Love is the Answer

(1 Corinthians 13)

Well here we are today on the heels of another Valentine's Day. And I don't know about you but Valentine's Day always tends to be a struggle for me. I never know what small gift to purchase and I'm not real fond of all the mushy, gushy cards you find in the stores.

Well several years ago I got the great idea of just making my own card. Now before you let out this big sigh and say "O how sweet," you need to understand I'm not the most creative person in the world, and I've never been accused of being a romantic. You see my real problem is I've run out of words to use to the poetic verses of roses are read violets are blue… It seems after many years I've used every rhyming combination possible to try to convey some appropriate sentiment.

So this past week I either had to breakdown and buy a card, or I had to come up with another source of words for my card. Well I got this great idea, I decided why not seek some appropriate words from the Bible. So I turned directly to the Song of Songs for inspiration. Now I know it's too late for this year, but let me offer the following suggestions to those of you who are like me, and want to find just the right words, for expressing yourself.

So gentlemen here are some words you might use:

  • Your hair is like a flock of goats (Song of Sol 4:1)
  • Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes (Song of Sol 4:2)
  • Your neck is like the tower of David (Song of Sol 4:4)

Now ladies here are some words you might use:

  • My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag (Song of Sol 1:8)
  • You love is better than wine (Song of Sol 1:2)

Certainly makes your heart tingle doesn't it?

Clearly love is important to humans, and conveying love is part of what we do. In fact love is the greatest of all human qualities, a gift given to us by God.

So on this day, the day after Valentine's Day, with all the love in the air, and feelings of closeness and warmth abounding it makes sense to look at love through the eyes of God.

Today's reading from 1 Corinthians is an often-used scripture for weddings, because of its focus on love. As a matter of fact this scripture was used at my wedding 20 years ago. And, as it turns out the bride and groom at most of the weddings I have had the privilege to officiate, select it as well.

But what is love? We throw the word around all the time. I love you, I love your hat, I love the fact your here, love others as you love yourself, and so on. We even say one of the central themes of the Bible is love, which is true, but we often times stop short of understanding what love is, instead we allow Hallmark to define what it means for us. So I ask us to consider today, what is this concept we call love?

Well for the answer we can turn once again to the Bible. Did you know there are three concepts of love mentioned in the Bible? And the way each concept of love is used conveys a different message.

In the Old Testament love is used in two ways. It's used to describe a physical love between the sexes, and love is used to describe God's love for his people, often times expressed in the Old Testament as "steadfast love."

In the New Testament the primary Greek words used to express the concept of love are agape (which is the self-giving love seen supremely in God's love for the world) and philia or phileo (like Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, conveys a love of one another as brothers and sisters). And what's interesting, is the word Eros, the Greek word used to express sexual love, is not used in the New Testament at all.

Does this mean this concept of love, Eros, is not acceptable anymore? No of course not. I suggest eros is not used because the New Testament writers were trying to convey what love is from God's perspective in relationship to loving God and to loving one another. In other words, expressing love in relationship to the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God, and love others as you love yourself.

Sexual love, rather than seen as a gift from God by our Biblical friends, had become perverted and had become another form of idolatry, so often times when sexual love is spoken of in the New Testament it's viewed in the light of adultery, lust, etc. all the negative concepts of of sexual love.

So in Paul's letter to the Corinthians what message is he trying to convey as it relates to love? Well to understand Paul's perspective on love, it's important to note that when speaking of love, Paul often times links love with faith and hope, and we see this in our reading this morning.

Paul asserts that love is only possible because the believer has responded to God's saving act in the death and resurrection of Christ with faith. Paul suggests love is given to the believer by the Holy Spirit as a gift to be exercised now in this world, and as a sign of the new creation, which God has begun in Christ, a fulfillment that is expected in hope.

Now that's a mouthful so let me unpack is some. When a person receives Christ into their lives by faith (the only way you can), the Holy Spirit gives them love, the gift of love. As disciples of Christ we are called to live in that love right now in this world, and to also see this love as a sign of the world yet to come, which is the hope Paul speaks of.

