1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues n 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, u 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 dishonor 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.
What sermon do you listen to about love? See, you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon. There are sermons all over the place every day, because a sermon is simply an address on a theological topic. And love is most definitely a theological topic; it’s all over the place in the Bible. It’s also discussed all over the place from all sorts of angles by all sorts of sources. So what sermon do you listen to?
Do you like the sermons about love from RomComs (romantic comedies), Soap Operas, and other shows and movies? You know, there’s the little quirky one or the one who has some personal baggage and they find each other in odd circumstances where it just might work and you get to see it work out in such an endearing or passionate or convoluted way.
Do you like the sermons about love that you hear in songs? Love Is a Long, Long Road, Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Something Good Coming, Our Love Was Built to Last, She’s Gonna Listen to Her Heart (Tom Petty tunes) I Can’t Help Falling in Love with you, You’re Still the One, More than Words, Nothing Compares to You, Piece of My Heart, Just Give Me a Reason, Kiss Me, Sex & Candy. Whether you realize it or not, you are learning a bunch of ideas about love while you drive around or sit your desks.
Do you realize that you are hearing sermons about love from advertisements? You need this product to be prettier, you need this to win her over, this gift will make her happy, that will be good for your family, and on an on about the things that make love more satisfying, stronger, better or easier.
Besides all these sources, kids are getting sermons about love as they watch their parents, as the walk the hallways at school, on their Snapchat and other social media. As they get older, they also to get these sermons in the locker room, at work, on campus, at parties.
So many sermons about love saying love is about passion and keeping the flame alive. Sermons teaching that love is about laughter and fun. Sermons promoting love is all about what matters to you and gives you a special feeling. Sermons describing love a deep personal connection that you can fall into or be struck with it at first sight. Sermons saying that love and sex don’t need to be connected anymore. Sex should be for whoever whenever, because it’s just a bodily need for some people. And on and on…
There are so many sermons about love that really don’t get to the heart of the issue at all. God doesn’t want you to learn about a love that only goes skin deep. He wants you to know that love takes everything you are, body, mind, and soul. He wants you to know that love cannot flame out because it’s not about passion and feelings. He wants you to know that love does not set conditions; it has no fine print. He wants you to know about love from the one who defines it (1 John 2). He wants you to know about love that is not based on you – where you come from, what you do, how you look – but comes from him, based on who he is and what he does. He wants you to know that his love for you is also his love for others.
And so, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write this sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13. This is the sermon we need. This is the sermon that perfectly reveals God’s love for us and at the same time perfectly teaches us what his love will do through us for others.
Paul starts out with the first 3 verses describing great things like speaking in different languages or even speaking in spiritual, angelic tongues, having the give of prophecy, being able to move mountains with his faith in God’s power, having a generosity that is boundless, and being able to suffer through the most difficult hardships. Any one of those things would be a great blessing from God, not just useful for me but also very helpful to others around me. But having those abilities without love is just plain old annoying or worse.
Do you know the clash of cymbals? My parents do. I was in sixth grade when I bought a drum set, and not the electric kind that you plug in and can hear only if you have the headphones on. I bought the real kind. Boy, did I want to practice the drums, every day, in fact. I would practice beats and fills. I would play along with CDs and the radio. And it was for the whole house and probably neighborhood to hear. I cannot comprehend how my family put up with it. It’s not like I had them in a padded room with a door. They were in the basement family room to fill the whole house with their beautiful banging and clashing. I guess they must have really loved me to endure that.
If you don’t fill your words and actions with the love that comes from God, then all those amazing blessings Paul mentions are about as good as a 6th grader trying to learn the drums in your home. It’s just a whole lot of banging and clanging. It’s annoying and irritating.
Why would God be so blunt? Why would he say that really beneficial blessings like speaking in languages, prophecy, faith that can move mountains, cheerful generosity, and patient endurance are annoying and of no real purpose? Because without God’s kind of love, these gifts don’t serve others the way God serves us. They are not being used for God’s glory and his purpose but are just self-promoting and self-gratifying. And God’s love just doesn’t do that. The goal of faith, hope and love is not to puff you up, earn you recognition and glory, make you feel better. The goal of faith, hope, and love is to serve God and raise others up, give others encouragements, make others better.
See, love and selfishness do not go together. Love never asks the question, “What can I get out of this?” Love never says, “I need it now, ” or “It’s my way or the highway.” Love is not interested in putting others down while you elevate yourself. Love cannot be in the same realm as anything that would go against God’s Word.
Instead, here is the perfect sermon about love: 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.
I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think when I read these words of God: “I am a failure. I can’t do that. Maybe I can do it for about 15 minutes or an hour, but all day every day for everyone I come into contact with, because God says love your neighbor. I am a total loser.” God says this is the sermon you need on love. Not any of those movies or songs. And I think, “If this is the kind of love that needs to be a part of my life as a child of God, then I’m in big trouble.”
Can you remember a time when you weren’t patient? It was probably this morning or right now. How about kind? Again, it already happened today. Envious, boastful, proud? Check, check, and check. Go on down the list and all I see is things that I fail to do for people, even those in my own home.
But remember this sermon is from God. He wrote it, because he knows this kind of love very well. It’s not that he sees it so regularly in our lives, but he knows it so well because this is the kind of love that he has for you. No conditions need to be met. No levels have to be reached. No works must be done. No prayers must be said. This is the love that is at the heart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is the love that Jesus displayed as he lived and died for you. This is the love that brought him back from the dead so that you and I would have an eternal home with him in heaven. This is the love that he continues to shower on us every single day.
We claim to be too busy for a lot of things, and Jesus is patient. We are unpleasant, and Jesus is kind. We are arrogant, and Jesus is humble. We are looking to raise ourselves up and lower others, Jesus is looking for ways to spiritually lift us up so that we can put others first. We get angry and hold grudges, and Jesus peacefully forgives and forgets. We find delight in our pet sins, and even though it stings, Jesus compassionately gives us the truth of law and gospel, sin and grace. We don’t fight the good fight against the devil and all his evil as we should, so Jesus fought him for us and won. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.
My brothers and sisters, here is the perfect sermon on love: Jesus. Period.
If you are wondering how in the world this kind of love can come out of you and show itself not just to those dear to you but to all, I want you to think of where Jesus is right now. He’s not being selfish, doing something that only benefits him. He’s not off somewhere else, neglecting us. He’s not boiling over about all of our loveless hearts. He’s right here speaking through this word of God. He’s right here a little later in his body and blood. He’s right here and in each one of us through faith that he put there in baptism.
How could this kind of love ever show up in your life is maybe not the right question. The question is where else could it be? How could this love of God not be in your life? See, Jesus put it right there in your heart. Jesus keeps it there by the power of the Spirit working through his Word and Sacraments. Jesus keeps his promise to never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus keeps his promise to never fail. He keeps his love for you and in you so that it will go to work through you.
Here is not a love that selfishly desires what I want but a love that selflessly serves what others need. Here is not a love that ignores sin but a love that confesses it, forgives it, and leaves it. Here is not a love that sets conditions but a love that gives joyously and eagerly to all. Here is not a love that gives up but a love that can do nothing but hope and persevere. This love you have been given by God and this love you give others from God.
I could go on and on and on, but God’s perfect sermon on love says it all so simply and in just 13 verses. So maybe just one thing remains… the Amen.