1 Cor 13:1-13
I have a simple policy when it comes to roses. I have taught it to my sons, and have told Abigail that the guy she chooses better treat her in a similar way. Whenever I have money and see roses at a good price – for me I that is $10 for a nice dozen roses – I buy them and give them to Amy. This means that it is not all that unusual for her to receive roses and that this occurs at completely random and unexpected times.
The kids have gotten into this because on some days in the afternoon on the way home from school we pass a parking lot where a florist parks a refrigerated truck. They sell gorgeous roses for either $10 or $6 dollars a dozen depending on the season of the year. The kids look to spot the truck and then ask whether I have money in my wallet. If I do, we stop to get some. The three youngest children get to take turns picking the specific color of roses – a practice in which Michael’s choice once brought home the most “interesting” multi shade purple roses with sparkles on them. Mom said they were beautiful.
However, last month the kids learned that there is one day when we don’t buy roses. We don’t buy them on Valentine’s day. On Valentine’s day the truck was already out at the parking lot in the morning. As we approached it the kids noticed and of course they knew what day it was. They asked whether I had money and was going to stop to buy some. I told them that I did have money, but that I wasn’t going to buy any that day. When questioned about this I pointed their attention to the banner hanging from the truck: it said the price was $15. They wanted to know why it was so much more on Valentine’s day, and so dad gave them a little lesson in supply and demand.
Roses are more expensive on Valentine’s Day because the world says that you are supposed to give roses to the one you love on that day. And the world’s expectations mess everything up. Because you are “supposed” to do it becomes more costly to do it. Valentine’s Day is supposedly a celebration of love. But the world messes that one up too. It defines love in romantic terms. And while the language may be about how much I love the other person, what it is really talking about is what I get out of it. It’s about how good love makes me feel.
Our text this morning is 1 Corinthians chapter 13 – Paul’s great “love” chapter. Yet as Paul talks about love it immediately becomes clear that his definition of love has almost nothing to do with the world’s Valentine’s Day love. This is a love that finds its source in Jesus Christ. It is love that seeks not its own benefit, but rather the good of others.
As we come to this text, we find ourselves in the exact same situation that we were two weeks ago when we looked at 1 Corinthians chapter 9. Once again we have been dropped into the middle of a discussion that began in the previous chapter and will conclude in the following chapter. Once again, the chapter we are looking at serves as a kind of digression or interlude in which Paul discusses a subject that provides guidance for how the Corinthians are to think about the major issues being treated in these three chapters as a whole.
The Corinthians were a major headache for the apostle Paul. There is no other way to say it. They were operating using the model of the world around them. The Greco-Roman world was one that was built on status. There was the status of being a Roman citizen, a free person (whether free born or a freed slave), and being a slave. There was the status of wealth. The very richest person could be a Roman senator. At the next level of wealth, eligible to serve in different civic roles were the equestrians. Below them were those who were well off and comfortable, and below them was a whole mass poor free persons and slaves.
Everything was about the status that you had in relation to another person – about the patron/client relationship. The patron was the person who had the wealth and power to help others. The clients were those who received help. In turn, they provided status to the patron by showing respect and by taking part in public displays. The clients would gather at the door of the patron’s house and wait to be admitted into the room where he sat receiving his clients. When the patron went out into the city, his retinue of clients would follow him – a visual display of the status the patron possessed.
The Corinthians were operating in this way. The well to do acted in the typical way of the world at the meals that were celebrated in conjunction with the Sacrament of the Altar. And they had also adapted it to the Christian setting. They were proud and puffed up about the spiritual knowledge and status they possessed. And they were particularly interested in spiritual matters that brought them status – the things that made them stand out. So, they were keenly fixated on different kinds of gifts from the Spirit and in speaking in tongues. Pride was running the show and it was creating disorder in the church.
In our text, Paul seeks to rebuke them carefully for this, while also leading them towards behavior that reflects faith in Jesus Christ. You can hear the rebuke at the beginning of our text as Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Paul says that rather than granting status tongues, prophecy and knowledge without love render the person as nothing.
Instead, what matters is that all of these things – and all of the Christian life – be motivated and guided by love. Paul writes, “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.”
Now when you hear these words, it doesn’t take much to recognize that there have been many times this week when they didn’t describe you. At times you were not patient with your husband or wife, son or daughter, neighbor or co-worker. There were times when you were prideful and arrogant. There were times when you were rude – when you said thoughtless and hurtful words. There were times when you insisted on having your own way and made life difficult until you got it.
This is most certainly true. But the reason Paul is speaking about love is because of the love God has revealed for you and all people in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the one who did not insist on his own way, but instead he walked the way of service and suffering for you. Paul will say in 2 Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Though he had the loftiest status, he willingly humbled himself for you. As Paul says in Philippians, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
He died for your sins to give you forgiveness. And then on the third day he rose from the dead. He rose from the dead, and that resurrection points us in the direction that our text is moving. Remember, Paul is not writing these words in chapter 13 only because he wants to convict the Corinthians of the way they have been acting. Instead, he also has a more important goal. He is seeking to change what they are doing. He is speaking about love because those who have received the love of Christ show that love to others in what they say and do.
Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. And then, he rose from the dead as he began the resurrection of the Last Day. Paul tells us in Romans that it was the Holy Spirit who raised Christ up. He tells us in 1 Corinthians that it is the Spirit who has worked faith in you – who enables you to confess that “Jesus is Lord.” And this means that the power of Christ’s resurrection is already at work in you now. Already now the saving love of God is at work in you. Paul told the Romans that, “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom has been given to us.” And so it is not surprising that in Galatians Paul speaks about how faith is active in love.
Like the Corinthians, these words prompt you to consider the love Christ has given and what this means for your life. You have been freed from sin. Living in the forgiveness provided by your baptism you have been freed to serve with the love that Christ has given you. You don’t have to worry about “keeping score” and “doing enough.” Instead you are free to serve wherever and whenever you can.
Paul’s words in our text become a description of what you want to be. They prompt the desire for what Christ’s Spirit can enable you to be. And as we are shaped and formed by the Spirit through God’s Word they become things that more and more we do without thinking. As Paul says, 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.”
At the same time, we recognize that while in Christ we are the new man, in ourselves we are also still the old man that doesn’t want to be these things. And so there are times when this will involve a struggle. There will be moments when there is a decision to be made. We will have to decide whether we are going to be selfish or whether we are going to act in the self-giving love of Christ. And there will be times – many times in fact – when the act of love will the more difficult thing. After all, when Paul speaks about love that flows from Christ he says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
What tips the balance in the moment of decision? It is the knowledge of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial love for us that the Spirit uses to prompt us to act in love. And likewise, should we fail, it is the knowledge of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial love for us that the Spirit uses to comfort us with the knowledge of our forgiveness when we repent.
We live in and through Christ’s love for us as we walk in faith and hope. And we look forward to the day when we will no longer need these. We look forward to the day when we will see God face to face and know him fully as we are fully known. We look forward to the day when the only thing that will remain to define our existence is God’s love for us and our love of God.