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The Greatest of These

If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don't have love, I'm nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to fell good about what I've done but I don't have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever. Love is patient, love is kind, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it's isn't arrogant, it isn't rude, it doesn't seek its own advantage, it isn't irritable, it doesn't keep a record of complaints, it isn't happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain-these three things-and the greatest of these is love. -1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (CEB)

So as we hear these words of 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, how many of you thought of a wedding that you'd been to, because there's a pretty good chance that you've been to at least one wedding where that was the primary text for the wedding. I would suggest that it's probably the most requested text when it comes to weddings, and there's some good reasons for that. Now, there's some that I think are a downside to, and some theologians and pastors would say that We need to rescue Paul's words from this romanticized idea of what love is between couples who are getting ready to exchange vows with one in others, because as I said with the kids, sometimes the idea of love, when we hear that word is just those stars and hearts shooting out of people's eyes and there to... So in love with one another. Well, that is one form of love, that form of love in Greek would be referred to as Eros, that romantic love, and eros is that that same word that is the root for erotic, and so it gives you the notion of the sensual, passionate type of love that people experience...

Well, that's not the love that Paul is talking about. In fact, the Greek language has four different loves that are referred to are, eros Doesn't actually occur anywhere in our scriptures, another form of love is referred to as storge, and storge is a type of love that parents have for children, that we have for family members and people that are really close to us. And so it's a deep and meaningful love, but that's still not the love that Paul is referring to. Now, another love that we do hear about and read about in scripture is philia, and this is friendship, love or brotherly love, these are people that are just really tight and think very highly of one another, but this type of love is also the one that we probably in our society, use very casually today, that if we were gonna pick a Greek word to use when we talk about loving our favorite movie or our favorite food... Well, it would probably be philia, because the thing about this type of love is that while it's an expression, the benefit or the benefactor of this love is usually the person that's offering it, that there's something in it for them, and they get something back out of it.

Again, not necessarily a bad idea of what love is, but the predominant understanding and the predominant word that we find in scripture, when it talks about this love that God is offering and calling us to is the word agape, and this is a selfless kind of love. A love that requires giving of oneself and sometimes at an expense, it's the kind of love that is referred to in that well-known passage, John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son. That that giving of God self, that giving of God's Son is a demonstration of this sacrificial love that looks at the needs of other people and says, What can I do to make a difference, how can I invest and pour myself out to make a difference in the lives of others. Well, that's the kind of love that God has offered through Jesus Christ, and it's kind of love that Paul is beginning to pick up on and talk about with all of the challenges and struggles that this church in Corinth was facing.

We could have actually started our reading at the end of Chapter 12, immediately preceding this, Paul has been talking at length about unity in the church, the church being one body and many parts, and a couple of weeks ago, we talked about spiritual gifts and the way that God equips people differently to come together for the good of the whole...

Well, some people, as we've talked about a couple of weeks ago, when I preached on this, were looking at those gifts and kind of creating a hierarchy of, well, this is a better gift and this is a stronger gift, and these are lesser gifts and not as important. And they were trying to create this hierarchy of who was most important in the church, which really undercut and negated a lot of God's purpose in giving them. And so Paul sets things up at the end of Chapter 12 by saying this, he says, Strive for the greatest gifts, and I will show you a still more excellent way. That's still more excellent way is what Paul is going to begin talking about and trying to lay out for people in this 13th chapter. A still more excellent way, he's acknowledging and what those gifts are great, they're necessary their God-given for the strength and the unity of the church. But he said there's something even more... A still more excellent way.

And if you didn't pick up on it in chapter 13, it's love, that's the word that Paul was looking for, that's the idea that he wants people to wrap their minds around... That is this love, it's this love that God has shown us. It's this love that God has had for all of us, that we're to embody, that it's infused and drive all the things that we do. And so he begins talking about and giving some example of these gifts that he's already mentioned, and he talks about this gift of speaking in tongues and prophecy that people often lift up and put on a pedestal saying, This is better than everything else. And he says, If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I'm just making noise. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have faith that can move mountains. But if I don't have love, I'm nothing. And if I give away everything I have, and if I offer my body up as a sacrifice so that I can boast... But I don't have love. I'm gaining nothing. Paul is talking about a love that is God given, there should be our primary motivation for the things that we do, he's saying It doesn't matter how smart, how eloquent, how gifted you are, it doesn't matter how much you give and sacrifice.

If it is not done in love, it's all rubbish, it's meaningless. It has no value, that love is what should motivate you to do the things that you do, not just some, but all. And so if someone were to ask then, Okay, Paul, you're saying love has to be the driving factor behind this, so what is love... What is this thing that you're talking about? How do we do it? How do we know it when we see it? And so Paul begins offering some of the things that love is and some of the things that love is not, and we get to these verses where he talks about, Love is patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It's not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. And it endures all things.

Alright, so we're beginning to get a sense of what this love is, and one of the key aspects of this is Paul emphasizes that this kind of love is not self-centered, it's not selfish, it's not looking out for number one, but rather setting number one, a side. You see, all of those things that he talks about, the love is not of being boastful or arrogant or rude, insisting on its own way. Those are things that we do to protect ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to make sure that we feel important, and Paul says this love of God can't be any of those things. Those things need to be set aside, self needs to take a back seat when it comes to loving as God has loved us.

