Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sermon for Quinquagesima - 1 Cor 13:1-13



                                                                           1 Cor 13:1-13



          To be honest, I am not a fan of Valetine’s Day. My low estimation of this “holiday” operates on several different levels.  Theologically, I don’t like the fact that a man who was martyred for faith in Jesus Christ has become the occasion for a holiday that has nothing to do with the Christian faith.

          It seems very clear that a clergy member named Valetine was martyred in Rome in 269 A.D.  He died because he confessed Jesus Christ before the Roman government who at different times and place killed people simply because they were Christians.  He gave the ultimate witness to faith in Christ by dying for it.

          However, everything else that has given rise to the practice of Valetine’s Day as we know it – an occasion of romantic love in which people give cards or “Valetines” – really has no historical basis. Its all based on contradictory evidence which itself is of dubious historical value.  Certainly, the Feast of St. Valentine only became associated with romantic love during the late medieval period.  In the final analysis the modern associations of Valentine’s Day with St. Valentine are bogus.

          Next, I don’t like having a day when I am told I have to be romantic.  And for the record, Amy is right there with me on this.  I think spontaneous expressions of love and affection are great and meaningful. A day when I am told that I must do something or else I have failed some kind of responsibility has little appeal to me.

          And as I have gotten older, have been married longer, and have served as a pastor longer, I find the whole focus of Valentine’s Day to be misguided and harmful.  The day is, of course, about romantic love. This is the kind of love that gives a warm fuzzy feelings inside.  While this ephemeral feeling of love may be at the start of a relationship, it can never last.  There may always be a vestige of it, but it can never be the basis for a lasting and healthy marriage.  Love must mature into something more.  Much of the problem with divorce in our time finds its source in the fact that people allow this romantic view of love to determine their expectations about marriage.

          I find it appropriate that our text from 1 Corinthians 13 often occurs very close to Valentine’s Day. Here Paul gives us a needed correction about the true nature of love.  He describes the love that finds its source in Jesus Christ and what it looks like in our lives.

          1 Corinthians 13 is an interlude in the midst of Paul’s discussion that runs from chapter 12 to chapter 14.  He begins chapter 12 by saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.”  The apostle takes up this topic because in their pride, the Corinthians had focused upon one spiritual gift: speaking in tongues. 

We don’t really understand all that this entailed.  It is clear that it was language that was given by God but was not intelligible.  It was also language for which God provided interpretation by others.  The Corinthians liked to think of themselves as “spiritual people” – as individuals who already arrived and had victory in Christ. The showy demonstration of speaking in tongues was the kind of thing that appealed to them – it made them feel special.

Paul is in the process of putting speaking on tongues in its proper place.  He is making the point that God gives a variety of gifts, and that they are all valuable.  He has just written, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 

          Next, in his famous description of the Church as the Body of Christ he says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” The apostle points out that that human body has different members.  They carry out different roles. They are all needed and are all important. 

          Immediately before our text, Paul makes the point that God has in fact given different gifts to the Church. They are not all the same, but they are all needed. He writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

          Then Paul adds, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” That more excellent way is the way of love. Rather than pridefully desiring gifts that call attention to themselves, the apostle holds up love as the more excellent way that should guide Christian life.

          Paul begins our text by saying, 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.” The apostle says the speaking in tongues or prophesying or working miracles without love is meaningless.

          The love that he speaks of finds its source in Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

          We may not be focused on speaking in tongues like the Corinthians, but pride is no less present in our lives.  We think of ourselves first, and our neighbor second.  We ignore the needs of others around us.  Because we sin in these and so many other ways, Christ loved us by dying for us on the cross.  He redeemed us from sin – he freed us – by offering himself as the sacrifice in our place.

          He died for our sake.  But he was also raised for our sake. God vindicated Jesus on the third day. He demonstrated that the humiliation of the cross had been the means by which Christ won forgiveness for us.  And the resurrection itself was also the beginning of the new life that will be ours on the Last Day.

          We live for Christ who loved us. And that means we love our neighbor just as Christ loved us.  Paul told the Philippians, Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

          Paul describes this love in our text as he 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. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  This has nothing to do with the romantic love that Valentine’s Day celebrates. This is love that serves others.  It is patient.  It is kind. It bears all things. It endures all things.

          This love is not irritable or resentful, because it forgives and overlooks the wrongs and weaknesses of others.  Because it is a love that comes from Christ, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing.  Instead, it rejoices in the truth as defined by God’s Word.

          Because of Jesus Christ’s love for us, this is the love that now characterizes our lives.  In baptism we have been born again of water and the Spirit.  We have been made a new creation in Christ. The Holy Spirit who has given us this new life leads us to live in Christ’s love.  Jesus’ love for us now shapes and forms the way we live with others.

          Through the work of the Spirit we live by faith in Jesus Christ.  We have confident trust that our Lord is the One who was crucified for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  We believe in him as our Lord, and therefore we have hope.  Peter praised God as he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” This living hope gives us comfort as we face the death of loved ones, and as we encounter the challenges of this world.

          And Paul tells us in our text that when we live in Christ’s love and share it with others, we are participating in the one thing that will last forever.  Right now our understanding of God and his ways is saving. But it is also partial. We do not understand everything. We cannot understand everything. But it will not always be that way.  Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

          This means that the partial will come to an end.  The apostle tells us, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

          Even faith and hope will pass away.  Paul says at the end of our text, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Love is the greatest because when our Lord returns in glory, we will no longer live by faith.  Instead, we will live by sight.  We will no longer live in hope, because what we hope for will have been fulfilled.  It will be present.

          But the love of God shared with us in Christ will continue.  In fact, our experience of it will be even greater because we will no longer be hindered by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  God is love, and we will share in that love perfectly.

          While that is our future, already now we participate in this love because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.  When we were unlovable, God loved us by sending his Son to die on the cross for us and rise from the dead.  Baptized into Christ we have received this love, and now we share it with others as we seek to serve and support those around us.  This love made possible by the Spirit defines our lives as Christians now, and the perfect experience of God’s love is the future that awaits us.





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