1 Corinthians Tough Love. 1 Corinthians 13. Rev. Stephen H. Wilkins Georgetown Presbyterian Church January 31, 2016

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1 1 Corinthians 13 1 Tough Love 1 Corinthians 13 Rev. Stephen H. Wilkins Georgetown Presbyterian Church January 31, 2016 So, let's be honest how many of you, when I just read these words from 1 Corinthians 13, saw in your mind's eye an image of a bride and groom standing in front of a congregation as the minister reads this famous passage from Paul's pen? The truth is, in some form or fashion, Paul's words in this chapter are incorporated into the vast majority of Christian weddings. This text even finds its way into secular weddings, because the words God and Jesus are completely absent from this passage, making it safe material even for people for whom the Christian faith is not a defining factor in their marriage. And yet, nowhere in this chapter or in any of the chapters immediately preceding or following this chapter nowhere does Paul mention marriage. This doesn't mean that what Paul says in the 13 th chapter of 1 Corinthians doesn't apply to marriage for indeed, we seek to apply all the teachings of Scripture to every aspect of our lives. But it does mean that Paul is probably trying to address something other than the love between husband and wife. So, what is Paul addressing here? To answer that question, we should pay attention to the context within which this letter first arose. The truth is, this chapter is written, not in the context of the importance of love in Christian marriage, but in the context of a church that is straining over its differences and disagreements. When Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, he was writing to a church that was struggling to stay together. A quick review of the letter will reveal that there were leadership struggles, there was licentious behavior, there were occasions of irreverent and disrespectful worship, there was bickering over who was more important in the life of the church. After Paul addresses many of the issues the congregation in Corinth is facing, he offers the readers in the 12 th and 13 th chapter of his epistle a model for understanding how the church can remain strong and united through differences and disagreements. The 12 th chapter is Paul's brilliant teaching on the church as the Body of Christ, likening the church as a collection of parts

2 1 Corinthians 13 2 united under Christ, much as the human body is composed of different parts working together for the whole. And every part is necessary for the health of the body. As Paul winds up his argument in the 12 th chapter, namely, that we are each uniquely gifted and indispensable to the body of Christ, and that we are to put our gifts to use for the building up of the body, he transitions into his description of that which should undergird every aspect of our life together as a church. He says, And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 And what is that most excellent way? It is the way of love. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge... in other words, if I have all the right doctrines down by heart and can defend them backwards and forwards...but have not love, I am nothing. 2 Now, I need to caution you that the kind of love of which Paul speaks is a far cry from the warm and mushy feeling that modern society promotes as love. The kind of love to which Paul refers really doesn't have anything to do with physical attraction. It really doesn't have to do with a feeling at all. Instead, the kind of love of which Paul speaks is a disposition that we are to have toward one another; it is an attitude that issues in a way of relating to one another after the manner of Christ, with a view toward building up one another. Look at the way Paul describes love in the 4 th through the 7 th verses in this chapter: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It's easy for us to get caught up with the beautiful language. It just flows off the tongue so gently, it's almost mesmerizing: Love is patient, love is kind... Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... The words kind of lull us into a sense of well-being and warmth. But when you take a close look at what Paul is telling us that love is and when you consider that Paul is urging us to let love undergird all that we do in the body of Christ then you will quickly come to the realization that what Paul is describing here is love that is exceedingly difficult to put into practice. 1 1 Corinthians 12:31b 2 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

3 1 Corinthians 13 3 Paul is giving us a description of tough love. Just to help you see what I'm talking about, I invite you to open your Bibles to First Corinthians 13. If you're using the Bible in your pew rack, it's on page Find verses 4-7. Now, while you look at those verses, I want to read to you from Eugene Peterson's translation of the New Testament called The Message. His is a more fluid translation that seeks to flesh out the meaning of words by using contemporary language. So, for example, where the NIV and other more traditional translations have Love is patient, in The Message it is Love never gives up. Peterson tries to make the Greek word come alive with modern meaning. Now, I want you to follow along in your Bible while I read the way Peterson translates verses 4-7. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always me first, Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. 3 Suddenly, the feeling of warmth and well-being fades away, doesn't it? That's because when you take a good hard look at what Paul is saying here, you will realize that he's talking about something that is tough to do well and consistently. This love of which Paul speaks this love that is to undergird our life in the church is tough love. It's interesting, if you take a close look at what Paul has said to the Corinthians so far in this letter, what you'll find is that everything they are doing 3 The Message, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