When I was in high school and involved in youth group and we'd go to concerts and different things, I remember going to a Petra concert at the embassy Theatre, and the Christian author and speaker, Josh McDowell was kind of the keynote speaker in between the concert parts of it, and I remember him talking about love, and again, here I am probably 16, 17 years old, and I still remember this definition that he gave, he said Love is when the needs and wants and desires of another person are as important to you as your own... Now, I remember him talking about dating and a lot of those things that would have been on the minds of young people at the time.

And that's a good foundation for love in a relationship, but the truth of it is, that's the foundation for the kind of love, that Christ is calling us too as well, when he says Love one another, he's saying love agape one another with that kind of love that recognizes what their needs and their once and their desires are, and that you value those and honor those and want those to be true in their life as well.

Unfortunately, with all of the divisions and conflict that we hear in our world today, and particularly in the constant talk about things and politics and the news and between politicians, this idea of a love that doesn't insist on its own way, we forget that every politician is an expert and has every answer we need for every situation that there is, it does not rejoice in the wrong doing, Boy, watch one party be up in arms and celebrating a shortcoming or a failure on the part of a politician on the other side of the line. And it affects us too. Because if we're honest, there are times when we were entertained by that joke that comes at the expense of someone that we don't care about, we're comfortable at times sharing gossip, whether it's true or not, and this isn't the love that we're being called to as Christians. It'd be nice if our politicians embodied this, but we need to start where we actually have some control, and that's in our own lives.

We're being called to be a people who share this love that has been shown to us. In 1 John Chapter 4, we hear a little bit about love. It's in 1 John 4:8 that we read those words, God is love, that God's very nature is love. And a little further along in chapter 4, verse 19, it says, We love because He first loved us. God's nature is love, and God has demonstrated that love for us, God has held nothing back in sending Jesus, and God has loved us in the way that Paul describes... The love of God is patient and kind.

Thank goodness for that because I'd be in trouble. 'cause I'm slow to learn lessons sometimes. Thank goodness, God's Not arrogant or resentful or boastful or rude in the love that we receive. More importantly, it is God who has loved us with a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. That love of God. Help, that love of God is why I can be... Go ahead to say, there's a chance. There's a chance for me. There's a chance for you. There's a chance for everybody. Because this love of God, as it says in verse 8, never ends.

It's this incredible love that God has loved each and every one of us went, and it's this love that we are invited to experience and to share, because the thing is, when it comes to being loved by God, we need to know what that love is, we're not gonna fully comprehend it. We grow in that knowledge and understanding of what that love is through the time that we spend with God in worship, in prayer and studying God's word and being a part of fellowship and discussions and Bible studies, it's in our everyday interactions with our family and our friends, and strangers, that we get to practice this kind of love to learn from our mistakes, to seek to love better, to be more like Jesus and offering this love to other people, there are plenty of things that people disagree about right now, but part of this kind of love, it's not insisting on its own way that we can love without telling someone else that you have to think and act and look and talk and be just like me to receive my love, that this is a love that we are called to offer.

No qualifications, no criteria that someone else has to meet to be worthy of it, just like we have no criteria or expectations we have to live up to, to receive God's love, Paul says, This is the love that you have been shown. This is the love that God has made known through His son Jesus Christ. So put your ego behind you and go and do the same pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, and his book titled Ethics wrote, what is here called Love is not that general principle, but the utterly unique event of the lane down of the life of Jesus for us. The New Testament answers the question, What is love? And quite ambiguously, by pointing solely and entirely to Jesus Christ, what is love, what has been made known to us and revealed in Jesus, and Jesus from the beginning of his ministry till his last breath on the cross, loved unselfishly, sacrificially for everyone. Throughout his life and ministry, he was condemned for reaching out for touching the leper, for speaking with those who should have been outside of society, and yet he loved unwaveringly. He loved without question. Friends, we live in a world that is incredibly diverse, socioeconomicly,, ethnically, racially, sexual orientation, all of these things bring this mix of all sorts of differences to the table, and in the midst of that mix that can often be confusing and uncomfortable for us.

We have one direction. One instruction, love. Love one another. We don't get to choose. I'll take this one and I'll take that one. Of all of those people before us, and all of those people that our lives cross-paths with, we too are called the Love as we have been loved. This is that more excellent way that Paul was talking about, and he says this Love doesn't end, there's no stopping it. He continues and talks about the fact that sometimes we might not get it, sometimes we might not understand, we may only understand partially, but a time will come and we'll understand more fully, and he says there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Someone shared in Bible study this week, and I also read something of John Wesley sheds a little bit of light on this, why is faith, hope and love remaining and yet love is the greatest, and it was suggested that in this life, perfection and unity with God are possible through faith, through hope, through love. When we leave this world and enter into God's Kingdom, we don't need hope anymore, 'cause there's no longing for something yet to come because we're there, faith that's hoping and what we believe in and cannot see, doesn't need to remain because it'll be right there in front of us love, well, love will carry on with us from this world and into the next...

By God's very nature, God who is love will welcome into that love, and that love will never end, but through Jesus Christ, we've been given a foretaste of that fullness in that completeness of God's love, and our job is to taste and see how good this God is and to share it with others. So go forth and love as you have been loved.


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