“The Active Ingredient – 1 Corinthians 13
Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
1. Active Ingredient Experiments
Science experiments with active ingredient (vinegar):
– blow up balloon (add baking soda to vinegar in pop can)
– vinegar and water to clean penny
– vinegar makes egg bouncy
2. 1 Corinthians 13
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, says that love – God’s love – is the active ingredient in our Christian
a. Without love… meaningless actions
vv. 1-3 – tongues, prophecy, understanding, faith to move mountains, charity to the poor,
martyrdom (spiritual gift you only use once!)… but if they are done with the wrong motivation,
they are meaningless.
Tongues – to show off, I’m a better Christian than you
Prophecy – I have a direct line to God, I have messages from Him
Charity – look at me, giving to others, helping others
Paul’s conclusion: I am nothing, it means nothing, I gain nothing.
We know what Paul is talking about:
Help someone in need in order to… impress a girl you’re interested in, impress your boss at work
to be considered for a promotion.
Give to a charitable cause in order to… get an income tax receipt and lower your taxes, develop a
reputation among your peers as a philanthropic person.
Forgive someone who has wronged you in order to… make that person indebted to you, secretly
hold a grudge and bring up that past wrong at some convenient point in the future.
Serve in the church in order to… get into a position of supposed power, build bridges for social
contacts, business relationships and ultimately economic gain.
When things aren’t done with true love, they are done for personal gain. SIN – because the
middle of SIN is I. I is also the middle of CHILD, because children often think only of
themselves and their own interests. Paul writes that when he was a child, he talked like a child,
he thought like a child, he reasoned like a child. That would have been the selfish motivation for
doing most things. But then, Paul says, when he matured and became a man, and a man of faith
in Jesus, he put childish things behind him. He was able to see the value of true love.
True love is the active ingredient as we live our Christian lives and even as we use our spiritual
gifts. You add love to a marriage and there is mutual trust and joy and contentment. You add
love to parenting and there is service and teaching and growth. You add love to a work
environment and there is camaraderie and teamwork and accomplishment. You add love to a
church and there is jubilant worship and fervent fellowship and authentic forgiveness and
b. The nature of love
Paul describes love in verses 4 – 8. All throughout he is using that special Greek word for love –
. It is God’s kind of love – unconditional, sacrificial, all-in, other-centered, good will,
benevolence, faithfulness, commitment. Let’s read how Paul explains love together. (vv. 4-8a)
There are a lot of good, meaningful concepts there, and I can’t unpack them all. But let me land
on a few that, in my mind, stand above the rest as the active love ingredient in human
Not self seeking… I mentioned before that when things aren’t done with true love, they are
generally done for personal gain. What can I get out of it? Of what benefit to me are these
actions? True love, God’s love looks not at one’s self but at the beloved. God’s love seeks the
good, the welfare of the beloved. God’s love is willing to empty one’s self to serve the beloved.
It’s much like what John the Baptist said of Jesus: “He must increase but I must decrease.”
No record of wrongs… A second quality of true love is keeping no record of wrongs. That’s
counterintuitive to human nature. We always like to keep a record of wrongs. We have a little
black book – even if it’s just a mental one – that documents every time a person offends us.
Things have to be just, and even and fair, and if a person has wronged you, you either have one
wrong to give back or that person owes you a good deed to make up for the bad. But God’s
love in human relationships forgives wrongs and permanently deletes that wrong from
the relationship record book and even from one’s memory.
Rejoices with the truth… Love isn’t satisfied with the superficial; it wants to get to the bottom of
things. It can’t stand half-truths, hidden truths, white lies and deception. Love always wants the
truth, even if it hurts at times, because it is then and only then that an authentic relationship can
be built on a solid foundation. Truth leads to clarification, learning, growth and positive change.
Truth in a family, in a workplace, in a church and in a community produces the fruit of joy.
