Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
The 5th Sunday of Easter
1. Required, 2. Fulfilled, 3. Inspired
Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
What do you love? For some, that may be an easy answer. “I love my spouse.” “I love my kids.” “I love my sister.” “I love baseball.” “I love golf.” “I love quilting and scrapbooking.” “I love the beach.” “I love Big Macs and fries.” “I love my job.” “I love my free time.” How many times in your life do you think you’ve said the word love before?
Obviously love is an important word. There is a playful commercial that has recently aired on TV. A lady tells her boyfriend that she loves him, but he hesitates to use the “L word” back. “I L—. I L— you. I Lo—you.” It’s as if he can’t even say this important word. But when the waitress asks if he would like a Miller Lite he quickly responds, “Oh I’d love one.” Love is an important word in our world.
But what does it mean to love? Back in Greek times they actually had three words for our one English word love. First there was philos love. Philos was a brotherly, friendly love. It was the kind of love that we heard about in our first lesson this morning that was shared by Jonathan and David. Philos is why Phil-adelphia is called The City of Brotherly Love. Philos is why my name, Phil-ip, means “one who loves horses.” We have philos love in our world.
Next there was the eros love. Eros was a fleshy, earthy, passionate kind of love. Eros is the kind of love properly enjoyed between husband and wife. But in a sinful world, eros is much more than that. Eros is the root for the English word “erotic.” It’s the kind of love people say they can “make.” It’s the kind of fleshy and earthy love you might think of when you go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. We have eros love in our world.
The third type of love in Greek culture was agape love. Agape love is a selfless love. It is a love given expecting nothing in return. It is a love given no matter what a person has done. It is a love that is free and full. This is a love that we don’t often see in our world. Most love and expect something in return. Most love those who love back. Most love and then mysteriously “fall out of it.” Agape love is a foreign concept to this world. But yet, agape love is love as God truly intended it.
Many know that 1 Corinthians 13 is often called the great love chapter of the Bible. Many have had 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding. Many have read poems or received Hallmark cards with various parts of 1 Corinthians 13 in it. All of those things are appropriate. 1 Corinthians 13 could be called the Bible’s, or God’s, definition of love. It’s a commentary on what true love, agape love, is really like. Today we hear from God himself and we learn about Perfect Love.
It’s been just shy of 43 years since John, Paul, George, and Ringo rocked the world with their still-popular song All You Need is Love. While the Beatles are far from being theologians, they are actually correct. Love is what you need and love is what God requires. Listen to Paul: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
You might be a real smarty-pants. You might be very crafty and skilled in speaking. You can convince anyone of anything. You can talk your way out of anything. You can close any business deal. Maybe you can even speak in the tongue of angels (whatever that sounds like). But if you don’t do any of that in love, your speech is as pointless and meaningless as a gong or a cymbal echoing across the sky.
Maybe you are very wise, especially when it comes to Scripture. God has given you a healthy understanding of many biblical truths. You have been learning the Bible ever since you were a child. You used to go to Sunday School every week. As you got older you even taught Sunday School occasionally. You always go to church. You have faith so strong you could move a mountain. But if you don’t do any of that with true, devoted, and undivided love for God or for others, then you have nothing.
You might volunteer your time and give to the poor and needy. You might help out here and there with church. You might care for a sick or dying friend or neighbor. You might sacrifice yourself to extreme suffering or even to die for someone else. But if you don’t do that with sincere and selfless love for others, then it is completely pointless.
In everything you do every single day, love is what God requires. Whether it’s shopping at Publix or washing your dishes at home, whether it’s working or playing, whether you’re with family or friends or enemies—God requires true agape love.
So what is agape love? Listen to God’s definition: “Love is patient.” It is forbearing. It does not have a quick temper. It waits. “Love is kind.” It shows a genuine interest in others and wants to do good to others. “It does not envy.” Instead it trusts. It has faith in others. It is not jealous. “It does not boast.” It doesn’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. It doesn’t care about personal achievement. It wants others to succeed. “It is not proud.” Love doesn’t have an ego. It puts others first. “It is not rude.” It is polite and considerate at all times. It is respectful, truthful, and honest. “It is not self-seeking.” It thinks about others first. It supports others. It doesn’t care about personal gain. “It is not easily angered.” Love doesn’t jump all over someone after a bad day. It doesn’t pick fights. It doesn’t overreact. “It keeps no record of wrongs.” Love doesn’t remember what someone did ten years ago and hold a grudge. It doesn’t try to get payback. It forgets the wrongs others have done. It moves on. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” It wants to do what is right and pure and noble and admirable. It doesn’t look for the dirty scoop on others. It doesn’t gossip. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Love cares for and watches out for others. It believes others at their word. It looks for and expects good things. When the going gets tough, love does not get going. “Love never fails.” True love is not temporal. It does not fade. It does not falter. It never fails.
