Love is the Theme

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  13 : 1-13
Subject: Love

Albert C. Fisher (1886-1946) dedicated these words to his friend, L. E. Jones, “Of the themes that men have known, / One supremely stands alone; / Through the ages it has shown, / ’Tis His wonderful, wonderful love. Love is the theme, love is supreme; / Sweeter it grows, glory bestows; / Bright as the sun ever it glows! Love is the theme, eternal theme!”1

Dr. Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) wrote a book in 1960 titled The Four Loves. Lewis summarizes four kinds of human love--affection, friendship, erotic love, and the love of God. Dr. David Jeremiah also explains about the four loves in his book titled Acts of Love: The Power of Encouragement, “In the Greek language of the New Testament and the first-century world, there were four different words that were used to describe four different kinds of love.

Stergo (natural affection) -- This kind is the intimate love we have for those in our families. ‘I love you because you are my sister.’

Eros (self-serving passion) – The word eros is not used in the Bible, but the concept is taught in books such as Song of Solomon. We get our word erotic from this Greek word. It’s love for the sole purpose of sexual satisfaction. ‘I love you because you give me pleasure. If you stop giving me pleasure. I stop loving you.’

Phileo (friendship) – This is psychological, social love. It is often translated by the word friend in the Bible. (See John 15:13-14) It speaks of the enjoyment we gain from another’s company. ‘I like you because you are my friend and because of some of your qualities. This is a 50/50 relationship you understand. If you don’t give in return, or if there is much conflict, our relationship will end.’

Agape (giving of one’s self) – This is totally selfless love, a love which comes from and is rooted in God. Agape is the power that moves us to respond to someone’s needs with no expectation of reward. The fundamental attribute of agape is sacrifice. So its not 50/50, it’s 100/0. ‘I’m going to give 100 percent even if I never receive anything in return. I will even sacrifice myself for you. I just want what’s best for you!’”2

Best-selling author W. Phillip Keller (1920-1997), shares the following in his book titled, A Layman Looks at the Love of God, “As I pen these lines I am vividly reminded of an incident that took place during my early teens, roughly fifty years ago. My dad and mother were literally laying down their lives to try and establish a strong group of Christian believers in the bush country of Kenya. But after working tirelessly for sixteen years in that difficult territory, they decided a special, deeper work of God was needed. Only God’s Spirit and God’s Word could inspire and lead men and women to immerse themselves in the very life of Christ.

With this goal in mind, a conference was held. Every one of the Christian leaders, pastors, teachers and elders was obliged to attend. In preparation for the week’s conference, each one was to read and meditate on 1 Corinthians 13. The entire chapter was to be prayed over carefully every day for a full month! It was also to be completely memorized and repeated whenever the Holy Spirit brought it to their attention. The leaders were to submerge themselves in these scriptures.

When they came to the conference, held in a very simple, sheet-iron chapel on the crest of a high hill, it was to study and examine and understand what God’s Spirit was conveying to the church in this profound passage. For seven days and seven nights that group of African Christians dwelt in the truths of this so-called Love Chapter. In doing so, they came to Christ; they drank deeply of His life; they were satisfied; their thirst was slaked. And they went away revitalized.”3

We will divide the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians into three sections, namely the absence of love, the presence of love and the endurance of love. First note:

I. The Absence of Love

Do you remember the lyrics to the popular song written by John Lennon (1940-1980) and Sir Paul McCartney, “I don’t care what they say / I won’t stay in a world without love”?

The Corinthian church was no doubt an exceptionally gifted church but marred by carnality. We read in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” Later Paul warns about the absence of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 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, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

A perceptive person quipped, “You can give without loving but you can’t love without giving.” Have you ever noticed the prominence of the word “love” in 1 John 3, 4 and 5? For example, John writes in the third chapter of his first epistle verses ten through twenty three, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.

Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:10-23).

John also writes about love in the fourth chapter of his first epistle, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1-6).

John continues this theme in verses seven through eleven to share how we know God through love. Here he writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-11).

John further explains how we see God through love in verses twelve through sixteen. He writes, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:12-16).

John reveals the consummation of love in verses seventeen through nineteen, where he writes, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:17-19).

John states the obedience by faith in the last two verses of chapter four, when he writes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).

