If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give up my body that I may be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy. It does not brag. It is not arrogant. It does not behave indecently. It is not selfish. It is not irritable. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7
So, now what? Some in the congregation have finished kindergarten and we can tell them, “Now What!” You’ll be going to grade school next year. Some have graduated from grade school (and confirmation) and will go to middle school, some to high school. Some gradating from high school might be getting a little more serious about that question, “Now what?” Does that mean on to college? Trade School? Jumping into a job right away? Some have graduated from college and the question becomes even more intense, “Now what?” On to a master’s program? And then what? Job? Marriage? Family? Moving? “Now what?” Retirement? “Now what?” Today is a day for us to reflect on our life as God’s people so we can answer this question every time someone asks it of us.
For you see, determining what happens to you next means there are so many more things involved than just education. “So, now what?” revolves around the whole idea of Christian discipleship. I mean—how to live as a follower of Jesus. You know the first disciples asked the same question, too. They spent three years learning with Jesus, healing, preaching, teaching, dying, rising and before Jesus Ascended into heaven they had to be asking, “Now what?” The gospel lesson from John 13 really answers this question for us when Jesus said,
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So, are you ready to answer the question “So, now what?” Answer: Disciples of Jesus love! Simple, right? Maybe not? Probably not. But, thankfully, the Lord gives us instruction as to what real Christ-like discipleship love looks like. We heard the command to love in John 13 and this type of love laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 13. We can sum it up like this:
Disciples of Jesus—Love!
According to Perfect Love
When you heard this lesson today you probably recalled a time you hear this Scripture read at a wedding, or maybe even had it as a reading at your own wedding. While it’s a fine wedding text that talks about love, it really sets before us the perfect love that only could be achieved by our gracious God. And who wouldn’t want such a perfect love in their own marriage, right? But, the context of this chapter makes this love chapter apply to more than marriage, but to every Christian in all aspects of their life as God’s disciples. 1 Corinthians 13 is stuck between two chapters that teach us about spiritual gifts. Remember – we heard about what it means to be in the body of Christ a few weeks ago. Then comes the love chapter. Then in chapter 14 gives us a picture of how these gifts are used in the church. See how this follows? God’s disciples are to use the gifts God has given them with love! You graduate from grade school, confirmation, high school, college, and get on with life. You go to church and hear a great message about Jesus, you love Bible Class, you enjoy your Christians friends and you’re super excited, “Yes, I want to serve!” But, what does this look like? Dear friends, it looks like people filled with love. Those who fall in love with God’s love for them in Jesus over and over again. Then they love each other as Christians. And love sharing Jesus with their FRANS! (Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors).
So, we get it. It’s all about love. So, now what? What is love? And that’s a great question! If I asked you all to write down a one sentence definition of love in your program right now I would think there would be many definitions of love. There is the triangle of love with Passion, Intimacy and Commitment. But that’s not the love in 1 Cor 13. The Greek language has lots of words for love: Eros = between husband and wife. Phileo= between friends. That’s not it either. No, in 1 Corinthians 13 St. Paul was inspired to speak about Agape = the love. We often call it “unconditional” love.
Agape love is the top-shelf love. What I mean is that in our culture today there are lots of loves: personal—love, friendship—love, passion—love, intimate—love, sex—love, and even committed—love. Agape love has no conditions, expect nothing in return, knows no bounds, and loves even the unlovable. This is the love that God has for you shown in Jesus, sent from heaven to save sinners through suffering, death and hell. It is Jesus who motivated God to love a fallen and disobedient people to rescue you and me from sin and death without expecting or needing anything in return. This is the love that God is talking about in 1 Cor 13 and is asking you to show as a disciple of Jesus in your life. Can you imagine? God wants you to have perfect unconditional love! But, we are not capable of this perfect love. However, we certainly can strive from a thankful heart of Jesus’ amazing love for us to have at it. For we certainly don’t want to be disciples of Jesus with
Action without Love!
