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"Nothing without Love" - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 - Quinquagesima, Feb. 27, 2022

[Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13]

Nothing without Love

God’s love makes the difference. Even the very same words or actions can be done with a right or wrong heart. Holy Scripture, in our reading from 1 Corinthians 13, tells us that our good works and good words are no good to God and our neighbor without true love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Even when speaking God’s Word – even if we could speak it in the language of angels – we are noisy gongs to God and annoying or burdensome, clanging symbols to our neighbors if our speaking is not formed by love.

Even if I had great trust that God is almighty and can do all things and that God is in control, this faith will still take me to dark places if I am not being formed in God’s love found in Jesus Christ.

If I were greatly generous – as many wealthy and famous people are – or if I’m even generous with the little I have – but it’s not flowing from the true and right love, then even this generosity becomes a self-serving venture. It’s really about me.

All my goodness is all noise to God without God’s love. And all my love – even if I believe that “all you need is love” – is no good in God’s eyes if it’s a human idea of love and not the love that is from God.

What is that love? Everyone agrees, “Love thy neighbor” – but what is that love? Our Scripture reading today tells us what love is and what love is not:

Love is patient and kind – “I’m only treating you in this hurtful, damaging way because I love you!”, says the abuser, the manipulator. It’s not true. The true love IS patient and IS kind. “Love does not envy” – love is happy that the neighbor/brother has what he has, the abilities or blessings he has, and is not jealous. “Love does not boast” – by true love, I seek to serve, not to get credit. “Love is not arrogant or rude” – if you’re being rude or arrogant, or sharp tongued, that’s not God’s love. “Love does not insist on its own way.” “Love is not irritable or resentful.”

And here is another thing love is not, brothers and sisters. Love is not a vague sense of agreeability. Love is not the acceptance or affirmation of sinful, wrong living or sinful, wrong teaching and belief. Holy Scripture tells us today: “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing” – love is never happy with wrongdoing. “Love thy neighbor” is therefore never an excuse for my wrongdoing or that of a friend. The real love can’t be happy with wrongdoing. (Yet is patient with wrongdoer.)

“Love rejoices with the truth.” That means the truth of God’s Word. Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life [John 14:6]. Love loves the true Truth – God’s Word – His promises and His commandments.

In fact, Scripture tells us that love’s joy is in the keeping of God’s commands – that His commandments are not seen as burdensome to this true love. His commandments are true love’s desire. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” [1 John 5:3] Love is not affirming or accepting of all things but rejoices in the truth and does not rejoice in our wrongs.

True love is love for God above all others – and is a deep, heartfelt concern for my neighbor. And “Love bears all things” – bears with the socially awkward or lowlier members. “Love believes all things” – it isn’t so suspicious of other’s excuses. “Love hopes all things” – it believes, holds out hope, that those fallen in sin can be restored. “Love endures all things” – the true love puts up with the other man or woman’s flaws and shortcomings, willingly, without complaining.

Now, brothers and sisters, we’re going to look at one small phrase in today’s reading which gives us a clue as to where, precisely, this true love comes from. What is love’s origin?

The love spoken of here does not originate from human flesh or desire; nor does it come from natural-man’s heart or mind. Instead, it is God’s love for you now in you. The love spoken of in today’s Scripture reading is God’s love – His love for you in and through Jesus.

We read these words: “Love is not resentful” – Yet, in the original Greek, there is no word “resentful” here. Instead, it’s a phrase – not counting the wrong. It says here, more literally, “Love does not count the wrong” – “love does not add up the wrong” – or, better still, “love isn’t keeping a record of wrongdoing”. True love in you isn’t keeping a record of another’s wrongs. This is the love of God in Jesus.

What does Scripture tell us about God’s love? “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness” [Psalm 130:3-4]. God’s love for you, in and through Jesus, is that God is not keeping a record of your wrongs. Instead, God has made the record clean.

God loves you. The whole record of your sins – real wrongs you’ve committed, real wrongness in you – God gave the whole record of it to Jesus. Jesus was willing to bear all things. Jesus said, ‘This record of wrongs is now mine – this is my sin’, and on the cross He died death for those wrongs – your wrongs. The whole record of your sin was nailed to the cross and was blotted out by Jesus’ innocent blood. The record of your little love was washed clean.

The true love is this love that God has for you, now residing in you. “We love because He first loved us” – “This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10,19]

God’s love for you, now in you – it is a love that loves Him back. It’s a love that loves all those whom He loves – your neighbor and your enemy.

God’s love for you now residing in you is the one part of you that will never end: “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” Your speaking, your thinking, your knowing – they come to an end. Everything about you is passing away, going to the dust. Possessions end. Easy-times end. But “Love never ends.”

Even faith and hope will end – because faith and hope are the assurance, the conviction “of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1]. But one day you will see, and “who hopes for what he sees?” [Romans 8:24]. “For (now) we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes – when the complete picture comes – the partial will pass away.”

On the day of Jesus Christ, His return, your body raised, you will see face-to-face the full picture of that love of God for you – with your own eyes, in your own flesh – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (by God).

The partial things of this life are passing away: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” – because love never ends.

The one part of you that will remain forever, brothers and sisters, is that love God has for you in Jesus – love that is for you and is now in you. Love for you; true love for your neighbor. Since that love is the best part of you and will remain forever, don’t neglect it now. Instead, cling to it every day as your preferred gift and best possession. Amen.

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