

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If I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Cor. 13:3
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Wrong motives rob even the greatest sacrifice of its spiritual benefit.

So far in his denunciation of loveless ministries, Paul has addressed what we say, what we know, what we believe, and how we give. Now he comes to the apex of his argument—how we die. Many Christians have made the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom, but even that is useless without love.

In Paul’s time, many slaves were branded with a hot iron to identify them as belonging to their master. For that reason, some interpreters believe Paul was referring to becoming a slave when he spoke of delivering his body to be burned (1 Cor. 13:3). Others think he was speaking of burning at the stake—a death that many Christians suffered at the hands of their persecutors.

Although death by burning wasn’t a common form of persecution until after Paul wrote to the Corinthians, I believe that’s what he had in mind in this passage. In verses 1-2 he used extremes to make his point: speaking with the tongues of angels, knowing all mysteries and having all knowledge, having all faith, and giving all one’s possessions to feed the poor. The horrible, agonizing pain associated with death by fire is consistent with those extremes.

Jesus called martyrdom the highest expression of love (John 15:13). But it isn’t always a godly or loving thing to do. Many people have died for lesser reasons. You may recall stories of the Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II or, more recently, monks or students who burned themselves in protest of some political or social injustice.

Even Christians aren’t exempt from wrong motives. It is reported that many Christians in the early church developed a martyr complex, wanting to die for the faith so they could become famous like the martyrs before them. Many deeds that look sacrificial on the surface are really the products of pride.

If the ultimate sacrifice is useless without love, so is every lesser sacrifice. But love sanctifies them all. So let God’s love govern everything you do!

Suggestions for Prayer: Memorize Romans 5:8 as a reminder to praise God for the sacrifice He has made for you.

For Further Study: Read Revelation 2:1-7. What strengths did the church in Ephesus have? What did the Lord say about its one glaring weakness?

Benevolence Without Love

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If I give all my possessions to feed the poor . . . but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Cor. 13:3
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Love is characterized by self-sacrifice, but not all self-sacrifice is an act of love.

If you’ve ever donated to your church or another charitable organization out of obligation, peer pressure, legalism, guilt, a desire for recognition, or simply to earn a tax deduction, you know what it means to give without love. In our society it’s easy to fall prey to that kind of giving because the needs are so great and fund-raisers appeal to every conceivable motive. In addition, many cults and false religions encourage the giving up of possessions and other sacrificial gestures as a supposed means of earning God’s favor. But God is more interested in why you give than what you give.

Paul’s hypothetical illustration in 1 Corinthians 13:3 is that of someone who sacrificed everything he had to feed the poor. The Greek word translated “to feed” means “to dole out in small quantities.” Apparently this guy didn’t simply write out a check for a food distribution program; he was personally involved in a long-term, systematic program that would eventually consume every resource he had.

Paul doesn’t mention motives—only that this person lacked love. Consequently, the benefits of his benevolence were limited to the physical realm. Any spiritual benefits were forfeited.

Jesus, making a similar point, said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). If your motive for giving is to gain the approval of men, their accolades will be your only reward. If you’re motivated by love for God, He will reward you abundantly (vv. 2-4).

When you give to the Lord, what is your motive? Do you want others to think more highly of you? Do you feel obligated? Those are subtle influences, so be sure to guard your motives carefully. Remember, the only acceptable motive is love.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you sensitive to the needs of others, enabling you always to give out of genuine love.

For Further Study: Read Luke 18:9-14. How did the Pharisee’s prayer differ from the tax-gatherer’s? How did God respond to each prayer?

Faith Without Love

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If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Cor. 13:2
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Loveless faith is useless faith.

In Matthew 17:19 the disciples came to Jesus wanting to know why they couldn’t cast a demonic spirit from a child. Jesus responded, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you” (v. 20). He repeated the same principle in Matthew 21:21—“Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall . . . say to this mountain [the Mount of Olives], ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ [and] it shall happen.”

Those passages have puzzled many people because they’ve never seen anyone move a mountain. But Jesus wasn’t speaking literally. Moving mountains would cause all kinds of ecological problems and would be a pointless miracle. The expression “able to move mountains” was a common figure of speech in that day, meaning “to surmount great obstacles.” Jesus was speaking of those who have the gift of faith—those who can move the hand of God through unwavering prayer.