John also writes about love in the first five verses of chapter five, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5)

Not only do we note the absence of love in first Corinthians chapter thirteen we discover:

II. The Presence of Love

Dr. J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988) titles this section “The Prerogative of love- virtue.” Dr. Alan Redpath (1907-1989) refers to it as “the power of love.” We call it “The Presence of Love.” Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Quite often at weddings you hear a song by Noel “Paul” Stookey called “The Wedding Song” (There is Love). The lyrics state:

“He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts

Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.

The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain

for whenever two or more of you
are gathered in His name there is Love, there is Love.

Well, a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home and they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.

As it was in the beginning is now and til the end

Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.

And there is Love, there is Love.

Well then what's to be the reason for becoming man and wife?

Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?

And if loving is the answer, then who's the giving for?

Do you believe in something that you've never seen before?

Oh there is Love, there is Love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain

for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name

there is Love, there is Love.”4

Paul the Apostle, explains that marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of Christ and the church in Ephesians 5:22-33.

In first Corinthians chapter thirteen we see not only the absence of love and the presence of love, we find:

III. The Endurance of Love

Dr. Robert G. Witty (1906-2007), founder of the Luther Rice Seminary, used to sign all of his letters with the phrase “Jesus never fails.” Here Paul emphatically states, “Love never fails.” That is true with a proper understanding of the meaning of the word love. Some religious groups use the right vocabulary but the wrong dictionary. Remember there are several words translated into the English language as “love”.

Dr. Josh McDowell explains, “Situation ethics teaches that there’s no right or wrong before you enter into a situation.” Dr. McDowell continues, “Once you're in the thick of it, whatever you do is right if your guiding factor is love. That is, in any moral situation, if you do the loving thing, then it's right.

People who believe in Situational ethics quote Romans 13:8, 10: ‘He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law,’ and ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law.’ Look, they say, if you go into any situation and do the loving thing, then you've fulfilled the law. But there's a problem with this viewpoint, and it becomes immediately evident when you apply it to dating. ‘Well,’ someone says, ‘I thought the loving thing was having sex with him. He needed me, he said please, and he wanted love. So, because I love him, it must have been right.’

The problem with Situational ethics, and the place where most people miss the boat, is when they say ‘Do the loving thing,’ they never define what the loving thing is. What happens is, once they're in a situation, they end up doing their own selfish thing. It is true that the Bible says to do the loving thing (Romans 13:8), but it doesn't stop there. The Bible defines what that loving thing is. Look at Romans 13:9, the verse right after the verse on love I referred to above: "The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

The Bible is saying that in every situation, we should do the loving thing. It is then defining for us what that loving thing is. If you truly love someone, for instance, you won't murder him or steal from him. You won't even commit adultery with him.

The wonderful thing about Christianity is that it not only tells us to do the loving thing, it also tells us what that loving thing is.”5

Paul declares the endurance of love in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

A poet expresses, “Faith will vanish into sight, / Hope be emptied in delight, / Love in heaven will shine more bright, / Therefore give us love.”

Dr. V. Raymond Edman (1900-1967), fourth president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, shares the following in The Disciplines of Life, “Love grows stronger when assailed; / Love conquers where all else has failed. Love ever blesses those who curse; / Love gives the better for the worse. Love unbinds others by its bonds; / Love pours forgiveness from its wounds.”6


The absence of love describes a place called hell and the presence of love describes a place called heaven. Love, agape, will endure forever and ever.

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. ‘He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God’” (John 3:13-21).

“Love is the theme, eternal theme!” as Albert C. Fisher states in his hymn “Love is the theme.”

1Eternal Praise For the Church and Sunday School, compiled and edited by Marion Lawrence and E.O. Excell (Chicago, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1917), Number 27, Albert C. Fisher, “Love is the Theme” Available from: Accessed: 02/12/10

2David Jeremiah, Acts of Love: The Power of Encouragement (Gresham, OR: Vision House Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 17-18.

3W. Phillip Keller, A Layman Looks at the Love of God: Devotional Study of 1 Corinthians 13 (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1984), p. 15

4Available from: Accessed: 02/13/10

5Practical Christianity, Compiled and edited by LaVonne Neff, Ron Beers, Bruce Barton, Linda Taylor, Dave Veerman, Jim Galvin, Josh McDowell, “All You Need Is Love?”, Copyright © by Youth for Christ/USA., p. 235, Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

6V. Raymond Edman, The Disciplines of Life (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Foundation, 1948), p. 166.