To put Paul's discussion of love into context we see that in the chapter right before our Epistle reading, chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul is offering evidence of the Corinthians lack of love by the way they're not using the spiritual gifts God gave them. So in Chapter 13 Paul decides he needs to describe love to them from God's perspective.

Paul tells us that love is more important than all the spiritual gifts we have, because in heaven spiritual gifts are not necessary any longer, love prevails. But while we live in this world spiritual gifts are important as a means to express love. Did you know that faith; acts of dedication, acts of sacrifice, and miracle-working produce very little results without the power of love.

Think about it, if you attend a Sunday School class, or attend a worship service as an example, and everything you experience might be theologically accurate, and all involved very knowledgeable, yet if there's no passion or love expressed in the teaching or proclamation of God's message, it can mean less to those listening, because the message or teaching is coming from the head and mouth, not from the heart. It's as if folks are just going through the motions

Take on the other hand a Sunday School class or worship service, where some minor mistakes may have been made with pronouncing Biblical words, or perhaps someone's theological understanding of a concept wasn't being conveyed quit accurately, or the choir didn't sing in perfect harmony, yet the message or teaching was delivered with love and grace, for most, the message is received and actually means more because it's coming from the heart.

The point isn't whether someone is 100% accurate (which no one really can be), the point is one message was offered from a technical or legalistic perspective, and the other message was conveyed with a measure of love. Which is more likely to grab your heart?

Several months ago we spent time talking about spiritual gifts and how important it is for us to know what our gifts are, and to use them for the glory of God. But what we learn today, is even though spiritual gifts are important in order to build up the kingdom of God, love is more important. Love given to us by the Holy Spirit is where our motivation ought to come from because the very essence of Christian faith comes to full expression in love.

In morally corrupt Corinth, and I dare say in our world today, love has become a mixed-up term with little meaning. Today people are still confused by love, and in many ways we confuse lust and love as being the same.

Take for example the idea of love at first sight. Sometimes you can just look at a woman or man and know that you've found your love, your mate for life. Certainly this happens sometimes, but it can be dangerous to think that this always typifies true love. When I saw Susan for the first time I knew there was something special about her, but it took time to nurture that feeling to understand what it really meant.

Humanity has come to think of love as primarily a feeling: a rush of emotion, butterflies in your stomach, fireworks going off in your mind, a tingling sensation that won't stop. But the Bible speaks of love as an action, not simply something we feel. In reality love is like a flower to a gardener - you plant a seed, water it, nurture it, and weed out the things that threaten its growth, and then after several days, weeks, or months it blossoms. And it keeps growing and blooming as long as you feed and water it.

All relationships built on love require continual nurturing, feeding and watering, other wise like a flower that gets ignored, the relationship gets ignored and eventually dies. Or, the relationship was never really built on love to begin with; it was built on lust or some other need. This is true whether we're speaking of human relationships or our relationship with God.

You know love is hard work. Hear Paul's words again: Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it's not proud, it's not rude, it's not self-seeking, it's not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. And lastly love never fails. We might fail, but love never does, why? Because love is a gift from God, and God's gifts never fail.

If love takes this much effort why in the world do we bother? In short it's because the benefits of true love far outweigh the work required to maintain a loving relationship.

Why work so hard to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? Because the Christian standard for living, as modeled by Christ, is love. A faith manifested in love for God and one another, leads to the hope of eternal life.

Know that faith is the content of God's message. Hope is the attitude and focus of our lives. And love is the action. When faith and hope are aligned, we are free to love completely because we understand how God loves.

Love is the greatest of all human qualities. Love means living in such a way that the fruits of the Spirit shine forth in all we do. Love is the answer, to living in faith, to living with hope, to resolving all the problems of this world. Live a life of love, and experience Christ at the center of who you are and in what you do.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade