Although this sermon is about love, it’s not necessarily about romance, but love in general. It can be applied to everything from a romantic relationship to a familial relationship to a friendship to a work environment. No matter where we are, no matter what our relationships are, even with people we don’t like, we are called to love one another.
So if you have your Bibles, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13.
As you know, Diana ran a licensed daycare while I was taking classes. She’s still running an unlicensed daycare. An unlicensed daycare just means that she’s limited to how many children she can have, and she’s not burdened with the state’s litany of regulations.
But as you can probably imagine, running a daycare is not easy. There have been times when it was everything you feared it would be. But, you come to expect certain behaviors from children. You anticipate that a two-year-old is going to have a temper tantrum when asked to share a toy, or a four-year-old is going to break down into tears when she trips, or that a six-year-old is going to fly off the handle when he doesn’t get a second cookie. These things can be expected of young children. What’s not expected is when we see it in adults.
As I mentioned in last week’s sermon, before the daycare, I spent seven years as a newspaper reporter for a small-town weekly in Dansville, NY. One of the routines of how a reporter gets his news is from attending public board meetings. I estimated having attended more than 800 board meetings in those seven years–and there’s a reason why they call them board–or bored meetings–because, for the most part, they are boring. But, once in a while, they are worth going to, they’ll joke around a little and have some fun, or they’ll be productive, quick, and efficient.
I remember a few times being at a board meeting in a certain town, where the board members got along, and quite often there would be laughing and joking around. But right down the hallway was a village board meeting going on at the same time, which my editor attended, and from where I was sitting, we in the town board meeting could hear some shouts and arguing going on down the hallway. You don’t expect that from men who call themselves mayor, deputy mayor, trustee, fire chief, etc. You expect certain decorum. There was another town in which there was a very controversial matter that went on for two or three years. Some of the townspeople got so angry—sometimes vile, and the meetings got so volatile, that the board called for state police to start attending the meetings in fear of something violent happening.
I’ve seen a church have quite a few members leave because of what went on in the board room. This is nothing new. I’m sure you’ve seen this yourselves. Perhaps you remember your parents and grandparents telling you stories years ago. In fact, if you look through church history, you’ll see issues within churches have gone on for the past 2,000 years. Look at the early church.
When we think of the early church, we think of zeal, we think of the book of Acts—we think of miracles, fire, speaking in tongues, 3,000 people coming to Christ in one meeting, we think of fervor—we rarely think of the dysfunction that went on. I mean, the church was brand new; there was a lot of disorder in the early churches. And poor guys like Paul and Peter had to deal with it all the time. You can just see them smacking their forehead as they wrote the letters of the New Testament. Like, ‘why do I have to put up with this?’
Here’s what he has to say to them.
1 Corinthians 13:1-4
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
As Chapter 13 begins, Paul reiterates some of the gifts from Chapter 12 again. He does this to make his point clear, to make sure everyone is listening and that this is for all of them. And what is it we need to get? That it doesn’t matter what your gift is, or how excellent your talent might be. You might be the best at whatever it is you do. Without practicing it in love, your gifts and talents are worth nothing.
Have you ever seen someone gifted, but acted like a snob? It kind of turns you off, doesn’t it? Suddenly, their gift doesn’t impress you anymore. You’re not a fan. How can we be effective for the kingdom if our character is rotten? You see, love, despite what the movies tell us, is a verb, not a noun—not a feeling. Although it can be that, it isn’t just that, and it isn’t what Paul is saying here. When I was a teenager, there was a Christian rock group called DC Talk. They had a song about this called, “Love is a verb.” Love, as they put it, is “a word that requires some action.” Love is something that must be practiced. And here, Paul uses 15 verbs to describe love.
The Asbury Bible Commentary states that : “Love is not one of many virtues; it embodies them all. Love is not merely the doing of some heroic or virtuous action or refraining from vices or evil deeds. It is a “way” of life.”
Let’s go back to the verses again. What is love? First, love is patient: How do we become patient? Are we born with it? Were you born with it? Are most children born with it? No. We have to be taught patience. We have to practice patience. Have you ever had to act patient when you were really not? At a child, perhaps? Remember the daycare illustration? Or perhaps another adult. Remember the village board illustration?