4 1 Corinthians 13 4 wrong, is what Paul says love is not. In other words, Paul has pointed out that the Corinthians are having trouble at least in part because of the boasting of various individuals and factions; but love is not boastful. Paul has pointed out that the Corinthians are jealous of one another; but love does not envy. Paul has accused the Corinthians of being arrogant and puffed up, proud of their depravity; but love is not arrogant or proud. Conversely, the things that Paul says love is, the Corinthians aren't. Love is patient, but not the Corinthians. Love delights in the truth, but the Corinthians have fallen prey to false teachings. Love bears all things, but the Corinthians are constantly taking each other to court. You see it, don't you everything that is wrong with the Corinthian church can be made right, if only they engage in the tough love of which Paul speaks here. Love tough love is how Paul corrects the Christian church of his day and ours, when we are prone to polarization and strife. Paul isn't talking about emotions or feelings, is he? We don't have to feel very loving; we just have to love. Paul is talking about a posture that you and I are to have toward one another in the church. The way Christians are to get along in the midst of our differences is to love one another to treat one another with dignity and respect and honor, to seek to build one another up, to forgive, to care about the welfare of one another, to assume the best in our neighbor and to want the best for our neighbor. Love doesn't mean we have to condone, agree with, or even accept teaching or behavior that is contrary to what we believe; love isn't the same as accepting something that is wrong in the name of not hurting the person who is doing the wrong thing. Love doesn't ask us to compromise what we believe. But love is willing to come alongside someone who is different, because love sees the other person as a child of God in spite of the differences. Notice some of the things that Paul doesn't say here. He doesn't say that we are only to remain together as long as we are like-minded. He doesn't say that we are only to remain together as long as we're comfortable with each other. He doesn't say that our unity is conditioned on whether or not we agree with each other. Instead, he recognizes that each of us is a different part of the same body, united by Christ, and held together by the same kind of love for one another that Christ has for us.

5 1 Corinthians 13 5 In the first epistle of John, we are commanded, Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 4 One of the implications is that as children of God, we demonstrate through our life together something of the character of God. If we fail to live in love, then we fail to witness to God, because the very essence of God's being and character is love. Jesus, on his last night with his disciples, urges, Love one another as I have loved you. 5 He issues that commandment, not once, but twice. And he says this also: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 6 Don't you see our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our declaration to be his disciples, isn't founded on airtight doctrine; our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ is based on the way that we fulfill his command to love each other within the body of Christ in the same way and the same degree in which Jesus has loved us. Ted Wardlaw, the President of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, told about a time when he was a minister in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. There was a particularly tense and fractious presbytery meeting that ended after a long day of difficult votes. When a minister was called upon to offer the closing prayer, the minister stood and remained silent for a long period of time. Finally, he spoke, Lord, we are forever asking you for many things, and what you are forever giving us instead... is the gift of one another. 7 And that, in a very simple yet profound way, is the doctrine of the church: God gives us the gift of one another. And it is a gift that we should cherish. One of the ways that I refer to you when I speak to you from the pulpit is to call you my friends in Christ. There is a reason that I use that term. The truth be told, you probably wouldn't be my friends were it not for Christ. Not that you are unsavory in character, or anything like that, because most of you are exactly the kind of person I would want for a friend. But the truth is, we are friends because of Jesus Christ. It is because Jesus has called you unto him, and because Jesus has called me unto him, that our paths have crossed in the first 4 1 John 4:7-8 5 John 13:34; 15:12 6 John 13:35 7 Ted Wardlaw, A Bad Spirit Has Risen Among Us, in Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary, Spring, 2012, p. 10.

6 1 Corinthians 13 6 place. It is because you have experienced how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and it is because I have experienced how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, that you and I can experience the width and length and height and depth of that love with one another. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. My friends in Christ, Blest be the tie that binds, indeed. Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. It's tough love, mind you. But it's definitely worth it. Amen.

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