If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“I love you,” the husband said to his wife as he walked out the door early for work as she was wrangling their toddler from a dirty diaper and a few older kids from their pajamas into their school clothes, while making breakfast and getting herself ready all before 8:00 am on a Monday. I imagine that as she watched her husband leaving, she felt anything but love. A few days later, “I need you to wash the car, vacuum the house, get the groceries, mow the lawn, fold laundry and pay the bills,” the wife said to her husband as he walked in the door on a Friday night after finishing a major project for work. I imagine as he listened to her list, he felt anything but love. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” There are times when we say the right thing at the wrong time and when we say the wrong thing at just the right time to each other. We also face this struggle in our relationship with God. Whether it is the right place or that tempting moment we struggle to hear the message God’s love for you remains!
1 Corinthians 13 is known as the Bible’s love chapter. These verses are often used at weddings to describe the kind of love between husband and wife. They are often the encouragement couples hear throughout their marriage, but these words from Paul to the Corinthians are not just for husband and wife. In fact, these verses are not specifically about marriage at all. Paul wrote this detailed description of what love is as the foundation for all believers as they use their spiritual gifts. Basically, Paul told the Corinthians that love was the true spiritual gift for all believers and that it fueled whatever unique gifts God had given them.
There seemed to be some contention among the Corinthians as to what spiritual gifts were the best, so in chapter 12 Paul clarified that all believers form one body with all its gifts serving one another. Paul said that all believers needed one another’s gifts and benefited from the different gifts they have just like a body benefits from its different parts. For that reason, there was no place for contention between the believers just like no part of a body contends with another as Paul wrote, 1 Corinthians 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” All the parts of the body work together, and the same is true for God’s people. Paul spent his next chapter on love because love keeps the body from turning on itself.
Paul repeated the word love throughout 1 Corinthians 13 to show it is the true gift of the Spirit that remains in all believers. Before we go further though, we need to clarify what kind of love Paul meant in this section. When we see the word “love” in the New Testament it is usually one of the three main words the Greeks used for love: philos, eros or agape. Philos love is the love between friends, eros is romantic love and agape is unconditional love. Here Paul used agape. When Paul used this word, he meant it to point to the unique kind of love that God has for the world. It is the selfless love of God, unchanged over time, unchanged by who we are and what we do, put on display for the world in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We lack this love because of our sinful nature. We only have this love when God makes us believers, but even as believers we still struggle to show this love to God and one another.
Paul wrote that love must be present, or any gift is worth nothing. He wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of presidential candidates or popstars, but do not have love, I am only a ringtone or meme. If I read my horoscope and understand the world through my master’s degree and by watching Planet Earth on repeat, and if I have a bank account that can build mansions, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to Meals on Wheels and give my body over to CrossFit that I may post on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Wait, was that Paul writing to the Corinthians or was that a letter to me and you here in Rockwall?
We are #blessed in our lives, but without love even the best things we do fall short. The month May and the first part of June for so many of us is busy with graduations, parties, travel, moving, goodbyes, in-laws, thank you cards, work, new jobs, new schedules, etc. and these are all good things. The time we are in right now has so many good things going on that our busy schedules can begin to rob us of the joy of these events. All of the double scheduling, miscommunications, being late, tired and hangry (mad because you are hungry) can leave us going through the motions and getting things done, but without love.
1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter of the Bible, reveals all the ways we fall short of love. Some from the list are envy, boasting, pride, dishonor, selfishness, anger, but the worst kind of love we fall short of is the love for our God. In our reading from Acts 13, Paul faced rejection from unbelievers for preaching the message of Jesus’ love that he came to this world as a descendent of David, was raised from the dead, is the Savior and is the Son of God. Rejecting Jesus as the Savior is at the root of all loveless hearts. When we lose sight of Jesus and live our busy lives on autopilot, our default is sin. We need Jesus to fill us back up with his love to save us from ourselves.
Jesus fills us back up with his love when we are connected to his word. Whether it is the right place or that tempting moment though, we struggle to hear God’s love for you remains. Even when we are in the right place at worship or with fellow Christians, our sinful nature works to reject hearing what Jesus has done for us. And, especially when we are in the tempting moments, we forget to use our greatest weapon of God’s Word to fight against evil, unbelief and loveless living. For all these times when we fall into sin, Jesus loved us. Even as he was condemned to the cross for blasphemy, he continued to confess that he was the Son of God and our Savior. Even when Peter rejected him, when Jesus rose, he appeared to Peter to forgive him. Even when we reject him, he will not stop telling us he loves us. Throughout Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to save us from our sins, he was Paul’s description of love: patient, kind, selfless, truthful, protecting, trustworthy and our unchanging hope.
God’s love for us remains as Paul said, 8 “Love never fails.” Again, this is God’s love for us that will never fail. Paul went on to explain how God’s love never fails. He said that prophecies, tongues and knowledge will all pass away. He meant that what God has recorded in the Bible will one day no longer be needed. He has given us all we need to have faith in Jesus. But, a day will come for us in heaven when that knowledge will not need to be written down, passed on or explained. In heaven we will have a perfect knowledge of who God is and his love for us. Paul said, 12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”
Until we reach heaven to fully experience God’s love for us, Jesus left us with a command. Our gospel reading from John 13 reveals more of the instructions Jesus gave his disciples the night he was betrayed. Jesus said, 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus’ new command to the disciples was not new in the sense that God did not want his people to love one another before this or that God was changing his message for the New Testament believers. Jesus meant that the ageless command to love would now be done in light of what Jesus was going to do. The disciples and all who believe after them will now love as Jesus loved. God’s love was captured by David in Psalm 86:15, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” This love now had a perfect reality in Jesus. This selfless love is what God has shown to us and called us to show one another.
We do not have to live in fear of losing God’s love for us. In Ephesians 2, Paul wrote, 8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” God has saved us and called us to faith as a gift. What he has given us, he will not take away as Paul said, 13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
“I love you,” the husband said to his wife after he wrangled their toddler from a dirty diaper, then made breakfast, while she changed the older kids from their pajamas into their school clothes and got herself ready. Together, they did all this before 8:00 am on a Monday. And later that week, the wife gave her husband a hug as he walked in the door on a Friday night after finishing a major project for work. The next day, they tackled some house projects together. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” It is amazing what the right words at the right time and no words at the tempting moment can do to show our true love for someone. Jesus came at just the right time to save you, and in moments when you are tempted to doubt his love for you, these words will never pass away, God’s love for you remains! Amen.