Vol. IX — No. 10 March 10, 1968
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is king; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (The word “love” has been substituted For the old word “charity.”)
In Christ Jesus, the evidence and the vehicle of God’s love for us, Fellow Redeemed:
We have before us this morning Paul’s psalm of love. The section is strongly autobiographical, for Paul’s description of love was acted out in his Gospel ministry and in his whole way of life. Paul had personally experienced the love of God for himself in Christ. Through the power of the Spirit that love of God was reflected in Paul’s way of life by his love for his fellow man. In brief, Paul practiced what he preached.
The word love has been cheapened in our society Lust and license seek cover and approval by the word love. Rebellion and anti-social behavior, as in the present “hippie movement” with their “love-ins,” claim their motivation is love. In the modern churches love has come to mean the condoning and the tolerating of error and false doctrine. In the field of ethics love becomes self-gratification under the plea of concern for others. This is the new, but ever old, situation or contextual ethics which abandons divine norms that define and set the boundaries for love and substitutes the evaluation and appraisal of a given situation by sinful man when he becomes involved in that situation.
The Greek language is more precise than the English. It has a separate word for love between the sexes. It has another word for love among friends. The third word, used in this chapter, is distinctly Christian. It has been adopted into the English language in a direct take-over. That word is agape or agapeic love. The situation ethicists make diligent use of the word, or rather misuse of the word. The word may be defined as a love that is “utterly other-regarding.” It’s that love which makes the other person the object of one’s whole concern. It places the other person in the place of self.
This is the word that is used when we are told that God is love and that God so loved the world. This love perceives and understands the needs of those loved. It then swings into action with the aim and purpose of satisfying those needs. God loved fallen mankind. He knew man had made himself the victim for time and eternity of his own sin. So God sent His Son to do for man what had to be done, but what man could not do for himself. God sent His Son to live a life of love as man should live but doesn’t and then to pay the supreme sacrifice for man’s lovelessness—death on the cross. God is love; heaven is that place where persons live with one another in love. would you like to experience a taste of heaven while yet on this earth? There is a way that you can, for—
Paul emphasizes the greatness of love by scoring the effects of its absence. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” On Pentecost day the Holy Ghost gave the apostles the gift of tongues so that they could proclaim in languages they had never learned the wonderful works of God. The congregation at Corinth had been especially blessed with this gift, but the gift had been misused in their midst. It had become a matter of pride and self glory. In our day of extreme spiritual decadence within the churches the claims of possessing the gift of tongues, which is called glossolalia, are becoming more and more widespread. Paul says that if he were to speak in foreign languages and if he were given the ability to speak in the language of the angels in heaven and would use those gifts without love—without concern and consideration for his hearers, he would be as a sounding brass and a clanging cymbal. If I were to read this text to you in the original Greek or in the Latin or German translation, it might make an impression on some, but it would be loveless and so without value in sight of God, for none of you understand these languages. Speaking in languages unknown to the hearers is a worthless and loveless exercise that edifies no one.
Paul continues with additional charisms or gifts, showing that they are all worthless unless used in and with love. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” The gift of prophecy is the greatest gift. It is the gift of understanding the Word of the Lord and being able to preach and teach and apply it. But if that is done as an intellectual exercise in the interest of self-glory and not with concern for the spiritual welfare of the hearers and learners, it is without value in the sight of God. The intellectually gifted Bible student seeks to understand the mysteries of God and continues to accumulate knowledge. If all the mysteries were opened to him and if he became as God knowing all things, yet had not love—it would avail him nothing. Oh how we admire the heroes of Faith in the Bible—a young David who in faith fought and defeated the giant Goliath. If we would have such a faith, a faith strong enough to move mountains, but be without love, we might be great in the sight of man but we would be nothing in the sight of God. The absence of love cancels the value of the greatest gifts.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity or love, it profiteth me nothing.” Wouldn’t our congregation and the community become alive with “ahs” if someone in the congregation would convert everything that he owns into cash and then give that to Holy Trinity For its work! What it one of our members would give his life in defense of the truth of God’s Word! Wouldn’t we be proud? Wouldn’t we hold such a one up as a model and as an example to be followed? But if the person who gave all his property or the person who gave his life were not motivated by love, the sacrifices would be without value in the sight of God, no matter how much they would be praised by men. Love added = great value; love subtracted = zero in value. That is the formula in heaven and on earth. If anyone would like a foretaste of heaven, he must adjust his scale of values accordingly.
