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1 Corinthians 13:5b; Love Seeks Not Its Own (part 2)

12/07 1 Corinthians 13:5b Love Seeks Not Its Own (Part 2); Audio available at:

1 Corinthians 13 [SBLGNT]

4 Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐ ζηλοῖ ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται, 5 οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ, οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς, οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν,

1 Corinthians 13 [ESV2011]

12:31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


We are in the middle of 1 Corinthians 13,where we are looking at what real love is, at what real love looks like. God is love, so we are looking first to God, to what he is like to understand how we should love one another. And we get the clearest understanding of what God is like by looking at Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.

We are looking at the seventh verb in the series, and the fifth negative: ‘love seeks not its own’. Last time we looked from one angle at this phrase, seeing that although God is love and love does not seek its own, God does indeed seek his own glory. But the way this plays out in the triune nature of God is that Jesus does not seek his own glory but the glory of his Father, the Father seeks the glory and honor of the Son, and the Spirit seeks the glory of the Son and the Father. Each seeks to outdo the other in showing honor. God indeed is love.

Today I want to look at this same phrase from a different angle. Love does not seek that which is its own, and this is a rebuke to our selfish self-seeking, yet over and over and over in the scriptures we are commanded by God to seek our own happiness. Does this mean that God is on the one hand commanding our self-seeking, and on the other hand forbidding it? God is truth, God does not change, God never contradicts himself.

God Commands our Self-seeking

You might ask ‘where does God command us to seek our own happiness?’ Just think for a moment of the very first commandment, not the first commandment of the ten given at Sinai, but all the way back in the garden. Do you remember what it was? The very first command issued from God to man, found in Genesis 1:28 was this:

Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

We see right from the beginning that God is ultimately commanding us to be happy. This was a command, but it was a commandment of blessing. God’s commandment is a blessing. This flies in the face of the common stereotype of God as a cosmic killjoy who sits in heaven thinking up rules to keep us from having any fun. The God who designed the human body with all its sensory receptors and neurotransmitters connected to the pleasure centers of the brain, with optical and sensory stimulation, with emotional attachment and the capacity for joy, commands us to be fruitful and multiply, and in that to enjoy all the pleasures he designed in to the process of producing children. God commands us to have dominion, not in a sinful hurtful way, but in a care-taking, cultivating way, where we find joy in seeing that which has been entrusted to us thriving and bearing much fruit.

And then there is the second command. It tends to get lost under the third. But we need to see it for what it says. We find it in the very next verse:

Genesis 1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

Thou shalt eat! This is a command to eat. God gave us everything good to enjoy. This is more than simply fuel for energy. We see the context of this in chapter 2:

Genesis 2:8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God gave them everything pleasant to the sight and good for food. God planted a garden, watered by three rivers. God commands our happiness. He reiterates this third command in 2:16, and adds a third.

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden. That is overwhelming goodness in this garden of delights. Enjoy! And notice even in the third command, the prohibition of the one tree, the grounds for the command is their own happiness. Do not do this because it will hurt you. It will damage your perfect happiness. It will kill you. It will destroy your joy. The motive for obedience God holds out to us is life, abundant life. He appeals to our desire to be happy.

Listen to some other commands in the Scriptures. A few examples will be adequate to demonstrate what I mean, but once your eyes are open to it, you will see it everywhere

Isaiah 55:1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

God commands us to pursue the things that will truly satisfy. He rebukes us for pursuing things that do not satisfy. He commands us to find delight in him. He says:

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The Psalmist says to God:

Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

And again:

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

And again:

Psalm 63:5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

God says:

Psalm 81:10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. …16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

God seeks our pleasure, and he commands us to seek our own pleasure. Throughout the Bible God offers us rewards that appeal to our desire for our own happiness. From deliverance from enemies, to long life, to descendants, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 11:9), God invites us to seek our happiness. And this is not restricted to the Old Testament. Jesus holds out to us staggering promises of reward. Jesus said:

John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus said:

John 6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” …35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Jesus warns of the danger of eternal punishment, outer darkness, eternal fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt.25:30,41,46) and he promises to us eternal life. All of this is an appeal to our self-seeking desire to be happy. Does this mean that love, which does not seek its own, must disobey God’s command to be happy and instead choose the misery of eternal separation from God in order to be truly loving?

I’m going to leave this question hanging for a bit while we look at the self-seeking of the Corinthians, which Paul is directly addressing.

The Corinthians Were Self-Seeking

As we look through the letter we call 1 Corinthians, we see that they were divisive and quarreling, arguing over which leader was better. They wanted to be thought wise and spiritual, they sought their own power and position. They were puffed up, living like kings. Some of them were indulging the flesh in sexual immorality and feasting at idol temples, while others self righteously looked down their noses in judgment at others. They were seeking their own gain, and seeking to defend themselves and their reputations in the courts of law. They were seeking the best place at the table, going ahead with their own meal, eating the best food without waiting for others. They were self-absorbed, thinking they were most important and didn’t need anyone else; or self-focused, feeling like they were unimportant, unneeded, and unloved, claiming that they didn’t belong. This is the kind of self seeking that Paul rebukes when he says that ‘love does not seek its own’.

