Once I lived with my family in a place where there were no furniture stores within eighty miles. The roads were in such poor condition it could take up to five hours to drive that eighty miles. It could take up to ten hours driving for the round trip. When you found a furniture store, the clerks did not speak English. Any piece of furniture they sold cost several hundred percent more than the same item sells for here. Needless to say, we did not go furniture shopping.

However, occasionally we needed a specific piece of furniture. For example, our sons were small, their room was small, and we really needed bunk beds. Bunk beds were unknown in that area. But, I knew a carpenter who could build anything if he knew what it looked like. If you could show him a picture, he could build it.

I showed him a picture of bunk beds, explained what they were for, and he built a wonderful set of bunk beds. Never mind that I did not think about how I would get them in the house. Never mind that he made them as a single unit. Never mind that we could not get them in the house after they were built. Never mind that he took them apart and rebuilt them inside the house.

If he knew what something looked like, he could build it.

Maybe this carpenter was like most of us. In our lives, we can build it if we know what it looks like. But, if we do not know what it looks like, we cannot produce it.

  1. The Christians living in Corinth faced major problems.
    1. They lived in a very evil environment.
      1. As in every significant city in the Roman empire, idolatry influenced every single aspect of their lives.
        1. No matter how you earned your living, idolatry directly impacted your job.
        2. Every city was full of idols and temples, and Corinth was no exception.
        3. Idolatry was a part of every aspect of city politics.
        4. City officials worshipped and honored the gods.
        5. Morality was defined by the gods.
        6. Ethics was defined by the gods.
        7. Nothing escaped the influence of idolatry.
      2. To make the situation worse, Corinth was a major port city in the Roman empire.
        1. A major trade route to and from the city of Rome passed through Corinth.
        2. Corinth was also the capital of its province.
        3. The city's environment included everything evil you would expect in a port city on a major trade route.
    2. Societies in the Roman empire and society in Corinth were very different from our society.
      1. Their society was a stratified society, unlike anything we ever have experienced.
      2. We would not even understand how their society worked.
        1. What society expected of people in lower social strata would seem strange to us.
        2. None of us would have enjoyed being a part of their social environment.
    3. Their society had voluntary religious associations.
      1. Such religious associations were common.
      2. Christians at Corinth knew what they looked like and how they functioned.
      3. The evidence suggests that the church in Corinth was conducting itself as a typical pagan religious association.
        1. They knew how to do that
        2. They knew what it looked like.

  2. Have you ever found it strange that a letter written to an ungodly, troubled congregation contained what we regard to be a classic piece of biblical literature?
    1. This congregation has some horrible problems.
      1. Division was a major problem in the congregation.
      2. Sexual immorality was a major problem in the congregation.
      3. Selfishness was a major problem in the congregation.
      4. The abuse of God's gifts was a major problem in the congregation.
    2. Right in the middle of all those horrible, ungodly problems is 1 Corinthians 13.
      1. It is not unusual to read from 1 Corinthians 13 at a wedding. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians at a wedding!).
      2. It is not unusual to read 1 Corinthians 13 when you are motivating people to consider a noble life. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians to motivate people to consider a noble life!).
      3. It is not unusual to read 1 Corinthians 13 when you are challenging a congregation to develop a great spiritual vision. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians to challenge a congregation to develop a great spiritual vision.)
    3. So why is 1 Corinthians 13 there?
      1. These Christians knew what division and rivalry looked like.
      2. They knew what sexual immorality looked like.
      3. They knew what it looked like to take a brother to a pagan court.
      4. They knew what prostitution looked like.
      5. They knew what selfishness, self-centered behavior, jealousy, pettiness, and meanness looked like.
      6. But they did not know what LOVE looked like.
        1. So Paul told them what love looked like.
        2. He described love in very simple, understandable terms.
        3. He contrasted love to the religious things they knew.
        4. He explained love was the only enduring, eternal, spiritual quality that existed--all their other admired religious qualities that they coveted and abused would not exist in heaven.