Let’s hear these words and see if it sinks in. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.“ I could say a lot of really cool things like, “Kami wa jistu ni sono hitorigo wo, o ataeninatta hodo ni, yo o aisareta.” And I would not be showing you love, for you would not understand it…. Well most of you, for June could interpret it for you. (John 3:16). You might be impressed that I can speak in tongues, but my speaking only draws attention to myself rather than drawing attention to Christ. So, if Paul was sitting next to you he would object to my loveless actions and say,
“If someone speaks in a tongue, limit it to two or at most three (speaking one at a time), and have one person interpret. But if there is no interpreter, he is to keep silent in the church and keep his speaking between himself and God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others carefully evaluate what was said”
1 Cor 14:27-29
No matter what you say or how great it is, even if you could speak the language of angels, if you don’t speak with love to build up the Church and edify God’s people, your speaking is just a bunch of clamoring and noise. It’s pointless. Paul goes on, “If I have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give up my body that I may be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.” If I could understand all of God’s Word, have mountain moving faith, be super generous with all my treasures, and even if I sacrifice my life on the altar of being a pastor for your sake and have not love—it’s all worthless.
Think about it this way. I could buy my wife the nicest gifts, take her on fancy vacations, out to wonderful restaurants, but if all of these actions are missing love, she would pick up on that in a second, right ladies? If they were void of love she’s like the clothes, ring, beaches and food—but her heart would miss the love. Or how about a mom/grandma who constantly picks up after her kids, does endless loads of laundry, preps healthy meals and taxi’s the kids all over the place, but does so with an attitude of resentment and bitterness. Her actions are awesome, but without love they are empty.
I know. It’s hard! I want to be faithful to my spouse. Why? Because happy wife means happy dad, and happy dad means happy family and who doesn’t want a happy family? But, that’s not Agape love. I want to be a good coordinator at church. Why? Because then we’ll be an active church, with cut lawn, people inviting friends to church, teaching the children, having great charts, plans and efforts. Then pastor will be happy, and the congregation will thrive, and who doesn’t want a thriving congregation? But, that’s not Agape love! No matter what you do, giving money to a homeless guy, helping your neighbor, going good things….great. But, I ask you, are they done with real, agape love? The temptation is to do them to get something in return, to build up your pride and ego, to make yourself feel better about who you are, to make a name for yourself, to make up for shortcomings, or even worse—to do it to try and make you right with God! But, Jesus didn’t say, “Just do nice things for others” he said, “love others unconditionally!” Therefore, Disciples of Jesus—love!
Ok, let’s put this type of love to work in our life. Listen to Paul, “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy. It does not brag. It is not arrogant. It does not behave indecently. It is not selfish. It is not irritable. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Sigh! Wow! That’s love God-style! Amazing love! We just love these words! But, here’s the hard part. How are you doing? Are you patient, kind, and never envious? Do you get jealous, prideful, or self-seeking? Fly off the handle recently? Keeping track of how people have hosed you? Always protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering? Always? Not me. Not always. Truth be told, not even close
Look, when we hear this portion of God’s Word we really do appreciate the beauty of this love. However, if after hearing the way God wants you to love and you’re left feeling miserable, fall-short, hopeless because you haven’t loved this way, then you’re ready to hear the secret.
First, realize that no one can achieve this perfect love. We needed a substitute. We needed Jesus! Listen to St Paul:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”
1 John 3:16
Jesus did love like this. Jesus was always patient, kind, supportive, protected, trusted, persevered for you. Then Jesus took his perfect love and laid down his life in our place for our failed love. Jesus forgave all your sins of failing love. Jesus gives us the agape love we need to forgive all our sins and restore our perfect relationship with the Father.
“This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another”
1 John 4:10-11
There it is. The answer to the question: “So, now what?” Now you know the secret! Jesus lived, died and rose because he loves us. Jesus gives us something to live for and purpose to live as a disciple of Jesus! Jesus changes our heart and attitude from striving to love how we can’t to striving to love how we can for Jesus’ sake. So, now what? This right here: disciples of Jesus—love! Go ahead. Fall in love with God who so loved you so much! Love your fellow Christians who love you, too. Love your neighbors by sharing Jesus’ amazing love with them. Don’t be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…..Be a Disciple of Jesus and Love! Amen!