The Greatest of These
The Greatest of These
“The Greatest of These” is a sermon teaching us that the greatest among hope, faith, and charity, is charity, which is sacrificial love. We may have everything but without charity we are nothing.
I Corinthians 13:1-13
I Corinthians 13, I want us to look at the entire chapter this evening and look at “the greatest of these.” What is the greatest of these? Let’s get right into the text and see what this is talking about. Let’s look at verse thirteen. That is where we are going to start, and we will come back to it.
Love is the Greatest
I Corinthians 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
The greatest thing, we looked at that this morning with the “What is Love?” sermon. We looked at what the love of God is and how the love of God is able to sustain us and is able to carry us through, and how we ought to demonstrate the love of God. Tonight, we will look at why charity is the greatest of these. Why is charity, why is love, the greatest of all these? And we are going to look into that in the book of I Corinthians chapter thirteen tonight.
So, the greatest of these is charity and you have probably heard messages on this chapter quite a bit. The last time I came to this chapter was three and a half years ago when my sister passed away. Verse eleven, which we will look at, was her life verse. This verse has a lot, it is a ministry gift that chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, delve into such as spiritual gifts, tongues, and things like that. But it takes a break in chapter thirteen to talk about the more excellent way that it alluded to at the end of chapter twelve.
Honestly, folks, love conquers all. Nowhere should there be hate in what we do. There may be certain foods I hate that I do not like. But when there are things that need to be done in Christian life, it ought to be done in love. That is why it says love is the greatest.
It lists some good things here in verse thirteen. It says faith; faith is good, and we will come back to that. It says hope; hope is good, and we will come back to that. And then charity; these three but the greatest of these is charity.
If Done Without Charity
So, let’s look at the first verse, and let’s understand a little more about love and why it is the greatest of these. It is going to be explained throughout the entire chapter here.
I Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
First of all, we see Paul is writing here. The church of the Corinthians, at Corinth, has lots of issues, to say the least. This is the first of two letters he wrote to the church at Corinth. They had lots of issues, and this is one of them, that they did not do things in love. Paul mentions a lot of personal things here. You will see a lot of personal pronouns here in the beginning.
He says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men,” meaning “even though I have all the languages of men, and I have all understanding, I can speak anything, even “of angels,” the heavenly language. Paul is saying that if he had all these it would be great.
I can speak English and sometimes that does not work well. I tried to learn French, but I did not do so well with that. And then, I failed Greek in college, the biblical Greek language. You might say, “But you are a pastor.” Yes, I know, but biblical Greek is not spoken. It was a little hard for me. I know personally, if I were to have the gift of language, that is probably not it. Some of us are multilingual or bilingual, we can speak different languages, but that is not my gift.
But Paul is saying, “Though I speak with the tongues of men,” I can understand all languages, I can speak like angels “and have not charity,” – “charity” defined here in the Greek is agape, sacrificial love. That is the one that will be referenced throughout this entire chapter. There are three forms of love mentioned in the Bible, there is eros and there is philos or the brotherly kind where you get the City of Philadelphia from. Then you have agape, which is the sacrificial love, which is the love you have toward each other, toward family, husband, wife, whatever the case might be.
So, he is saying, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Now, take a trip to the piano over here with me and if I were going to just play the piano randomly it makes noise but no noise that you are familiar with. But if I put tunes together and I play the song we just sang beforehand, that is a better sound.
Now, the Bible is saying here, if you do not have charity you become like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. You just make noise, there is nothing coherent about it. It is noise. People can touch the piano, but other people can play the piano. What I mean by touch is people can play their notes and make some noise. But some people can play the piano and they can actually make beautiful sounds with it.
The idea behind this is if I do not have charity, if I do not have love, I become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal. I just make noise, nothing that makes sense. You can play piano, but you really cannot play piano unless you put tunes, notes, chords, and things together.
I Corinthians 13:2: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
Paul writes, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge;” – wouldn’t you like to have that? To know everything in the entire world. That would be good to know. But you know what? Notice how he expounds this verse, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,” – can you imagine being in the Grand Canyon and just pushing it afar? That would be pretty good, you might scare a bunch of people. But you have the faith to put a mountain somewhere, or we can move mountains to Florida since we are a flat state. It would be good to have some elevation changes. All I see in elevation changes in Florida are on golf courses and sometimes those are really eh.
I could have all these, I could preach, I could understand all the mysteries revealed for the first time, all knowledge, I have all faith so I can remove mountains, and notice the end of verse two, “and have not charity, I am nothing.” We are nothing without love. We are nothing without God. If it does not make sense now, see the next verse:
I Corinthians 13:3: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
You could give everything to everybody. You could be the greatest giver that could be out there, and you could give your body up. But if you do not do that in love, it will not profit you anything. It is going to mean nothing.
What Charity is About
In verses four to eight, we are going to see more about charity and what it is about. Verses one to three talked about not having charity and how we are nothing, a bunch of noise, or we are not profitable. Verses four to eight tells us about charity more specifically.
I Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,”
Love endures, love endures the test of time. Those who have been married a long time, you know that. It is a good thing to be married and to love and to know that love endures as long as both sides make that work. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind” – love is kind, love does not hate. If you look at this more, there is no fear in love. Perfect love acts without fear because fear has torment. There should not be any fear in what we love and who we love. Then “charity envieth not” – it is not envious; it is not jealous. The next part “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” – charity is also even-keeled, it endures.
I Corinthians 13:5: “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;”
Charity does not misbehave. It is unseemly if it misbehaves. It is not stirred easily, It is not trying to get people agitated.
