Psalm 133, I Corinthians 13
October 15, 2006
A few weeks ago, I talked about “The Power of Words.” Then last week, I talked about “The Power Within Us.” Now today I’m talking about “The Power of Love.” Do you sense a recurring theme here? (Actually it wasn’t planned that way! Not by me anyway!)
Love is a powerful word, isn’t it? There was a song in the ‘80’s called “The Power of Love.” You “Boomers” probably remember that song. It was by “Huey Lewis and The News.” It’s been said that love is among the strongest of human emotions. It can move people in so many ways. “It makes one man weep, and another man sing.” (As Huey Lewis sang.) Love has been the source of much literature, movies and plays, and of course a great deal of music.
However, the more I think about it, and the more I observe this world, the more I am convinced that “love” is the most misunderstood word in the English language! Think about it. We use it for all kinds of things! We say, “I love pizza!” Or “I love my car.” Or at this time of year we might say, “I love the Eagles!” We say it when we appreciate something. “I love the way the choir sang today.” Or to the preacher we might say, “I love what you said about such and such.” And of course we say it to people. “I love you.” But in all that, what do we really mean when we use this word?
Often when I hear people say “I love you,” it’s said with a rising inflection. It’s said expecting a response, isn’t it? “I love you…?” It’s really pathetic when the person has to repeat it. “Did you hear me? I said, ‘I love you…?’” For many people “I love you,” means “I want you to love me.” But is that really what it means?
I’m using I Corinthians 13 this morning, which is a passage I’ve actually preached on a lot! But not very often on a Sunday morning. I used it here one time before. Does anybody remember when? It was my very first Sunday. My message that day was that we see in a mirror dimly. No one understands fully. That comes from the last part of this chapter.
So, where is it that we usually hear this passage? Weddings! Right! Why? Because it’s all about “love!” Which is what weddings are about, right? Actually, I think it is a perfect passage for weddings! It’s a good opportunity to talk about the true nature of love! When I talk at weddings I often liken the couple getting married to this young Church in Corinth. I talk about how they both have the task of taking people of differing backgrounds and experiences, and making make one entity. That’s the work of love. And I want us to think of that today in terms of our Church. How do we function together as one body made up of different people?
Paul tells us that love is the essential ingredient in our faith! At this point, he has already written twelve chapters of this letter to the Church in Corinth. (This is the thirteenth.) And if you go back and read them, you would find that a large part of those chapters and the ones that come after this are devoted to helping people do that hard task of becoming “one body” in the Church. He was trying to solve the problems they had. He was trying to answer their questions. And he was trying to make sense of their differences.
He gave them great advice! But then here at the start of the thirteenth chapter, he stops, maybe puts down his pen, takes a deep breath, and then says to them – and to us – “None of this stuff I’m telling you is any good, it’s not worth the parchment it’s written on, if you don’t have what I’m about to tell you. And then he tells them of this essential ingredient, this more excellent way – the way of love.”
Do you think that’s too strong? Do you think all his helpful words so far are useless – without this love? Listen to how he answers that question. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…” In other words, “If I preach like the greatest preacher in the world, or if I am so spiritual that I can speak miraculously in other languages like on the day of Pentecost, if I do all that but have not love, I am just a lot of noise!” Pretty strong words!
Then he says, “If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains…” If I know God intimately, and if I know everything there is to know about the faith, if I have such strong faith that I can work great miracles, but have not love, I am, what? “I am in need of more learning?” “I am just a little lacking?” “I am nothing!”
He concludes with this. “If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned…” If I am so generous and sacrificial, even to the point of giving up my own life for the faith in the ultimate sacrifice, but have not love…” Love is that important!
Then he goes on to describe the love he is talking about. And again, this word “love” is so misunderstood in our world. The world thinks love is a feeling. The world thinks it is an emotion. We see on posters and coffee mugs the phrase, “Love is a warm fuzzy feeling.” (Anybody have one of those?) It’s usually accompanied by a picture of a cute little kid with big eyes, and a puppy! “Love is a warm fuzzy feeling.”
That’s not what Paul is describing here! Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. Now granted, love has feelings associated with it. But that’s not what love is. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” How are we to do that if love is a warm fuzzy feeling? Are we supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings for our enemies? Are you nuts, Jesus?
As we read this “love chapter” we find that love is not an emotion. Love is a way of treating someone. And we can treat enemies with respect, can’t we? In fact, Jesus prefaced those words by saying, “If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Everybody does that! But I say love your enemies.” Love those people who don’t give you the respect you think you deserve. Love those people who are hard to love. Love those people who annoy you!!
I know I’m probably reminding you of these things today. I may not be saying anything new – and that’s ok. I heard a study once that said that a huge percentage of the things Jesus said were things they should have already known. So maybe I’m reminding you. I’m reminding you today that love is an action word. It is a verb. It’s not a noun! It’s not something you feel. It’s something you do. And in Paul’s description, love is not self-centered, it is “other-centered.” It is not the expectation of love in return.
Try this sometime. Say “I love you” to someone – without using that rising inflection in your voice! Say it, and then leave no space for a response. Go on to something else right away, without even allowing for a reply. Try that! I think it helps convey a little more of what Paul means when he uses the word here.
Then I want you to see the specific things he says about love in the middle of this chapter. And I’d like you to think about yourself. Does this describe you? Does it describe the way you relate to and love others? And I say this last because it’s practical and because it’s the thoughts I want you to take away with you today.
First he says, “Love is patient and kind.” We could stop there and go home and think about nothing else. Those things are so important! Paul speaks about patience and kindness in lots of places in his letters. We find them in his list of “the fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5. If we treated one another with greater patience and kindness, that alone would be a huge step in loving one another.
“Love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude.” Love does not play the little games we play when we are the center of the universe. Love does not use arrogant or unkind words because love thinks about the other person and what those words might do to them. (Remember my previous message, “The Power of Words!”)
“Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful.” We people like to do things our way. We get our egos involved, and then we take offense when our way doesn’t happen. Love is not “thin skinned.” Love does not get offended easily. That one’s hard in a society where so much is changed because various groups have “taken offense” at one thing or another. (Are we become an irritable society?) Love does not resent others. It upholds and upbuilds others.
“Love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Love does not say “I told you so.” Love does not look for the wrong in others. In fact, it’s the opposite. Love looks to the highest good in others. And love encourages that good in others, thanking them for their contribution. And that’s not easy either in a society where everything is about competition, and where coming out on top is the most important thing to so many people.
There is a great contrast between what Paul tells us love is about and how the world uses the word! I hope you see that! In fact, if you don’t, if you use the word the way the world does, you need to think about this again! Paul tells us that nothing is as important as love! John would echo that importance in his first letter. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and he who loves is born of God and knows God. And he who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
It’s that important!
Eternal God, help us to know you better, and to love you more. Teach us your ways of love. Help us to love as you have first loved us! Those things are not easy, but help us to be in the practice of loving one another. Show us the joy of loving as you love. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.