This is real love. This is true agape love. This is the kind of love that God expects and demands of us. This is the love that God requires.
Imagine how few marriages would break if everyone truly loved. Imagine what little stress and strain there would be in marriage if we truly loved. There would be no family fall-outs. There would be no broken or lost friendships. Imagine what little violence there would be. There would be no revenge and no payback. No road rage. No cursing or swearing.
What if we perfectly agape-loved God? There would be perfect church attendance and perfect Bible class attendance. We wouldn’t need to spend thousands on advertising and promotions because people would just come. We wouldn’t even have a budget because God would always be put first and offerings to the Lord would always be the first and the best. There would be no doubts, no worries, no questioning of God’s ways.
Some call 1 Corinthians 13 the great love chapter of the Bible. I suppose you could also say that 1 Corinthians 13 is a great exercise in futility. The more we read these words the worse we feel. The more we study these words the more we realize we have failed. The more we listen to what God requires the more we understand that we have not truly loved. We have fallen short of God’s requirements. We heard Jesus say in the gospel today: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Who would know that we are really his disciples? We have not loved perfectly.
And so who would love us? Who could love us? Jesus essentially gave us one command, to love one another. Love is the fulfillment of God’s law. If we truly love then we will keep all of the 10 commandments along with all of God’s other commands. But we haven’t. We are impatient. We are self-centered. We are rude. We get angry. We blow up. We fight. We argue. We try to get revenge. We gossip. We slander. That’s not love. That’s not what God requires. Who would love us? Who could love us?
God would. God could. God did. One could even say that agape love defines God. Listen to the apostle John: “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
We haven’t loved. We don’t love. We can’t love. Not perfectly like God demands. No, we are sinners. As a holy and righteous God, he would have every right to blast us into the depths of hell. We have disobeyed him. Not once. Not twice or a couple times. Many times. Over and over. Every day we sin and disobey.
But God is love. And the evidence of God’s true agape love is Jesus Christ. Think about that list again. Love is patient and kind. Jesus silently endured being beaten and flogged and crucified. He didn’t defend himself but let it happen. Love is not boastful or proud. Jesus—who is the God of the universe and rules over all—was born in a manger. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He washed his disciples feet. He died on a cross. Love is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs. If Jesus did, we would be in BIG trouble. But Jesus does not keep a record our wrongs, waiting to show us all that we’ve done and really take revenge on us. Instead, he forgave our wrongs. In fact, he took our wrongs onto himself on the cross and suffered sin’s punishment for us. Love never fails. Jesus’ love never failed. He did everything that God requires perfectly. He showed perfect love for Mary and Joseph, for Jews and for Gentiles, for his friends and for enemies, for you and for me. He lived a perfect life of love. He died a perfect death of love. Indeed, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
What is love? What is true love? It is agape love. Agape love is a love despite what a person has done. It is a love that is selfless. It is a love that does what is best for others. Agape love is God. Agape love is Jesus. Agape love is what Jesus did. God requires perfect love and Jesus fulfilled perfect love.
About 10 years ago there were little bracelets that were hugely popular. Even today some still wear them. The bracelets read WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? They are OK. They do remind us to follow God’s commands. But I think they could be better. The bracelets should read WDJD—What Did Jesus Do? You see Jesus is not just an example for us—“What did he do? I should try and do that, too!” Jesus is more than our model. He is our motivation. Jesus’ agape love inspires agape love.
The apostle John continues in 1 John 4, “We love because he first loved us.” That pretty much summarizes everything. Last week a very good question came up in Bible study. We debated how we could possibly love someone who has done something bad to us. We have enough trouble showing true love to our friends and our family. But how are we supposed to show love to someone who wrongs us? What about someone who hurts us—emotionally or physically? What if someone did something to our kids? How could we possibly show this 1 Corinthians 13 love to such an enemy or to an evil person?
Listen again to John: “We love because he first loved us.” God has been so patient with us. He has not been easily angered and has kept no record of wrongs. He even loved us enough to sacrifice his Son for us. If God has loved sinners like us that much, then certainly we can love others in the same way. What a joy it is to be like mirrors reflecting Jesus’ love! We read this list in 1 Corinthians 13—patient, kind, not envious, not boasting, not proud, etc.—and we think about the way that Jesus has loved us. He has shown us perfect agape love. That love inspires us to love him and others.
From what I understand, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were and are complete heathens. They don’t amount to much as theologians. But they at least had one thing right—all you need is love. Not the kind of love this world knows though. All we need is agape love—selfless, self-sacrificing, undeserved love. God requires that love from us. We haven’t met that requirement, so God sent his Son to fulfill that perfect love through his life and death. Now, Jesus inspires that agape love in us. All you need is love? Well we have God’s love. And that is all we need.
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