I Corinthians 13:6: “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;”
Charity rejoices and does so in truth. Love does not cause people to sin, it does not. You do not rejoice in others’ fallings. There are some people out there with this virus going on and say, “Look that person has got it, man I hope it hurts them badly.” No, it is not a fun thing to have, I will tell you that. But what I will tell you is this, you should not wish that upon anybody. It does not matter how bad that person is. Why? Because they are still human and can still get that love of God. They can still trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. And if we turn them away, then whose blood is on our hands if that person dies without accepting Christ? The verse says love does not rejoice “in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”
I Corinthians 13:7: “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
I Corinthians 13:8: “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
Charity does not fail. Love does not fail. If love fails it is because we have done something to make it happen. But true love does not fail because it believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
And in verse eight, charity never fails, but “whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” All this will go away. The knowledge that we have, it is going away one day. I hope not, but the things that you have learned will fade away.
There was a day when the pastor had to take me to school back when I was not so tall. It was because I missed the bus, it was a pretty common thing for me to miss the bus. Why was that? I did not like to get up early. So, I did not take the bus. Pastor took me to school; I was about six or seven years old. I was able to take him road by road exactly how to get there, how to get to I-95, how to get to Boynton Beach to get to Galaxy Elementary School, which is where I was going to. I took us in such a way that a GPS would have done. He bragged that I had the best memory between the both of us.
Of course, the last few months I am kind of questioning that. There are little things that I have forgotten. I am thinking that I am only thirty-four and am forgetting little things, that is not good. But here is the thing, knowledge eventually will vanish away. I am hoping that the things that are leaving, I will be able to replace them with other things.
The verse continues, “whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease,” — some people forget to learn or how to speak. Some of these things that are here are going to vanish away. But the verse says that charity never fails. Charity endures and continues forward.
I Corinthians 13:9: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.”
The verse says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,” – what? That charity never fails. Love is not going to fail. If we allow true love to take hold, it will not fail us. But we try to go and look elsewhere to get love or satisfaction, it is going to fail.
I Corinthians 13:10: “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
As a Child
I Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
That is interesting how this verse pops up there, right in the middle. Out of all these things about love, and having not charity, being known for nothing, and all these other things like noise, and talks about love enduring, it goes into this “when I was a child.” It completely changes the narrative. But what is it trying to show us? Well, “When I was a child, I spake as a child” — there is quite a difference between a child speaking and an adult speaking. There is.
A child can come across as very well-spoken. But most children are going to be simple in the way that they think, in the way they act, and in the way they comprehend things. The verse says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child,” – there are some things I learned as a child that I did not understand until I was an adult. And there are still some things that I do not understand today. So, there are some things we understand and get developed, matures. Folks, love matures. That is really what this is trying to tell us. Love does not fail, love matures, it grows and continues to grow.
The verse ends with, “but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” That does not mean that when you become eighteen or twenty that you stop being this lighthearted person. I still like to be lighthearted at thirty-four. I like to play practical jokes on people. I tend to be very sarcastic quite a bit. Whether you know I am doing it or not is a different thing. But I do like a good joke. But I understand at thirty-four there are things I should not do anymore. There are certain things as we get older, that we put away, and help us to focus more on what God would want for us to do.
Love Reveals Itself
I Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Have you tried to see through glass at nighttime? A little difficult but it could be done. But if it is pitch black, you cannot. But when you turn on the light, you can see it clearly. What is this verse telling us? Love reveals itself. It will reveal itself and it can be done. It was dark but now we can see clearly.
Right now, my head is thinking, “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.” I do not know why this song just popped in the head. You are thinking that I am a preacher, and why I am thinking that song. Sorry, it just popped in there. But you know what? We can see clearly if we allow ourselves to do so.
Faith, Hope, and Charity
I Corinthians 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
Faith, hope, and charity, let’s break those three words down:
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Simply, trust and believe. That is pretty important, don’t you think? Absolutely. Without faith, you are not going to Heaven. You agree with me that it is pretty important, right?
Hope is earnestly looking toward something. The biblical definition is looking forward to something. The song we sing all the time, especially around the second coming Sunday, “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we will sing and shout the victory.” We look forward to that blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. That is something we get to look forward to.
The world’s definition of hope is maybe it will happen. Maybe this will happen, maybe I will be able to do that. And then there is a lot of conditions and clauses and uncertainties that come up because of that. But the biblical definition of hope is looking forward to something, looking forward to that home in Heaven.
Charity, we have already explained is the agape love, the sacrificial love.
So, these things abide, they remain in us, they are with us: faith, hope, and charity. These three, but the greatest of these is charity. I wrote in my Bible, “It is more important than any spiritual gift.” Charity is selfless love. Charity is a love that continues when others do not. You can like things, you can hate things, but charity is much stronger than that. Charity is much bigger than that.
The reason why love is the greatest is that love does not fail. It does not become evil. It does not do things that others allow us to do or things that would cause us to have friction. Charity does not have friction. Charity does not rejoice in sin. Charity endures.
It is continual, that is why it is the greatest of these. That is why it says, I could have all the tongues of men and angels, but if I had no charity, I am just a windbag, a sound producer. I could understand everything, I could have all things, but if I have no charity, I am nothing. Love brings everything together. That is what I Corinthians chapter thirteen is trying to tell us. Love brings everything together, that is why it is the greatest of these.
It is greater than hope and greater than faith because you cannot come to God and love God without love. Nowhere in scripture do I see that you can come to God without love. You come to Him in faith, but you have to trust and believe Him and make that sacrifice to turn yourself away from your sin and turn to Christ. That is why love is one of the biggest themes in the entire scriptures.
One person put it this way, “The Bible is the greatest love language that we could ever have.” It is the greatest love book we could ever have. You could write at the beginning of your Bible, “To you.” and at the end of Revelation chapter twenty-two, verse twenty-one, “Love, God.” That is why the love of God is so important because, without it, we are nothing. Charity does not fail. “Faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
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