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Be a Great Lover!
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Ed in AL

A long time ago my Grandpa Armitage gave me some excellent advice about preaching, about pastoring. I was in my twenties and not a preacher at the time, but I knew (and my Grandpa knew) that I was called to be one. He said: “Eddie (He called me Eddie), don’t try to be a great “preacher”. The world has plenty of great “preachers”. Be a great “lover”. Just love the people. Love the people. If you’ll love the people, they’ll put up with almost any kind of preaching.”

I’m still learning what my Grandpa meant. It is easier to learn to preach than it is to love. I’m still learning to love.

Today we turn to a familiar passage, one of the Bible’s most familiar, for our text. This is the Apostle Paul’s famous “love” passage written to the Corinthian church. These Corinthian Christians were in a love crisis. They were more interested in arguing and bickering than they were in loving – arguing about Spiritual gifts, about doctrine, about who was more important than whom. I wonder how Paul’s words were received the first time they were read. Imagine the scene.

Everybody found their favorite pew. Excitement was in the air so thick that you could almost cut it with a knife. The news was that a letter from Paul the Apostle had been received and was to be read in the church service. Surely, Paul would set them straight. He would tell everyone that prophesying was number 1, that the prophets were the most important ministers. Or he would put the healers at the top of the most important list, or the wise ones, or the knowledgeable ones, or the tongue-talkers, or those who discerned the spirits, or those who had faith, or the miracle workers. Anyway, Paul was going to settle a lot of arguments. Please stand, now, for the reading of God’s Word.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

These were not the words that they wanted to hear. These were not words that could be used to gain an advantage over others in the congregation. These words could not be used against others to win any doctrinal or church leadership or church ministry argument. These were words that argued against all their arguments, that defeated all their defenses, and pulled down all the walls of separation they had built. These words boiled down to one word: Love:

1. The Necessity of Love (vs.1-3)

Without love, though my words are eloquent and musical, I am nothing but a loud mouth, a blow-hard. All talk and no action.

Without love, though I could preach and teach all the doctrines of the bible perfectly, and could pray with such faith that miracles – your miracle – would be guaranteed, I am nothing but a show-off, a phony, a fake.

Even if I am so religious that I give away everything I have and even if I die for what I believe, if I am without love, I have missed it. I have gained nothing!

There can be no life for us, as God means life, without love. Love is as vital as air. We die without it. My children have struggled with asthma. Some of you have, also. I believe I have spent hundreds of hours in hospitals listening to my daughters struggle for air. The doctors prescribed the breathing treatments and medications that would eventually open the airways so that my girls could take a deep breath of air, something you and I take for granted. No one knows what caused their asthma and they are mostly over it, now. The bible teaches that we are born with a sort of spiritual asthma. Some of us die from it and never receive God’s saving love. Some of us struggle all of our lives but never get beyond a shallow raspy, half-breath. Some of us turn to the Lord, and He heals us, and fills us with His love. My prayer for us all is that we take a deep breath of God’s love this morning.

Without His love, nothing we say, nothing we believe, nothing we do, in church or out of church, today or any day, will matter at all. These were not words the Corinthians wanted to hear, and they are pretty tough on us today, too!

2. The Qualities of Love (vs. 4-7)

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This love, this patient, kind, etc., love is impossible, isn’t it? I mean, give yourself a test:

Any impatient thoughts or actions lately? Perhaps an unkind thought, word or deed?

And those are just the first two! No need to go farther. We better throw in the towel, now! How many of us have tried to be patient, kind, friendly, humble, sweet, forgiving, believing, hopeful and dependable only to fail every day miserably? The scriptures agree with our experience: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

But here is the good news, the cure for spiritual asthma:

1. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

2. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2)

3. “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

4. “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5)

The Love of God is demonstrated to us by Jesus, and given to us, poured out in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. This love is not something we do or something we are; this love is who God is in our heart and our life and what He does through us.

This love, this God-in-us-Love is dangerous. It will not let us stay behind our church walls, our comfortable religion, our moral majority, and take pot shots at the world’s problems. This love will not let us be superior or aloof. This love calls us to get involved – to roll up our sleeves, to risk a few blisters, and to get our hands dirty helping others.

Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaimed liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

This love upset the status quo, led to a cross, the death of a religious leader, and the world thought “that was that!” but….

8Love never ends…

3. The Victory of Love (vs. 8-13) Jesus, who is God’s Love, never quits and never gives up. He did not stay in the grave. His victory over death and the grave is Love’s victory over all that is not love:

Over impatience Over unkindness Over envy, pride and arrogance Over resentment Over self-centeredness Over unbelief and despair

And this victory, His victory is available for you and for me. He makes this love available for each of us. The miracle of God’s-love-in-us is just that: the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

My Grandfather’s advice to be a great lover is not an impossible goal for me. It is not an impossible goal for you, either. It may be easier to learn to do things: techniques, methods, programs. It may be safer to learn to do things. But, God does not call us to a safer, easier life. He calls us to risk opening our hearts to His love, inviting Him to live in our hearts, our lives, our dreams – and to let His love do His work in us and through us!

I invite you to do just that, today.

13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. Amen.