What is love?
It is a question that cannot roll off the tongue for most of us without an echoing “baby don’t hurt me, baby don’t hurt me no more” following through our brains. We spend much money, much time, much tears asking this question and searching for the answer in our lives. Love is a word that we toss around carelessly — and carefully. I love a summer day. I love finding money in my pockets doing laundry. I love steak and potatoes. I also love my wife. Careless love and careful love and all the loves in between threaten to cloud out and water down the true meaning of the word for us. Worse yet loose use of the L word can lead us to forget the source of perfect love.
When Paul was writing to the believers in Corinth, they were forgetting the source of perfect love. The Corinthians were so busy throwing around the works of God that they forgot the source of love. They forgot why they were doing what they were doing. They were making so much noise doing so many things that they forgot forgot whose they were. They were like clanging gongs Paul said, or maye they were so busy “loving like Jesus” they forgot why they needed to be loved by Jesus. The Corinthians were so divided among themselves that in chapter 12 Paul even had to remind them, stop removing yourself and others from the Body of Christ! You can’t get separate yourself from the body of Christ, the Church in order to do God’s work. That is not what perfect love is at all. Perfect love does not come by removing a hand, or a foot, the head, or yourself from the heart of the body of Christ. The Corinthians had forgotten what perfect love is. Instead of perfect love, God’s love they were going around doing things with this thing they had called “Not love.”
One good way to determine what perfect love is, what true love is – is to look at what love is not. What is not love? Three times in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13 we hear Paul saying that there was a problem of people having “not love” What is not love?
Paul talks about this not love when he encourages them to examine themselves. He says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but I have not love, I gain nothing.” – All these outward things he calls them to examine.
An interesting thing about these points though is that they all seem like pretty good actions. Speaking in the tongues of men and angels, or we might say: eloquence beyond our even the best commentators. To be a better speaker then Jim Nantz or Phil Simms? (who voices you will hear in mere hours announcing the super bowl…) Prophetic powers of speaking God’s word, knowing the future, understanding everything?! Faith to move mountains?! Giving all possessions to the poor?! Self sacrifice?! These are all highly laudable actions and qualities even to this day. Even in our life as 2013 American Christian Lutherans, people under this roof. We would all brag about these things if we were doing them, but Paul calls for a check. Why are you doing it?
What is not love? What is the not love that Paul is talking about?
Not love is self serving. When we do great things but have not love, we are doing them not out of love but of self serving. A not love situation is when something benefits ourselves more than helping others. God has not called us to love ourselves by loving our neighbors but to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mark 12:31) He has called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matt 5:43) He has taught us to turn the other cheek. Not love is looking out for number one and forgetting who has won — victory over all things. “Take heart!” Jesus says, (meaning don’t forget!) “I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 – There is no greater benefit you can have than the life I give…
Not love is based on our feelings and emotions. When we do great things because we have a feeling of guilt to do something for someone else, or when we do great things because they make us feel better about ourselves and our situations, we are not doing them out of love but for a serotonin release. God has not called us to listen to ourselves and do what we think is right. NO! He has called us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. (Luke 9:23) He has called us to be his disciples by holding to his teaching. Then are we truly his disciples. (John 8:31) Not love is listening to our heart more and before God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.” – You want to do acts of love? Stay connected to the greatest love of all.
Not love is what we think is best. When we do great things because they make sense as part of our plan for the future, they are not love. When we do great things because they add up on paper and will leave us comfortable, or even uncomfortable in the long run they are not love. Jesus convicts us with his words when He says, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) We are not taught to pray, my will be done, but rather thy will be done. (Matthew 6:9-13) Not love is worshiping our plans instead of trusting in God’s plan. Psalm 33:11 reminds us: “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” – Our plans will fail they will fall, but God never changes.
Not love is Not God.