How Jesus Did Not Seek His Own

If we look at Jesus, what can we learn about what self-seeking ought to look like?

Jesus did not seek his own. Romans 15:3 tells us that Christ did not please himself. It says:

Romans 15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Psalm 69:9)

Christ did not please himself. He willingly received the defamation and disgrace that was directed toward his Father. He intended in everything he did to bring glory to his Father. Jesus is held up to us as an example, that we are not to please ourselves, but rather we have an obligation seek to please our neighbor for his good, to see him established.

Jesus said in John 5:

John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus did not seek his own will. In everything he endeavored to please his Father. But on a deeper level, we read that Jesus did indeed do everything he did for his own pleasure. We read in Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Why did Jesus endure the cross? One answer is that he was being obedient to his Father, and seeking to please not himself but his Father. But Hebrews gives us another answer. Jesus was pursuing his own joy. He endured the suffering and shame because it would ultimately bring him great pleasure. “For the joy that was set before him.” How could Jesus find joy in the horrific torture of the cross? This verse says that he is both the founder and finisher of our faith. Our faith must be in the finished work of Jesus on the cross for us. He could not bring our faith to completion if he failed to follow through with his plan to pay our debt in full. We would then be left with nothing substantial to put our trust in. This verse also tells us that he is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. His work on the cross pleased his Father. The greatest joy of Jesus was bringing joy to his Father. In his Father’s joy, he found joy, enough joy to endure the shame and agony of the cross.

This sheds much light on how we are to show love by not seeking our own, yet we are commanded to seek our joy in God. With his view narrowed to the isolated event, Jesus might have found his pleasure in escaping the torture of the cross. “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt.26:39). But keeping the big picture in view, seeking his eternal joy in the joy of the Father, he said “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

We are to seek our own joy, not in the things that ultimately will fail and leave us empty, but in the things that will bring us eternal joy and satisfaction. We tend to think that we must pursue our own joy if we will ever be happy, because if we don’t pursue our joy, no one will. But that is false thinking. God says:

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

If we look to God for our delight, he will make it his business to satisfy us more deeply and richly than we could ever be satisfied by seeking our own pleasure. Our focus needs to shift from seeking our own pleasure to seeking the pleasure of God.

The greatest command, Jesus said, is this:

Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love God by seeking not your own but that which brings joy to God. Love neighbor by seeking not your own but that which brings joy to your neighbor.

The Assumption of Self-Love

And notice, love for self is never commanded in Scripture, it is assumed. It is a given that you seek your own happiness. Whether that be indulging in pleasure or denying self of all pleasure, even harming self in hopes of earning some future good, we are all seeking our own good. Whether things are going well, and we are attempting to buy insurance that will protect us from any pain, or we are in the midst of pain, and are just looking for some way out, we all love ourselves. We all seek our own good. God uses our natural love for self as the standard by which we evaluate our love for neighbor. God commands that we take that love for self and bend it out toward our neighbor.

Paul said to the Corinthians in chapter 10 when they were inclined to insist on their rights:

1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. …31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Do not seek your own good, but the eternal good of your neighbor, that they might be saved. Do everything you do to the glory of God, seeking his good and not your own.

Not Disinterested

Notice also that there is no room here for the modern notion that the highest form of love is not self-seeking in a detached or disinterested sort of way, where the less I have to gain from it, the more it can be called real love. If I can be shown to benefit in any way from the love I show to another, my motives are called into question. But the love we see in the Bible is a love where my joy is utterly contingent on and fully invested in my love for you. In the words of John the Baptist,

John 3:29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

John found his greatest joy in seeing people connected to Jesus. John the Apostle sounds much the same:

1 John 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John writes his testimony of Jesus so that his readers would believe in Jesus, bringing them into fellowship with the Father and the Son, and with all other believers, and in this he finds his greatest joy. Paul says the same in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

His own joy is wrapped up in his eagerness to see the character of Christ formed in the lives of his disciples.

This is the truest way to seek your own good. When your focus is that for which you were created, bringing glory to almighty God, when your focus bends out toward bringing others into that kind of forgiven satisfied God glorifying relationship with the Creator and King, then you will find that that words of the Psalmist come true for you:

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Then you will realize the words of Jesus

Acts 20:35 …remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

True joy, true delight, true satisfaction comes not in chasing your own satisfaction and delight, but instead looking away from self and seeking the joy of God and the eternal good of others. This often demands trading short term desires for eternal joy. This is where denying self and ultimately seeking our own greatest good come beautifully together.

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Pursue your greatest profit and your greatest joy by laying down your life for the sake of Jesus and for the good of others that they might be saved.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

December 7, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment