Summary: This sermon is intended to be an encouragement to those whose faith is faltering by reminding them of the enduring nature of their love for God, which does not require assent to doctrine to be real.
Love Endures Forever:
When we read 1st Corinthians Chapter 13, I think many of us, probably most of us, come away from reading it with the idea that love is the greatest good, the greatest virtue, and that we ought, therefore, aspire to love and value love above all other manifestations of our faith. This is no doubt true. Love is the very commandment given to all disciples by Jesus. There is, however, another really insight to be drawn from this scripture. Love is not only the greatest good, it is the most enduring part of who we are—it is that part of our identity which is capable of enduring, of bearing all hardship, even when other things, our intellect, our reputation, our will, our confidence, even our most cherished beliefs may falter. As the Apostle Paul puts it, faith, hope and love endure, but the most enduring of these is love.
I mention this today because I know there are things that can cause us to doubt our faith, times when we may even wonder if we have lost our faith. Love can and will endure even when our faith is shaken and our hope seems lost. And the ultimate question, the question asked at the Pearly Gates, might well not be “Do you believe?”, but something else altogether. Jesus pointed out, “even devils believe”. That being the case, belief in itself is not necessarily the ticket into God's favor. The ultimate question may well be, “Do you love?”
What then is love? We say that Jesus is “the light of the world”. By this we mean that Jesus is the greatest teacher. And what Jesus taught us by example is faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these was his love. We miss something very important about the purpose and meaning of the ministry of Jesus Christ if when we make the assumption that our primary calling is to believe as if belief were an act of will. Belief is a gift of grace, not an act of will. And that gift is not perfect because it is dependent upon our intellectual understanding which is always limited. Love, on the other hand, can be perfected because it is not dependent upon our limited powers of thinking. Even faith in the sense of assent to doctrine can fail because our rational knowledge is so very limited. We cannot perfect our rational apprehension of the ground of our being. But love can be perfected. The Apostle puts it this way: where there are prophecies, they will fail.... where there is knowledge, it will vanish away, but, love never fails.
To never fail means to endure, to remain even if all else including our faith is lost. And for the Christian, love means imitating the one who taught us to love—Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
Paul writes in Philippians Chapter 2--”If there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
This way of thinking, this way of living, this way of loving is the example set for us by Jesus. And if we have such light in our heart, the doubts Satan plants in our minds will not prevail.
Faith is a wonderful gift, hope is a blessed thing, but both may, from time to time, falter. Love is unfaltering, even unto death, as Christ showed us on the cross. Christ lost everything in this horrible death. But he never lost his love for you and me. Recognize this—love is more powerful than anything Satan can do to us. Love is the spark, the fire of the divine, that cannot be undone. Hold onto this light—the love which Christ has placed in your heart is the true and everlasting life. It is redeemed life. We are redeemed by Christ's love. And this love, the love of Christ hopes all things and endures all things.
Now, if we love the one who loves us, what then is the proper response to the question, “Are you saved?” If we totally submit to the hands of the one we love, do we do so for reward? No... we do so because of love and for no other reason, and the proper response to the question, “Are you saved?” is, “that is entirely up to the one I love... if the Lord wills I will be saved... ultimately the thing that matters most to me is my love for the Lord...”