1 Corinthians 13:1–13
February 23, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church—Chicago, IL
In the name of + Jesus.
I was at the Jewels on Friday and witnessed two grown men engage in a preschool level argument at the checkout. Apparently, there was a disagreement about one of the men butting in line. It was a ridiculous conversation that just went on. The amusing part was that one fellow kept yelling, “Have a good day, sir!” I suspect he wasn’t really wishing the other fellow would have a good day.
I don’t watch political debates live, but sometimes I’ll catch some clips on the news the day after. Rarely will you catch speech of any substance; more often the highlights are insults, put-downs, and sick burns. That’s the kind of speech that makes headlines.
We’re not spared if we turn our speech to God. In fact, theology is probably the only area of speech that gets as heated as politics. Take a look at the comment stream of any theological statement online.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (vv 1–3)
It’s not just speech that rings empty and hollow, and far too often. Without love, everything is empty. Knowledge, prophecy, faith, and works are all shells with no substance; façades. It is right to lament the emptiness of the world around you, but also remember that St. Paul isn’t talking about “those people.” “If I do not have love…” he writes. The great chapter on love invites you to take inventory of your own speech, your own knowledge, your own prophecies, your own faith, your own works. How often to you open your mouth and out comes:
We need to be very clear, now, on what we mean by love (that is, what St. Paul means by love). Too often this chapter is read at weddings, giving us the impression that Paul’s talking about romantic love. But if that were the case, he’s have used the Greek word eros, which is romantic love. He doesn’t. He’s not worried here about how young folks can court a wife or husband, or how you can reignite that spark after 20 years of marriage.
The ancient Greeks also had a word that C.S. Lewis understands as “affection.” Like the love that family members have for each other. But you have to love your brothers and sisters—even when you’re fighting with them. And sometimes family members treat each other more rotten than they do people outside the family. So we’re not quite there yet.
We would get closer to the mark if we understood this kind of love as friendship. The Bible often talks about this kind of love, a love that brings two unrelated people together. It’s the kind of love, says Jesus, that finds its greatest expression in sacrificing your life for your friend. This is the kind of love soldiers develop for each other, the kind of love that’s willing to jump on a grenade for your brothers in arms. But as great as this love is, it’s still only the kind of love that’s willing to die for friends. What about your enemies.
There is yet a deeper kind of love, and St. Paul illustrates what it does: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vv 4–7),
This is the love that the Greeks called agapē. Life without love is empty, but a life shaped by agapē is a life of emptying yourself for the sake of others. This love is self-giving. There are approximations of this kind of love among us, but it can only be found in its fullness in God. This is what St. John writes in his epistle: God is agapē. He doesn’t just have love, He is love.
God, by His nature, gives of Himself completely. This is true as He relates to Himself, what theologians call the “immanent Trinity.” God is Father, Son, and Spirit, because His nature is to give in love. It is also true in relation to us—what theologians call the “economic Trinity.” This is to say that God completely gives of Himself for the sake of His creation by the Son’s incarnation, humility, and death on the cross. This is the love John also writes about in his Gospel: For God loved this world in this way, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).
This self-giving love fills up the empty shells we create. All of the gonging we do in life is silenced with God’s love. The void is filled just as God gave of Himself in the beginning by speaking His Word into the void and filling it with light and life.
And so, Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (vv 8–12).
This old world is fading away. Prophecies were a thing of the past (although prophesying is still en vogue among some secular prognosticators who want you to believe the world will end unless you support their agenda). Tongues will cease; Google translate can bridge just about any language gap. Knowledge has its limitations. I recently saw an image online that said, “Do you remember before the Internet it was thought that the cause of collective stupidity was lack of information? Well, it wasn’t that.”
Every child must grow and mature, and the same is true of the life of faith. Too often we cling to that which fades away as if it were eternal and we count the eternal things as passé. Sisters and brothers, let us strive heavenward. Let us grab hold of the eternal things. Let us leave behind the gongs and the empty shells. Let us find the love of God given to us in Christ. Let us mature into the full stature of Him who is our head. Let us learn to grown in love for Him and for each other. Because
Love Is the Perfection of Life in Christ
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (v 13).
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
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