In 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, Apostle Paul teaches us that we should do all things with love. Paul gives us three arguments: without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing; then Paul explains what love is, what love does; and lastly, Paul states that love is the greatest even when compared to hope or faith. The sermon today follows the scripture closely. First, we are nothing without love and we gain nothing without love even if we accomplish great things, because we are saved by faith, not works. Second, our salvation in Christ entails following Christ. Jesus gave us two commandments: to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors. So, if we are saved then it must be true that we love God and love others. Even if we attain the greatest things, without love, we have not done them for God and therefore we are nothing because a part from Christ we are nothing and we gain nothing. Third, although faith and hope abide as well, Love is the greatest of the three because without love, we cannot have faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and we cannot have hope in God.
So first, why are we nothing and gain nothing if we do not have love? In 1 Corinthians 13:1, Paul says that if he spoke tongues of mortals and even of angels, but if he did not have love, he is only making irritable noises. And even if Paul had prophetic powers, the ability to tell what future may bring and even if he could understand all the mysteries and have all the knowledge in the world, and even if he had such great faith that he could remove mountains, Paul says that he is nothing. To understand that speaking in tongues, prophetic powers, understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge and faith that can move mountains do not amount to anything, in fact, even if Paul gave up everything he had, all the possessions and even his body, that he would be nothing without love, we need to understand what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9:
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)
Everything Paul had, everything Paul is and possesses, everything he could have, all of it amount to nothing in comparison to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Compared to gaining Christ Jesus, everything else amounts to nothing worthy of keeping.
Knowing Christ is the most valuable thing in Paul’s life. What would you do if you ever found what you value the most? In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus tells us a parable about the value of the kingdom of heaven,
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
If you found a treasure in a field and the owner did not know about it, wouldn’t you want to acquire the field so that you can have the treasure that is buried on the land? And if your goal in life was to search for the best pearl, when you find it, you would sell all that you had to buy the pearl because you value the pearl you found more than the value of anything else you own.
What Paul is saying is the same thing. Everything he has, even his life is not worthy when compared to the value of knowing Christ Jesus. If Paul didn’t know Jesus, then everything he owns, all the knowledge and power in the world, and his life, they all would valuable to Paul. But all those things, where do they get Paul? Everything, but salvation is not attainable without Christ. Therefore, having met Christ Jesus, everything else is nothing, in fact a loss compared to the gain of knowing Christ, because compared to salvation, everything else loses their value.
When you compare infinity to a finite number, however big the finite number is, it is small in comparison to infinity. So same with true of the value of knowing Christ, which is infinitely greater than value of anything else. So of course, one would choose to keep something that has infinite value over something that has a finite value.
Knowing Christ Jesus has infinite value to us because we are saved by having faith in Jesus. In Philippians 3:9, Paul states that he does not have righteousness that comes from the law. Instead, he has righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. All the action, all the work you can accomplish in this world, even if you could help every single person on earth, what you do cannot save you. It’s not what we do but what we believe. It’s what Jesus did on the cross for us when he died for our sins so that we would have eternal life, that’s what saves us, having faith in Jesus. So, no wonder anything we can accomplish, even if we could gain the world, whatever we do, without Christ, we are nothing and we gain nothing.
But wait, Paul doesn’t say that if we do not have Christ, whatever we do doesn’t amount to anything, but he states that if we don’t have love, then we are nothing and we gain nothing? So, what is the connection between knowing Christ and having love? Jesus gave us two commandments:
36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39)
If we love Jesus, we will follow the commandments. And if we follow the commandments, Jesus told us that we would abide in his love: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:10)”
Even now, or perhaps especially during these times of the pandemic, do you love your family? If you say that you do, yet you act against your family, in what sense do you love your family? The past year or two have been a difficult time for most of us, with lock-downs, covid tests, and our own illness or illness of our loved ones and losses, losing things that form our identity, losing things that empower us to be who we are, or losing our loved ones. If we indeed love family and those who are close to us, when we act, should our actions not show our love? Or if you say you love your neighbors, but commit acts that put your neighbors at risk, in what way do you love your neighbors? If for instance, when you do not want to wear a mask for yourself and by not wearing a mask you put others at risk, if you say you love your neighbors, your actions should not be putting their lives at risk? Truly, our actions do not make us righteous before God. But if we act in a way that negates who God is, then by our action we have expressed that we do not love God. The way to abide in Jesus’ love is to keep his commandments. And to follow his commandments, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. And also, we must love our neighbor as ourselves.
Do you love God? Do you know what God did for us? That he sent his only son to die for our sins so that we would have eternal life with him? Do you know Jesus? Do you know that he emptied himself willingly to come dwell with us then to die an obedient death on our behalf? If we don’t know who God, if we don’t know what Jesus did for us, that is to say, if we don’t know God’s love, that he loved us while we were sinners, how can we love God? As it is written, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When someone loves you, even if you didn’t love them first, isn’t it much easier and likely that you will love them back? God not only loves us, but God sacrificed God’s son for us. Jesus died on our behalf. If I died for you to save your life, wouldn’t you be thankful? Wouldn’t my action warrant a response?
