Summary: Love is the greatest characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ. This messages focuses on the meaning of love in the life of a disciple.
All You Need is Love
Love: The Greatest Characteristic
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, 13
Whoever thought love could be such a lucrative business? Retailers, that’s who! According to the National Retail Federation, the average amount spent on Valentine’s Day is $134/person in 2014, with a total spent for the holiday of $17 billion dollars. That number is expected to be higher in 2015. After all, nothing is going down in price except gasoline, and who knows when that might start going up again. Do we really show love by spending money? If Valentine’s Day is any indication, we certainly seem to think so. Valentine’s Day is the second largest Hallmark holiday, and it has, unfortunately, become the world’s definition of love—emotional, romantic, (dare I say?) erotic, and sometimes, downright corny
The Bible talks a lot about love, too, but it’s not the type of love the world talks about or that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. Actually, the Bible says that love is the greatest characteristic we can exhibit as those who seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We find the Bible’s most compelling explanation of love in what is called the “Love” chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. We hear this passage recited at weddings, when man and woman stand before God and the congregation to pledge their love to one another, and though this passage is speaking of some emotional, romantic feeling that we have at weddings. Listen to the passage as the Apostle Paul writes it to the Corinthian Christians:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
We are easily confused when it comes to the whole issue of love. Much of it has to do with the way we use the word. It is such an interchangeable word. We love our car. We love our job. We love our family. We love our church. We love going to the beach. We love our new hairstyle. We say things like, “Oh, I love how that new dress looks on you!” Or, “I just love how the light brings out the color of that painting.” The long and short of it is that we love everything, and in reality, we end up not loving very much at all.
As Paul writes, we need to understand that the Corinthian Christians were confused, too. That’s why Paul was writing—to correct their misunderstanding of what it means to love. Of course, much of Paul’s letter is spent correcting their understanding of a lot of issues. Corinth was a diverse city, and the church at Corinth reflected that diversity. The church was an odd mix of Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and poor, and that fact alone was bound to raise tensions among them. Paul addresses sex and marriage, lawsuits, incest, food sacrificed to idols, and worship in the church. Now, he turns his attention to the issue of love.
The Corinthians knew what love was. Actually, they had a couple of different words they used regularly to communicate the idea of love. First, there was the word they used to communicate romantic love. There’s a little town south of here. It’s the place I served my first full-time appointment. The name of the town is Eros, and every year, thousands of people send their Valentine’s Day cards to Eros, LA to be postmarked to their sweetheart. That’s because Eros is the Greek word that indicates erotic or romantic love. Another word they would be familiar with communicated the idea of “brotherly” love—rather like a fond affection. That’s why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. Its name is derived from this Greek word.
Paul uses a different word when he writes of love. He uses a new word for a new idea, and it’s a word not used outside the New Testament. The Corinthians didn’t quite get it. Sometimes, I think we don’t either. The word Paul uses is a?a?a?, and the shades of meaning that lie behind the word are sacrificial, self-denial, and unconditional.
Jesus used the word, too. In John’s Gospel, after the resurrection, Jesus comes along the seashore and calls the disciples who are out fishing. They get to shore and Jesus has cooked them breakfast. After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And, Jesus uses the word Paul uses. Do you love me sacrificially?