Sometimes we think that patience means being able to wait while biting our tongue. Or sitting at the traffic light without honking our horn. But it goes much deeper than that. Joyce Meyer said, “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
So how do we get a good attitude? People who are patient eventually become patient because they’ve practiced it. It doesn’t come overnight. It’s a matter of practice, and it’s a matter of God’s grace.
Let’s look at the next verb: Kindness. How about kindness? When do we feel kind? Probably more times than when we act on it. I’m reminded of my drives to Rochester. I have a confession to make. There’s a man who sits outside at a traffic light at the end of Exit 16 off 390. He holds a sign. I don’t remember exactly what it says, but it says something to the effect of “Veteran. Anything helps.”
I have to admit, I’ve felt compassion for him but have yet to do anything. I think, ‘well, I can’t reach him, I’m a few cars down. And I can’t stop and hold up traffic when the light turns green. And gee, I really don’t have anything. I mean I have a dollar or some change, and it’s in my pocket and I can’t reach it. I have an apple, I could give him but….’
And I make excuses. Then I feel guilty. And I always say, ‘next time.’
See, we feel kind, but it’s useless unless we do something about it. That man can’t feel our kindness, and us feeling kind does nothing for him. Maybe you have a gift of generosity like Paul said in chapter 12, but his point here is that the gift is useless until we act on it, and act in love.
Now let’s look at the things love is not: jealous, boastful, proud, rude, demanding its own way, irritable…I hate to admit it, but some of these come by me much more naturally than the things that love is. How about you?
Stop and think about it. Which is easier? Which is more natural? To love or not to love? When we act in love, it’s usually a sacrifice, like helping the veteran begging on the street, or helping anyone for that matter. Sometimes it’s a small sacrifice, like talking on the phone with someone who needs some encouragement when we really don’t want to be bothered. When we act in the opposite of love, it’s usually a more natural reaction born out of our sinful nature of selfishness. We don’t even realize we do it half the time.
How about keeping no record of wrongs. Another thing I’m guilty of. My mind is like a broken record sometimes. When I’ve been wronged, it just keeps playing over and over and over in my mind. I have to continue to forgive. Sometimes it takes years to get over something one person said one time.
Paul finishes up his list in verses 6 & 7. Before I read it, I want you to stop and listen to each word carefully. These are words that sound great when we’re reading through this on our own. But how many times have we studied each and every word, its meaning and its implication on life? 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Now, there’s so much here, it would take a summer-long sermon series to thoroughly go over all of these verbs Paul gives us. So what can we say about this set of verses? Well, I’m reminded of marriage. How much of marriage and raising children is focused on protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. It’s how we stick together and face the challenges of life together.
You can’t raise a healthy family by teaching them to delight in evil, can you? And the job of a parent is to protect. The job of a spouse is to trust. Marriage requires a lot of hope. How many different situations do we go through where we say, “we just don’t know how we’re going to get through this.” And the natural answer to that is perseverance. It’s done together in patience and kindness; in self-sacrifice.
So what do all of these verbs look like in action? I know I’ve used this illustration before. But Jesus gave us a great illustration of love in action in the story of The Good Samaritan. This is the story of who our neighbor is and what loving our enemy looks like—it is 1 Cor. 13 illustrated.
Let’s take a look. It’s told in Luke 10
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
30 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
So this is the illustration Jesus gave us on how to love. But let me add with this another illustration: You walk into a bakery, the aroma of coffee and brownies fill your entire being. You feel the warmth from the ovens, and you feel all cozy from the fragrance. You walk around and you see all sorts of pastries—donuts, muffins, breads, pies—then, you see a huge beautiful, fluffy-creamy cake, and you say, I want that cake for my birthday next week. Now, my wife would say to me, “I can make that cake.” And surely she can if she had the recipe.
You see, the story of The Good Samaritan is the cake. 1 Cor. 13 is the recipe to make that cake. It gives us the instruction on how to be the Good Samaritan—on how to love our neighbor, on how to love our enemies. The Good Samaritan shows us what that all looks like when put together.
