Summary: A look at the begining of 1 Corithians 13 and love is patient, kind and does not envy.
Love. The Beatles sang the song, All You Need is Love. Perhaps in light of 1 Corinthians 13 they were not too far from the truth. This morning we looked at what it means for God to be love and then what that means for us. We looked at the background to 1 Corinthians 13, to see where Paul was coming from. Tonight we are looking at what 1 Corinthians 13 says love is all about. But to start with we are going to remind ourselves of what we learned this morning by reflecting on the first few verses which emphasise the importance of love.
The Importance of Love
In the church at Corinth there was lot of people mixed up about the really important things in life. They were experiencing the power of God in many ways. Some were speaking in tongues, some were interpreting, others had the gifts of prophecy and in general the Holy Spirit was really moving in the church. The problem was that people started to see various gifts as signs that they were more Spiritual, than everyone else. So the ones who spoke in tongues thought that they were more spiritual than the ones who didn’t. Paul writes and tells them how wrong this, since God gives different gifts as he sees fit. To one he might give the gift of prophecy (which doesn’t mean foretelling the future but rather telling the church what they want to here), to another he might give the gift of hospitality. Neither is any better than any other. The gifts are not marks of Spirituality. The sign of spirituality is love.
Of course sometimes we go to far the other way and say that spiritual gifts don’t matter, as long as you have love you don’t need the gifts. This is also wrong. But we’re not really looking at the gifts tonight. We’ll do that another time. What we are looking at is that whatever gifts you have, whatever you do, it needs to be energised and motivated by love.
Paul says here, that even if God gives you the gift of tongues, if you don’t have love your nothing. If you are a great theologian who understands the trinity perfectly, or you can expound the Scriptures to give them exactly the right meaning, or if God gives you messages for the church and other people, if you don’t have love you are nothing. He even says that if you have great faith to move a mountain and it actually moves, but don’t have love you are nothing. Even if you are a great charity worker who sells all he has to give to the poor, if you don’t have love you are nothing. Paul’s list is not exhaustive, we could easily add, if you keep to every single one of the Church of the Nazarene’s special rules, if you don’t have love you are nothing. Even if you cross all the ts and dot all the is of the Christian faith, if you don’t have love, you are nothing. Love is important, it is the key to being a Christian.
It’s quite interesting to note a couple of Paul’s examples. In the protestant tradition its usually faith that gets top billing. Martin Luther’s famous declaration, faith alone. Yet, Paul says love is more important, that faith without love, is nothing. Or what about giving to the poor. It’s easy to see how preaching or speaking in tongues or something like that can be done without love, but giving to the poor. Surely that is the essence of love. Yet, Paul speaks of doing it without love. We can give out of duty, because it is expected of us, to look good in front of everyone else (that was Ananias and Saphira which we looked at last week) but Paul tells us it has to come from love.
John Wesley describes holiness as perfect love. Not rule keeping, not a list of dos and don’ts, but perfect love. It was about everything you do being motivated by love. Love is the heart of Christianity. It’s more important to love than to be correct, that’s one I needed to learn in the past. It all comes down to love.
What is love.
But what is love. What does Paul mean by love. Well he goes on to tell us. He lists things and says love is or love is not. What are we to make of these qualities? What are we to do with them? Tom Wright suggests one outline for following through on these qualities that I think is very helpful. He suggests 3 steps to look at. 1. In what ways did Jesus show these qualities? 2. In what ways do we show or not show these qualities? 3 In what situations should we be on the look out for, to act like this? This evening we are going to look at 1 and then make possible suggestions for 2 and 3. But the real work on 2 and 3, you need to do for yourself. Only you can look at your own life and evaluate it. You need to work out for yourself where you need to grow. Developing this lifestyle can take a lifetime, with many missteps along the way. But as long as we recognise them as mistakes and repent, rather than clinging to them then we are making progress. It is also what God wants and expects us to do.