1 Corinthians 13
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Or text for tonight is 1 Corinthians 13, and we’ve been going through about two chapters so far of Paul’s letter to people in the town Corinth.
Two weeks ago, Pastor Griffin led us through the first part of chapter twelve. He made the case that all gifts are given by the One Holy Spirit. Last week, we looked at the body of Christ and saw that all gifts are given for service within the body.
Today, the point of the text is that all gifts are given meaning by the greatest gift. And that gift is love. But we don’t mean it like that.
Now, what do we mean by gifts? To do that, we should remember who the Corinthians are. They are a talented, rich, and growing group of young people who have a lot of gifts, and those gifts separated the leaders from the followers. They separated those who had a voice from those who didn’t. They separated the cool kids from the dorky ones.
For them, things they wanted were speaking in tongues – to speak in the language of angels. They really coveted the powers of healing and the ability to prophesy – to preach in the present and to look toward the future.
Now, I don’t know how cool you think those things are but I would say that we have a different set of gifts that we want. We’re more likely to be jealous of another person’s silky smooth jump shot, or the way their body looks, or the way they can give some zippy one-liners, or you can fill in the blank.
Paul writes, and read with me verse one: … He says “Gifts without love? They are hollow. There’s nothing to them.” Gifts without love are like a clanging gong. The word for clanging there is onomatopoetic – it sounds like its meaning. The word is alalazon. It’s meaningless babble. And it’s not just the wild and crazy gifts – he turns to prophecy and knowledge– that’s preaching -- and then even to sacrifice. Even if you sacrifice everything you have and your own body, but have not love, you gain nothing.
He goes on to say what love is not. We’re going to skip the first part of verse four, and let’s read together verse four through six starting with “Love does not envy…” Love does not envy – it doesn’t look at someone else’s gifts and wish them for himself. It doesn’t boast – it’s not a windbag. It is not arrogant – it isn’t puffed up. Have you ever seen a puffball mushroom? I remember in Outdoor Ed when we went orienteering and found huge puffball mushrooms the size of a person’s head, and for all their size they were so light that you could pick them up and pop them and they’d just explode. Love is not rude – it gives respect where respect is due. It doesn’t look for its own gain first. It doesn’t dwell on evil. It doesn’t rejoice in evil.
And Paul turns to what Love is. Love is patient. Now, he doesn’t mean a “let it all blow over” patience, or even a “I hope it all goes away” patience – no, he means the kind of patience that a firefighter has controlling the water cannon in front of a blaze. He’s talking about the patience that a basketball player has in the closing seconds of the game when he knows he can’t rush his shot. He’s talking about enduring under pressure. He’s talking about keeping on even when it’s tough to keep on.
And he says, love is kind. Kindness – χρηστευεται – means to work toward another’s benefit. He means Love looks for the good of others, not only when they would ask you but especially when they wouldn’t ask. Not only when it’s the easy thing to do, but also when what’s beneficial to them is the last thing they want to do.
Love looks to replace wickedness with good. It never stops enduring. It never stops hoping. It never stops believing. It never stops persevering. It is relentless. It never stops.
If you looked at these verses, if you replaced the word love with your own name, what would they sound like? Do they sound like you?
I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I fall short. I am often rude when I should be kind. I am more prone to preach about building bridges and to practice burning them.
But thanks be to God because he gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. Love has a name and his name is Jesus. He is love incarnate. He is love with skin and hair and teeth and feet.
Husbands, if you want to see what caring for your wife looks like, see Jesus caring for his body, the church. Wives, if you want to see what gently guiding your husbands looks like, look at Jesus dealing with his knucklehead disciples. Confirmands, if you want to see how to be the best possible friend to your friends, the Christian answer is to look at Jesus befriending all kinds of strange people, never giving the answers that you’d expect, always defending the people that need defending.
And know that before all you’ve done, he did it for you first. Our problem goes deeper than an imperfect love. It goes much deeper than the surface. Every time we fall short of love, we show – and this is the Scriptures talking – we show the rot that’s crept into our souls. I am not well. I am infected with a sin that I don’t know what to do with. It is only when love incarnate came, that he died my death. He took the disease of my sin, and he gave me instead his life.
Paul concludes this chapter by talking about childish ways. (embarrassing story about either Christmas or about McDonalds) I put those childish ways behind me, because I realized how trivial and trite a thing it was to cry over something so small. When you look back in 10, 20, 50 years, what about your life will seem small?
For Paul, it’s not a sentimental thing. Love is being Christ, and love is Christ, and for the love of Christ, He saves you. Amen and Amen.
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