While Paul was calling out the Corinthians for Not love issues, we needing the same, also need to focus on what perfect love is. In order to see what perfect love is, the world would tempt us to find out what love feels like. Love is more than a feeling. Trust me. The winds of change will blow your feelings all over the map. But perfect love does not change. Instead of asking what does love feel like. We need to ask, what does love Look like.
Our culture is obsessed with the feeling of love. Some people are labeled as and even admit to being addicted to being in love. The feeling of love burns hot and then oftentimes burns out. Leaving the love addict searching for their next fix. They call them teenage crushes for a reason because those immense feelings often smash the ones who bear them. We fall into the trap of focusing so much on what love feels like that we forget the more important, concrete, and God given sense of sight and task of observation. It is ironic that our society which so highly exalts the sciences and praises empiricism holding it over and above and without God, yet when it comes to love defines it and finds it only in the butterflies and gushy rushy feelings. We forget what love looks like.
We know what love looks like and we know where to see that perfect love. We see perfect love described in the pages and ages of history and scripture and life of God’s people.
Love is the fulfillment of the law. In Romans 13:10 Paul tells us: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” We learn in the confirmation classes here at Trinity that the 10 commandments God gives us are not for us to follow so that we can get into heaven. Rather they are the guidelines God gives us for the life he intends us to live. The first three commandments are all about loving God and the 4-10 also known as the second table of the law are all about loveing our neighbor. To do these commandments perfectly we would be perfectly loving. We would have the love that paul describes in 1 Cor 13:4-6 where he says the famous words “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
Reading onto the next verse is where people get the false impression that love is stupid. True love is blind, the world will tell you. The cheating lover in the soap opera or sitcom will sooth his romantic partners scorned feelings asking, “but I love you baby, don’t you love me?” And Hollywood writes the wonderful endings where the spurned lovers are blind to their lovers faults. This is not the kind of love that God gives us in perfect love when Paul says: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is not a blind bearing, naieve believing, ignorant hoping, or callused enduring, of all things that attempt to destroy love. Rather this is a perfect love that will never fade and never pass away as paul says: “ Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”
Perfect love is found given and shed for you in the redemption and perfect love of Christ. In His life and death He embodied this love– bearing burdens without limit, faithful without wavering, hoping without despairing, suffering all things–the via crucis is the via caritatis–the way of the cross is the way of love. And it is a love that conquers even death itself.
The way of the cross is the way of love and the way of love is the way of the cross. We see the ultimate love in the work of Christ, the perfection we could not accomplish, the death we were not worthy to die. The love we have is not a love that starts with us. It is not a love that comes from within us. If the love starts with you it starts in the wrong spot. Thanks be to God, that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And we see in Christ no greater love than the greatest of all loves when he doesn’t just lay down his life for his friends, but he lays it down for his enemies. He lays down his live for you and for me – to make us his friends.
That friendship with Christ, that union with him is yours this day and it’s a glorious picture of an even more glorious day. Love is anything that brings the future into the now. By being buried with Christ through baptism into his death, and rishing with him again daily in the washing of renewal and regeneration. We are broken and repaired and the future is brought into the now. Paul talks about this repared brokenness we live in in the end of the passage when he says: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
In our Gospel reading today, even the demons know who Jesus is. Knowledge of the savior is not the grace of the savior. The grace is even easier than the knowing. But the grace of God comes through Jesus the Holy One of God. The one who has been set apart, from the sinful muck of this world, and set apart from the love of the father on the cross so that we would not have to be set apart anymore. We can now be with the Son of God, sons of God as the Holy one, the Son of God leads the way.
The way he has led is the way to the place and time and perfection that awaits us all. He has risen from the dead and is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Those who have died in the Lord and gone before us await us and that perfect union with no more sorrow and no more pain breaks into the day to day here and now through the acts of Love that the father gives us to do as his Son lives in us.
Christ living in us is God’s greatest love for us. Christ living in us means death no longer has any dominion over us. You are loved to love. Let us love one another and not forget that love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Daily remember your birth. Daily remember to know.
In the love of God which is shown to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.