1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Love. It may be the most overused and least understood word in any language.
I got a text message from my cousin in yesterday; she ended it by saying, “Love you.”
A friend I've known forever writes and says, “Love ya.”
I talk with my son or daughter on the phone and we both say, “Love you.”
When we express our love to different people like this, the chances are that we don’t mean to say that we love each of them in exactly the same way. I don’t love my cousin in the same way that I love my kids, although I do love them both.
And when we talk about the love required to get a marriage started or to keep a marriage going, the nature of that love is different from other kinds of love.
Yet, there’s a commonality among all the ways in which we love, however special or unique a particular love may be.
Eric and Nancy, you’ve chosen as one of your Bible lessons for today 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. It’s often called the love chapter and it’s also often read at weddings.
That’s completely appropriate.
But it should be remembered that the words of the love chapter weren’t written about the covenant of marriage involving a man, a woman, and God established by God.
The love chapter was written by the apostle Paul to a congregation in the first century Greek city of Corinth. The congregation was torn by conflicts and factions.
Some church members looked down their noses at other members because they had the gift of tongues and the people they looked down on didn’t. They thought that made them superior.
Some wealthy members wouldn’t share their food with poorer members when they all gathered for worship.
It was a mess!
Paul was basically saying, “Look, you may have all sorts of faith, God may give you all sorts of spiritual gifts, and you may be filled with hope because God has blessed you in many ways, but if you don’t have love, you’re just pompous noisemakers. Without love, you are nothing.”
Much of what Paul writes in the love chapter is so beautiful that, down through the centuries, people have stitched his words onto pillows and samplers, put them on posters, even included them in songs.
But I’m not sure that people fully take into account the description of love that Paul gives in this chapter. He says, for example: “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.”
Eric and Nancy, a simple question. Do you always love like that? Do you always love each other like that?
Before you embarrass yourselves by answering that publicly, I can tell you, honestly and forthrightly, that I am not always patient or kind. There are times when I do envy, boast, feel and act proud; when I do dishonor others and look out for number one, get angry over nothing, and keep records of the wrongs done to me even by the people I say I love.
So, here is the Christian’s dilemma when it comes to all of our relationships, but especially when it comes to our marriages: We believe that selfless, patient, kind love is what makes marriages work. Yet, when we’re honest, we know that we are incapable of the selflessness, patience, and kindness that are among the basic necessities of marriage, the basic elements of marriages that work.
I say all of this not to try to convince you or anyone else not to get married.
But I say it so that as you marry, I just ask you to remember that good marriages require love like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians--just as good friendships do.
I ask you to remember this: No human being I know is capable of loving like that in their own power.
This dilemma shouldn’t cause anyone to throw up their hands in hopelessness though!
There is a source for the kind of love needed to make marriages work. It’s found in the God we meet in Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that, “God is love.” This doesn’t mean that God is an abstract concept!
God is the supreme being of the universe, who made all of creation--including you and me--out of self-giving, patient, kind, and powerful love.
And this is the God Who so loved the world--including you and me--that He gave His only Son Jesus so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life with God.
For marriages to work, for families to work, for friendships to work, for work to work, there must be love.
Not constantly sentimental, syrupy love, though that can have its place.
But love that says, as God says to those who come to Him with their sins, seeking forgiveness and fresh starts, “In spite of everything, I love you. In spite of everything, I seek what is best for you. Despite everything, I am with you through thick, thin, and thinner still.”
The Christian lives in the assurance that, as Saint Paul writes elsewhere, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And those who walk together with Jesus Christ can say, “No matter your quirks or your decisions that don’t quite make sense to me, even when you leave the commode seat up, even when you make social arrangements I’d rather not keep, because I’m a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ, because God loves and forgives me, because God is patient with me, I won’t hold grudges, I will talk things through, I will stay with you until death parts us. I will love you as I have been loved by Christ.”
Marriages without Christ at their center don’t have a chance of becoming any of what they could be.
Marriages with Christ at their center--expressed in regular prayer and Bible study together, worship together, repentance and renewal together--marriages like that can be celebrations and laboratories of love that give inspiration to others and give confidence and security and joy to the husband and wife who live this way.
Eric and Nancy, may Christ be at the center of your marriage. Amen