Every Calvinist’s dream…and wake up call


1 Corinthians 13 is more often romanticized than thoughtfully studied. You hear it at weddings and see it on wall-hangings as if it were some kind of ode to love. But in at least two ways this chapter actually is devastating. One, it describes love in such a way that it becomes patently obvious that “everyone talking about love ain’t practicing it.” We have all witnessed godless, hateful speech and actions coming from people who think that by merely saying the words, “I love you,” they are fully justified in what they are doing. The next time you find yourself harboring resentful or mean thoughts toward someone, or you assume the worst about someone, measure your attitude by these descriptions in the love chapter: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (4-8a). By this standard I am forced to admit that often I am not nearly as loving as I assume I am.

But a second way this chapter devastates is in its analysis of any expression of Christianity that focuses on good things to the exclusion of the best thing. Verse 3 says that it is possible to give everything you have–money, house, car, IRA, 401K, clothes, everything!–to feed the poor and it will be of no spiritual value to you whatsoever if you are without love. Further, you could give your body to be burned, presumably for your convictions, and yet have that self-sacrificial act be of absolutely no spiritual value, if you are loveless.

Verse 1 makes the same point about eloquence. It is possible to be the greatest preacher in the world, esteemed by people far and wide and yet (even be crowned an American Idol) in reality be of no more spiritual worth a clanging cymbal.

But the verse that is most devastating for Calvinists is verse 2. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, one of the strengths of Calvinism is that it loves truth. When you find a genuine Calvinist you have found someone who is not afraid of the truth of God’s Word. We value truth and want to grow in our understanding of truth. Well, verse 3 sounds like every Calvinist’s dream then, when it speaks of “having the gift of prophecy [we will leave the debate about what constitutes biblically defined prophecy for another time and simply recognize that it certainly includes proclaiming truth]” and understanding “all mysteries and knowledge.” What lover of truth does not salivate over that prospect? Imagine it! Finally, the lapsarian question fully resolved! The Trinity completely comprehended! The book of Revelation clearly understood! What lover of truth would not desire that?

Yet, the wake-up call comes when Paul goes on to write that it is possible to have such knowledge and understanding and still be “nothing.” The greatest theologian in the world is NOTHING without love. That truth is one that we who are so openly committed to loving the truth must not gloss over. Instead, we need to meditate on it and let its truth sink deep into our minds and affections. A loving Arminian is of greater spiritual value than an unloving Calvinist. Being loving is far more valuable than being right.

Love for whom? Both God and people. I say this because of what Paul writes in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” We might have expected him to say that loving God fulfills the law, but he says that loving neighbor as yourself does it. How can that be? Because loving people in this way is impossible without loving God. You cannot love people sincerely if you do not love God supremely. And if you love God supremely, you will love people sincerely. So Paul can say that loving your neighbor fulfills the whole law.

An unloving Calvinist should honestly face heaven’s evaluation of him. The devastation of such a critique should humble all of us and make us plead with the Lord to work in us deeply by His Spirit so that we might become more and more filled with that love that is so evident in our Lord Jesus.

When the English Puritan pastor, Joseph Caryl died in 1673, his congregation merged with the church which John Owen pastored. Owen was the greatest theologian of the Puritan era–an era that was marked by great theologians. On the occasion of their first worship service as a newly merged church, Owen preached on Col. 3:14, “Above all these things, put on love which is the bond of perfection.” In that sermon, he said this:

A church full of love, is a church well built up. I had rather see a church filled with love a thousand times, than filled with the best, the highest, and most glorious gifts and parts that any men in this world may be made partakers of. (Owen, Works, Volume IX:268)

Isn’t that the right attitude? We should be quick to repent of our lack of love. And determine, by God’s grace, which He has abundantly showered on us in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to pursue love above everything else.