  3. Briefly look at 1 Corinthians 13.
    1. What Paul said in the first three verses was devastating if they really listened.
      1. These Christians placed a high premium on speaking in tongues.
        1. Paul said, "If I could speak every human language,
        2. "If I could speak the language spoken in heaven,
        3. "It would be just empty, meaningless sounds if I did not love."
      2. These Christians placed a high premium on their selfish use of gifts.
        1. Paul said, "If I had the gift that enabled me to prophesy,
        2. "And if that gift allowed me to know all mysteries and all knowledge,
        3. "With all that I am nothing if I do not have love."
      3. He said, "If I have the kind of faith that allows me to do a miracle of nature, a miracle that can move a mountain, and I do not have love, I am nothing."
      4. He said, "If I am the ultimate patron, if in my generosity I give everything I own to feed the poor, if I even sacrifice my very life, and I do not love there is no benefit to me in anything I do."
      5. The Corinthians knew what tongue-speaking looked like; they knew what prophecy looked like; they knew what miraculous faith looked like; they knew what being a great patron looked like.
      6. But Paul said you could have all those and be nothing if you did not have love.
      7. That was the problem: the Corinthians did not know what love looked like.
        1. They knew what quarreling, rivalry, selfishness, self-centeredness, lust, sexual immorality, and spiritual gifts looked like.
        2. But they did not know what love looked like.
    2. So Paul told them what love looked like.
      1. Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not bragging and arrogant.
      2. Love is not rude, not selfish, is not constantly ready for an argument, does not keep a list of wrongs.
      3. Love never finds joy in what is evil, but always finds joy in what is godly.
      4. Love puts up with anything.
    3. That did not resemble anything happening at Corinth!
      1. That is the reason things were in such a mess.
      2. It was not merely that they were not loving each other.
      3. It was that they did not even know what love looked like.

  4. I fear we do not know what love looks like, either.
    1. There are an awful lot of things that would never happen in our lives, in our marriages, or in God's family if we knew what love looked like and were committed to letting God show us how to be persons of love.
      1. We know what sex looks like in every form and description.
      2. We know what lust looks like.
      3. We know what "one night stands" and recreational sex look like.
      4. We know what affairs look like.
      5. We know what adultery looks like.
      6. We know what divorce looks like.
      7. We know what selfishness looks like.
      8. We know what anger looks like.
      9. We know what abuse looks like.
      10. We know what rivalry looks like.
      11. We know what control looks like.
      12. But far too many of us do not know what love looks like.
    2. So we try real hard to look religious and do necessary religious things.
      1. And Paul did not suggest that should not be done.
      2. Paul said that when we do spiritual things without love, those things are meaningless and without benefit.

  5. There is so much pain and suffering in our relationships and in relationships all around us.
    1. So much of that happens because people do not know what love looks like.
      1. Beginning next Sunday for four days Jerry and Lynn Jones will be with us in a special seminar called "Marriage Matters."
      2. This is not just another religious exercise a congregation is supposed to have.
      3. It is quite practical: from experience, they know about a spouse's death, an unfaithful spouse, and divorce.
      4. A lot of what they share will help anyone learn what love looks like.
    2. Because we do not know what love looks like, because we would rather look like our culture than our Lord, we look like everyone else. Listen:
      1. Jesus to the eleven:
        John 13:34,35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
      2. Paul to Christians in Rome:
        Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
      3. John to Christians:
        1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
      4. Paul to the Christians at Corinth:
        1 Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Do you know what love looks like? Do others who are a part of your life know that you know what love looks like? May I share a personal goal with you? I want others to see love when I am at my worst. If love governs me at my worst, it will certainly govern me at my best.

We live in a country, a culture, a society, that does not know what love looks like. It is not enough that we tell people what it looks like. We must show people what love looks like. We know what it looks like because we have seen it. We saw it on a cross and in a resurrection.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 5 August 2001

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