Never fails… This is, I suppose, most obvious in the traditional marriage vows which say: “to
have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness
and in health, to love and to cherish until death parts us.” That is affirming “I will love you, I
will be faithful to you as long as we both shall live.” That’s never failing. It’s making a
commitment that if he breaks a leg, or if she develops chronic… hiccups, that won’t change how
you love each other. It’s a promise that even when your teeth spend the night together in a cup of
water or when you have to put in your hearing aid to hear your partner say: “I love you,” you
will still love one another and you will still be husband and wife. Such stick-to-itive, through-
thick-and-thin love can likewise be shown from parent to child, from child to parent, from friend
to friend, between brothers and sisters in Christ. Love doesn’t change with the blowing of the
wind. It remains firm and constant, like an anchor wedged in the floor of the sea. Love never
c. Love… sourced in God
I said a few minutes ago that this love is God’s kind of love – unconditional, sacrificial,
all-in, other-centered, good will, benevolence, faithfulness, commitment. That means that true
love finds its source in God. 1 Corinthians 13 – the great love chapter of the Bible – actually
doesn’t come right out and say that. In fact, in those 13 verses there is no mention of God or of
the name of Jesus. It simply extols the virtues of love. However, the very last verse kind of hints
It says, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is… faith.” That’s
what we might expect, right? Compared to hope and love, faith – faith in God – is the greatest of
the three. We’ve got to have faith if we’re going to have hope, hope for the future, hope for
eternity. We’ve got to have faith in God if we’re going to love others the way God wants us to.
So, faith is the most important.
But that conclusion is forgetting one thing: Love is first and foremost understood in a “God to
us” direction, not an “us to others” direction, and certainly not an “others to us” direction. God
loved us first. That’s what the apostle John wrote in the second greatest love chapter – 1 John 4.
First, John says – short and sweet – “God is love.” A few verses later, John adds, “We love
because He first loved us.” Same word… .
This is after John unpacked what love really is:
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that
we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent
His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Again… the source and origin of love is… God.
Our ability to have faith is based on God’s pre-existing love for us.
Our ability to have hope for eternity is based on God’s constant love for us.
Our ability to love others is based on God’s undeserved love for us.
Of course, we heard all this very concisely, and beautifully, and memorably in John 3:16 – God
so loved… THE WORLD! God is the source of love to the world. The people of the world didn’t
know love before God loved them, and showed that love by sending and giving His one and only
Son – to save us by His sacrificial death on the cross, so that we might be forgiven and have
eternal life. That takes us to the next point…
d. Love… demonstrated by Jesus
True love is demonstrated by Jesus. The Gospels, which record the life and ministry of Jesus, are
filled with personal examples of that love.
Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery.
He fed a hungry crowd that had been listening to Him teach all afternoon.
He touched and healed a physically unclean leper.
He hung around with and ate with socially unclean prostitutes and tax collectors.
He held and blessed little children.
He raised from the dead the only son of a widow woman from Nain.
He healed a bent over woman who had been crippled for 18 years.
He cast demons out of the daughter of a Canaanite woman and out of the son of a man who
struggled with doubts.
He reassured one doubting disciple and reinstated another denying disciple.
In these and many other ways, Jesus demonstrated real love to real people. If that’s not enough, I
could tell you a dozen more.
In these and similar ways, Jesus demonstrates His love to you. By providing, by protecting, by
feeding spiritually, by healing, by accepting, by forgiving, by blessing… Jesus says, “I love you.”
But, more than any other way, Jesus says, “I love you” by His death on the cross. That’s what 1
John 4 said… “God showed His love by sending His Son as an atoning sacrifice [on the cross] for
our sins.” That’s what Romans 5 says… “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we
were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s what Jesus, Himself said, in John 15… “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends.” Then Jesus did exactly that – stretching out His arms on the cross
in a giant gesture of love and welcome and embrace to the entire human race. By that act, and by
the forgiveness and eternal life it brings, Jesus said, “I love you.”
3. The active ingredient
You probably know that vinegar was the active ingredient in those science experiments. Vinegar
can do a lot of things, a lot of surprising things.
Love is the amazing active ingredient for our lives – God’s love for us in Christ, and God’s love
in Christ through us toward others. When we let God’s love in us flow through us, surprising
Like the vinegar dissolved the egg shell, love can dissolve the impact of wrongs against one
Like the vinegar and baking soda collaborated to produce the carbon dioxide to blow up the
balloon, the love and compassion of generous people working together can expand to address the
hardships of genuinely needy people
Other surprising things might be…
The animosity between two groups can turn to friendship
Challenges met with love and team work can turn into opportunities for change and growth
People who don’t expect it may be blessed by a random act of kindness, or in Christian terms, a
conspiracy of grace
People who are resistant to the Gospel can, as they experience the love of God through us, be
softened to reconsider the person and the saving work of Jesus.
Yes… the greatest of these is… LOVE. Amen.