Third, love is self-limiting because we ourselves are prone to stumbling. 1 Cor 10:23-24.
1 Cor 10
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
Not everything is constructive. Not everything builds up. In fact, many things we do tear others down and cause them to stumble. So v24 makes sense – Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. We’ve talked about that already.
Now let’s look at the first part, v23 – “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial.
We can apply it in 2 ways. Everything is permissible, but not everything we do benefits others. But I think we have to also apply this to ourselves. We are free in Christ. Everything is permissible, but not everything benefits ourselves.
That’s why Paul mentions earlier in 1 Cor 10:12-14,
1 Cor 10
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
All things are lawful, all things are permissible. What a bold statement about Christian freedom. In some sense, you can do whatever you want and get away with it as long as you are not going against your conscience. But we have to consider the fact that not all things are beneficial for ourselves.
Paul is warning Gentile converts who used to participate in pagan rituals to be careful. That idol that you used to bow down to before you were saved in Christ was a real idol to you. And in the spiritual landscape, demons are for real. They exist. So be careful. Flee idolatry. Run away from it. Know your limits. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’ll be tempted.
This means, if you used to reach for a beer bottle whenever you were depressed before you came to know Christ, you are free in Christ to drink, but maybe being around alcohol for you would not be the wisest decision. Or, if you used to be addicted to adult material on the internet before you were saved in Christ, you are free in Christ to surf the net, but maybe being alone in your room in front of your computer after midnight is not the wisest decision. Maybe food was your idol and whenever you are stressed, you would reach for that potato chip bag or that pastry. For you, food may be an idol, literally.
The principle is there–regarding many ethical gray areas, we have freedom in Christ. But if you used to be enslaved to certain practices, exercising or insisting on your freedom may not always be a smart decision. Esp. insisting on your freedom in areas where you previously struggled. What’s wrong with going to a dance club? You could argue, it’s good exercise. If you used to attend dance clubs because you were trying to pick up on girls and then you became a Christian, maybe you should reconsider whether or not it’s wise to go that dance party.
To recap what we’ve covered so far:
1) Love seeks to build up another person.
2) Love is self-limiting because we want to be careful not to stumble others.
3) Love is self-limiting because we ourselves are prone to stumbling.
This brings me to my fourth point–and probably the most important—love is the way of Jesus. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 13. I’ll read – verses 1-8 and 13:
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, 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. 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… 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 defines what love should look like. It starts out by reminding us that knowledge puffs up–even if we have the gift of tongues or prophecy and insight into all knowledge and we know the Bible inside out and we have seminary training and degrees but if we have not love, we are nothing. You can even have experiential knowledge of surrendering your body to the flames and giving up all your possessions to the poor, but without love, we are nothing. These things are absolutely meaningless if you have not love.
When you were wronged by a fellow brother or sister in Christ, how did you respond? Were you impatient with them, were you rude, were you angry? That’s not the way of love.
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. And how ought we to build each other up? With love that is patient, kind, with a love that does not envy or boast. Love that is not rude or self-seeking or easily angered and with a love that keeps no record of wrongs. Do you keep a record of wrongs, a list of who did what to you when? That’s not the way of love. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love rejoices with the truth. When the truth of God’s love breaks through for the first time in a person’s life or for the nth time and there is repentance and forgiveness, there is much rejoicing in heaven. Love leaves the 99 sheep and goes after the 1 lost sheep and when that one lost sheep returns, there is rejoicing. Loves is consumed by the prodigal son who is lost and who is eating among the pigs. And love rejoices when that prodigal returns home. Love rejoices with the truth.
Love is so thoroughly other-centered and seeks to build up and not tear down or stumble. Instead, love always protects, always trusts and always hopes.
There are 3 places in the Bible that explicitly define what love is. There could be more, but here are 3: 1 Corinthians 13 that we just covered. Next, there is John 15:13.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Love is laying down one’s life for his friends. Love is also all the things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 that we read earlier. And finally, love is defined most succinctly in 1 John 4:16 with 3 words: GOD IS LOVE.
This means you can replace the word ‘Love’ with ‘God’ in every instance in 1 Corinthians 13, and what will you find? You will find the perfect picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus is all those things in 1 Cor 13 and he ultimately lays down his life for you and me.
Jesus is love embodied, the gospel embodied. Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. Jesus does not boast. He is gentle and humble in heart. He is not proud. Jesus is not easily angered. He keeps no record of wrongs. If he did, who among us could stand? Jesus was not self-seeking. Rather, he limited himself to the point of death on a cross so that we, the weaker brethren, we, the sinners, would not stumble into eternal condemnation.
Application: In preparation for Easter, I invite you to meditate on the gospel. Meditate on the way of love. Has Jesus’ love transformed you? Your view of life, your purpose, your view on relationships? Are you more loving today than you were a year ago? Has the gospel of Jesus so radically transformed you from within that you can respond in a Christ-like way when others wrong you or mistreat you? Can you forgive others because in Christ, you have been pardoned an immeasurable debt?
Have you lost your way? Then return to Jesus. See how he has loved you. Allow this gospel message to sink deep within so that you can be truly free in Christ. Return to the gospel and God is waiting to pour out His love upon you afresh so that in turn, you may gain a roominess of heart to love and build up others.