Either everything Jesus said was true or everything he said was a lie, because Jesus said he was God. He said he would be raised form the dead. If you think Jesus was some kind of pathological liar or some kind of crazy lunatic, they you wouldn’t believe Jesus. But if what Jesus said was true, then he is our Lord and Savior. He died for our sins. He was resurrected from the dead. There is no piecemeal-Christianity. You either believe or don’t believe in Jesus. If you do believe in Jesus, if you believe that he died for you, then of course we would have some kind of response to knowing the truth. We would be thankful beyond what words could express. Rather than our debt making us go bankrupt, by Jesus’ credit, we not only are freed from debt but are heirs to Jesus’ inheritance.
Then if we love Christ, we would love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. But what does doing things with love look like? The love we are to exhibit is like God’s love as we see in the Hebrew Bible. The love we are to exhibit is like Jesus’ love for us. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 is used often in wedding ceremonies. But in fact, the love Apostle Paul is talking about is not the kind of love that husband and wife share, but the love that we have for God and for each other. Listen to vs. 4-8 again, not with warm and fuzzy romantic love in mind, but love between yourself and God and yourself and others.
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Love is patient, love is kind. How many times did the Israelites turn away from God? God is slow to anger and again and again, God was gracious to the Israelites: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
Love is not envious, boastful or arrogant or rude. Remember the Philippians passage on how Jesus emptied himself?
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus did not envy, boast or was arrogant about the equality he had with God the Father. But he emptied himself of his status to dwell with us. Jesus did not insist on his ways. Neither was he irritable or resentful. Remember Jesus’ prayer on Gethsemane? Jesus prayed not my will but thy will be done. Jesus was not passive aggressive: Jesus lay down his life for us in total submission to God’s will; he did not do it with a resentful heart. Jesus does not rejoice in wrong doing. When Jesus went to the temple and found that the temple had been turned into a market place because people were selling animals for sacrifice to be made at the altar, Jesus did not tolerate the wrongdoings but was angry at those who had turned the house of prayer into a “den of robbers”:
15Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17)
Then on the cross, Jesus took on our sins, and endured all suffering on our behalf. Jesus even endured being forsaken by God on our behalf. On the cross, quoting the Psalm 22, Jesus cried out, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34).
Jesus not only rejoices in truth, Jesus is the truth: When Thomas, one of the disciples, asked Jesus how he can know where Jesus is going, Jesus answered, “6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
Love and truth must go together. If you know someone is doing something wrong, but don’t tell them, are you really loving that person? When you let someone continue to do something that is harmful for them, you are loving the friendship with them more than you love the well-being of the person. You are afraid of losing that person’s favorable opinion of you. You are acting selfishly when you don’t tell someone what you know is hurting that person. But if you tell truth on your own terms without regard to the other person, whenever, wherever, however you feel like telling them, you also are not loving the person. If you love the person and are telling truth to them, then you must tell the truth at the right time, right place, and in the best way, meaning, tell them when they might be more open to hearing it, probably right after service during coffee hour is not when most people are expecting or able to hear what you might have to say; when they are able to hear it, meaning finding time that can be spent explaining where you are coming from; and to gently, lovingly, and patiently telling the truth which will help the other person to hear you even if they don’t want to hear it right now.
Love never ends. Love never ends, even when you lose someone. And certainly, God’s love never ends. When you love someone, you don’t give up on them when they are having a bad day, or a bad week or a bad year. Loving a person is a commitment to be in relation to them to help them and to be helped by them. Love requires devotion and commitment, time to nurture the relationship and willingness to hear and say what is beneficial to both parties. In this way, we are to love God and our neighbor in the way Jesus loved us. We learn by Jesus’ example. If we say that we are followers of Christ Jesus, shouldn’t our actions be like Christ’s actions? So, we must love God and our neighbor as we love our selves in the way God shows us, and in the way that Jesus shows us. When we have Christ in us, we will abide in him and follow his commandments.
Apostle Paul says that love is the greatest of hope and faith, because while love never ends, prophecies end. When the future becomes present, prophecies are of no use. As for speaking in tongues and knowledge, they too will come to an end. When someone interprets what was said in tongues and when someone explains the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge, what have you got that others do not have? But love never ends because our relationship with God is eternal.
In 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Paul teaches us that even when compared to faith or hope, that love is the greatest. We cannot love God if God did not love us first and we could not have faith and hope in God if we do not love God. Our response to God’s love for us is by loving God and following God’s commandments. God is love. If we know God, we would know love. As it is written: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love we have for God, the love we have for our neighbors, the love is from God. Therefore, as it is written in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
Let us think practically how we can love ourselves, each other, and God in a different way than we were taught by the world. Let us think about how to love as Jesus showed us. I can say do this, or do that, but unless the Spirit of God moves our hearts, our conscience, and our awareness, we are not likely to do anything different. We read today in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). To the one knew us before God formed us in the womb, let us pray:
O God of all the prophets, you knew us and chose us before you formed us in the womb. Fill us with faith that speaks your word, hope that does not disappoint, and love that does not end, until that day when we shall know you fully, even as we are known by you. Amen.