I Corinthians 13
August 7, 2005
What will it be like when we see God face to face? I love the song, “I can only imagine.” It’s the thoughts of a man who tried to think what it would be like to stand before God face to face.
I can only Imagine, what it will be like, when I walk by your side
I can only Imagine, what my eyes will see, when your face is before me…
Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing Hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only Imagine…
We don’t often think of that when most of our days are totally focused on the here and now. And frankly, there are many who don’t want to focus on the eternal at all – even some in the Church, because they love this life so much and they can’t “imagine” that standing around with God in the clouds somewhere can be all that great!
That’s a shame, and I know we probably all think that from time to time. We may even find ourselves saying at the passing of a loved one, “he’s in a better place,” without really believing that!
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we cannot even imagine what it will be like. But everything I learn and read and know to be true through the Holy Spirit is that the next life will be more glorious than we can ever imagine, and that somehow then we will be more fully alive and have a vibrancy of life that is beyond this life on earth. I wish I could give you more details than that, but I don’t think we can have those details in this life.
So, what then do we have in this life? I love this description here when Paul told us that now “We see in a mirror dimly.” That’s what this life is like . We don’t understand God fully, though some day we will. We don’t see he ways fully, but some day we will understand as fully as God understands us. For now, we see things as though we were looking at them in a dim light or through a hazy, mirror with a lot of the silvering deteriorating. All of us have that perspective, and we’re trying to make our way through this life together with that same shortcoming!
A large portion of the letters of Paul were written to try to get people to understand things and to help them solve the problems they were having as they tried to live their lives together as the people of God. Does that sound familiar? Throughout the ages, as people have come together as congregations, they have had difficulties of various kinds. It has always been a struggle for people to love and honor and forebear one another. Why should we think we are any different?
We are coming now into a time of transition. And in transitions, there can be struggles. It happens to everybody. We’re no different. So, in a real sense, this is our passage. This is the passage for this Church at this time. We all see through a mirror dimly. None of us has all the clear answers and the exclusive visions.
In all that writing. In all of his many letters. In all those pages and pages he wrote trying to straighten out many things, I can always picture Paul pausing, sitting back, putting down his pen, taking a deep breath, then leaning forward again to write these words telling them of this “more excellent way.”
That way, is the way of Love. Here, he penned some of the greatest words ever written about that one most illusive word. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have all prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing! If I give of myself totally and even sacrifice my very body, but have not love, I gain nothing!”
What incredible words those are! It’s really hard not to look in depth at every sentence, even every phrase even every word of this chapter. It is all so powerful. I want to focus on the statement that we see in a mirror dimly. Our best understanding is only a hazy vision of the truth of God and his kingdom. That’s the verse I want you to have on your hearts as you leave here today. But as we move to that verse, let us take notice of some of the things Paul is telling us of this love. He is telling us here that love is so important, that nothing in our faith is much help or value to us if we don’t have it! We can understand to the fullest. We can be so eloquent of speech as to move people. We can be generous and charitable. We can be all those things. We can work tirelessly for the Church. We can serve on all the committees at every level, but if we have not love, we are nothing!
That is an incredible thought! As we deal with all these things we have ahead of us, or I should say the things you have ahead of you, I think you need to keep in mind this “more excellent way.” And you need to keep in mind, and keep telling yourselves, that we/all of us see in a mirror dimly!
With that in mind, look at this love as Paul describes it. I’m going to read this one paragraph again. And as I do so, I want you to do something I heard about years ago. Hear the words as I say them, and in your mind substitute your name whenever I say the word “love.” “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on it’s own way. It is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, hopes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
How did you do? Was it an accurate description of you, or are there some things you need to work on? I know that I hope that some day these things will be said of me. I hope you feel the same way yourselves. I hope you will be practicing this “more excellent way” every day. And I really hope that you will be reaching for these ideals in this time of transition.
Like those people in Corinth, you will have struggles. As time goes on, you will begin to gain insight and see solutions. Along the way, you will meet with frustrations. And you will get answers. But even if you had the Apostle Paul himself writing to you, as he did these Churches long ago, nothing he could tell you would be worth the parchment it was written on without this love that he so eloquently describes. I think it would be of great value to you, if along the way you would pause from time to time – as Paul did in the middle of writing this letter – and consider these words. I really mean that! Every once in a while in the days ahead, stop and read this chapter!
There is a story, a legend, a tradition if you will, about the Apostle John. Church tradition holds that John was the only one of the twelve who died of old age. The others were all put to death for their faith. Only John lived on, and not because they didn’t try to put him to death! They did a lot of nasty things to him! He just didn’t actually die in all their attempts to silence them.
John was also known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He knew the love of God so well that it reflected in his own life. And it is said that the Church’s loving one another was of paramount importance to him. It was so much so, that in his old age, when people would still try to convince him to get up before them and speak, all he would say when he got up in front was, “My Children, love one another.” (How’s that for a short sermon!)
I don’t know if that’s true. But does it matter? What ever the case, as I go – knowing that we will see each other again – I would like to leave you with John’s words. “Little children, love one another.” All of us see only in a mirror dimly. No one has all the answers or all the right insights. As you struggle together, love one another.
Eternal God, your love for us is beyond our comprehension. Help us in the days ahead to reflect that love to each other. Help us to forebear and to be gracious to each other. Help us to seek more to understand rather than to be understood ourselves. It is for the sake of your kingdom, and in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.