What Love’s Got to Do with This

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-13

The liturgist mentioned that the Ephesian church had problems, but for myself, I have to admit that whenever I want some encouragement about church, when a church is going through a rough patch, I go to the Corinthians.

They were a church that had problems. It seemed like they couldn’t get much of anything right. They had problems with sexual immorality. They had problems with unity. They had problems with theology. They had problems!

Even though it was one of Paul’s favorite churches, and he did write to it, they think, more than twice – there are at least three letters, they think, two of the letters having been fused into one in the Scriptures, and he probably wrote more than that, because he refers to other letters in there – this was a church that needed constant attention.

In fact, in this passage of Corinthians today, chapter 13, frequently called “the love chapter,” it is one of those things where you need to look at it in context. For some people, it’s their favorite passage. Like I said, they call it “the love chapter.” I call it a pet peeve.

As the liturgist noted, it’s frequently used at weddings, because it talks about love. I heard somebody once who made a comment, and I just thought it was brilliant. They read this at a wedding once, and made this comment (they weren’t supposed to give a homily, but they made one comment): “I’m reading this now. But to the bride and groom, I suggest you read this after your first fight.”

This was in the context of a fight. In chapter 12, Paul had talked about the unity of the church. He talked about the church being one body, made up of all the different parts. That’s where he talks about the eyes and the ears and the big toes of the church. He talks about the gifts and the callings. He mentions how they all work together, just like the body does, to create a greater whole.

These people in this church were having a problem. They were saying things like “I’ve got the gift of prophecy, so I am really cool, because I can see inside things, below the surface, and sometimes God even gives me a vision of the future.”

Those people that had the gift of healing would say, “Just a minute! I really know how to have a channel from God and God’s power, because I can lay hands on somebody and their physical ailments can be healed.”

Somebody else might say, “I am really knowing the mind of God, because I can speak in the holy tongue, that nobody can understand without a special interpreter.” And so on and so forth.

Paul is a little frustrated, as you might guess. So he speaks to them, and he says these gifts are wonderful things. They are wonderful gifts. They are from God. But they are temporary. And he says, even if you have these gifts, if you don’t have love, they’re pointless, worthless, and of no account. He’s basically telling the people, unless you have love, then you have no room to talk about anything.

The Greeks – and remember, he was speaking mostly to the Gentiles – the Greeks loved to classify things. They actually had five kinds of love that they talked about. And the Corinthians had problems with all of them.

Eros is erotic love. That’s the sexual love, and we know that they had problems with sexual immorality in the church.

Then you have what was known as philos, or brotherly love. Caring for one another outside the family, and loving them. The city of Philadelphia was named after the word philos – it’s the city of brotherly love. (Although if you go downtown, I’d be careful about hugging somebody. I used to live there.)

They had another kind of love that’s not as well-known, but would have been very much understood in the church, and that was storge. That’s a family kind of love, most typified by the love of a mother for her children. But it can also be any kind of familial love.

Probably they were looking at that kind of love, and they were looking at the gifts in that way. “I’m taking care of people that are sick, so I’m showing my love.” It’s storge, it goes beyond philos, and it doesn’t include eros.

Or somebody who has prophecy and has been given discernment may see that as sort of a family love. They are caring for one another, and I’m sure that when Paul spoke to them and wrote to them, they tried to defend themselves – because that’s what we do when we get encouraged and exhorted and rebuked all at once.

They would say, “But I’m doing this!” And he said, “But you have the wrong kind of love.” The word that is used for love here in this chapter, consistently and throughout the chapter, is agape. Agape is the Greek word for a transcendent love.

It is a kind of love that is real easy to think about in the abstract. This is God’s love. And this is the kind of love we’re supposed to have. We think about it in the abstract. But it’s very difficult to actually practice in reality.

We can sit there and say oh yes, God’s love – it’s totally altruistic. It takes no account of the cost. It’s totally other-centered and it doesn’t worry about self. We may even fool ourselves into thinking that we have that kind of love – which we can, by the way. It’s just not as easy as we think.

We might tolerate somebody in the church that we really don’t like very well. We really don’t get along very well. Or in family – anybody have a brother or a sister? My brother lives in upstate New York, and that’s the best way our relationship continues.

But we look at love, agape. Paul goes through a list of things that describe this kind of love. This kind of love goes beyond marital love. it goes beyond familial love. It goes beyond brotherly love. They may have elements of this kind of love, but never its fullness.

So love is patient. Agape love is patient, as God is patient with us. So many times in our life, even after we have accepted Christ, we fail. Yet God forgives, if we humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. Again and again and again.

The agape love that is spoken of here is the same one that Jesus was talking about, when he was walking with his disciples once, and they were talking about forgiveness. The disciples asked how often they should forgive, and Peter said, “Three times? Seven times?” Because the Jewish law said you had to forgive a family member three times before you could take some kind of retribution. For those that are outside the family, forget it.

