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The Love Chapter January 31, 2016

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1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 31, 2016

 

Focus:  God’s greatest gift to us is His love.

Function:  That the hearers love one another.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Love Chapter

 

Our sermon text today is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s estimated that in the typical pastor’s time in service to God’s ministry, he will perform 117 weddings.  And for 83 of them, the couple will ask for him to preach 1 Corinthians 13.  I may or may not have just made those numbers up, but the point is the same.  This is one of the most well-known chapters in the Bible.

It’s been dubbed, “the love chapter.”  And it is without a doubt, the most popular wedding text.  Many of you likely had it read at your wedding.  Several of you even have it on display in your homes.  And a few of you might even have it memorized.  But for as popular as it is, you might be surprised to know that the Apostle Paul wasn’t thinking about weddings when he wrote it.

That’s why I wanted to preach on this text today.  It’s a chance to put this part of Paul’s letter back into Paul’s letter.  To look at it through the context he wrote it in so we can see what he was trying to communicate with the Corinthians, and potentially us.

Now, we won’t rewind our way through the whole letter.   We’d miss our chili cookoff if we did that.  It’s enough to simply point out the purpose of Paul’s letter.  On the one hand, he’s rebuking them for being a church divided.  But on the other hand, he’s encouraging them, he’s answering their questions about marriage, and idols, and the Lord’s Supper.  And he’s encouraging them to be one, united body.

The first section of the letter handles those divisions.  Then he comes back and answers their questions, does some teaching.  And then he puts forth a section on life together.  What does it look like to be a church, to be the body of Christ?  What does it look like to love one another?  What does it look like to worship God together?  He’s encouraging them and teaching them.

Our text today is in this section.  We’re going to skip over some and start with chapter 12.  Here we learn about two different, but very related ideas.  The first is spiritual gifts.  God, our Father, is a gracious God, and He loves creating.  He loves giving.  And so not only did He create you, but He created you uniquely made.  Your personality, your interests, your skill set, these things are all gifts.

And he lists some: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues.  A variety of gifts God gives to His people as He sees fit.  God has given you some gifts like these, as Paul says in verse seven, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

And that gets into the second part of the chapter, where Paul teaches the Corinthians that “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.”  It’s a helpful image.  Maybe you’re a hand.  And you’re a foot.  You’re an elbow, or an eye.  You’re an ear, or the mouth.  So many different members of the body, each with its own unique function.  But without the mouth, how would the body eat to survive?  Without the eye, how could we see?  Without the heart, how could we pump the life blood through our veins?  Without joints, how immobile would we become?

Do you see how this all flows together?  God has blessed us all greatly with many things.  Each of you has unique spiritual gifts, and when we come together as a family, as a community, as the body of Christ, we are so much stronger, so much better for it.

In a world that seeks independence, the church thrives on interdependence.  We’re not alone.  We’re in this together.  We help one another, we build each other up, we serve together.

And then we get the transition between chapter 12 and 13.  Paul says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  And he begins to talk about love.  That none of this matters without love.

And we have to pause here for a moment.  We live in a culture where love and sex are synonyms.  Now, don’t get me wrong, sex is a great gift from God.  And a great blessing between husband and wife, but it doesn’t fit here.  You can’t take the word love in chapter 13 and replace it with the American mindset of what sex is.  It just doesn’t work.  Love is so much more than romance, it’s so much more than lust, of satisfying our own wants and desires.

We have examples from our other readings this morning.  We have the prophet Jeremiah.  And we see him called, we see God declaring “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  And we see Jeremiah recoil.  But, but, I don’t know how to speak, I’m, I’m, I’m just a kid.  But God still gave him the gift, God still sent him, and worked through him.

Jeremiah still went to the people of Judah, to God’s people in exile, with a message of good news.  He prophesied to them not just about freedom from Babylon, he prophesied to them about an eternal freedom, about being a people of God again.  About a ruler who would come to set them free from their bondage to sin.  Jeremiah used his gift from God to help an entire nation.  But it took sacrifice.  He had to give of himself, to give up his own desires, to be humble enough to speak to people who would laugh in his face even at the greatest message ever told.

Then we have that ruler who came.  Jesus Christ, God Himself in the flesh for us.  Jesus comes and He uses His gifts in service to others.  But it’s also about a relationship.  It’s about loving others to the point that you are willing to serve them.  This is what He knocks the Pharisees for.  In Matthew 23:23, He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

What was the point of the tithe?  In addition to its connection with God, of trust in our relationship with Him, on our level it was so that the church would have the resources to feed, clothe, and shelter the widows and the orphans.  Without love, why even bother?  You Pharisees are giving, but you don’t love.  None of it even sees the least of these.  You’re not actually caring for anyone with what you do.  It’s all just a show.  You care more for a building than for the people in your community.

Then we see Jesus in our gospel reading.  We see Him casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching to the people a message of good news and of hope.  That’s love.  That He’s using His gifts to serve others.

It takes sacrifice.  We see from the end of that reading that the people followed Jesus and tried to stop Him from leaving.  We see that several times in the gospels.  We see a group that wants to make Him their bread king.  He could have been surrounded by popularity and wealth, but He sacrificed it.  And He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” He left it all behind to continue to serve, to continue to love.

He continued on, preaching and teaching from one village to the next.  From one people, one city, one leader to the next.  Until that night when He was betrayed by His own, arrested in a garden, tried in the wee hours of the morning, convicted of no crime, tormented and tortured for us as He hung there upon the cross.  He didn’t do that for Himself.

This is love!  This is what Paul describes to us.  It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it’s not self-seeking.  It bears all things.  Endures all things.  Love never ends.

What point are God’s gifts to us if we don’t have love?  What point is there to anything if you seek only after yourself?  If God has given you the gift of teaching, literally, what good is that to you?  If He’s given you the passion of carpentry, what good is that if you don’t share it?  If you have the skills of a doctor, what use do you have if not to help others?

The best way to live is in love.  It’s in self-sacrifice.  Whether you’re talking about work, or family, or sex, or anything, the best moments you’ll experience are the ones where you’re being selfless and loving someone else.

And there’s a reason for that.  We are children of the King.  We are made in the image of God.  When we serve others, when we love others, when we are selfless and giving, we’re reflecting God in us.  We’re reflecting the God who took on flesh and willingly went to the cross, giving His body and blood as a sacrificial gift for each of us.  There’s no greater evidence of love anywhere.  Not real, not fictional, than the love that Christ has for us.  The love He graciously gave us by paying the price for us.  Christ died and rose again that we might live!

When we live for others instead of ourselves, we’re reflecting the God who so joyously creates and gives and blesses His world and His people.  And that’s the way we were made.

Together, we are all one body.  Many members, but one body of Christ.  And there are so many unique gifts that we can share with each other.  That out of love for one another, we can use to serve each other, to help each other.  To grow together.  There’s a great appreciation for our farmers for providing us food.  The farmers in turn appreciate those who make the machines.  The machinist appreciates the doctor for helping heal their wounds.  The doctor appreciates the teachers that loved and trained him.  The teacher appreciates the parents who taught their children respect and hard work.  The list goes on and on.  It’s called interdependence.  As a family, as the body of Christ, we work together, we serve one another.  We love each other.

In time, all these things will pass away.  In time, we won’t need teachers or doctors.  Lawyers or accountants.  But when the perfect comes, when we are fully known, love will remain.  The love of God that gives life, that is life.  The body of Christ will be with Christ forevermore.

 

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