“[LOVE] DOES NOT SEEK ITS OWN” (1 COR. 13:5).

Love transforms selfish people into self-sacrificing people.

From the time of Adam and Eve, replacing God with self has been at the root of all sin. Our first parents had only one restriction: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But Eve believed the serpent’s lie that God was trying to keep her from realizing her full potential (Gen. 3:5). She ate the forbidden fruit, gave some to Adam, and together they plunged the human race into sin and death.

Christ changed all that when He came, not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Unlike Adam and Eve, He didn’t seek His own comfort or gain, but made whatever sacrifices were necessary to redeem lost sinners.

It is reported that the inscription on a tombstone in a small English cemetery reads,

Here lies a miser who lived for himself, And cared for nothing but gathering wealth. Now where he is or how he fares, Nobody knows and nobody cares.

How tragic to spend your entire life enslaved to your selfishness. In contrast, a tombstone in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.” The first tombstone testifies to the futility of greed and selfishness; the second to the glory of generosity and self-sacrifice.

Christ is the perfect example of self-sacrifice. If you love Him, you should be characterized by the same quality. Then others will see your genuineness and commitment to them, and by God’s grace be drawn to your Lord.

What epitaph might your family and friends write about you? I pray it is one that glorifies God for the selfless love He demonstrated through you.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for those who have made significant sacrifices toward your spiritual growth. Seek to imitate their love.

For Further Study

  • List the fifteen qualities of love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, then determine how self-sacrifice relates to each one.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“LOVE IS PATIENT . . . KIND . . . NOT JEALOUS . . . DOES NOT BRAG . . . IS NOT ARROGANT, DOES NOT ACT UNBECOMINGLY . . . DOES NOT SEEK ITS OWN, IS NOT PROVOKED, DOES NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT A WRONG SUFFERED, DOES NOT REJOICE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT REJOICES WITH THE TRUTH; BEARS ALL THINGS, BELIEVES ALL THINGS, HOPES ALL THINGS, ENDURES ALL THINGS” (1 COR. 13:4-7).

Love is difficult to define, but it can be described by the behavior it produces.

Paul painted a portrait of the kind of love Jesus wants to produce in every believer. It is, in fact, a portrait of Christ Himself, who is love’s highest expression. Unlike most English translations, which include several adjectives, the Greek forms of all those properties are verbs. They do not focus on what love is so much as on what love does and does not do.

Set against the backdrop of the Corinthians’ self- promoting behavior, Paul’s words are a strong rebuke. He says in effect, “Love is patient, but you are impatient. Love is kind, but you are unkind toward those who disagree with you. Love is not jealous, but you envy those with certain spiritual gifts. Love does not brag, but you are proud of your theology. Love is not arrogant and does not act unbecomingly, but often you are rude and ill-mannered toward one another.

“Love does not seek its own, but you are self-centered. Love is not provoked, but you quarrel among yourselves. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered, but you hold grudges against each other. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but you delight in one another’s failures. Love rejoices with the truth, but you distort and disobey God’s Word.

“Love bears all things, but you are defensive and resentful. Love is eager to believe the best about someone, but you are quick to assume the worst. Love never gives up and can tolerate incredible opposition, but you are weak and intolerant.”

Paul wanted the Corinthians to see the deficiencies in their love in light of the truth and make the needed corrections. You and I must do the same. So as we explore each of love’s characteristics, ask the Holy Spirit to purify your heart so others will clearly see Paul’s portrait of love on display in you.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, substituting “Jesus” for “love.” Then praise Him for all His excellencies.

For Further Study

  • What does 1 John 3:13-18 teach about love?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“IF I SPEAK WITH THE TONGUES OF MEN AND OF ANGELS, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I HAVE BECOME A NOISY GONG OR A CLANGING CYMBAL” (1 COR. 13:1).

Love distinguishes true communication from useless chatter and meaningless noises.

Paul begins his discourse on love by stating the futility of languages without love. The Corinthians were enamored with the showy spiritual gifts, apparently to the neglect of those they deemed less spectacular (see 1 Cor. 12:12-31). One of the gifts they prized most highly was tongues, which was the Spirit-given ability to declare God’s truth in a language unknown to the speaker but known to others who heard.

