Summary: Christ makes himself known to us through his love for us and through us as we live out his love toward others.
Title: U Before I
Text: I Corinthians 13:1-13
Thesis: Christ makes himself known through the way Christians live out love.
The title for this message was lifted from Homiletics Magazine, January/February 2010, Vol. 22, NO. 1
You may recall being taught a little mnemonic device devised to help you remember how to spell certain words. One of those was, “I before E except after C.” The little code worked on words like siege or friend and on words like ceiling and receive. But it did not always work because the rule did not apply on words like science or ancient or weird or foreign. But non-the less, the title is a take-off from the spelling rule, “I before E except after C.” Love acts itself out in the life of a Christian by placing U before I.
This subject is so much more than a clever turning of a phrase. Read Philippians 2:11-5. Citing Jesus as the perfect example of love Paul instructs us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ…”
That sounds a lot like placing U Before I. In order to learn to place U Before I we need to learn a few things about love. The first thing we need to know is this:
I. Love is the single-most important attribute of a Christian’s life
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13
This statement follows Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in chapter 12. The statement could well follow any of his teachings on spiritual gifts found in Romans 12 or Ephesians 4. The gist of Paul’s teaching is simply this… despite his urging all of Christ’s followers to seek and exercise spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church, he is very intentional about making sure that of all the things we might desire to have and exercise in the life and ministry of our Church, in our families, communities, workplaces, and neighborhoods, is love. This teaching is strategically placed in the bible to help us understand just how the Christian community is supposed to relate to itself. The Christian community exists to serve itself and others, being obedient to Christ’s purposes in the world with the gifts and tools God provides… but to do so with love for God and others.
This is not a teaching to be taken lightly. I would guess that some the times I may think I have done good with my life… there are people with whom I have not related lovingly and they have been hurt. The people in my life who have hurt me and been most hurtful in the churches I have served have been the people who thought they were the most godly and good people in the church. Love matters. Living lovingly matters. It is the single-most character quality any of us can have.
Paul does not care how lovely we sing, how dutifully we fulfill our duties, how much knowledge we acquire and teach, how many notches we get on our gun handles evangelizing the lost, how much money we tithe or give to God or other good causes, how many casseroles we bake or stitches we sew, how many prayers we utter or how many committees we chair, how much we can speak in tongues or how masterfully we exercise leadership… God says, “If whatever you do is not done as an expression of love, it is nothing.”
I heard a joke this week about a young pastor who thought he was God’s gift to the Church. He was convinced that he was all that and a bag of chips. One Sunday as he drove home from church with his young wife he said, “I wonder how many great preachers there really are?” And his wife said, “One less than you think!”
The most important thing in any Christian’s life is not how gifted and great we are or what we do. The most important thing is that we love and that all we do is an expression of our love for God and others.
• If I exercise the gift of tongues without love, I am only a resounding gong of a clanging cymbal.
• If I exercise the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and faith without love – I am nothing.
• If I exercise the gift of generosity and die as a martyr, without love – I gain nothing.