The gift of faith is the ability to believe that God will act according to His will, no matter the circumstances. People with that gift are prayer warriors and tend to stand as rocks when others around them are falling apart. They see God’s power and purposes at work, and they trust Him even when others doubt.

But, says Paul, even if you have such faith, if you don’t have love, you are nothing. That’s a harsh rebuke, but it places the emphasis where it belongs—on our motives. The Corinthians’ motives were evident in their selfish pursuit of the showy gifts.

What motivates you? Remember, without love it doesn’t matter what gifts you have, how eloquent your speech is, what you know, or what you believe. Only love can validate your service to Christ.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God for a greater capacity to trust Him and for the motivation to pray more fervently.

For Further Study: Read Hebrews 11, drawing from the examples of the people of great faith mentioned there.

Balancing Knowledge and Love

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If I . . . know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Cor. 13:2
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: True knowledge is always governed by love.

Christians should never take knowledge for granted. The ability to learn about Christ and to grow in His truth is a blessing beyond measure. Paul prayed that we would be “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). That’s what enables us to live in a way that pleases God (v. 10).

But knowledge must be governed by love, just as love must be governed by knowledge. In Philippians 1:9 Paul says, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” In 1 Corinthians 13:2 he says that knowledge without love is nothing. That’s a God-ordained balance you must maintain if you want to be effective for the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 13:2 Paul uses a hypothetical illustration to emphasize the importance of love: “If I . . . know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing.” The Greek word translated “mysteries” in that verse is used throughout the New Testament to speak of redemptive truth that once was hidden but is now revealed. For example, Scripture speaks of the mystery of God in human flesh (Col. 2:2-3), of Christ’s indwelling us (Col. 1:26-27), and of the church as Christ’s Body (Eph. 3:3-6, 9).

“Knowledge” in 1 Corinthians 13:2 refers to facts that can be ascertained by investigation. It’s impossible to know every mystery and every fact in existence in the universe, but even if you did, without love your knowledge would be useless. Knowledge alone breeds arrogance, but love builds others up (1 Cor. 8:1).

Maintaining a balance of knowledge and love is a practical principle that influences the decisions you make every day. For example, if you have a choice between going to a Bible class or helping a neighbor with some immediate need, the better choice is to help your neighbor. You will have other opportunities to learn the Word, but it might be some time before you have a chance to show Christian love to your neighbor.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God for the wisdom to keep knowledge and love in proper balance.

For Further Study: Read Luke 10:25-37. How did the lawyer try to justify himself to Jesus? How did Jesus illustrate love for one’s neighbor?

Speaking the Truth in Love

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If I have the gift of prophecy . . . but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Cor. 13:2
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Love is an indispensable ingredient in the learning process.

I have the privilege of spending time each week with hundreds of young people who attend The Master’s College. As I observe their progress, I see the impact godly teachers have had on their lives, and I’m convinced that students learn best when they know that their teachers genuinely care about them.

Isn’t that true in any relationship? Don’t you respond more readily to those who love you and have your best interests at heart? That’s certainly true in ministry. Think of the pastors and teachers who have meant the most to you over the years. They’re probably the ones who have loved you and ministered to you in special ways.

Whether it’s a pastor, teacher, family member, or friend, whoever speaks to people on behalf of God must do so with genuine love and concern. That’s the positive side of Paul’s negative statement in 1 Corinthians 13:2. Jeremiah was such a man. He loved the people of Israel deeply and was grieved at their apostasy and impending judgment. “O that my head were waters,” he said, “and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1). That’s the spirit of a loving prophet, and this was typical of Jeremiah’s lament over his people’s sin.

Loveless preaching and teaching misrepresent God’s character and hinder the gospel; loving proclamation is winsome and effective. That doesn’t mean that all who hear you will respond positively; quite the contrary. The people of Judah didn’t listen to Jeremiah, so they incurred severe judgment. Similarly, some to whom you speak will politely reject what you say; others will react with hostility. But those who respond in faith will appreciate your loving concern for their spiritual well-being.

