1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have a problem. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been studying one part of 1 Corinthians. The people of Corinth had a lot of issues they were dealing with, but the last one Paul deals with is the issue of spiritual gifts. These people were obsessed with the idea of spiritual gifts. Which one do I have? How is it better than my neighbor’s? But Paul said they had it all wrong. It’s not about who has what gift, but who has the Holy Spirit. He’s the one worth having, not some special gift. And because we have all been baptized, we are all part of one body: Christ’s body. And as a body, we’re not in competition with one another over who gets to have what role. Rather, we work together, doing what we can so that God would be glorified in us. But today, Paul takes a turn. Yes, spiritual gifts are good and necessary. But there is a still more excellent way.
Better than speaking in tongues, better than prophetic powers, better than even the strongest faith is love. Languages change. Prophecies point to the future, but are pointless when the future comes. Faith hopes in what it does not see. So when faith becomes sight, it’s no longer faith, but knowledge. But love? It remains, abides. When faith matures, it’s no longer faith. When hope matures, it’s no longer hope. When love matures, it’s deeper, stronger, truer love. Better than all discussion or arguments over spiritual gifts is love.
But we have a problem. It’s a two-fold problem. We don’t really understand what it means to love, and so we don’t love. We’ll start with the second half of the problem. We don't love. Why is it that we don’t love? I don’t necessarily mean that we don’t love each other. Yesterday’s Sauerkraut Supper was proof of that. We all sacrificed our time, energy, money, and even a bit of our waistline working and eating together. That really can’t happen without love. No, here’s what I’m getting at. When was the last time you talked to anyone about Jesus? We believe that without faith in Christ, a person is going to spend an eternity in hell. Who do you know right now who doesn’t know Jesus? And what are you doing about it?
Even as a pastor, I’m as guilty as you are. I have not intentionally reached out to anyone in a long time. It’s our primary purpose as Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations” but have you even walked across the street? True love went to the cross so that you and I might be with Him. And He commissioned you and me to share His love with the world. You want to know why the secluded tribe in Brazil is made up completely of pagans who are going to hell? It’s because we don’t love them enough to get out of our comfort zones. I don’t say this to make you feel bad. I don’t tell you this because I want you to repent, though you should. I tell you this so that you would love. love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Now, what about the first part of the problem? How is it that we don't really understand what love truly is? Our problem is that we’ve exchanged God’s love with our culture’s use of the word. “I still love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. So let’s get a divorce.” How’s that for love? In this type of cop-out, true, ultimate love is not a commitment; it’s not a choice; it’s not an action. No, in this scenario, what really matters is a feeling. You know, that warm, bubbly feeling you get when you’re around someone you like. It’s what every romantic comedy is all about. It’s all about doing what makes you the happiest, what really feels right. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about commitment. Don’t worry if you’re already in another relationship, what matters is that feeling. Chase it at all costs. But that’s a problem. Feelings change. Infatuation, that feeling of being in love, it comes and goes. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but as much as I love my wife, sometimes, I don’t really like her. And it works the other way around too. Emotions change. And if that’s the kind of love God has for us, then we’re in trouble. Because even if there was just one day God woke up and said, you know, it turns out I really don’t love humanity anymore. It would be as if God literally said, “to hell with you.”
So maybe that’s not love, but what about this one: “Love is love is love is love is love is love.” It doesn’t matter who you love, all that matters is the love itself. That’s what’s truly important. This is a major argument used by the LGBT movement to support their same-sex behavior. It doesn’t matter as long as there’s true love there. For the sake of argument, let’s even call it a selfless, committed love, more than just a feeling. Love is what matters, right? We just read an entire chapter of the Bible on how great love is, for goodness sake! What’s wrong with that?
The problem is that for the sake of love, we’ve knocked God off His throne. We’ve taken the words He has spoken, tossed them to the curb, and placed our own understanding of the sexual relationship in its place. In so doing, we’ve not only opened the door for same-sex relationships, but we’ve opened the floodgates for a whole host of other issues like polygamy and pedophilia. The Love is Love Movement, which is a real organization, says that they want to promote love in spite of “sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, or age” For them, there is no age limit to love. For them, the number of partners is not an issue. Sex is all there is. So enjoy it. This is nothing more than idolatry.
So maybe that’s not love, but what about this one: “Alright, we disagree about which god is really God or about this point of doctrine, or about whether this behavior is sinful or not. That’s ok. I love you and won’t bring it up again.” In this view, love is nothing more than non-confrontation. It’s just getting along. That’s what really matters. While it is possible to love someone and disagree with them, especially when it comes to theology, it’s not possible to give up on the conversation. If the other person is worshiping another god, or holds to false theology, or is unrepentantly living in sin, is it truly loving to remain silent, to let them suffer the eternal consequences of their actions? Or is it more loving to talk to them, discuss with them, share Scripture with them, in the hope that in so doing, the Holy Spirit may open their hearts and minds to His Word. I pray that this is how you’d treat me. If there’s something theological you don’t agree with me on, or see me living in some way that’s contrary to the Bible, I pray that you would sit me down for that conversation. That’s incredibly more loving than saying and doing nothing.
The world’s ways of love leave lead us down the wrong path and distract us from the truth. It’s incredibly sad to see Christians with this problem. Because we’re the ones who should know what it truly means to love. It’s especially the apostle John that talks a lot about love, laying out what it truly is. “For God so loved the world.” Even going so far as to say in 1 John 4, “God is love.” Our ultimate example of true love is an intense, selfless, self-sacrificial relationship where God Himself breaks into our world so that He might be with us. It is love that we see hanging on the cross. It’s love that rose from the dead. It’s love that comes to us truly present in this meal that we’re about to eat. That’s love. While it may include emotion, love is not just emotion. While love should be held in high esteem, it should never take the place of God. While love does involve knowing when to stay silent, it also involves knowing when to speak. If you want to see a picture of love, look to the cross. Look to Jesus. Because God is love. He is the still more excellent way. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell