The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is very commonly known as the love chapter. It is often read at weddings and we frequently talk about verse 13 where it talks about faith, hope and love and how love is the most important. There is so much that love is compared to and there is really so much that Paul talks about in this chapter regarding love and having faith in Christ, that we may almost too easily focus on the fact that love is important without really looking at and seeing what it is that it’s being compared to and lifted up above. With that in mind, today I wanted to really try to take this chapter apart as much as possible without going on forever. To start that off I want to just take a peek at chapter 12 because I believe that chapter helps set up this conversation about love.
In chapter 12 Paul talks about different kinds of spiritual gifts and how each person is given a gift of the spirit and not all of them are the same. He then goes on to say that we need to use all those different gifts in the ways that we should and not try to all be the same. This is where he gets into the conversation about how we are one body of Christ with many different parts and how those different parts have incredible gifts to offer the community of believers. So chapter 12 is all about talking about how incredible the gifts of the Holy Spirit are and how we need to glorify God with the ones that we have been blessed to have.
Chapter 12, in and of itself, is a very important chapter to see how the Spirit has blessed us all with gifts. As I said a minute ago though, I also believe that it sets up chapter 13 to really drive home the point of how important love is for following Christ. Chapter 13 begins with Paul talking about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues of people and the language of the angels, which he drives home on how important he thinks it is in chapter 14, and yet he says as important it is to do that if there is no love with it, then its just noise. I could spout out all kinds of terms and phrases to sound eloquent or knowledgeable but if I do it for that reason and not to help all of us build up our faith in God then it’s just me being noisy. What’s the point of talking about something if it doesn’t help the other person? Again in chapter 14 Paul says that speaking in tongues is great, but to prophesy for the sake of building up the church is even better. Doing something for the sake of others is more important than doing something, using your spiritual gift, for yourself and building yourself up. If that’s the plan than any of us are just noisy.
Now how cool would it be to have prophetic powers or to understand all the mysteries of the world? And if I had the faith of a mustard seed so that I could move or remove a mountain where it stood? Jesus does say that a mustard seed size of faith is all it would take. Those things, and speaking in tongues are very important. They are things we talk about all the time. Think about what could be accomplished in the world if someone knew all the mysteries of the world. We could probably have a solution to the Coronavirus and to cancer and poverty, we could figure out peace in the world and feed everyone. We might be able to figure out how to provide for everyone’s basic needs. Now that is a true gift. But…Paul says that if he has all that knowledge and understanding, but he don’t have love in his heart, if he don’t do any of that out of love then he is nothing. And I’m glad Paul uses himself as an example. Not because he is an example of a faithful follower of Christ, so that he puts all the pressure on himself and doesn’t try to point anyone else out. What he says about himself if he were that way is that he is NOTHING. He doesn’t say that he isn’t using his gifts well. He doesn’t say that it’s a mistake but that if he had all that in his head and he didn’t have love as well that he is nothing. Wow!
Then he goes on to say that if he gives a way all his possessions and lays his body out there to strut his importance then he gains nothing if love is not the true motivator. Again, this is something Jesus stresses to the rich young man in the Gospels. He tells the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor and then follow him and he will have what he says he’s seeking. Now Paul says you can do all that but if you don’t have the right motivations, if you do it for your own reasons, or you do it to impress others, basically if you do it for outward appearances and showboating, there is no real gain to it. Don’t pour your money into the temple treasury to prove you have wealth if you that is not an actual offering to God, but to public appearance. It’s no gain for you or for God. These, Paul says, are not ways to show love and they are not the ways that God wants us to live.
Instead, love is these things that Paul lists in verses 4-8. Real genuine Godly love looks like this: It is patient, and kind. It isn’t prideful and it doesn’t think it’s way is the only way. it doesn’t resent or get cranky and it definitely isn’t happy when injustice happens. It is most happy when truth is revealed and lived out. It takes everything and perseveres through it all. Because of that it never ends. These are the things love is and does and the things that Godly love avoids.
We live in a world where everything has a life-cycle. There are beginnings and endings to everything. Paul agrees and says that even those important spiritual gifts will come to an end. Mostly because as people we can only do it from what we know. If we can only do it from what we know then we can only do it partway. So we do our best knowing that one day it will come to an end and then God will be fully revealed and fully known. Until then we continue on doing our best with the gifts God as given us. But knowing that this life, these spiritual gifts, our wealth, the seasons of the year, this quarantine and coronavirus, and all of it will eventually come to an end should we not hold on to the things that do not end?
Paul says that there are 3 things that remain: faith, hope and love. These are the most important things that we should hold onto in this life. Faith in God and Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, and love. Love of God and love of one another. These things won’t go away. There is no end, no lifecycle to these things. These are the things that will outlast our wealth. They will continue on after we are gone. They will not fade or get rusty. Their importance do not fluctuate based on the market. They endure, and not only do they endure but they are the most important parts of this life and the life to come that we have. I cannot take them away from you. No one can. They might be shaken and tested because of others, but that doesn’t mean they are gone or any less important. They are eternal like our God.
Out of those 3 things that are the greatest gifts in life. More than faith…more than hope, love is the most important. Love is what will get us through anything. Hardship, loss, quarantine, sorrow, are not as powerful or enduring as love. Love is our motivator and our guide. Love is what God wants for us and what God freely offers us through the life of God’s son Jesus. Love lives in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Love. Simple. Profound. Complicated. Grace-filled. Everlasting. Freely given. Ours.
Thanks be to God. Amen.