First Mennonite Church
May 31, 2015
The Supremacy of Love
Text: 1Corinthians 13: 1-13
First Corinthians chapter 13 was submitted in “Share Your Treasure Sunday” response as a favorite text.
I am glad that we can reflect on this passage the same day we had it for our Sunday school lesson. Therefore, for those of you who were in Sunday school, this might be a repetition or an extension to our lesson. But because “love is patient,” I know you will bear with me!
Chapter 13 of First Corinthians is often used for wedding sermons. The list of beautiful and concise but forceful definitions of love given in this chapter makes it so appealing for such a special occasion. There is no better instruction for the loving relationship married couples should have than that found in First Corinthians chapter 13. However, the love defined in this chapter cannot originate from one individual and reach out to another, neither in the context of marriage nor in the context of the church. The kind of love Paul speaks here is one that originates in God, envelops us, and from us reaches out to others, whether the other is our spouse or fellow brother or sister or the larger society. We must also realize that when Paul wrote this passage his aim was to show the Corinthian church “a still more excellent way” (12:31) of being a church. Paul was so convinced that the church and only the church had the potential to express the heart of God to the world. And we, too, must be aware of this great privilege and great responsibility: to us God has shown us his very heart of love and from us he expect that his love would become the hallmark of God’s nature and presence in the world.
What made it necessary for Paul to write a chapter dedicated to love?
You have heard it many times. The Corinthian church was chaotic bunch of people. They were all divided into various factions and following various church leaders. Some were what Paul called “spiritual infants” displaying all sorts of immature characteristics: jealousy, quarrelling, and unsteadiness. Besides their moral immaturity and divisive character, the Corinthian church also had severe doctrinal problems.
The Lord’s Supper instead of displaying Christ’s unifying power, they turned it into the ultimate display of division and disregard for each other. Each ate his own supper; some got drunk, while others had nothing. The worship service became a space and time for self-aggrandizement for those who spoke in tongues, with words of wisdom or who prophesied. Many in the Corinthian church who spoke in tongues considered themselves as having reached the spiritual summit and at the same time despised those who could not speak in tongues.
Although Paul writes in chapter 8, verse 1: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” he does not elaborate more on these contrasts he makes there. It is until chapter 13 that not only does he elaborate on the topic of love but also presents love as the ultimate sign of the presence of God among them.
You see, some in the Corinthian church were so obsessed with the gift of speaking in tongues. They were so puffed up because they believed that they have arrived at the pinnacle of Christian spirituality. They believed that everyone who did not have the gift of tongues was spiritually immature. Some in the Corinthian church were exalting themselves with their gifts of words of wisdom or knowledge. All three: gifts of tongues, words of wisdom and knowledge were displayed prominently in their worship service. But disorder, divisions and disregard for the other were destroying the church.
Chapter 13 was given as corrective to the Corinthian’s divisions, misplaced spiritual emphasis, and misunderstanding of God’s gifts to them. Paul wanted to show to the Corinthians what the most powerful embodiment of God’s character in the church was. For this very reason, Christians of all times, Christians of all places must take First Corinthians chapter 13 as our supreme guide as to what will make us reveal Christ to the world. It does not matter how many spiritual gifts the church might have or display. It does not matter how much good deeds the church might do. It does not matter how much “noise” the church might be able to make through advertisements, social programs, etc.. If the church lacks the essence of God’s nature, which is love, the church is good as dead!
Paul gives a list of 15 characteristic of love.
- Love is patient
- Love is kind
- Love is not envious
- Love is not boastful
- Love is not arrogant
- Love is not rude.
- Love does not insist on its own way
- Love is not irritable
- Love is not resentful
- Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing
- Love rejoices in the truth
- Love bears all things,
- Love believes all things
- Love hopes all things
- Love endures all things
Each characteristic of love runs contrary to natural human behavior. Each of this expressions of love reflect an attitude of dependence and surrender to the grace of God. But each of this expressions of love reveal the very nature of God in those who exude them. God is love, and those who abide in loves abide in God and God abides in them, says the apostle John (1John 4:16).
