I Corinthians 12:31-13:13 – “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. It does not sing its own praises. It is not arrogant. It is not rude. It does not think about itself. It is not irritable. It does not keep track of wrongs. It is not happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never comes to an end.”
LOVE. A lot of things come to mind with that short word. We like to talk about love, to hear love stories, to share about when we each first met our spouse. It is all good, nice, sweet. It makes us feel all warm inside. But is this kind of thing all there is to love? In fact, is this kind of thing really love at all, as far as God is concerned?
There is a story about a married couple who came from different cultural backgrounds. When they met there were many differences that caused difficulties, sometimes even funny situations. But they fell in love and married. The significant part of their story was not their courting experiences. But the struggles they had to overcome AFTER they were married. They still had cultural differences, language problems, very different family backgrounds. It was really hard for 6,7,8 years. But they made it and are still married and enjoy being married. Everyone likes the stories about how they met and fell in love, but nobody asks about how they stayed together.
Now, there is a powerful thought. The amazing story is never how someone fell in love. To fall in love is as hard as falling off a bicycle. The real love story is not found in the emotions, but always in the choices, in the commitments, and the sacrifices of a relationship. Real love is an activity, and real love is not easy.
The Epistle passage today describes the whole idea of love. These verses are heard often at weddings. They are good verses for a wedding because they help us understand how God sees love, and the kind of love He created us to share with one another.
But when we look at the setting of these verses in the Bible, they are meant not just for marriages, but to how we interact with all people as Christians. These verses were written to give us a deeper appreciation of God’s love for us, and a deeper sense of what it means to reflect God=s love to one another. Real love is not going to be easy, but it will be blessed.
The first part starts with looking at what it means to have an absence of love. Sometimes that is the best way to understand how important something is.
I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I do not have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I do not have love, I am nothing. I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I do not have love, none of these things will help me.
This hits home when we think about how we use the gifts God has given to us. We do not have a problem of not having enough gifts or abilities. What we do have is a LOVE problem. We may think we are loving one another, but when we compare the love God shown to us, the light of Christ=s love for us, we see love in a different light.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we find in the first part comments about the serious cliques and divisions within the congregation – this is not a sign of love. In the next chapters of the letter Paul describes that some members of the congregation think that they are showing love by NOT talking about some very serious sins that were going on among the members – this is also not sign of love. This attitude exists even today. If your friend is about to run a red light, you would want to say, STOP! so no one would get hurt. If a family member has an injury on their arm, would you say, I’ll just try not to look at it? Or would you say, you better get that taken care of. Sometimes confronting sin is the MOST LOVING thing we can do. In Paul’s letter, he condemns their lack of concern for the weaker faith and their selfishness – also not signs of Christian love. The list of problems gets longer.
So Paul speaks boldly. You have so many gifts, you have been blessed so much, but if you do not have love for one another, none of it matters. Being able to speak in foreign languages, having all power, understanding, and amazing faith are really not worth anything if you do not start with love. You can make amazing sacrifices, but if they are not done in love, they do not matter. Love is so important much is lost without it.
So what does it look like when true love for others IS present? Paul pictures it this way. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. It does not sing its own praises. It is not arrogant. It is not rude. It does not think about itself. It is not irritable. It does not keep track of wrongs. It is not happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up.
Notice what Paul does not say: Love is a feeling, like a flutter of the heart or like a drug. No, Paul speaks of love in only 2 ways: in terms of actions, and in terms of choices. This is how God sees what love really is.
Love is patient and kind. It does not get angry, selfish, or carry a grudge. Love celebrates the Truth, and bears all afflictions or strife, and believes all the best about others, hopes for the best for others, endures and perseveres all for the sake of others. Pretty amazing and inspiring. But let me read those thoughts again but this time each time the word love is there, put your own name there.
NAME is patient and is kind. NAME is not jealous. I do not sing my own praises. NAME is not arrogant or rude. NAME does not think about himself. NAME is not irritable. NAME does not keep track of wrongs. NAME is not happy when injustice is done, but is happy with the truth. NAME never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up.
How do we feel after reading it that way? We should feel guilty. As I read that, I was confronted with some pretty serious ideas. I have not always shown the kind of love that God commands of me. I am not always patient or kind. I do get selfish and boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on my own way, and all the rest. In the explanation of the Eighth Commandment that says we should not give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther wrote: we should defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Do we do that at work, or school? Or do we fall into gossip and unkind words, imaging the worst about someone? We all do it, and that is truly sad.
So what are we to learn from this passage – that we are not good enough, so why even try to love one another? These verses are intended to help point us away from ourselves, and to rely completely on the TRUE source of love, our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus CAN put his name in the places where LOVE is found to realize who He is, and how He loves.
Jesus demonstrated love in every way, lowering Himself to become a human being living among us, fulfilling the law perfectly. He did all this willingly, actively loving us, CHOOSING to go to the Cross and dying for ALL of our sins, all the times when we have not loved like we should. He continued to demonstrate His love when He rose from the grave, showing His power even over death, to win for us eternal life in heaven all through His perfect love.
True love starts with God. True love shows us that we can not do it on our own, and that the true miracle in life is that God still loves us. God does take sin seriously. Our sin should be a barrier keeping us apart from God. But His love for us moved Him to remove that barrier by the actions of love in Jesus= life, death, and resurrection.
When we understand the kind of love that God has for us, we better understand what love is, and how to love one another. When we understand the importance of forgiveness in our own lives, and how much we depend on it, we can better forgive one another, and ask for forgiveness from one another. When we understand how God chose to love us, even though we do not deserve it, we can more freely seek to love others even when they are at their worst. Love always starts with God.
And the best part of God’s love is that it is forever. God never intended to love us for awhile, or as long as we were good enough, or anything like that. God=s plan was and is and will be to love us for all eternity. To have a love for us that will never pass away.
Love never comes to an end. There is the gift of speaking what God has revealed, but it will no longer be used. There is the gift of speaking in other languages, but it will stop by itself. There is the gift of knowledge, but it will no longer be used. Our knowledge is incomplete and our ability to speak what God has revealed is incomplete. But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will no longer be used. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways. Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.
God’s love for us will lead us to see Him face to face, to fully know Him, and to be fully known by Him. That is the kind of love God has for us. That is the kind of love that God has for the person sitting next to you, at work, at school, on the plane, wherever you might be. Even if that person is not easy to love, remember that you were not easy for God to love either. But God chose you, and acted in love, even when it was very hard. Our calling as Christians is to love others the same way. To make the tough choice to love even when it is hard. That does not mean being a doormat, but it does mean that love is not just emotions, feelings, or anger, but rather that we are to be led in love by Christ. It is rarely easy. But it is always blessed.
Remember God defines love and what it really is. He did it all for us. We can be confident that every moment of every day we are loved – by God. We are precious to God and we are surrounded by people who are also love and precious to God.
So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the best one of these is love. In Jesus name.