Tongues were a sign to provoke unbelieving Jewish people to consider the gospel (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Its first occurrence was on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit enabled those assembled in the upper room to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in the native languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 2:4-11).

The “tongues of angels” Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13:1 isn’t the gift of tongues, as some suppose. He was simply using an exaggeration to emphasize his point, saying in effect, “If I had the ability to communicate with angels, it wouldn’t do any good without love.”

In Paul’s day, the worship of Cybele and Dionysus, two pagan gods, incorporated speaking in ecstatic languages accompanied by blaring trumpets, smashing gongs, and clanging cymbals. I believe Paul was drawing from that well-known practice to say that whenever Christians attempt to minister apart from the Spirit and His love, it’s no different than a pagan rite. It may look and sound like the real thing, but it’s meaningless and useless for any spiritual benefit.

You should take advantage of every opportunity to minister your spiritual gifts to others. But as you do, be sure it’s with love, in the energy of the Spirit, and in accordance with God’s Word. Then you’ll have a maximum impact as Christ uses your efforts for His glory.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God to convict you whenever you attempt to exercise your spiritual gifts without love.

For Further Study

  • Read Romans 12:1-21.
  • What does Paul say about spiritual gifts?
  • How are Christians to express brotherly love to one another?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“THIS PRECIOUS VALUE, THEN, IS FOR YOU WHO BELIEVE” (1 PET. 2:7).

Love for Christ is the primary characteristic of a true believer.

First Peter 2:7 speaks of the believer’s affection for Christ as contrasted to an unbeliever’s rejection of Him. The first part of that verse could be translated, “To you who believe, He is precious.” “Precious” means “valuable,” “costly,” “without equal,” or “irreplaceable.” Christ is all that, but only believers recognize His supreme value and regard Him with affection.

Affection for Christ is the bottom-line characteristic of true believers. Believing in Him and loving Him are inseparable. In John 16:27 Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed.” In Matthew 10:37 He says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Believers have a compelling and surpassing love for Christ.

To His antagonists Jesus declared, “If God were your Father, you would love Me” (John 8:42). Anyone who truly loves God will love Christ. Those antagonists claimed to be children of God, but their deception was revealed when they tried to kill Jesus for preaching God’s truth. They were in fact children of the devil (v. 44).

In John 14 Jesus adds, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him. . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (vv. 15, 21, 23- 24).

Many people are confused about what it means to be a Christian. But you have the privilege of clarifying the issue as you esteem Christ highly, love Him deeply, and demonstrate your love by obeying His Word. May God bless you richly as you pursue that goal today.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God to give you opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love in specific ways to those around you.

For Further Study

  • Read 1 John 4:7-5:3.
  • How did John characterize God?
  • What affect should your love for God have on your relationships with others?
  • How did John define love?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“YOU . . . ARE BEING BUILT UP AS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE FOR A HOLY PRIESTHOOD, TO OFFER UP SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES ACCEPTABLE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST” (1 PET. 2:5).

Christ’s death provided access to the Father for all believers.

Throughout history, false gods have been portrayed as remote, indifferent, and apathetic to human needs and generally unapproachable by the common masses. Out of fear, a man might attempt to appease his idols but he has no desire or capacity to draw near to them.

Even those in Old Testament times who worshiped the true God had limited access to Him. The average Jewish person could commune with God through prayer, but was forbidden to approach Him physically. Only the high priest was allowed to enter into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies—but only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Even then he had to go through a ceremonial washing and offer a sacrifice for his own sin. If he failed to prepare himself properly, he could forfeit his life.

Anyone daring to usurp the office of a priest was also in danger of severe punishment by God: King Azariah (also called Uzziah) was afflicted with leprosy, King Saul’s lineage was cursed, and Korah and his rebellious followers were destroyed when the ground opened and swallowed them.

However, we as Christians enjoy unlimited access to the Father through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”

As a member of God’s royal priesthood, you can approach Him with confidence, knowing He loves and welcomes you into His presence just as He welcomes His own Son. Take full advantage of that access by communing with Him in prayer and offering each day as a spiritual sacrifice to Him.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Praise Jesus for shedding His precious blood so you can have access to the Father.
  • Praise the Father for being a personal and approachable God.

