It’s used at almost every wedding; and last week, we read it at a funeral.
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most beautiful and insightful passages of literature. It is a global treasure, trotted out on great occasions. But what it is really about is the church.
Within a church, we can have very gifted people. We can have: gifted administrators, gifted financiers, gifted church building managers, gifted preachers, gifted musicians and gifted readers.
We can have people who have rock solid faith….people who can prophesy….people through whom God may even have healed people.
Just imagine for a moment, if we had someone in the parish who had any sort of success rate as God’s instrument in healing people for whom they prayed? We would think they were pretty amazing, wouldn’t we? We would think that they were pretty inspired…
But Paul is saying none of that is worth anything at all….
In fact anything that we do in church or as a Christian community is totally worthless: no worship, no music, no preaching….whatever we sacrifice for the church however much money we give (even if we bankrupt ourselves in doing so), however much time we give (even if we give up all our time), however much we change the direction of our lives to what we believe God is calling us to do…..nothing to do with the church or Christianity, nothing to do with helping others or for charities, is of any value whatsoever, if it is not exercised in love.
But what does love mean? This kind of love that Paul is talking about?
As I spoke on this subject at Ken Taylor’s funeral on Monday, Vernon told me afterwards that he was expecting me any moment to say the word ‘love’ is ‘agape’ in the Greek, which means ‘self sacrificial love’….clearly I am getting predictable…In fact I did not say that then….but self sacrificial love is what the word ‘agape’, the word used in the Greek for love in this passage means.
But it is worth noting that the word ‘agape’ was not actually, previously in common use in Greek before it was used in the Greek of the New Testament. It was specifically taken into the Greek of the New Testament because the love of God, seen in Jesus of Nazareth, was so extraordinary that it required a new word….
So ‘agape’ means the love that Christ showed: not only self sacrificial love but love of the unworthy. It is this kind of love which needs to characterise the Christian community so that the church attracts rather than repels.
At Brew with a View in Easton on Wednesday, I met a lady who lives in a nearby parish, probably I guess early on in her Christian journey. She used to go to church and liked the vicar but then there was a vacancy. She was appalled by the politics of the people in the church and never went again.
As Gandhi said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians!’
We in the church need to set an example of love by the way we treat each other and those outside the church.
But what is this love that Paul is describing? What are its characteristics? Because love is a word which is overused and means a lot of different things.
The love that Paul is talking about has these characteristics which should be the way that ALL of us in the church behave ALL of the time.
Love is patient: rather than short tempered
Love is kind: Love reacts with goodness towards those who ill treat it
Love does not envy, in other words it isn’t jealous.
Love does not boast: love is about giving, not about asserting
Love is not rude, it is not disgraceful, dishonourable, indecent. Love avoids anything unseemly
Love is not self seeking, insisting on its own way and not selfish. All these things arise from self-centeredness.
Love is not easily angered. There is, of course, a place for anger but that is a passionate opposition of evil, generally looking after other’s interests, not a selfish concern with our own rights. We are just not to be provoked….
Love keeps no record of wrongs; love does not take account of every evil thing that people do and hold them to account.
We must recall who they are in Christ, when they do something that angers us.
Love does not delight in evil. We mustn’t enjoy the fact that we think the world is going to hell in a handcart. `It wasn’t like this in my day….’ We might say.
On the contrary, love rejoices with the truth. Here is an important point: love cannot rejoice when truth is denied. There is a strong moral tone in the New Testament. Truth in the New Testament is contrasted to unrighteousness. Therefore it is not loving to fail to take a moral stand.
Love always protects. The word here means ‘cover’; love does not drag into the open, what is displeasing about another and protects against it.
Love always trusts. This doesn’t mean gullibility, but doesn’t think the worst. It is ready to give the benefit of the doubt.
Love always perseveres. This is not patient acquiesce, but rather an active positive fortitude, the endurance of the soldier.
In summary, love builds up. Love is secure in God’s love for us and does not need to be defended.
I have a sheet of paper with this passage hanging on the wall of my study….its a good reminder for me that everything that we do, think or say needs to be judged against the ultimate standard of love. The love that Christ showed us….
Otherwise we are wasting our time….
The Gift of Love
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.