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Love: The More Excellent Way

July 9, 2023

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:31b–13:7

Love: The More Excellent Way

1 Cor 13:1–7 – Being God’s People: 1 Corinthians – Daniel J. Baker – July 7, 2023


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“If able, please stand...” Reading of 1 Corinthians 12:31b–13:7. “...Thanks be to God.”

It’s always good to periodically how you use the word “love.” “Love” is a word that gets cheapend easily:

  • The heart icon in texting
  • The heart athletes create toward fans
  • “I love Chick-Fil-A sauce”

But it’s the same word used in weddings during the vows, where the husband and wife vow to “love” each other “according to God’s holy ordinance.”

  • That “love” is different than their “love” for Chick-Fil-A sauce!

Our passage this morning will help us remember all that true love really involves.

We’re looking at 1 Corinthians 13.

  • If you’re not a Christian and have been to a wedding, it’s possible you heard this passage read.
  • If you’ve never heard it, I hope this morning that you come away with a greater appreciation for what true love is and where it’s found.
  • Likely some surprises.

Our Series is "BEING GOD'S PEOPLE." Today's text reminds us that we are to be a people who love sincerely.

Our passage falls in the middle of a letter written by an early church leader to a church he planted in the city of Corinth.

  • A letter covering an array of concerns that had become a big deal to this young church.
  • The letter dates back to the 50s in the 1st
  • It’s an ancient document – preserved for almost 2000 years.
  • Historians are confident about its age and its author.
  • But we know it’s not just an ancient document—it’s also God’s Word to us.
  • It’s God Word that calls us to see that love is “the more excellent way.”
  • When it comes to how we treat people, love is the most essential ingredient.
  • It’s what has to be present if we are to treat people the way we are supposed to.

But there’s one more thing we need to say right at the start about this love:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

If we are to have a chance at loving people the way we should, we need to receive God’s love first: “We love because he first loved us.”

Sermon: Love others better by understanding (1) The Superiority of Love (12:31b–13:3), (2) The Benevolence of Love (13:4–5), The Strength of Love (13:6–7).


I. The Superiority of Love (12:31b–13:3)

Let’s get oriented to our text.

Our passage starts at the end of chapter 12: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Not “more excellent gift.” Love isn’t one of the spiritual gifts he’s discussed: “You’ve got prophecy, cool. I’ve got love.” It doesn’t work that way. It’s “the more excellent way.” A way is a way of living life, a lifestyle, a way of practicing ALL the gifts.

Paul’s been talking about spiritual gifts—remember 1 Corinthians 12:1 where he announces the new topic at hand. It continues till the end of chapter 14.

In Corinth there was the sense that if you had powerful displays of spiritual gifts you were part of the elite in the church. You were the truly spiritual. You deserved special status and esteem.

But in this opening paragraph, God is clear: Whatever’s on the outside, if love’s not on the inside, it’s an empty sham and won’t benefit you at all.

He’ll hold up 3 snapshots of people we would typically think of as super saints, truly spiritual people. Even heroes of the faith.

And yet, in each case they have not love. And then he’ll tell us what they’re great heroism will earn them.

The first snapshot is the PREACHER or PROPHET, “speak in tongues of men and of angels.” You’re Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, and the greatest prophets of the 70s and 80s charismatic revivals—all combined into one.

In the Greco-Roman culture of Corinth, praising people for their rhetorical abilities was a common thing. The artistry of the words and power of the speaker were a kind of Olympic sport at the time.

AND YET—if you have not love, you’re nothing but a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” You’re obnoxious noise. You can dress it up in whatever fancy vocabulary and skill you want, but in the end, it’s obnoxious noise.

In the second snapshot (1 Cor 13:2) he goes after those who boast of their spiritual gifts, likely a good size group in Corinth.

The array of spiritual gifts here is impressive. It’s hyperbole for effect. You don’t just have a little of one gift—you have ALL of ALL the gifts.

AND YET—if you have not love, you’re “nothing.” Opposite of a spiritual hero, you’re “nothing.”

And then in the third snapshot (1 Cor 13:3) he goes after heroes in personal sacrifice. You don’t just give away SOME of your income to others, but ALL of it. You “deliver up your body”—like Paul, facing stonings, beatings, shipwrecks for the gospel (2 Cor 11:23–26).

BUT—if you have not love, you “gain nothing.” Jesus holds out the promise of rewards for our good works. And Paul does, too. But when it comes to rewards, our heart matters. Without love, there is no reward for our good works. We “gain nothing.”


