Today’s post is on I Corinthians 13.
One sign that you are getting old is when movies you saw as new releases can only be watched on Turner Classic Movies! Our church’s confirmation class sometimes watches portions of a movie from the 1980’s called, “The Mission.”  The Mission portrays the struggle of the Jesuit Order to bring Christian faith and Christian values to the Indians of South America. Early on, the audience is introduced to two characters: Father Gilbert and Mendoza. Father Gilbert is a courageous and loving priest who conquers natural obstacles and life-threatening situations to win the respect of the natives. Then, he wins their hearts with music, symbolizing the harmony of man and nature to be found in faith. Father Gilbert is a man of peace and at peace with God, nature, and others. His personality exudes Divine Love. In the movie, Father Gilbert is a Christ-figure.
Mendoza is a different sort of person. He is wild, moody, and impetuous. He murders his brother in a jealous rage and ends up in a monastery founded by Father Gilbert. Mendoza is a person of profoundly disordered loves.  Driven by guilt and shame (not love) Mendoza is converted while reading First Corinthians 13 and watching divine love in action as reflected in Father Gilbert’s life and ministry. Mendoza is driven by human desire. In other words, Mendoza is one of us. Mendoza is not a natural Christian, he does not naturally love others; he is naturally violent and self-centered.
The Christian life is a journey from self-centeredness to other centeredness from love of self to others, from Eros to Agape. Divine love, the grace of God, is the beginning and the end of our journey of faith. We human beings, like Mendoza, are people of disordered love, prone to love things we ought not love and fail to love things we ought to love.
The Priority of Love.
Our text today is from First Corinthians. I Corinthians 13 is so familiar to contemporary Christians that we have difficulty understanding it. First, the passage is so poetic and lyrical that it is easy listen to the beauty of the words and miss the underlying message. Second, the passage is so frequently read at wedding services and other celebrations of human love that it is easy to miss the actual point being made. The passage is about how self-giving love, that can only come from God, is the goal of the spiritual life and the only way to avoid spiritual gifts creating chaos.
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. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Cor. 13:1-13).
Prayer: God of Love, who in love created the world and us, please come and be with us this morning so that we may understand your word, be filled with your spirit, and be changed into your image. We asked this in the name of the one who was the Word made flesh even Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
From Giftedness to Agape.
Over the past several weeks, we have been studying the Gifts of the Spirit using First and Second Corinthians as our primary source. The Corinthian church was a prosperous and gifted church. The problem with the Corinthian church was that the Body of Christ was not healthy because the gifts were neither used in love or producing love. The faith of the Corinthians was producing strife. In some ways, the problems of the Corinthian church were the problems of every church in trouble:
- The leadership was divided (1:10-2-3:23);
- There was immorality in the church (5:1-5);
- Worship services were chaotic (11:1-34);
- People were using their spiritual gifts in chaotic ways instead of for the good of the whole church (12-14); and
- People were teaching false or inadequate doctrine (15:1-38).
The Corinthians, very much like modern Americans, had difficulty understanding the deepest truths of Christian faith. Their problem was partially religious. The patron goddess of Corinth was Aphrodite (Venus in the Latin), the goddess of human love. Of course, the worship of Aphrodite was inevitably erotic. Many Corinthian church members had participated in the erotic rituals of Aphrodite worship. As a result, there was a tendency to mistake ecstatic, emotional, mystical experiences, such as speaking in tongues, with life changing faith.
In English, we have one word for love. The Greek language has several words for love. It has the word “Philios” for brotherly or sisterly love. It has the word “Eros” for romantic love. It has the word “Stergo” for affection among family members. Finally, in Greek there was a word “Agape” that was the least used word for love. In classical Greek, the word “Agape” originally meant “to honor, or welcome.” It was most closely-related to the word “Philios,” which may explain the common reference among Christians as being “Brothers” or “Sisters.” Among Christians, the word came to be strictly identified with the love of God shown by Christ on the cross.  Agape love is God’s unique, self-giving, sacrificial love.
Although America is different than ancient Corinth, we are also tempted to mistake emotional or other experiences with the goal of the Christian life. Like the Corinthians, we need to remember what kind of love we are talking about when we talk about the love Christians are to embody. We need to remember that to be spiritual is to reflect the love of Christ shown on the cross. The love of God is a gracious, self-giving, sacrificial, steadfast love.
From Faith and Works to Love.
If we are to understand the importance of Agape Love, we must begin with Grace. Grace is the unmerited Agape Love of God freely given by Christ on the Cross to save the world that becomes available to us through faith (Ephesians 2:9). We are saved by grace. Faith is how we receive that grace. All of our spiritual giftedness, all of our spiritual growth, all of our becoming more like Christ, is founded on the gracious, unmerited love of God.
Paul begins his teaching about love by telling us that love is more important than our spiritual gifts (I Cor. 13:1). No matter how dramatic our spiritual gift of speaking may be, if we don’t have love ur words are empty. He reminds us that love is more important than knowledge (v. 2). A person who understands all the mysteries of the Christian faith and can see how to apply them into the distant future is nothing without love. Love is more important than what we are able to accomplish as a result of our faith (v. 3). Paul tells us that if my faith is so huge that I can move mountains or give up my body to be martyred, or give all my positions to the poor, it still isn’t important if I don’t act in love. In other words, those who think faith is a feeling or an ecstatic experience all wrong. Those people who believe faith is a special kind of knowledge that gives us the special understanding of the future are wrong. Those people who believe faith is something that enables a person to do mighty works are wrong. What matters is whether faith produces love.