For Further Study

  • Read Exodus 19.
  • What did God tell Moses?
  • What were the people to prepare themselves for?
  • Was God approachable to the people?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“COMING TO HIM AS TO A LIVING STONE . . . YOU ALSO, AS LIVING STONES, ARE BEING BUILT UP AS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE FOR A HOLY PRIESTHOOD. . . . YOU ARE A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION. . . . YOU ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD. . . . YOU HAVE RECEIVED MERCY” (1 PET. 2:4-10).

You have enormous privileges in Christ.

A university student once confessed to a pastor, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe in God.” “I see,” the pastor replied. “Please tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” The student proceeded to describe a vengeful, unfair, arbitrary cosmic ogre who delighted in watching earthlings stumble through life in search of meaning and direction. After listening to that portrayal of God, the pastor wisely replied, “I don’t believe in that God either.”

Like that student, most people have a warped view of God because they can’t see beyond their circumstances and the conditions that plague our fallen world. Their distorted world view keeps them from understanding God’s goodness and mercy. But we as believers understand because we see beyond the physical realm and experience His grace and kindness in many ways.

Scripture speaks pointedly about the duties and responsibilities of Christians, but all of that is balanced by the rights and benefits that we have in Christ. In writing to Christians who were experiencing severe persecution, the apostle Peter reminded them of their privileges and called them to praise God for His abundant grace (1 Pet. 2:9). That is your calling as well.

This month we will consider many of those privileges, including your union with Christ, access to God, priestly role, spiritual security, election, dominion, and inheritance. The implications of them all are staggering and should be a source of great joy and thanksgiving as you study them from God’s Word.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the privilege of being His child.
  • Pray that He will strengthen and encourage you with the truths you learn from these studies.
  • Regardless of your circumstances, learn to focus on God’s glory and grace, allowing them continually to fill your heart with praise and worship.

For Further Study

  • Read 1 Peter 1:3-9 and 2:4-10. Make a list of the spiritual privileges Peter mentions.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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“IF YOU SHOW PARTIALITY, YOU ARE COMMITTING SIN AND ARE CONVICTED BY THE LAW AS TRANSGRESSORS. FOR WHOEVER KEEPS THE WHOLE LAW AND YET STUMBLES IN ONE POINT, HE HAS BECOME GUILTY OF ALL. FOR HE WHO SAID, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ ALSO SAID, ‘DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.’ NOW IF YOU DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, BUT DO COMMIT MURDER, YOU HAVE BECOME A TRANSGRESSOR OF THE LAW” (JAMES 2:9-11).

You sin when you fall short of God’s holy standard or go beyond the limits of His law.

Many people attempt to justify their sinfulness by categorizing sins according to their apparent severity. For example, telling a “little white lie” isn’t as serious to them as committing perjury; cheating on their income tax isn’t as serious as robbing a bank. Others see God’s law as a series of detached injunctions, and assume they can gain credit with God by keeping one law even if they break the others. In the final analysis, if the laws they don’t break outweigh the laws they do, they think everything will be OK.

Apparently some of those to whom James wrote had the same misconceptions, believing sins like prejudice, partiality, and indifference to the poor weren’t as serious as sins like murder and adultery. Or perhaps they believed they could make up for their favoritism by keeping God’s law in other areas.

Both of those views are erroneous and potentially damning because God’s law isn’t a series of detached injunctions or a way of gaining credit with God. It’s a unified representation of His holy nature. Even though all sins aren’t equally heinous or damaging, from God’s perspective every sin violates His standard. When you break one law, you break them all and are characterized as a sinner and transgressor.

“Sin” in verse 9 speaks of missing the mark and falling short of God’s holy standard. “Transgressors” refers to going beyond the accepted limits. One says you’ve fallen short; the other says you’ve gone too far. Both are equal violations of God’s holiness. You must see all sin as an affront to Him and never compound your sin by attempting to hide it, justify it, or counterbalance it with good works.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Memorize 1 John 1:9 and always confess your sin whenever you violate God’s holy law.
  • Praise God for pitying our plight as sinners and providing a Savior.

For Further Study

  • Read Galatians 3:10-29, noting the purpose of God’s law.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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