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for those who have ministered to you in love. Seek to follow their example as you reach out to others.

For Further Study: Read Acts 20:19, 31, Romans 9:2-3, and 2 Corinthians 2:4, noting the things that prompted Paul to weep for the people to whom he ministered.

Prophecy Without Love

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If I have the gift of prophecy . . . but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Cor. 13:2
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Love motivated God to communicate with fallen humanity.That must be your motivation too.

The word prophecy as used in 1 Corinthians 13:2 is the ability to publicly proclaim God’s truth accurately and authoritatively. It’s a greater gift than tongues because tongues were given as a sign to unbelieving Israel in the first century (1 Cor. 14:21-22), whereas prophecy instructs and edifies believers throughout the centuries. Paul said, “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation [and] edifies the church” (1 Cor. 14:3-4).

Prophecy has two aspects: revelation and reiteration. When an Old or New Testament prophet received new information directly from God, that was revelation. Whenever that information was repeated through preaching or teaching, it was reiteration. For example, the sermons of Peter and Paul combine new revelation with a reiteration of Old Testament truth. That’s a common element in New Testament preaching.

With the close of the New Testament canon, direct revelation from God ceased. All preaching and teaching today is reiteration. New Testament prophets policed one another to ensure that every prophecy was truly from God (1 Cor. 14:32). Today Scripture itself is the standard by which we test someone’s message. As the prophet Isaiah said, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (8:20).

Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I have the ability to speak direct revelation from God, or to reiterate divine truth forcefully and dramatically, but lack love, my ministry is meaningless.” In its broadest sense, that principle applies to every believer because we all are proclaimers of God’s Word. You might not teach a class or preach a sermon, but whenever you tell someone about Christ or share a Biblical principle, you’re reiterating divine truth. That’s why you must always “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Then the Holy Spirit can empower your words to minister to others.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to help you guard your words, so that everything you say will be clothed in His love.

For Further Study: Read Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22. What tests did Moses give for determining false prophets? What punishment did false prophets receive?

Languages Without Love

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If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Cor. 13:1
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith

Key Principle: Love distinguishes true communication from useless chatter and meaningless noises.

Paul begins his discourse on love by stating the futility of languages without love. The Corinthians were enamored with the showy spiritual gifts, apparently to the neglect of those they deemed less spectacular (see 1 Cor. 12:12-31). One of the gifts they prized most highly was tongues, which was the Spirit-given ability to declare God’s truth in a language unknown to the speaker but known to others who heard.

Tongues were a sign to provoke unbelieving Jewish people to consider the gospel (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Its first occurrence was on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit enabled those assembled in the upper room to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in the native languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 2:4-11).

The “tongues of angels” Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:1 isn’t the gift of tongues, as some suppose. He was simply using an exaggeration to emphasize his point, saying in effect, “If I had the ability to communicate with angels, it wouldn’t do any good without love.”

In Paul’s day, the worship of Cybele and Dionysus, two pagan gods, included speaking in ecstatic languages accompanied by blaring trumpets, smashing gongs, and clanging cymbals. I believe Paul was drawing from that well-known practice to say that whenever Christians attempt to minister apart from the Spirit and His love, it’s no different than a pagan rite. It may look and sound like the real thing, but it’s meaningless and useless for any spiritual benefit.

You should take advantage of every opportunity to minister your spiritual gifts to others. But as you do, be sure it’s with love, in the energy of the Spirit, and in accordance with God’s Word. Then you’ll have maximum impact as Christ uses your efforts for His glory.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to convict you whenever you attempt to exercise your spiritual gifts without love.

For Further Study: Read Romans 12:1-31. What does Paul say about spiritual gifts? How are Christians to express brotherly love to one another?

The Source of True Love

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Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. . . . We love, because He first loved us.

1 John 4:7, 19
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith.

Key Principle: True love cannot be generated on the human level. It’s a gift from God.