As Protestants, we have always emphasized faith. We believe in salvation by faith alone, but that does not mean salvation without grace. In the Reformation, Christians emphasized the role of Christ on the Cross (Christ Alone), Grace (Grace Alone), and Faith (Faith Alone).  Everything we believe and becomes begins with Christ as the full revelation of God, who is love. God’s love was before our faith and is more important than our faith. Faith is how we begin the Christian life. It is important. But, faith is finally the way we receive God’s grace and are able to grow in the love of God. In order for us to become the people we are called to be, we have to grow in grace, being filled with the love of God.
The Reality and Power of Diving Love.
Earlier this week, Don Kerns and I were speaking about our passage today. Recently, Don used the passage as part of the wedding ceremony. His meditation began by noting that most of us find the words of this passage beautiful to hear but impossible to live out in our lives! I noted that, when Kathy and I go to weddings and I hear these words, I seldom feel encouraged. They forced me to consider how far short I fall in the Christian life. First Corinthians 13 can often be like an exotic diet or a very strict exercise scheme that we learn about while reading a magazine. It all sounds very good, but in the end, we don’t have any intention of living on soybeans or exercising ten hours a day. Many times, the diets and exercise regimes that we read about finally strike us as impossible.
Interestingly enough, I do not think an impossible goal was the intention of Paul in writing these words. Paul knew that the kind of love that Christ demonstrated on the cross is impossible on a merely human scale. But, where grace is present, Paul not only believes we can live out the words of First Corinthians 13, he expects us to be able to live out these words.
There is so much in this passage that it’s impossible to completely and fully teach the passage in one lesson. The love of God is not like any human love. It is not jealous, or boastful, or proud (v. 4). It does not seek its own pleasure or its own desires (v. 5). It is not angry when it does not get what it wants (v. 5). It does not scheme to get what it wants (v. 6). It is content with the truth. The love of God transforms the human character as we become more patient, kind, humble, giving, truthful, trusting, hopeful, and patiently enduring (vv. 4-6). When we are transformed by God’s love, we stop being the people we would have become by nature, and we become the people we can only become by God’s grace.
We have a lot of gifted people at Advent and in all the churches in America. We also have a lot of active people. We have great Sunday school teachers. Every one of them is important. Nevertheless, what is most important is whether or not our faith is producing the kind of love inside of us that allowed Christ to go to the cross on behalf of the world.
Live the Logo.
At the end of The Mission all of the good works of Father Gilbert are destroyed as Spain, Portugal, and the Catholic Church conspire to get something that they want at the expense of the Indians and the little mission Father Gilbert has created. Father Gilbert, however, is faithful to the end. He dies as a man of peace acting in love, refusing to fight. Mendoza ultimately deserts the way of love and goes back to being a soldier. He dies in a final battle. The movie ends with the question of which way, the way of love or the way of violence, is best. What the movie fails to understand is that love is not a means to an end. We cannot love our enemies as a means to victory over them. Love is not a means to any end. Love is the end. Love is the Goal. Love is the victory.
Our Scripture reminds us that all of our human achievements will pass away. In the end, our Bible knowledge and our ability to apply that knowledge to life will be unnecessary, because we will see God face to face (v. 8). Our ability to persevere and endure suffering through hope will pass away, because we will have received our reward in heaven. In the end, faith hope and love are the greatest of Christian virtues but love is supreme, because love will last forever (v. 13).
Last week, Kathy and I were able to entertain a friend for most of a week. She loved our church and its programs. One morning I went out to run wearing my Advent T-shirt. My friend saw the T-shirt and asked if she could have one. I happen to know that we had a T-shirt very much like mine in the proper size for a woman. On the last day she was here, just before she left, we gave her one of those T-shirts. When I gave her a hug and handed her the T-shirt, I said “All you have to do is live the logo.” Well, that was the moment I got the idea for today’s sermon.
In truth, our church is lucky to have our logo, because each time we look at it we look at the central truth of the Christian faith. We remember that God is love, that he died for us, that he saved us in his grace, that he gave us one another, that he wants us to share our spiritual gifts with others, and that he desires for us to become filled with his love until we are like him, sharing that love of God we have already seen and experienced in Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.
 The Mission, dir,. Roland Joffe & Robert Bold (Kingsmore Productions, 1886, 125 minutes).
 St. Augustine diagnosed the human condition as characterized by disordered loves. We love things that are secondary instead of things that are primary, especially God. For Augustine, the life of faith is a life of re-ordering our loves to mirror the intentions of God. In his work, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine puts it this way: “He is a just and holy person who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love nor fails to love what he ought to love….” (1.27.28).
 In passages like John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gives his Only Begotten Son…,” love is now being used to specifically mean the love of Christ on the cross “Agape” was the least used and specifically defined word for love in classical Greek. Christians took this word and gave it a very specific meaning. Christians altered the meaning in ancient classical Greek so that the word specifically refers in Christian thought to the self-giving, sacrificial love shown by Christ on the Cross, an action that revealed the very nature of God to be this Agape love. Paul emphasizes the qualities of agape love as part of redefining this term as a Christian world referring to God’s love.
 The Five Sola’s of Reformation faith are: (i) Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone, (ii) Sola Fide (“faith alone, (iii) Sola Gratia (“grace alone”), (iv) Sola Christus (“Christ alone), and (v) ‘Sola Deo Gloria (“God’s glory alone”).