MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV 1 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. 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. 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. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 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. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 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. 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. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
The Scriptural Meaning of Love
Love is one of the most abused terms in our time, and this passage deals with love, or charity. Our perception of this chapter is not helped by its reading at weddings, including that of Prince Charles and Princess Diane, leading people to believe that the greatest of all the theological virtues is romantic love.
First we need to ask about the setting of this lesson. Few people notice that it is placed between two chapters, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14, dealing with charismatics or tongue-speakers. Another term we use is Pentecostals. I remember being at a Baptist camp as a child and hearing someone put down as “Pentecostal.” All I knew was that Pentecost was a religious event in the Christian Church.
The three chapters, 1 Corinthians 12-14, are an extensive criticism of Pentecostal claims then and now. We can see that embedded in this chapter.
“If I speak in the tongues of angels…”
“Tongues shall cease.”
“When I was a child, I spake as a child.”
Although Pentecostalism is a problem for many Lutherans, I think it is important to address a greater danger, which is foundational, common to all forms of false doctrine: the separation of the Word and the Holy Spirit. This is called Enthusiasm in the Book of Concord.
"And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may [thus] be protected against the enthusiasts, i. e., spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the spoken Word, and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Muenzer did, and many still do at the present day, who wish to be acute judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet know not what they say or declare. For [indeed] the Papacy also is nothing but sheer enthusiasm, by which the Pope boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart, and whatever he decides and commands with [in] his church is spirit and right, even though it is above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word."
Smalcald Articles, VIII., Confession, 3-5, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 495. Tappert, p. 312. Heiser, p. 147.
We confess as Lutherans that all false doctrine begins with separating the Word from the Spirit, since the Scriptures always weld them together. The Word never operates without the Spirit and the Spirit never without the Word. That is sound doctrine. (Hoenecke’s Dogmatics. Vol. IV is now available from NPH.)
That is the key to the love which is the main theme of this chapter. Love is the fruit of the Gospel. When Paul wrote about the Law and Gospel to the Galatians, he pointed out the difference between the WORKS of the flesh and the FRUITS of the Spirit. We work strife, envy, and hatred in ourselves—these are works of the flesh. The Law works wrath, so one does not stop hatred by saying, “Stop being so hateful. I despise that. It is evil.”
In contrast, love is a fruit of the Spirit. (Some distinguish between the spirit of man and the Spirit of God here. I fail to see the difference. The Spirit of God must produce the fruit before the spirit of man enjoys it.) When we say fruit, we mean that God produces it, unlike the works of the flesh. So the answer to hatred is not merely denouncing it, which is the Holy Spirit’s work through the Law. The only way to produce love is through proclaiming the Gospel of forgiveness.
What does the Word of God do? It proclaims that the eternal Son of God became man, being born of a Virgin, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus the Incarnate Word, taught, performed miracles, and died on the cross for our sins, rising from the grave to be the firstfruits of all those who would rise from the dead.
The world stands condemned for its unbelief without the Gospel. The preaching of the Word has always been God’s method for imparting His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. It is true that some read the Scriptures and are converted, but they are in the minority. All infant baptisms are the preaching of the Word, for every baptism is water with the Word.
(When I teach confirmation, I heat up a wire and set fire to paper with it. The wire paper clip glows with heat and energy, a comparison used by the orthodox Lutherans. We do not separate the red glow of the heat from the metal. We see both. In the same way, with baptism and communion, we see the elements but we know the power is in the Word. The Word imparts the Holy Spirit’s energy to the recipient in granting forgiveness.)
Therefore, if we want an abundance of love, we should first desire an abundance of orthodox preaching. Otherwise we are demanding apples where there are no trees. The tree is the Word of God. Love, joy, and peach are the fruits that grow from this tree. Gospel preaching is both Law and Gospel, since our Old Adam never goes away. Justification by faith means that the Holy Spirit proclaims what Christ has done for us on the cross, paying for our sins, and we receive this decree of pardon by faith. A forgiven sinner knows and experiences God’s love, so the Gospel love of God bears fruit in the believer as love toward God and toward our neighbor. We love because He first loved us.
