1 Corinthians 13:1-13
v.4-7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Well, dear friends in Christ, there certainly is a great deal of talk about the “L” word this weekend, isn’t there? Today is a special day in which we take the time to let those wonderful people in our lives know just how much we truly love them. However, there is much confusion in our world today about just exactly what love is. If you listen to any music lyrics on the radio—and there are a lot out there that talk about love—love is anything from "war" to "perfect" to "real" to "loud" to "reason" to "crazy" and anything and everything in between. However, perhaps the song that best captures our societal view on love is the 80s rock band INXS with their song, “Love is (What I Say).”
That pretty much sums it up. We human beings tend to want to think about love in whatever way we choose—making it mean for us whatever we want it to mean—which, rather than give love more meaning—ends up emptying it of all meaning. Indeed, far too many today confuse love and lust. No other day is this more true than St. Valentine's Day. A day in which many people, both young and old indulge their lust with inappropriate sexual activity (ranging from adultery to fornication and everything and everything in between) all in the name of love.
Sadly, love has come to mean for far too many people that indefinable ooey gooey feeling that they get inside whenever they are with, or are thinking about, that special someone. But what happens when it is gone? What happens when that feeling grows weak or even non-existent? Is it time to cut the person loose—regardless of the consequences to family, friends, neighbours, relatives, and church—and simply start over new with someone else? Unfortunately, as you well know—that is exactly what happens in far too many cases. And I am sure that St. Valentine (who literally gave up his life to the cruel Roman Emperor Claudius II for his stance on the sanctity of Christian love and marriage) would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the state of things presently—not just in the world—but in the church of Christ herself.
For the Bible has a great deal to tell us about love. I found it very ironic that the epistle reading for this day, which just happens to land on St. Valentine’s Day this year, is that oft quoted Scripture passage that is read at so many weddings. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle Paul, tells us in no uncertain terms exactly what love is. Love is…patient, kind, it does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, nor does it insist on its own way, neither is it irritable or resentful, and it certainly does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rather rejoices with the truth. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things—and it never ends.
So, dear friends in Christ, how are you doing with all of that? How patient are you with those whom you supposedly love? When was the last time you were envious of a loved one in your life—when was the last time you were rude or grouchy? Think about it and see if you can remember the last time that you didn’t insist on your own way (in your heart if not out loud), and also secretly (or out loud) rejoice at the other’s wrongdoing? How well are you at bearing all things from those whom you love? How well are you at enduring all things?
Often, we’re pretty good at doing this with ourselves. After all, we tend to love ourselves best. But we’re not so good at these things when it comes to others—we may be OK at it with our closest loved ones—though not necessarily—and certainly not all the time. But to really put this into perspective—how are you at bearing the annoying habits of your neighbours? To take it even a step further—what about perfect strangers—you know the ones who cut you off on the road? And to take it to its furthest point—how are you at bearing all the hurtful activities of your enemies—their hurtful action, comments, and rumours, etc.? Not so good, huh? Me either.
Which is why we as Christians need to be so clear whenever we talk about love. Often, we may unintentionally lead people astray by saying things like, “Love is the answer.” We equate love with the Gospel at times (the forgiveness of sins in Christ), but when we look at passages like 1 Corinthians 13 in which love is talked about a great deal we see that love, theologically speaking, is Law. This means that love is better talked about in terms of the Ten Commandments. Indeed, the Ten Commandments (which will be our focus for the season of Lent) are the greatest and simplest explication of what Christian love is supposed to look like—they are love in action: love for God—and love for neighbour.
And now, look at our text, Paul is telling us how to love one another (and, by the way, he wasn’t talking to married couples, but simply to all Christians in general and how we’re supposed to treat each other in the church). But where does this text leave us if all we are talking about is love—our love? It leaves us exposed before God, loved one, neighbour, strangers, and enemies alike as failing miserably at this.
For our love is most definitely NOT this—our love is NOT what it’s supposed to be--agape--an all-consuming sacrificial love. But as we are brought to our knees in despair—we see that if our love is so imperfect—then we must look to the love of another. We must find the love of one who is perfect—of one whose love is perfect—and that takes us right to Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of His cross. For God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Indeed, God’s love alone is patient—long suffering our sinful and unloving behaviour toward Him and one another. God’s love alone is kind—bearing all things—for He sent His only-begotten Son to suffer and die—to bear in His flesh all the evil, all the hatred (for that is what lack of love truly is), all of our sin—and sacrifice Himself for it on the cross of Calvary, in order to purchase for us forgiveness of sins and life and love everlasting. “For we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. (Evidenced for us in the cross of Christ) God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” (1 John 4:16).
For you see, dear friends in Christ, love—perfect love--true selfless love—became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. Look at His life of love in the Gospel records. See how He had such compassion and mercy on the people. See how He came to live that life of love that you and I cannot and will not, this side of heaven, fulfilling all of the Ten Commandments perfectly. See how He came to die in your place—see how He came to take up your sin and nail it to the cross in His broken and beaten body—crying out in agony and torment—suffering the full and terrible wrath of God for your lack of love—why? Because of His great love for you. It is His great and perfect love for you that removes your guilt and sin—for by His bloody stripes have you been healed.
And that is what love is, dearly beloved. Love is not just ooey gooey feelings. Love is action. Love is truth. Love is patience and kindness and mercy. Love is…Jesus hanging dead on the cross…for your sins and mine. And though this love may seem crazy to the unbelieving world—yet it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. And this love empowers us and moves us to be more loving to those around us—to serve and to care for others regardless of how unkindly they may treat us—to put up with all annoyances—to put away our anger and irritability—to selflessly bear all things in our body as Christ has done for us.
For we don’t live lives of love to earn God’s love, but because we have already freely received it. He has poured forth His love for us in our Baptism—bathing us with the blood of the beloved Son. And it is His love that renews and strengthens us each day of our lives. His great love for you has broken the chains of sin and death that entangled you—His love has thrown down Satan from on high. His love has set you free—to live—and to love—as He has first loved you. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.