The entire atmosphere that governs all relationships in heaven is love. If we want a foretaste of heaven here on earth, love must become a part of our way of life. So St. Paul lived and so he teaches us to live. In next section he instructs us that—
Notice that Paul does not attribute the spectacular to love. No, he rather pictures love as the grease that moves the wheels of human existence smoothly. “Love suffereth long, and is kind.” Sin produces many irritations. It produces many little hurts that mar our relationships with others. Members of a family can be so unkind to one another. Friends can be so inconsiderate in their remarks and actions. Love suffers the imperfections of others, takes abuse, remains friendly even when friends become cruel and ruthless.
“Love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own.” How often hasn’t envy destroyed relations in a family. Think but of the family battles over inheritances. Think of how success puffs people up and makes them unbearable. Think of how sin makes people behave unseemly at parties, at meetings of organizations. Think of how sin makes people self-soaking, greedy, grasping. Hot so love! Love rejoices in the other person’s triumphs and success, remains humble, keeps guard over one’s actions at all tines and is sincerely concerned with the welfare of the other person.
Love “is not easily provoked; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” People who quickly lose their tempers, who “fly off the handle,” are not governed by love. People who love gossip, enjoy scandal about friends and enemies, are not motivated by love. Love takes pleasure in righteousness and truth wherever it is found. Love rejoices in the public servant who serves the public, not himself. Love rejoices in the triumphs of the Gospel, in seeing sinners brought to repentance, in watching others grow in knowledge and understanding, in observing the fruits of faith in others.
Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” What a marvelous thing is not love! What do we see about us? Sanitation workers permitting the health and welfare of the largest city in the country to be threatened. Teachers striking allegedly in the interest of their students, but more likely in their own interests. What does Paul say? “Love bears all things.” Today the motto is “Use whatever force is available to you to change things for your own benefit.” This is the difference between heaven and earth. Love believeth all things. What happens on earth? Sinful man takes advantage, and the propaganda mills never stop turning out lies and half-truths and misrepresentations. We’re not to be suckers for every bit of advertisement and for all propaganda. No, but when our fellow man says, “I’m sorry,” “I’ll pay you back what I owe you,” “I’ll do better next time,” “I won’t do it again,” love believes. Love hopes—for the best, despite the hopelessness of the situation. Love endures all things. Love moves parents to endure the misbehavior and slights of their children. Love moves children to bear the senility of their parents. Love moves members of a congregation to bear the peculiarities and deficiencies of their pastor, and it moves the pastor to bear the weaknesses of his members. When love so functions to condition, guide and regulate our actions and relationships with others, then are we experiencing a foretaste of heaven.
In the final section Paul points out that—
Love will bridge the span between time and eternity. “Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” There will be no need of preaching in heaven. All the languages on earth will be replaced with the language of heaven. All earthly knowledge—the vast accumulation of knowledge that science has gathered and classified and utilized—will be useless in heaven. The only thing that will remain and be needed and used is love.
Paul now contrasts the here with the hereafter. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” The most learned man knows an ever smaller fraction of what there is to know. The most learned theologian can but begin to penetrate the mysteries of God. But there shall come that day when our eyes shall be opened and we shall see and understand in a manner and degree that no one on earth has or can experience. Paul contrasts the now and the hereafter with the contrast between childhood and maturity. “When I was a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” We who are adults understand this more clearly than the children present this morning. When we jet to heaven, our way of looking at things now will seem most childish. We will be astonished at our own lack of understanding. The endless “whys” of this life will be understood. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” How we stand baffled before the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, the doctrine of predestination. But in heaven these matters will be cleared up for us. In conclusion Paul writes, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith will to a great extent be changed into sight. Hope will to a great extent be changed into realization. But love will continue. It is the greatest, for God is not faith and God is not hope, but God is love. When God’s love is reflected in the lives of the children of God, then are we God-like. Then we are experiencing a foretaste of heaven.
May the love of God in Christ Jesus be reflected in our lives! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.