Summary: Words are cheap. True biblical love is love in action.
If you ever feel frustrated with your church—God forbid!—then just read the Bible book of 1 Corinthians. First Church, Corinth was a real mess! People were fighting and gossiping. People were prideful. People were cliquish. And so the Apostle Paul wrote them a letter, trying to straighten them out.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the chapter of this letter right before today’s, how the Holy Spirit gives each believer a spiritual gift. Paul notes there is a variety of gifts but one Holy Spirit behind them all. Right after that, Paul says, “Now let me show you a more excellent way.” Then he writes his most beautifully composed script, the love chapter of the Bible, what you often hear at weddings. He starts it, though, in the context of those spiritual gifts he’s been talking about. Paul says you can have the most amazing gifts ever—like speaking in the language of angels, or having enough faith to move mountains, or giving everything you have to the poor—amazing ways to serve God, but if you don’t have love, you have nothing. Pardon the grammar, but…without love, you got nothing!
That’s how important today’s subject is. Love trumps every spiritual gift, love tops every miracle God may work through you, love precedes every course of action you might take. Love stands above them all!
Certainly our world today is infatuated with infatuation. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” We have hosts of online dating services. We have reality TV shows where people pick a spouse. Hollywood depicts casual, first-date sex as the norm. The porn industry, meanwhile, nets more profit than all professional sports teams combined! Meanwhile, lots of people live lonely, loveless lives.
So what is love? Well, the Bible says, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8 says God is the very definition of love. So the more we get to know God, the more we understand love. The God-man Jesus, the second being of the Trinity, also personifies love. C.H Dodd once commented on today’s scripture, stating, “I Corinthians 13… is a portrait for which Christ Himself has sat.” If you want a role model in love, you have only to look at the life of Jesus.
Paul chooses the Greek word agape to describe godly love. It is more than the romantic sexual love of eros, although that also comes from God. It is more than the friendship bond of philia, or the parental sacrifice of storge, although both of those come from God as well. Agape is a sacrificial love which seeks to do what is best for the other. “For God so loved the world, that he gave… Agape love is a giving love.
An anonymous writer sought to describe this kind of love with the Poem: “What Is the Love of God?”
The love of God is like ... a mother’s calming words, a father’s strong embrace, a friend’s laughing countenance, telling my soul, “I am not alone in this world,
there are others who travel with me.”
The love of God is not like ... a list of joyless burdens, a symbol of power, a religion that spews hate and anger toward otherness, and makes God in its own image.
The love of God is like ... a safe place, a gift, a helpful note on life, love, responsibility, and death.
The love of God is not like ... a competition,
a salary earned,
a scolding from abusive parents who are not happy with how you turned out.
The love of God is like... a perfect day,
a one of a kind love,
a relationship so wonderful that words fail to do it justice.
That’s just one writer’s attempt to describe it. The Bible pictures agape love, God’s love, as love in action, not “love in abstraction.” True love acts! Let’s face it: words are cheap! You can tell someone you love them, but do your actions match up? Does your walk match your talk?
Donald Barnhouse took the nine fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and showed how love shines through each one. He writes, “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self forgetfulness. Self control is love holding the reigns.” I like that. Love acts.
Today’s scripture gives 15 attributes of true love in action. Don’t worry; I love you too much to put you through a 15-point sermon today. And really, they speak for themselves. On the positive side, Paul says love is patient with people and gracious with generosity. He also says what love is not, helping us understand it by its antonyms: Love never envies, or brags, or is arrogant, since that is not selfless service to others. Love is never rude or overbearing, love never wants its own way. It is not irritated or angered over personal offense, and finds no pleasure in someone else’s sin, even the sin of an enemy. On the positive side again, love is devoted to truth in everything. Love protects, believes, hopes, and endures what others reject. Love never fails.