Scripture often makes seemingly impossible demands of us. For example, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). That’s easy to say, but how is it possible? Our natural tendency is to love our friends and hate our enemies. But Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Israel viewed tax-gatherers as traitors and Gentiles as spiritual outcasts. Yet even traitors and outcasts show love and kindness to those who reciprocate. Jesus calls us to a much higher standard of love—one that is impartial, like God demonstrates when He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45). As we see from God Himself, it extends even to those who aren’t worthy: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Despite generations of rebellion and slander against His holy will and name, God sacrificed His beloved Son, thereby providing the means by which sinners can be saved. Out of love, Jesus willingly endured the pain and shame of the cross and paid the price of our redemption. Now that’s divine love in action!

God commands you to love as He loves—impartially and sacrificially. That may sound impossible on the human level, but remember that God never requires you to do anything He hasn’t already enabled you to do. At the moment of your salvation, the Holy Spirit took up residence within you and began producing the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22). You don’t have to muster it on your own. All you have to do is invite the Spirit to take control, allowing Him to govern your thoughts and actions. As you do, His precious fruit will be multiplied in your life.

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for the love of the Spirit He has placed within you. Ask Him for opportunities today to learn how to love more perfectly.

For Further Study: Memorize Galatians 5:22-23.

Filling Up an Empty Word

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I show you a still more excellent way.

1 Cor. 12:31
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith.

Key Principle: Biblical love is characterized by humility, obedience to God, and self-sacrifice.

In our society, love is a common word but an uncommon experience. Often those who use the word most understand it least. Many who think they’ve found love have really settled for something far less than God intended for them.

For many, love means a romantic or sexual relationship. While Scripture has much to say about intimacy within marriage, the word love takes on a different meaning in the New Testament. Even Ephesians 5:25 (“Husbands, love your wives”) doesn’t refer to romantic love.

Other common errors include equating love with emotionalism or sentimentality, or confusing it with a friendly spirit of tolerance and brotherhood toward others—often apart from any consideration for doctrinal purity or Biblical convictions. But Biblical love is none of those.

The “more excellent way” Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12:31 is love that comes from God Himself and conforms to His holy attributes. We have no capacity to generate this on our own. The Greek word for that kind of love is agapé, and it is characterized by humility, obedience to God, and self-sacrifice. John 13:1 says of Christ’s love for His disciples, “He loved them to the end.” That literally means He loved them to perfection—to the limits of love. In verses 4-5 He demonstrates His love by washing their feet. Love is humble. It focuses on meeting needs.

In addition, love is obedient and willing to make sacrifices for others. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). God made the supreme sacrifice for us in that He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

First Corinthians 13 applies to Christians of every generation because we all face the danger of misusing our spiritual gifts. As we study this and other passages about love, ask yourself if your love is all that God wants it to be. If not, take note of what changes you need to make in light of what you’re learning.

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for loving you. Ask Him for wisdom and grace to understand and walk in love.

For Further Study: Read John 14:23-24, noting how Jesus described those who love Him.

A Hymn of Love

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I show you a still more excellent way.

1 Cor. 12:31
by John MacArthur, Drawing Near: Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith.

Key Principle: Without love, spiritual gifts are meaningless.

First Corinthians 13 has been called a hymn of love, or a lyrical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount—the Beatitudes set to music. It’s a beautiful portion of Scripture that comes as a breath of fresh air in a book dealing with one problem after another.

This chapter has often been isolated from its context, but its real power lies in the balance and correction it gives to the rest of the book. The Corinthians, like all Christians, had been gifted by God at the moment of salvation to benefit the church in a special way. But many were abusing their gifts, seeking prominence for themselves rather than ministering to one another. So in chapter 12 Paul discusses the concept of spiritual gifts, in chapter 14 their proper use, and in chapter 13 the need to use them in love.

Like many Christians today, the Corinthians forgot that spiritual gifts can operate effectively only in a person who is truly spiritual. They had the gifts of the Spirit, but they weren’t displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), the first of which is love.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul begins, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Love must be the motive and driving force behind everything we do!

How has God gifted you for ministry? Are you using your gifts in love?

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to purify your love and make you a more effective minister of the gifts He has given to you.

For Further Study: Read 1 Corinthians 12. Who distributes spiritual gifts? Which gifts did Paul mention? What is their purpose?

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