Last time, I introduced the theme of more; of seeking more from God and asked the question, “Are you thirsty?”. Thirsty for the living water that God wants to pour into us and and through us. Thirsty for more of all that God wants to give us as we get to know him better and trust him to do far more for us than we can ask or imagine.
This time, I want us to look at probably one of the most famous passages in the bible as we consider more of the love of God in our lives and ask ourselves the question, ‘Do I need more love?’. I’m sure you know which one even before I say it. 1 Corinthians 13. It is such a familiar passage that I wonder if we sometimes know the words so well that we don’t stop and chew them over in our minds and our hearts.
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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour 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.
8 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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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. 12 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.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Before I say anything, I’m going to ask you to go back to the beginning of this passage and read it again, out loud. As you do, notice what stirs you either in a good way or in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. It might be that you find yourself stuck in the passage and don’t read anything else I’ve written and that’s fine. If you’re uncomfortable, ask yourself why? Could it be that you need to forgive someone who hasn’t loved you as they should have? Could it be that the Holy Spirit is convicting you and you need to deal with something or have a conversation with someone about a time (or times!) when you haven’t loved as you ought. Go back and read it now…..
If anyone has read this and not been stirred or challenged in what you have read, I think maybe you need to read it again and again until you are! There is so much in this passage that, to me, highlights so much of what I’m not and so much of what I need God to do in my life.
Before I break it down a little bit, I just wanted to make sure you read the last bit and took some comfort from it. This side of heaven, we will never get understand it all or get it all right. We are all sinners saved by grace and our righteousness comes solely and completely from what Jesus did on the cross. I don’t want anyone to go away from reading this feeling as though they will never make it. You already have if you have accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection and believe that He did for you what you could never do for yourself. We are called to pursue holiness, to desire to be more like Jesus, not to try and save ourselves but in worship to God for his gift of grace and salvation and a recognition that as we grow more like him, so others will see that in us and want the grace and extravagant love of God for themselves.
So let’s have a look at what the passage says.
Firstly, let’s put it into context. Paul is writing to the Corinthians because they have lost their way. They are arguing among themselves and have gone back to old ways of living and being. One of the things they are quarrelling about is the gifts of the Spirit; who has what and which is most important. Paul has to remind them, in chapter 12, that they are all part of the same body and that being jealous that one has this gift or that gift and you don’t is like an eye being jealous of an ear. All are needed and all are valued so that the body can work as it is designed to do.
The first thing that I want to say is that God doesn’t give you gifts once you’ve got it all sorted. Each one of us has been given gifts to build up the church but that doesn’t mean that we’ve reached some special level with God. The Corinthians had gifts in abundance and were using them regularly despite being so far off beam in their relationship with him and each other. If you are aware of the gifts that you have and you use them regularly, that’s brilliant and necessary but if you then think that you are better than others, you are wrong! If you’re in a place where you can’t think of what your gift might be or feel intimidated by others who use theirs boldly, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any or that you’re not as good as others. They are gifts given by a God who loves you not wages given for something you have earned and they are given to all of us in some way and in some measure.
We then come to this passage. Just see what Paul says in the first few verses. You might be gifted with the ability to speak eloquently and with a passion in your language or the language of heaven, you might be able to explain the things of God powerfully, understanding everything and knowing everything and have faith that makes mountains move. You could choose to give away everything that you have to those who don’t and even punish your own body. None of those things, though, matter a jot unless you have the love of God within you, motivating you and leading you. You’re just making a noise. You’re nothing. You get nowhere. You are completely and utterly bankrupt.
It’s pretty hard-hitting stuff, isn’t it? I know that this passage is often read at weddings as being such a lovely, encouraging piece of writing but in reality, it’s damning (except, of course, for the grace of our wonderful God!). The fact is that you can speak and prophesy and give and believe and even give up your life but unless you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself, it is pointless and useless.
So what does real love look like?
Love is patient. Are you? Always?
Love is kind. Are you? Always?
It does not envy. Do you?
It does not boast. Do you?
It is not proud. Are you?
It does not dishonour others. Do you?
It is not self-seeking. Are you?
It is not easily angered. Are you?
It keeps no record of wrongs. Do you?
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Do you?
It always protects. Do you?
Always trusts. Do you?
Always hopes. Do you?
Always perseveres. Do you?
Love never fails. Do you?
A lot of questions here and a lot of recognition that we’re not where we want to be, I should imagine. That’s certainly true for me. So back to the question of whether we need more of God’s love in our lives. It’s a yes from me. What about you? But how?
In Galatians 5 it says that love is a fruit of the Spirit. In the same way that a tree doesn’t work really hard to produce apples but rather, the apples grow naturally when the tree is planted in the right conditions and is healthy, so love can grow naturally in us. We can and should, of course, try to be aware of how we treat people and try to be more loving but the love that this passage is talking about doesn’t grow when we try, it grows when we are planted in the right conditions and are healthy spiritually. John 15 talks about remaining ‘in the vine’, remaining in the love of Jesus, having a relationship with him. Ephesians 3 talks about us being ‘rooted and established in love’ and so having power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is and to know it for ourselves so that we can be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
Oh, I want to be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God!