1 Corinthians 13:1-13
February 14, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
All you need is love. Or so the song goes. But what is love? That’s one of those questions that have been asked seemingly forever. Songs, poems, books, movies, stories upon stories have asked, and attempted to answer, that very question. And it is Valentine’s Day today, so it seems to fit. So why is that love is sometimes such a hard thing to pin down? We may know it when we see it, when we give it, when we receive it. Likewise, when it is missing. But to put it into words, is harder to do. To put it into action is even harder.
The Corinthian church was struggling with this. Frankly, they were a hot mess. In 1 Cor 12, a chapter before our Epistle, Paul has spoken of the spiritual gifts given to God’s people, and then speaks of God’s people as the body of Christ – one body with many members. None are greater or lesser and none has the right to say to another they are not needed. God has appointed people different roles in the body of Christ and not all function in the same way. He ends chapter 12 encouraging them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Love is the more excellent way. But all their gifts, and their good meant nothing without love. And all the problems, the bickering and the infighting, the abuse and divisions, stem from a lack of love, both Christ’s love received by faith, and love shared toward one another.
And so he writes this chapter on love, describes what it is. But it’s still hard to picture sometimes what this looks like in real life. So let me give you an example. True story. There is this guy I know who married this girl. He’s a good man. He pursued her and really wanted to get married to her, more than she did him. He was excited, ready, and willing to give her everything he would ever have. He leaves his father to hold fast to wife, just as marriage was intended to do. Some people were really happy about it, but there were some who thought it was a bad idea. Some told him, “She really isn’t good enough for you.” Some told her, “You’re marrying that guy? Don’t you want to be single for a while first, to learn who are?” Partly because of this she had some reservations about getting married to him. But she didn’t want to ruin things. She was happy overall, so she kept all bottled up inside.
At the beginning the marriage was great. The honeymoon phase where the other person just seems so perfect, the excitement about the newness and being in the relationship. The joy of new love. They shared everything with each other, and it was great. And they were good to each other. Their love was patient and kind.
Yet, over time the marriage started to get a little strained. The “feeling” of being in love started to change. Conversations didn’t last as long. She got busy doing other things and didn’t always pay him attention the way she should have. Life happens and a division started to grow between them.
Both of them started to notice the distance. You know what it’s like. That feeling of uneasiness, that something is there causing the separation. But you may not be able to put your finger on it. And rather than talk about it, you just kind of push things aside hoping they’ll get better on their own. He would just dote over her, doing all that he could to provide for her. Sometimes she appreciated the attention, while other times she felt it to be stifling. She had a hard time with it. But rather than trying to fix things, she felt the distance between them, and before she really realized what she was doing, she started looking elsewhere.
It started innocently enough. She met some new people, spent more time away from home, her eyes started to wander, her thoughts would go to places and ideas. “What if… If I didn’t have these responsibilities, I could do other things. He’s holding me back. If I was just treated the way that this other guy treats his wife, maybe I’d be happier, more fulfilled, something like that. If I wasn’t chained to this relationship.”
Little by little, that separation grew. And she felt guilty. At least at first. But that started to fade too. Until she was alone, that is. Which led to her to not feeling good enough. And honestly, there was some truth in her thinking. Insecure about who she was, did she even deserve to be loved? Then, when they would go out in public and she felt like a fake pretending like everything was OK when really on the inside she was just a mess. And then she felt she was being dishonest, covering up what was going on in the marriage. And she resented him for the love he gave her.
And then she hit rock bottom. Caught red handed and no way to explain her way out of it. Lying on the floor, sobbing her eyes out when her husband showed up. He picked her up. “Why do you even love me?” she said. “I don’t deserve, I don’t want it. I don’t need it.” She was a hot mess. He said, “Love bears all things.” It was a profound mystery why this guy would ever love her after all the things she has done. And I tell you, this mystery is about Christ and His bride, the Church.
I told you this was a true story. You are her. As Jesus picks you up out of your sinfulness, He says, “My love bears you. I have chosen you to receive my love. You don’t need to earn it. It doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Me. I’m the one who is giving it, and I can give it whom I chose. And I chose you to receive My love.”
Paul’s description of love here in 1 Corinthians is first and foremost about God, for God is love. God’s love in Christ is patient and kind and endures despite your sinfulness and unfaithfulness. Christ loves you despite your insecurities and tears down the dividing wall of hostility. He loves you so much that He would give His very life for you, He would take all your sin upon Himself to the cross, so that you would be presented to God Himself as the godly bride of Christ, forgiven, cleansed, holy, and righteous, the beloved of the Lord. God’s love for you in Christ isn’t based on how good you are, nor how loving you are in return, but that you be the recipient of all that He has to give you.
The Corinthian’s issue was one of love, and I know you can relate, because that’s your issue too. In the verse right after our text, St. Paul says, “Pursue love…” Pursue love, who is Christ. Where Christ promises to be for you, where Christ promises to deliver His love to you. The love of God is found in the beating heart of Jesus, received by you and perfected in you by the means of grace. The love of God displayed on the cross delivered to you in His Word and Sacraments. Love that endures long after faith has turned to sight and certainty of hope is fulfilled on the day of resurrection. There is no “Until death do us part” for death is defeated by Jesus crucifixion and cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the love you have the joy of sharing with one another.
Pursue the love of Christ – Christ’s love for you, Christ’s love for others. St. John reminds us, “We love because Christ first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) In order to know love, we must know Christ’s love for us, and to know Christ is to love Him and those whom He loves. This other person who you struggle to love – your friend that has annoying habits, a child who made some life choices you don’t agree with, a spouse who has hurt you deeply by words or lack of action – is a person whom Jesus loves perfectly. Love moves people to build one another up, to will and to act for the good of the other, for love resides in the will, not in the emotions.
So, what is love? Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor 13:4-8). Because love is a person, God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.