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Quinquagesima (50 days to Easter)

[Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13]

Is Love Greater than Faith?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Is love greater than saving faith? “Faith, hope, and love abide (remain) – but the greatest of these is love.” We are not saved by our love for God or for others – we are saved through FAITH in Christ who so loved us. Yet the Scriptures say, “the greatest of these is love”; and this is true.

How is it true? In what sense is LOVE greater than saving FAITH? “Love never ends.” Love never ends; and, in fact, love is the END – it is the END GOAL, the END STATE, the END CONDITION or CHARACTERISTIC of a person who has FAITH. Faith in Christ is not an end in itself. Instead, faith is a means to an end. And, in fact, the forgiveness of sins – the forgiveness of sins which is received through faith in Christ – is, in a sense, a means to an end. The end is love – love for God and love for neighbor.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “No one is righteous; no, not one.” “The scripture has imprisoned all under sin.” [Romans 3:23; Romans 3:10; Galatians 3:22] All need salvation, the forgiveness of sins. This salvation is accomplished ONLY by Jesus Christ. This salvation is received only by faith in Christ – faith which receives what is being freely given.

So, only the death of Jesus on the cross for your sins and only His resurrection from the dead, together, forgive and save you. Only God’s love for you in Christ saves you, but what did God save you for? What did God save you to become? The lump of sinful man that Christ saved, what does He now do with it? Into what kind of lump will God shape it?

In verse ten of this reading today, the Apostle Paul uses an important word. He uses the word “perfect”. He says, “but when the perfect comes…” In the Scriptures, the concept of “perfection” or becoming “perfect” is important - and it’s a little different than our usual ways of thinking.

What does “perfect” mean? In Scripture, “perfect” means something more than, and a little different than simply “flawless”. “Perfection” or becoming “perfect” in the Bible refers to that END GOAL, that END STATE, that END CONDITION, that God intends for His creature. “Perfection” means coming to maturity. “Perfection” means growing up into whatever a thing is intended to become.

Here is an example for understanding the word “perfect” as it’s often used in the Bible: An acorn (those nuts that the squirrels eat) is “perfect” - it has attained “perfection” - when it has become an oak tree. An acorn, if there was one in the Bible, would be said to be “perfect” when it had finally become an oak tree. An oak tree is what an acorn is meant to become. “Oak tree” is the intended END GOAL, END STATE, END CONDITION of an acorn planted in the ground. It is “being made perfect” as it grows into the tree it’s supposed to become. That’s how the word “perfect” works in the Bible.

“Perfect” could mean an acorn growing into an oak tree. “Perfect” could mean an embryo “maturing” into a man. And “perfect” means a forgiven sinner growing into a man who truly loves God.

The END GOAL, END STATE, END CONDITION, of a Forgiven-Sinner is to become a man who is like the Sin-Forgiver – a man like Jesus. In terms of the free salvation that Christ has won for me, the pardon I receive – the forgiveness of my sin, God’s pardon of my guilt – is only a part of the whole Gift given.

The fullness, the fulfillment, of the Free Gift of Salvation given through Jesus is that I am one day made into a man like Jesus. The final promise of our salvation is that we will be men and women like Jesus – men and women who love God and who love one another. And this love is the part of our salvation that will last forever.

Faith, hope, and love. Faith and hope are related. Both faith and hope have to do with things not seen. Scripture says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1] I do not see the forgiveness of my sins - I believe in the forgiveness of my sins. I have not seen the death and resurrection of Jesus – I believe the events to be true. I trust what I do not see. I have not seen the life of the world to come – I hope for it with confidence.

But when the unseen things finally become visible, faith and hope will be no more. Scripture says “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” [Romans 8:24] In the End, faith and hope will give way to seeing. We will no longer live by faith; instead we will see for ourselves. That life of seeing instead of only believing what is unseen is the life of love that lasts forever.

God has saved sinners through Jesus to grow them into creatures who truly see and love God and who see and love one another eternally. The forgiven-sinner is the acorn. The mature-man who loves God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself is the oak tree. This life in the Church on earth is the time of sprouting and of growing. And, although love is rooted deeply in the heart, love which grows never remains a mere feeling. Love sprouts into action. Love lives through good works. God has saved me for love – God has saved me for good works.

God has saved me, the sinner, to re-make me into a man of love and of good works. This is the END GOAL of forgiving my sins. Scripture says it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Yet listen now to the very next verse: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [Ephesian 2:8-10]

That you are “created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS” is not a threat or even a command. It is a promise and an indication of what God plans for you to become. What has God saved the sinner for? He has saved the sinner for an eternal life of love and good.

In the Church, God, our Lord, feeds and waters you, brothers and sisters, to become this oak tree of love and good works that He intends you to be. By the continual preaching of the Word of God – by the continual learning of the faith – by the continual receiving of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper – by these, God is continuously growing you up into what you’ll be. Therefore, do not despair if you are only a little sinful sprout or a sapling now. Instead of being sad, be fed. Be watered. Be fed and watered all the more.

“Love never ends”; therefore, “the greatest of these is love”. Our reading today says that without love for God and love for one another, all good works are nothing. Our reading even says that without love as its outcome, faith itself – great faith that can move mountains - is nothing. [vv.2-3] Love is God’s goal in you.

To end our sermon, our reading today from 1 Corinthians 13, in just a couple verses, gives us a perfect description of love – a description worth repeating: “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.”

This is a perfect description of your Savior Jesus. By His perfect love you are saved. And this is a perfect description of what each forgiven sinner is becoming and will one day be by God’s hand. So be here, be fed, and be grown into what God intends you to become. Amen.

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