  • Maybe for us you can think of these as the SPEAKING crowd, the GIFTS crowd, and the GOOD WORKS crowd.
  • The SPEAKING crowd is those of us who love to evangelize or teach or preach or prophecy or speak in tongues—it’s the whole array.
  • The GIFTS crowd prays a lot and is always crying out for God’s power.
  • The GOOD WORKS crowd is always busy serving people or in some non-profit.
  • God is not saying to stop doing any of these things.
  • But God is calling us to SEE THE SUPERIORITY OF LOVE.
  • Compared to all these things love is the “STILL MORE EXCELLENT WAY” (1 Cor 12:31b).
  • Without love you can do any of these things—or all these things—and it amounts to obnoxious noise and it brings you absolutely no spiritual reward.
  • You might help a lot of people—but for you there will be no true reward.
  • But with love, our speaking, our gifts, and our good works not only help people, but they bring us great reward.
  • Don’t create a false choice here: Love OR speaking, Love OR gifts, Love OR good works.
  • The Bible isn’t doing that.
  • It’s calling us to join love to all these things: Love AND speaking, Love AND gifts, Love AND good works.

Love others better by understanding The Benevolence of Love.

II. The Benevolence of Love (13:4–5)

Why “benevolence”? It’s a term to capture the way that love seeks to do good to others—no matter what obstacles are placed in its path.

Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–5.

Two positive statements about what love does and then eight things love is “not.”

The Benevolence of Love Seen in that It’s Kind No Matter What

“Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4)

The two positives are verbs: “Love acts with patience, love acts with kindness.” We don’t have verb forms of “patient” or “kind,” so we’re forced to combine these words with verbs.

“Patient” = “suffereth long” in the KJV. In the face of hardships, love suffers long.

“Kindness” = something not to take for granted. It's easy to see kindness as overly-familiar. But it's powerful. Researchers studying the topic of marriages that last divided marriages into two categories—“masters” and “disasters.” The “masters” were ones that endured. They found that basic “kindness and generosity” was one of the key ways to tell whether a marriage would endure or not.

But what was interesting was how they defined kindness. They observed couples and noticed that we all say and do things with each other and we’re wanting some kind of positive response. Simple things: You open the blinds and notice it’s raining and say, “Bummer, it’s raining.” The other person has the opportunity to respond with “kindness”—“Sorry!” And marriage has dozens of these small interactions every day.

But if you say those simple things and the other person says or does nothing or says something really negative, it has an effect. There’s a natural feedback loop in a good relationship where kindness is met with kindness.

But we have to be careful here that we don’t turn what GOD COMMANDS into what WE DEMAND. God is pointing at us and saying, “You are to show love by being kind.” He’s not saying, “when someone is kind to you, make sure you respond with kindness.”

That’s why PATIENCE and KINDNESS go well together. Patience “suffereth long.” Which means being kind even when people are not.

The Benevolence of Love Seen in that It Doesn’t Do Sinful Comparisons

“love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” (1 Cor 13:4)

These fruits of love have to do with sinful comparisons. In the first—“does not envy”—you compare yourself to others and you’re on the losing side—you want what they have. The word has a lot of emotion attached to it. “Burn with envy” (Thiselton, NIGTC, 1048).

But then the Bible hits us from the other direction. We compare ourselves to others and we’re on the winning side. We “boast”—really it’s “bragging, praising yourself.” Or we’re “arrogant”—“puffed up” (KJV, NET), “inflated sense of our own greatness.”

But love doesn’t sinfully measure against other people. It doesn’t get envious. It isn’t boastful or arrogant.

It’s able to be at peace with what the Lord has given—what the Lord has given to us and what he has given to others.

The Benevolence of Love Seen in that It Treats People Well in All Their Weaknesses

“ It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:5)

The next four fruits of love speak to how we treat people, especially how we treat people in all their weaknesses—their true weaknesses and in what we perceive to be weaknesses. Love treats people well despite their weaknesses.

With these four behaviors there’s a recklessness and even an anger in how we’re acting. We look at others and judge them to be wanting, not good enough. Maybe it’s a customer service agent and we feel like they’re totally incompetent. It’s a store that said they had the shoes in stock but they don’t—and you blame the manager. It’s a car mechanic that didn’t fix the problem, and you assume he’s a fraud.

But love treats people well in all their weakness. Love IS NOT...

RUDE—rudeness is when you treat people shamefully as if they’re totally beneath you. You ignore basic rules of politeness—which are just ways to treat people as if they matter.

DOES NOT insist on its own way—which means you run over people. You force your will on people. You manipulate things so that your way always wins out.

IS NOT irritable—or “easily angered” (NET) or “easily provoked” (KJV). It means you get angry too easily and over too many things. You’re an angry outburst waiting to happen.

