Third Sunday after Epiphany January 22, 2023
1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1a
32, 403, 429, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, You know that we are surrounded by great dangers in this world, and that we do not possess the strength ourselves to overcome them. Please grant us the necessary strength and support we need amidst these dangers, so that with Your help we might stand and overcome them. We ask this in the name of Jesus, Your Son and our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forevermore. Amen.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become 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, but 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, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke 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 in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love! (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, who loves us and urges us to love, dear fellow redeemed:
Love! Arguably, it is the most important word and concept in all of Scripture—indeed, in all of life! Love lies at the heart of God’s plan for our salvation—“God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Love is to be the focus of our sanctified lives, for Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34) Paul adds this defining thought: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves has fulfilled the law…love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8, 10b) But love is not only important because of its ties to our salvation and sanctified lives. The Scriptures assure us that love is the essential character of God, when John informs us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8b)
Consequently, it should not surprise us that Satan will do his best to undermine our understanding and application of love. While true love is always tied to God and to an understanding of His will, Satan will attempt to separate love in our minds from God, its Source and Sustainer. While love is an emotion, true love is always an emotion that actively seeks the well-being of others. Satan will attempt to suppress any beneficial actions flowing from our love, leaving love as a mere emotion that satisfies oneself, but does nothing for others. While true love is pure, Satan will attempt to corrupt it. Think of how our world identifies all sexual activity, including both fornication and adultery, as “making love.”
It is imperative for us both to recognize and retain a proper understanding of love. In our text we find, in my opinion, the finest definition of love in all of literature. Let us examine that definition today and embrace the admonition with which Paul ends our text: PURSUE LOVE! Do so in view of its importance, its nature, and its permanence!
Truly, love is the greatest and most important virtue we can possess! Paul explains why: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become 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, but 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, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
Notice how Paul emphasizes the importance of love. He says that we could be the best orator ever to speak on earth—better than anyone else alive or even of any angel, yet without love we would be no better than someone hammering on a piece of brass or banging cymbals together. He says that we could know everything that could ever be known—we could be the smartest person on earth; or we could have faith so strong that we could do what Jesus suggests—move mountains around at will, yet without love we would amount to nothing! He says that we could be the greatest philanthropist of all, giving away everything we own to help the poor; we could give up our lives as martyrs for the faith, and yet if we would not have love, all of those actions would profit us nothing. Love is that important!
Why is love that important? There are many people in this world—perhaps many who are sitting here today, who have been burned by love…who are leery of love, because they have been hurt by relationships gone bad. Let us remember that love is so important because of its ties to God and His relationship with us. John weaves the concept of love into our relationship with God and each other: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:7-19). Love is important because it moved God to save us; love brings us to God and allows Him to live within us. Love removes our fears as we contemplate the future, while it serves as our motivation to love both God and one another. Therefore, PURSUE LOVE in view of its importance!
PURSUE LOVE, as well, in view of its nature! Listen to Paul’s profound definition of love: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Paul describes love both positively and negatively—what love does and does not do. As such he provides a pattern for us to follow and a standard by which to evaluate our success or lack thereof. Love is patient and kind; love is not envious of others, nor is it proud, showy, or boastful. Love is not rude; it is not selfish; nor is it easily provoked to anger. Love thinks only what is good, and it certainly does not find joy in sin. It finds joy, rather, in truth. It is long-suffering. It trusts, even when trust becomes difficult. It strives to put the best construction on everything. It continues to hope and patiently endures. Who can listen to this definition and not bow his head in shame? Our love so often is so very different—so very shallow by comparison. God’s love moved Him to send Jesus for us. God’s love forgives our failures to love and washes away our lack of love. God’s love inspires us each day to attempt to love in the way we have been loved and in the way that God would have us love. Who among us does not want to be loved with such a love, for such love heals and helps and uplifts and enables!
Paul urges us to pursue such a love. That requires denying ourselves and taking up our crosses and following the path of Christ, our Savior (Matthew 16:24). That requires putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves and seeking their well-being rather than our own (1 Corinthians 10:24). That requires fearing God, loving God, and trusting in God above everyone and everything else, for it is God alone who can lead us so to love. It is God alone who can convince us so to love. To love with such “Christ-like” abandon may well put us at risk in this sin-darkened world. People may take advantage of us, but when we so love, we place ourselves in God’s hands. His love promises to work all thing out for our blessing (cf. Rom. 8:28). Therefore, PURSUE LOVE in view of its nature!
Finally, PURSUE LOVE in view of its permanence! Paul concludes our text: “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke 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 in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Paul’s final statement is truly remarkable: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” One might be tempted to dispute it. After all, we are saved by faith, not by works. Love, essentially, involves good works, so how can love be greater than that which saves our souls? The answer lies in this, that faith, as the writer to the Hebrews explains, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is that trust which we place in God and the truths He has revealed to us in His Scriptures. Paul points out that the prophecies of Scripture and the proclamation of the same, which are so important to us here in this world and in this life, will one day come to an end. When Christ appears and heaven becomes our home, there will be no need for faith. We will see and experience the glory ourselves! Likewise, we now hope for that which we do not see. We are like children who can only imagine what we will experience as adults. But when the doors of heaven are opened and we walk in, there will be no need for hope any longer! Consequently, while faith and hope are so important and so essential for our lives here, love alone will remain forever. We have been loved and are to love here and now, but we will also always be loved and will continue to love throughout eternity! That is why love is the greatest of all virtues, for it is permanent. It is part of the very image of God that will be ultimately restored to us in heaven. That is why Paul encourages us to PURSUE LOVE! Let us do so, my dear friends, for it will bring joy to the heart of our Savior God and will bring blessing to all those who live around us! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.