“WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
– Love is not merely an emotion, it is an exercise of the will to build up the other, even at the expense of yourself. It is far superior to giftedness, because it enables us to fulfill God’s commands to us.
Do you all know who Tina Turner is? As I was writing this sermon, her song What’s Love Got to Do with It? Kept playing over and over in my brain. It was hard to break out of 1984, to focus on the scripture, but I eventually did. But then I realized that Tina’s song is a perfect illustration for this sermon!
Tina Turner in her song is singing about how there is a difference between what I call the chemical “love” of infatuation and the deeper feelings of “love” that involve a commitment and emotional investment.
Tina is not alone in navigating these crazy feelings. Love is an important part of life that so many people have a hard time understanding. The use of our Corinthians passage in many weddings is a perfect example of this confusion.
For many Christians, as soon as they hear “love is patient, love is kind” they start hearing wedding bells and thinking of white lace dresses and rental tuxedos and unity candles, and a long list of other things that our culture uses to romanticize marriage. Too often this profound and wonderful passage is reduced to a platitude about how love is the greatest in the list of virtues. It is not that 1 Corinthians 13 is wrongly used at weddings. It fits quite well actually, but not for the romantic reasons that many people think.
If you can, try to forget that this passage is a wedding passage. I know this can be hard. Just like for me it is hard to think of Tina Turner without thinking of her giant hair when she appeared in Beyond Thunderdome with Mel Gibson back in the 80s. When I think of Tina, I almost always think of her song “We don’t need another hero.” From that movie. But I had to forget all of that because that’s just a movie that got stuck in my brain. The reality is that Tina Turner had many looks and songs throughout her career.
Just like Tina, 1 Corinthians 13 has a depth of meaning that is usually overlooked.
A main reason that Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian Church is because the Corinthian church was a hot mess. The congregation was full of all kinds of drama and sinful behavior that threatened to ruin the witness of the Church to Jesus Christ. This is the context that we must think of the love passage. It is meant to be a clever correction to the Corinthian church to stop them from misbehaving.
Last week we talked about the part of 1 Corinthians immediately preceding this week’s passage. It was about Spiritual Gifts, and how God made us each with different gifts to be used together. Paul wrote this part of the letter because the Corinthians were abusing their spiritual gifts. Some were lording their gifts over others and making them feel bad. Some Corinthians were trying to exercise all the spiritual gifts; even ones they clearly did not possess. That section ends by Paul saying, “you can strive for the greater gifts, but I will show you a still more excellent way.”
That is when Paul begins speaking about Love. This section about Love is all about how to correctly use the gifts that God has given all of us. Love is about how to correctly use the freedom that we have as a Christian who has eternity to look forward to. Love is the more excellent way. And the love that Paul is speaking about is not the love of romance and infatuation. Paul is using the Greek word “Agape” which means self-sacrificing love. Agape love is behind all actions that put others first. This is the love with which God loves us by sending His son Jesus to die in order to restore our relationship with God.
This “agape” love is the same love that motivates people to give their lives up to save others. This love is the same love that motivates people to live their lives for others. It is not only present in the warm fuzzy feelings experienced by a couple who are infatuated with each other. It is the love that allows two people to remain married for many years, long after the infatuation has worn off.
In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians three things about the Love of God, which they are called to imitate. Love is essential, effective, and eternal. That is the message for us from this scripture. Love is essential, effective, and eternal. Now let us unpack each one of these marks of love and how we can imitate them.
First, love is essential. Verses 1 through 3 spell this out. Anything we do, no matter how heroic, or fantastic needs to be motivated by love. This means that we must be doing the actions for the benefit of others and not ourselves. Otherwise, Paul says it is nothing, or useless. Speaking in Tongues is as useless as a clanging cymbal, if it is not used for the benefit of others, and not self.
We can practice this kind of love by periodically checking our intentions. Everyone loves others when it feels good. When there is a benefit for the self. But what about when loving someone doesn’t feel good. What if God calls you to preach a prophetic message that people don’t want to hear, like Jeremiah is called to do in our Old Testament Lesson for today? Who will line up to tell a friend or a group of people truth that they don’t want to hear? After all, time and time again, that is what Jesus did. We know “Agape” love is essential for Christianity, so we need to maybe weekly, think about and maybe ask others if they see self-sacrificial love in our actions.
Many of us here, have been going to church, and volunteering in various ways for years. How do we know if we are participating for the right reasons? Motivations can change over time. That is one of the reasons that we need to form friendships with other believers in Christ that know how essential “Agape” love is to serving Christ. If we don’t invest our time, and our vulnerability in our brothers and sisters in Christ, we might not have anyone to check up with from time to time to see if we are still witnessing to Christ by acting out of love.
That brings us to the second mark of Godly love, it is effective. In order to know if the essential love of God is present in our lives, we need to know what to look for. Paul spends verses 4 through 7 describing what “Agape” love, or true Godly love looks like in our lives. Paul gives this list to the Corinthians as an accusation. Paul is basically saying to the Corinthians, YOU are not patient, YOU are not kind. YOU are envious, boastful, arrogant, and rude. Paul is talking about how the Corinthians are using their so-called spiritual gifts to glorify themselves at the expense of the other congregation members.
For us, we can use this list of attributes of Godly love as a sort of litmus test to determine if our actions were motivated and carried out with Love. Sometimes it’s hard to look at ourselves objectively. That is where a trusted Christian friend is needed. Not a yes-man or yes-woman who will lie to you like honey to sooth the tension. You need someone to examine if your actions are patient, kind, and not boastful, etc.
For example, let’s pretend that I like to cut the grass at the church. Why? Is it because it makes me feel good, or because it is a spiritual sacrifice? Do I gladly share the task with others? Do I make sure that my name is printed inside the bulletin every week during the summer? Do I feel powerful with a key to the church shed, where the tractor is parked?
Can the effects of Love be seen in my service to the church? I don’t know unless I stop to think, pray, and ask other Christians what they think.
Third, the Love of God that we are called to imitate in our actions is eternal. In verses 8 through 13 Paul explains to the Corinthians that all spiritual gifts, and all things of the world will end. Time is a progression, and at some point will come to an end. But our choices, specifically our choices motivated by love, they will follow us into eternity. Paul slyly tells the Corinthians to stop acting like children. Time to grow up folks, because what you choose to do now will follow you into eternity in Heaven. In Romans chapter 8, Paul writes, “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is our motivation to love others like God loves us. It is not simply about salvation; it is about setting the foundation for the Kingdom of God while we are alive.
The love of God is an action, not simply an affectionate feeling. This is the love with which God created us, and the love that caused God to sacrifice part of himself to save us. Paul describes this love to the Corinthian Church as a remedy for all kinds of sinful spiritual practices. This love is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus. This love is effective for promoting the fruits of the Spirit, and pointing the world back to Jesus Christ. This love is eternal. Love lasts longer than this world, because we carry this love with us into eternity.
This is the kind of love that each one of us is called to practice.
It is the love on which all the Law of Moses and the Prophets hangs upon.
It is a love that increases the righteousness and glory of God when it is practiced.
This is the kind of love that God commands each of us to practice all the days of our lives.