Share this post:

11 Responses to “Every Calvinist’s dream…and wake up call”

  1. Wow! I have often spoke and thought this Tom. Although, I must admit, I would rather be right AND love. That is the goal, but the trap the reformed believer falls into most of the time is the being right apart from being loving. However, I do think that the truth teaches us those things and that the Holy Spirit does convict us of our unloving spirit. Weren’t we all a long way off from home and the Father? Weren’t we off just as far from Christ as others are? This my brother seems to always come to the forefront of my mind, when I am easily swayed to be unloving and at many times I am. May my sovereign God grant me and you dear brother repentance and love for Him and our neighbor. SDG

  2. Tom,

    What a wonderful reminder for us to remember the true priorities. It is sad to say, but there are a good number of Calvinist (internet Calvinist as Phil Johnson calls them) who forget the all-important love factor that is at the foundation of our faith. I am reminded of a quote by AW Tozer in which he discusses how the current gospel doesn’t slay the sinner, but rather redirects him. “To the egotist [the new gospel] says: ‘come and do your boasting in the Lord’”. I contemplate this and shake my head at the many Calvinist who use their intellect to boast and yet keep their consciences clear by the fact that they are just boasting in truth. Your reference to 1 Cor 13 is dead on. Just because a doctrine is Biblically sound doesn’t mean that we have the right to communicate it however we please. Love is the foundation of our faith, if it crumbles, so does everything else.

    On the other hand, it is certainly debatable whether or not a loving Arminian is actually practicing true love. You correctly stated that love begins with loving God; and loving God’s word is certainly included in that! We should give some place for ignorance, but many Arminians simply just refuse to believe what the Bible clearly says. Is believing that man can regenerate himself really loving God’s word and therefore truly loving God?

    Thanks for the reminder Tom. I pray that many of us ‘Calvinist’ will take a closer look at 1 Cor 13 and allow the Lord to convict and transform our lives.


  3. Well said, much appreciated, and ouch.
    I was reminded of a sermon I once listened to by Phil Johnson on 1 Corinthians 4:7, specifically “What do you have that you did not receive?”. He made the statement that Calvinists should be the most humble of all believers having understood that everything they have including their knowledge of God’s Sovereign Grace is a gift. Unfortunately, he went on to say, many of the ones he knows are some of the most arrogant…which I think definitely qualifies as an unloving attribute. Thanks again Tom.

  4. A LOVING Arminian CHRISTIAN is of FAR greater spiritual value than a LOVELESS Calvinist CHRISTIAN!!!!

    The conciseness of this much needed TRUTH makes it a TREASURE!

  5. Think about some of the things that Paul had to chide the Corinthians for:

    -General strife and divisions (ch. 3)
    -sexual immorality (ch. 5)
    -suing one another (ch. 7)
    -issues of Christian liberty (ch. 8)
    -conduct at the Lord’s Supper (ch. 11)
    -abuse of tongues (ch. 14)
    -misunderstanding about the resurrection (ch. 15).

    Yet he corrects them with the tone of a father (1 Cor 4:14-17). Does he not lay a pattern here for us? We correct those who oppose us “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim 2:25). When I correct my son, there is no atmosphere of timidity. But he (hopefully) also feels that I’m not speaking strongly to him out of arrogance or anger, but out of heart-felt love for his good.

    If we truly love the person, we will patiently and tenderly (yet boldly) correct them. However, if we simply want to win the argument, we will tend to be brash. [Are there any Calvinists who DON’T struggle with this? God be praised if there are!] It seems like too often I am more concerned about someone not being convinced of my stance rather than being concerned because God’s eternal and life-changing truth is not being believed as it should.

    May God grant us humility in these matters. Only He can give us the grace to be Christ-like in our love for the truth. Convicting post, Tom. This reminds me of Mr. Valiant for Truth from Pilgrim’s Progress…

  6. Psalm 119:136 reads (HCSB), “My eyes pour out streams of tears because people do not follow your instruction.”

    May God grant us that attitude.


  7. Thanks for this post Tom,

    I have at times struggled with how to stand firm for God’s truth without appearing as an “unloving Calvinist”.

    I have a brother that I love very much who is involved in a “Hyper Dispensational” Cult that denies the necessity of salvation and the validity of the Old Testament, and much of the New Testament, as having any authority to speak to Christians today. (Don’t ask me to explain their beliefs as it is pure theological madness) Anyway, my brother is very deceived and unless God opens his eyes is headed for all eternity to the torments of a place called Hell.

    I have witnessed to my brother, pleaded with my brother, and yes even argued with my brother many times… How can I not do so? And yet I love my brother very much! An unloving Calvinist… I do not understand how anyone could truly be one. How can we love God and those who are lost and not share God’s truth with them?

    I think this verse speaks volumes to this issue:
    “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Pr. 27:6)

    If we truly love them we will be compelled to tell them God’s truth (and notice I said God’s truth and not our truth) even when doing so is very difficult.



Leave a Reply