Anger always has in it an internal lawyer, judge, and a jury. Your internal lawyer makes your case against someone else by cataloguing their wrongs—their wrongs according to your standards. Then your internal judge hears the wrongs and judges against them. You hear the case you made and judge the person guilty. And then your internal jury deliberates to figure out how best to punish the person for being guilty of the law you wrote and for being declared guilty by the judgment you made.

But love is NOT irritable or “easily provoked” (KJV).

IS NOT resentful – Or in the NIV, “it keeps no record of wrongs.”—With “resentful” we’re not just angry and judging against people in our souls, but we keep listing out their offenses. We list them out internally and regularly we let them know what their “record of wrongs” is.

Love doesn’t do that. Love lets forgiveness erase things on the list. Love chooses to ignore things on the list.

Love isn’t trying to put things on the list at all. In that article from The Atlantic the authors pointed out what a tendency toward criticism will do.

People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing, and they see negativity when it’s not there.
Emily Esfahani Smith, “Masters of Love”[1]

Application: love is a very active benevolence. It is doing good to others in the face of obstacles.

  • When we consider all that’s required of us, it’s good to go back to the verse I quoted earlier:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Love others better by understanding the strength of love.

III. The Strength of Love (13:6–7)

Read 1 Corinthians 13:6–7.

With what we’ve said we might think that love is a weak thing. As if loving people are pushovers or something silly like that.

But with these two verses we see the STRENGTH OF LOVE.

Love is Strong in Truth (13:6)

In verse 6 we see that love doesn’t compromise in the area of truth.

“Does NOT rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

This is where true Christian love really parts ways with any kind of sentimental greeting card love. This isn’t love song love that’s filled with romantic passion but not always with true action and true commitment.

And this is where we see that true Christian love isn’t some kind of bland “TOLERANCE.”

Love doesn’t merely put up with truth because it has to. Love REJOICES with the truth. It delights to see God’s Word believed and preached and obeyed.

When we find ourselves saying we love someone but rejecting God’s Word as we do that, we know we’re no longer walking in love.

That’s why sometimes we have to say “I love you” to someone but also say, “I cannot condone the lifestyle you’ve chosen or the decision you’ve made.”

To them that’s being hypocritical. To them, love is approving of all their behaviors and choices. But Christian love can’t do that: “It rejoices with the truth.”

True Christian love is strong in truth.

Love is Strong in All Circumstances (13:7)

Our paragraph ends by listing out four things that love does in all circumstances.

Here we see the strength of love as it remains constant in all circumstances. It “bears all things, believes...hopes...endures...” With the repetition of “all things,” the idea is more of an adverb—“in everything” or “always.”[2]

Love remains constant, strong, and unwavering—even in the face of tremendous obstacles.

  • It bears the small and large inconveniences of a relationship
  • It trusts God’s Word and promises in the face of obstacles
  • It hopes in God’s future grace in the face of obstacles
  • It endures great hardships


Love others better by understanding the superiority, benevolence, strength of love.

What we said at the start:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

If there’s the presence of true love in us, true Christian love, it’s only because God first loved us.

  • Long before we were born, God loved us by making provision for our salvation.
  • 1 John 4 says God loved us by sending “his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9)—His only Son! We were dead in our sins, and he sent Christ so that we might be “made alive” in him!
  • 1 John 4 says God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)—Christ received God’s wrath and judgment, so we would receive none of it. He shed his blood and died for us—so that we wouldn’t have to.
  • This is the great love that shows us what real love is—the superiority of love, the benevolence of love, the strength of love.
  • Some of us need to start here, with receiving God’s love by believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
  • And this love displayed by Christ and poured out on us changes us.
  • We love because he first loved us. His love becomes the CAUSE of our love for others. 
  • This transformation isn’t quick, but it’s happening.

Lemony Snicket (i.e., Daniel Handler) says in his book Horseradish:

Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby—awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.
Lemony Snicket, Horseradish[3]

Let 1 Corinthians 13 help you with this change.

(1) Let this passage affect you. Take time with it. Pray through it. Ask the Lord to sift your heart as you do. Slow down with it. And if you get motivated, memorize it. It’s not a long chapter. And it will be one you can call to mind when you need to get yourself re-oriented.

(2) As you do, think about a person in your life you’re having a hard time loving. Pray through it asking God to help you obey it with that person. Ask yourself, Where are you treating someone as the lawyer, judge, and jury—and you need to stop. Where do you need to stop keeping a record of wrongs?

Prayer and closing song

[1] Emily Esfahani Smith, “Masters of Love,” The Atlantic, accessed at

[2] Fee, NICNT, 709; BDAG

[3] Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), Horseradish, 105.

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