Jesus said “Seventy times seven.” Which does not mean 490. It means you don’t keep count. You just keep forgiving. That’s the kind of love that it is. The kind of patient love that God has with us.

I know that in my own call, before I decided to become a pastor, I walked away from the call. For twelve years. But God is patient. And I was pig-headed.

Love is kind. It looks for the good in people. It tries to see below what may be on the outside. It doesn’t speak wrong about someone. It doesn’t – now this is important – it doesn’t criticize unnecessarily. Yes, there is a time for criticism – constructive criticism. There’s a time, sometimes, for intervention, when there is a real problem.

But we don’t just make offhand comments that can hurt. And we try to refrain from even doing it unknowingly. I know that’s hard – how can I not do something if I don’t know I’m doing it? But you do. You try.

I can go back to the story that I’ve told before, and I’m not going to tell now, after the time that I had left a church, and I went to another Presbyterian church, and as they greeted me, the man gave a very painful comment. He didn’t mean it as something painful. It was just an offhand remark, something he thought was funny. But it cut, deeply.

Love does not boast. It is not proud. Those two words go together to form what I consider to be arrogance. You don’t think you’re better than anybody else because of your accomplishments.

You can be proud of your accomplishments. I love to tell people, you can be proud of the workmanship that you do, if you’re a craftsman. Myself, I can’t work with my hands. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, and I’m terrible. I could spend an hour here telling you some of the stories of the things that I have tried, where people have gently taken tools out of my hands and said, please stop.

But for those that are craftsmen, there is a joy in knowing that you have done well. That is a perfectly appropriate kind of pride.

But this kind of pride is the kind that says, I have done so well that I am better than other people. Instead of celebrating the gift that God has given you, and the chance to praise God through it and to honor God through it, you use that as a means of trying to set yourself up above someone else and judge them. Judge them. Not what they do, because we do need to have discernment, but them.

It goes on, and we don’t have time today, because of Communion, but it goes on to talk about not being rude, self-seeking, or easily angered.

Boy, that’s one. We get ticked off in this society today so easily. “I’m offended at what you just said.” Or “I’m offended at what you did.” Or “I’m offended that you’re offended.” “Well, I’m offended that you would be offended that I’m offended.” “You know what? That makes me mad.”

We get mad so easily today. We are a culture of rage. Road rage. When I was a kid, that was not a phenomenon. And I’m not that old. Yet these days, you do a Google search of the papers, and I bet you can find at least one incident every week, sometimes more than that, throughout the nation, of road rage that ended up in violence or an accident. And it becomes part of the culture.

Sometime I’d love to tell you the story of what happened in Colombia, South America, when I was riding the bus there for the first and only time that I rode the bus there. I witnessed the South American version of road rage.

Love does not keep a record of wrongs. I tell people that you can tell if you’ve forgiven somebody, really, by how often you bring it up during a fight. You can tell somebody, “I forgive you and I love you.”

But if then you get into an argument and the first thing you do is go back to that and say,”You know, you got no room to say anything because [X, Y, or Z],” you haven’t forgiven them. Not really. You’re using it as a tool. You’re keeping a record of wrong.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Don’t you love how those two are juxtaposed? “Does not rejoice in evil but delights in the truth.” Sometimes the truth can hurt. But the truth is something that will always bring about a better ending.

Evil delights in hurting. Evil is a lie, at its base. Even if it’s the person simply lying to themselves about why they are doing it, justifying themselves.

Love always protects. It trusts. It hopes and perseveres. Remember, put this in the context of God. God does not delight in evil. He rejoices in the truth of the gospel. He protects us from the slings and arrows of the devil. He trusts the Holy Spirit’s choice of each one of us, election of each one of us, moving each one of us to open our eyes. He gives us a hope that is eternal, because He Himself is hope.

See, this is God’s love, and it perseveres. It persevered so much that he even, as Paul says in the letter to the Philippians, gave up everything in heaven and emptied himself, becoming as a slave, and being obedient, even to death, death on a cross, so that we might be saved. Then he was raised again and raised to glory so that we might have new life and hope in him. That’s perseverance, folks.

And really, it makes the trials and tribulations, I think, that we are going through in our own lives, it gives us an opportunity to put things in perspective. It doesn’t mean that there’s no pain in what we’re going through in our trials and tribulations. It doesn’t mean that there’s no challenge. It doesn’t mean that there’s no sadness or struggle.

But it puts us in perspective, so that we can persevere through our own trials and tribulations. Because we know that we belong to the one who has persevered even through death himself, and has gained us victory.

That is the agape love. That is the love of God. That is what we are to strive for, in our lives, in relating, not only to God but to each other. Particularly here in the church. Remember, Paul isn’t write this here to the general population. Paul is writing this for the church itself.

We want to show agape love to the world at large too, even as God did. But first and foremost, we need to show it to each other. We need to show it to each other, as we bring about and hopefully encourage joy.

Remember always, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. God’s love for you. God’s love for His bride (the church). And your love for each other. May they be one and the same.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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