Love is patient. By nature we are not patient. We do not have time to wait. When we want something, we want it now. We do not like others to impose on us. We do not like others to interrupt us no matter if we are busy, relaxing, or are simply enjoying ourselves. Love is patient or as others put it: Love suffers long. Love is not easily irritated. On the contrary to love, it takes the impatient very little for them to show how “short of a fused” they have.
But again, patience comes from the same source as love, the Spirit of God. Patience is not a gift as are tongues or words of wisdom, knowledge and prophesy, but it is the fruit of the Spirit.
Love is patient, kind, and never envious of others. Love is considerate and understanding. Kindness always puts others first and is never envying what others are or have. Instead love rejoices when it goes well for others. Love honors, protect and trust others. We often hear people say, “You know, I am good and kind, but do not push me the wrong buttons, because then you will know who I am.”
Love is not arrogant or boastful. Love is humble and selfless. Even God has trouble with the arrogant and boastful. In Psalm 94 says that God will avenge and judge the boastful. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” says Peter (1Peter 5:5). We all like to be admired for something. We feel good when people take notice of our successes. Often it is hard to avoid the boastful. Some are more obvious to detect while others are more subtle to identify. Some cannot stop talking about themselves in lofty terms. Others always bring attention to themselves, not for their successes but for their hardship, sorrows, or brokenness. Love is not boastful; love does not insist on its own way. Paul wanted the Corinthian church to realize that in their boasting and self-imposing attitudes the character of God was totally absent. Love does not allow for self-glorification of any kind. To seek attention either by self-exaltation or self-pitying is purely works of the flesh and not of the love of God.
Let me jump to the last verse, verse 13. The NIV reads: And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love. At first this might seem ironic because loves presupposes that the person already has faith. That is, in order to experience the love of God, we must have faith in God first. In the case of hope, hope is the conviction and yearning settled deep within our heart expecting the fulfillment of God’s promises. Faith is a gift of God to us, for now but will become unnecessary in the end when our hopes in God’s promises become fulfilled. Love on the other hand never comes to an end. That is why Paul says: love never ends (v. 8). There are three reasons why love is the greatest of all.
First, love is the greatest of all three because just as God is eternal, so is love because God is love. God’s love has been revealed to us in Christ and has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. God’s love for us will never change nor will it ever increase or decrease. Yet, one day we will know God and his love to the fullest, but now we just know in part.
Second, love is the greatest because while all spiritual gifts are temporarily given to persons to minister with, love remains a constant. Love validates every spiritual gift when used according to the Giver. Love endures forever but the gifts do not.
Third, love was the greatest need the Corinthians had. They were endowed with all kinds of gifts, zeal for spiritual matters, but were lacking the Spirit’s unifying power of love amongst themselves.
Love according to Paul love is the only God-given virtue to us which can make us leave an enduring legacy. It does not matter how much knowledge we have. It does not matter how much sacrifices we make. It does not matter how spiritual we have been, if in the end our knowledge, sacrifices, or spirituality lacked love, what will remain of us will fade soon after we are gone. If we were to take this with the seriousness it deserves, it would move us to reorganize our lives, priorities, the stewardship of our time and resources for the sake of maximizing our legacy of love. Maybe this legacy will be acknowledge by those who would know of it, but the greatest joy will be to know that our lives reflected the character of God, with whom we will live forevermore.
The Corinthian church was emphasizing the wrong things among them. They were also leaving the most important element: love. Amongst us, are we overemphasizing the wrong things? Is correctness of doctrine, theology, or church tradition the focus of our emphasis? Or as people say, “I cannot care less” for the whole stuff? Why do we not strive to experience the love of God and dare to become channels of it to others?
And these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of all is love. Love is the greatest of all, because it comes from the heart of God to us and to others through us. Amen!