This is important because the false teachers want us to believe they are the apostles of love. First of all they pose as men who are more loving than the rest of us. Their great love gathers disciples to their cause and proves how valuable they are to the Kingdom of God. That alone should make the alarm bells go off, as we will see shortly. But the second part of their love message is even more dangerous. They claim that their false doctrine may not be opposed because it is unloving to do so. In fact, the proto-liberals of the LCMS made their case in a booklet called Speaking the Truth in Love. That phrase has become a rallying cry for the false teachers among the conservative Lutherans. Let’s look at the context.
KJV Ephesians 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Clearly the context of “speaking the truth in love” is in opposing false doctrine. Love is not an excuse for tolerating false doctrine, because false doctrine belongs to man and ultimately Satan. Orthodoxy simply means teaching exactly what the Bible reveals to us, as confessed through the Book of Concord. The more I read the Book of Concord, the more I see how the controversies of the past have been resolved with the pure Word of God. Orthodoxy means clinging only to the truths of the Scriptures.
As Lenski points out, the meaning behind “speaking the truth in love” is a double accusation against the false teachers. They engage in all kinds of deceit and trickery to have their way and they are anything but loving. Luther wrote: “They flay their disciples to the bone.” For example, some Evangelicals, after getting 10% of everyone’s income, will say, “Ten percent is not an offering. An offering is what you give after the required 10%.” I heard one famous minister, who was having an affair and teaching about his lovely marriage at the same time, “I am going back to my congregation to preach about the double tithe.” Motivating with the Law is not enough for these wolves. They must double the Law. The adulterous pastor was given another church job, then called back to his congregation where he had the affair.
The apostle is also exhorting the Ephesians not to be children about doctrine. An endearing trait of children is their eagerness to be taught and led. One can also mislead and deceive them easily. (I offered children a gold coin or a huge token worth $1. Most of them took the token rather than the gold.) Adult believers should not be childish in allowing themselves to be drawn away from the Word of God and the Confessions. No one has the power to take us from the truth. We must give up the truth willingly in the name of some other loyalty, to a person, a family, a tradition, a building, or a church body. You would be amazed at how cheaply the Gospel is bartered away by pastors and church leaders. One said, in effect, “I will never let that adulterer speak at my church, but I will take his $50,000.”
Our love of God should be primary. The catechism says we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If we have to choose between man’s favor and God’s truth, our fear of God should be greater than our fear of rejection by man. If we love our possessions, we should love God more, so that we would gladly give them up rather than give up God. We look for people and companies we can trust, but we should trust in God most of all.
Trust is the key element in our love of God. Oh, I love God, but can I trust in Him to provide when I have to make decisions according to His Word. One thing is very clear—there is a lot more money, prestige, and friendship in abandoning the Word than in insisting on the truth of the Scriptures and acting upon that truth.
Love is also used as an excuse for lawlessness. It would be unloving to identify something as a sin. “I wouldn’t do that but I won’t JUDGE anyone who does.” Of course, that is a condemnatory statement. There is an implied condemnation in the claim that “I won’t JUDGE anyone who does.” Someone who judges something to be wrong is condemned for being wrong according to the spirit of this age.
I have never seen someone abandon the Law, although they may sound like anti-Nomians. What they really do in their lawlessness is transfer man’s law into God’s Law. They deny God’s Law and replace it with man’s law. They are far more censorious with their law than God is with His Law.
It is far more loving to identify sin as a sin, according to God’s Word. If something is a sin, then it is contrary to God’s commandments, which are good and loving. The Holy Spirit alone can create true contrition, sorrow for sin, by working through the Law. No one wants to hear the Law, but the Law prepares us for the comfort and forgiveness of the Gospel.
The proper love of God, according to the Scriptures, means that we will never accept any trifling with the truth of the Word, because it belongs to God alone.
The proper love of man, as revealed in the Scriptures, is shown in our willingness to accept the failings and shortcomings of others, to make allowances for them, and be eager to forgive, as God forgives us.