Impure motives of pride, heartless obligation, superiority, longing for admiration, applause, success, wealth, rank, or pity are never sung aloud from our lips for all to hear. We quietly hide them, creatively disguise them, and carefully redefine them. We naturally think ourselves very good at judging the motives of others, but how about our own motives?
Ouch. That question seems to drop like a sharp knife between my toes. Perhaps the most penetrating and uncomfortable question for all of us to ask ourselves is: What is my motive?
To determine the answer to this question I believe we need a litmus test.
A litmus test, of course, can measure the PH levels (among other things) in water. As a former science lab geek, I had all sorts of fun with litmus paper and other not-so-entirely-safe experiments in my parent’s basement.
But according to the litmus test of God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, where might you land? Be honest.
We can’t always discern our motives and intentions, but the litmus test of God’s Word can. The scriptures cut right to the heart of our issues – even to “joints and marrow, knowing the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). So let’s experience the litmus test. Allow these verses to soak over your soul and work their timeless truth in conviction, repentance, and change of life:
“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. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
The most pointed and convicting message a preacher can preach should be communicated with his finger also pointing at himself. Notice this is exactly what the apostle Paul does as he shifts the voice to first-person singular (from 12:27) and begins the litmus test of love in chapter 13 with “I.” Just like Paul, we need to feel the personal conviction of this litmus test deep within our hearts.
Here’s how I paraphrased these lines to cut deep into my soul:
If I am the most powerful preacher, the best Bible teacher in all the world – communicating with incredible creativity, smoothness of speech, and an amazing vocabulary…BUT do not have love, I would be as obnoxious as a crash of cymbals that rattles my eardrums or a blaring alarm at 5 o’clock in the morning: “Shut it off!!”
If I have profound insight into God’s plans, understand all the details of theology and comprehend the most obscure points of eschatology, yet do not have love toward my brothers and sisters, then my entire life equals nothing.
If I have unshakably great faith to believe God for the impossible – to remove mountains of addiction, depression, immorality, abuse, anger, violence – to believe God can do anything, but do not have love, it is of no benefit whatsoever.
And if I give away everything I own – my job, house, cars, family heirlooms, pots and pans – everything – in order to feed the poor and serve full-time in a foreign mission field, and if I surrender to martyrdom at the hand of persecutors, but don’t have love, it all amounts to no reward at all.
Bringing it Home
How might you personalize these verses to soak over your soul?
If I live in a house of spotless beauty with everything in its place, but have not love – I am a housekeeper, not a homemaker.
If I have time for waxing, polishing, and decorative achievements, but have not love – my children learn of cleanliness, not godliness.
Love leaves the dust in search of a child’s laugh.
Love smiles at the tiny fingerprints on a newly cleaned window.
Love wipes away the tears before it wipes up the spilled milk.
Love picks up the child before it picks up the toys.
Love is present through the trials.
Love reprimands, reproves, and is responsive.
As a mother there is much I must teach my child, but the greatest of all is … LOVE.
Love must be our motive. For if love doesn’t govern and guide all we do, then we’re not really loving at all. Love must be our motivation in all preaching, teaching, singing, leading, serving, helping, baking, cooking, cleaning, evangelizing, counseling, discipling…
But how? The way to daily return to the love motivation is by walking back to the foot of the Cross, beholding God’s love on full display for us in Jesus Christ. This is why the apostle Paul began his first letter to the Corinthians with the message of the cross — because the cross is the compass for all of life in Christ. Let’s walk back there today….
By the way, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to post your own personalized paraphrase in the comments section below.
Listen to the full audio sermon entitled “The Litmus Test of Love” (1 Cor. 12:27-13:3 by simply clicking on the play button below or by subscribing to our iTunes podcast. This message was originally delivered at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI on Sunday morning, March 13th, 2016.