You’ll notice, too, in the story of The Good Samaritan that there were rather gifted people who looked the other way: a priest and a Levite. Do you get the picture? They were both men who would have had giftings—so think of what was discussed in Chapter 12. They would have used those giftings in service to God. So the point here is that their giftings, although practiced, I’m sure in the temple, were worth nothing because they did not love.
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
I would like to add something that Paul said to the church in Rome (Rom. 12:9), ‘Love must be sincere.’ And that passage is a great cross-reference to what he says here to the Corinthian church, because it is basically the same instructions. He says this:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
You see, another list of verbs. But let’s go back to the first statement. Love must be sincere. He says this upfront because it’s the basis of how to go about doing these things.
Have you ever met someone who wasn’t sincere? It kind of rubs you the wrong way, doesn’t it? It could be a Christian or even a pastor who listens to you or says they’ll pray for you but they don’t act like they ever will. Or if they say there’s anything you need, they’ll be there. But you can tell they’re not sincere. No one likes a fake, and it’s this type of Christianity that turns people off to the church. How many of you have heard people say that the church is full of hypocrites? Well, we may not be perfect, but let’s not let anyone make that accusation about us.
I think of that veteran again. What a poor witness I was.
So, how do we make love sincere? After you practice it, with the help of The Holy Spirit, it starts to become more natural. Like practicing patience.
You see, love is kind of like playing a musical instrument. Both are things we do, both are verbs. To become proficient, we have to practice. To become proficient on an instrument, to get to the point where you can play the piano naturally, you must practice
I remember when I was taking guitar lessons and I got to a point where I was learning jazz. I really didn’t like jazz. Jazz seemed so unnatural. There’s no melody to jazz. There’s kind of an odd rhythm and keys. It’s hard to listen to jazz. But then, when I began to learn it, what it was made up of, how it was put together, then I began to play it and appreciate its chord structure. I began to start playing by habit. It started to become natural.
I never got to a point where I was proficient at it, I barely began learning how to improvise, but a good jazz musician has learned—or rather practiced—jazz so thoroughly that it has become his nature. He hardly has to think about it. The rhythms come naturally, the chords come naturally. I remember one time when my guitar instructor took my guitar and tried playing some rock n’ roll on it; I don’t remember why, it was to demonstrate something. He was raised on rock and roll, and he said, “I haven’t played rock m’ roll in so long, I forgot how.” He had become a jazz musician. It became second nature. That’s how practicing love is. Eventually, it becomes second nature. But if we don’t practice it continually, we’ll rust at it.
We need to learn to blend cultivating our talents with cultivating love. The two go hand in hand. How excellent our talent might be is meaningless without love. Let us put love into practice.
I want to challenge you in this, as we go about our week. I need to challenge myself in this matter. We all do. What about that veteran who stands on the corner? If I know I’m going to pass by him that day, can I have something prepared ahead of time?
I remember one time when I had a passenger with me. He’s kind of an agnostic—someone who isn’t sure if God exists. He remembered that veteran before we got there, he wondered if we would see him. He said how he wished he could help him. Well, we passed by the corner, and he wasn’t there. We wondered where he must have been because he’s always there.
Well, sure enough, while Michael was in his appointment, I was out on another run. When I came back to get Michael, the veteran was there. I told Michael that our veteran was there. He asked if I gave anything to him. I said no. I had an excuse, I didn’t have anything. But Michael shamed me. Now is that an effective Christian witness?
How can we demonstrate that we are Christians if we do not show love in the way non-Christians expect us to? Jesus said to his disciples 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If Christians would exhibit these kinds of love in our places of work, how much more productive and enriching would work be for everyone? How much glory would it bring our Lord? How much closer would we come to God’s fulfillment of our prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth”?
Our nation has been in upheaval recently, hasn’t it? When you turn on the news, it seems as if we have come unglued. This is a scary time. But what better time to shine the light? What better time to show people hope. And how do we do that? Do we fight back—fight fire with fire?
“Kindness is the noblest weapon to conquer with.”
- Thomas Fuller
Let me reread that last part of Paul’s words to the Romans. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen