1 Corinthians 13:1-13 The Greatest is the Hardest

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If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. [NRSV]

These verses are the definitive description of the extremes and expressions of love. Love is indeed the greater power. Love is the great gift. It is freely give, but requires all things to be fully experienced and shared. To be loved takes no effort on our part as the recipient. Yet, it means the most to make good on its reality.

What or Who do you love?

To love a thing, or an idea, or a goal, or a dream, is an impossible investment of love. To say I love donuts, mashed potatoes or country-fried steak may reveal a passion for carbohydrates, but these items will never return love to me.

I can more appropriately say I extremely enjoy the taste, experience of flavor of these items but to love them is to invest in something that can never return love, which will ultimately lead to an emptiness when the temporary fullness passes.

To say that I love my job, my house, my car or my hobbies is also a misinformed valuation. These treasures surely provide, means, space, access and interest in my life, but they will never have the capacity to complete the circuit of love I might try to bestow.

More than semantics, Love should be reserved and invested in persons and relationships that have the potential to love.

God loves us.

What does it say about US and about God, that God loves us enough to trade God’s-self for us on the cross?

God does no see us a objects in creation. We are more than bird, tree, day, night, snow days, or sunshine.

You are my Sunshine.. as important as sunshine is for light, warmth and vitamin D. The sun does not love us knows nothing of us although we depend on it continually. It is not the source of our being loved, but it is a gift from the one who does love us.

The Son, for love

God loves us enough to exchange our inability to return love, so we can love. Our society has doubled-down on being able to so definitely define and determine and self-declare every detail, label and category except for the most stubborn of them all: for example..

“Sinner”

Every human that has ever lived has failed to be loving, kind and worthy of the existence we have been born into. Even those in the most deplorable of conditions has value, chromosomes, living and multiplying cells of possibility that are not self-willed into being.

We are born into a world filled with every example of those who precede us with some level of brokenness, self-focused not compassionate moments, some more than others, and some we assume are continually so bent.

I have yet to have business card printed that state my name and underneath that name says sinner.

John Thomas Brantley: Sinner

I profess to this be true and claim it in my daily prayers, but I don’t introduce myself this way. Before I met Wendy, a host of friends, family and church members set me up with people to date. (Worst were those who had dreamed of being a pastor’s wife, yikes!) I finally printed up a card that came closest to the plain “Sinner” card.

On the front it listed in 30 words the reason I would be a good, safe and decent person to spend time with. One the back of the card we 30 word of confessions what to expect when I was not presenting my front side. I presented this card two four women at the end of the first date. Two of them never called back. One called back to ask for a copy because they lost it and wanted to show their friend, but was not interested in a second date. Wendy met for the lunch two days later.

The old tourism catch-phrase from the Virginia board of Tourism stated: VA is for <heart/emoji>. Imagine the bumper sticker from God that reads: “Life with God is for “Sinners” with an emoji of our own face.” We don’t like to see ourselves as such. And if we do we spiral in depression and self-hate which is not the purpose of acknowledging our trouble with loving God.

I have trouble love God and Loving my neighbors.

If I love my neighbors it is typically because they are easy to love and we share things in common. If my neighbor is very different I tend to be cautious and hesitant until we find some common ground. Our common ground with all humanity is that we all have moments where we love ourselves more than we love God or our neighbors and some of us have more times we don’t love even ourselves.

Most of this we probably know in our heads.

The church, the governed, our neighbors and even our families are begging to be loved, valued, included, shown compassion, taught what is meaningful, corrected when we are lost, listened to, trusted, and the like.

The admonition from Paul to the church to model loving one another in the ways we find God loving us:

  • Don’t talk about love and not actually love.
  • Don’t talk about your expertise becase your not always perfect.
  • You may know I love, but do you know those who need love around you?
  • You are a person of faith but others are watching when we don’t model faithful speaking and acting.
  • Don’t let our stuff and wanting stuff get in the way of actually loving others.

Ask some to be totally honest and ask all these each day:A

  • Am I patient with you others around me?
  • Do you experience kindness from me?
  • Am I jealous?
  • Do I look out for what’s good for me before others?
  • Am I as wonderful as I think I am?
  • Have you seen me be arrogant?
  • When was the last time you saw me treating someone rudely?
  • Is it my way or the highway?
  • What do I sound like when I’m irritable?
  • Do I cheer when my enemies get what’s coming to them?
  • Do I celebrate when God shows up?
  • Does my faith show in all things?
  • Am I always hopeful?
  • Am I committed to see our relationship through the hardest things and times?

That is a heck of a check-list.. This makes it easier to simply claim the business card and acknowledge, Yes, Lord! Have mercy on me a sinner!

Here the Good News: God loves us while we are still sinning.

God doesn’t want us to keep living in these broken ways, but that does not stop God from loving us. God does not give up!

Application Time

Who in your life needs to hear these words? Who in your areas of influence needs to see God showing love through you to them?

The best marker in journey of learning to love are the moments we love like an adult loves. A child loves because she or he needs. And adult loves not only from the point of need, but also because we know that self-love is never enough. We need God’s help. We need the power of God’s Spirit surging through us, because our Sinner List of when we are not loving shows we have the capacity to try, but not the frequency to make it through.

Loving in the Mirror

If we look in the mirror and see only our own reflection we will fail. The task it to seek God through us.. and we will love for ever.

The Greatest thing is the hardest.

You can do it, in Christ!

Come to the table, and start allowing God’s love to shine through you afresh and anew.

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