First Corinthians chapter 13 is probably the most widely known description of love in the English language. Yet, ironically, the word ‘love’ is also probably the most devalued word in any language. That is why this definition is so important, for here we see authentic true love described. Although popular at weddings, it is our Maker’s instructions for all relationships whether we are single or married, whether we are 14 or 94. I believe God has something to say to each one of us today.
- The Motive in True Love is Giving
“And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3)
Do you see how important love is? The gifts mentioned – of prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving, are valuable or worthless depending on one thing: Motivation – to serve or be served? To give or receive? Our motivation in loving is to give.
- The Quality of True Love is Divine
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is 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, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Several years ago, someone challenged me to replace the word love in this passage with my name. Stephen is patient. Stephen is kind. Stephen does not envy. Stephen does not boast. Stephen is not proud. Stephen is not rude. It sounds lovely. The only problem is it’s not true. And for years that was my problem with this paragraph. It set a standard I could not meet. No one can meet it. No one. No one, that is, except Jesus. For this quality of love is divine. Insert Christ’s name in place of the word love and it sounds very different. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. Jesus is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails. Rather than let this scripture remind us of a love we cannot produce, let it remind us of a love we cannot resist – God’s love. Some of you are so thirsty for this type of love. Well, God loves you. Personally. Powerfully. Passionately. Others may have promised and failed. But God has promised and succeeded. He loves you with an unfailing love. And his love – if you will let it – can fill you with a love you will want to share. The motive in true love is giving. The quality of true love is divine.
- The Purpose of True Love is Maturity
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:9-13)
Notice the emphasis of these verses is on growing up – from childhood to maturity. This is the reason why marriage is potentially so valuable – as we share our gifts and abilities we help complement one another and grow up together. We will, that is when we remember our motive in love is giving and the quality of genuine love is divine. And when kindness comes grudgingly, you’ll remember his kindness to you and ask him to make you more kind. When patience is scarce, you’ll thank him for his and ask him to make you more patient. When it’s hard to forgive, you won’t list all the times you’ve been given grief. Rather, you’ll list all the times you’ve been given grace and pray to become more forgiving. For when you do, you will discover a love worth giving, a love worth sharing, not just today but for ever and ever. Let me read to you I Corinthians 13 again, but in the Christmas translation.
A Christmas Translation of 1 Corinthians 13
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator. If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas mince pies, sausage rolls and cakes, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook. If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to Crisis at Christmas, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing. If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband/wife.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn’t envy another’s coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn’t yell at the children to get out of the way,
but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return
but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things. Love never fails.
Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust,
but giving and receiving love will endure for eternity.
A sermon delivered today at the marriage ceremony of Raymond (85) and Georgina (94)