One of my favorite chapters in 1 Corinthians is chapter thirteen. It is commonly known as the love chapter and for good reason. So many weddings have used a portion of this scripture passage to accentuate the word love and how important it is to continue loving each other as husband and wife. I am sure all of you have read devotions and heard sermons on this part of the passage. I want to focus on the ending of the passage for a moment because I think there are some valuable insights that we miss if we aren’t careful in reading this passage. But in order to focus on this we need to see the entire chapter so let’s read it together.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
The way this passage is written is so eloquent and beautiful, almost like poetry. The first part states clearly that everything we do in our community of faith, in the church, must be as a result of our love for others, otherwise it means nothing. Tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, works, and everything else that the church does on this earth means absolutely nothing unless these things are done in an attitude of love. If I were writing this passage today I would say something like this…preaching, teaching, note-taking, believing that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, choir, Sunday School, VBS, youth-group, missions, food pantry, hurricane relief, packets for the homeless, medical missions, soup kitchens, education, radio and television ministries, and anything else that churches are involved in and Christians are helping sponsor, none of it means anything if we are doing these things out of obligation and an ego boost from our altruistic behavior! Come to think of it some of the television and radio preachers do sound like a noisy gong, don’t they? And often the “religion” they are peddling isn’t full of love either, rather it is full of self and wealth and prosperity and making your life positive and upwardly mobile! For shame! That is why this passage is so important to understand. Love for others is the focus and not love of self.
The middle part of this passage defines what love really is and this is the part most wedding ceremonies focus on. I think it is important to understand what real love is and what it isn’t. Because most of us know a lot about this portion I want to skip my opinions on this and get to the next part of the passage more quickly and that is the remarkable statement that love, real genuine love, will never fail. God is love (1 John 4:8) and to know God is to know love. Love never fails. Isn’t that so true? I know…I know, you are going to say that love failed when I ended up divorced! That love failed you when your relationship or marriage also ended in divorce, but is that really what happened? I know in my own circumstances that the love I felt for my husband did not die the moment the divorce was finalized. I still show God’s love to him in many ways. Granted, he might not feel that love because of his frozen heart, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to show love. Sometimes the most loving thing a person can do is nothing but pray for another. Even Jesus teaches us that the father of the prodigal son let him go, yet waited in case he returned (Luke 15:11-32). The father had no knowledge that his son would return but that didn’t stop him from having love for the absent young man. Letting someone go from your life doesn’t mean you are unloving to them. I can see in this passage how the emphasis upon having love for others is paramount, can’t you?
The important thing is that love never fails, all other things that our churches are involved in will one day be completely gone from this world, but love will last for eternity, that’s the real message here. We all are born as children and go through the process of growing-up to become adults, right? I mean no one is ever born and remains the same size for fifty years! We grow physically and the same can be said of Christians, we grow spiritually into mature Christians who understand the importance of loving others. We will put away our childish ideas as we grow into spiritual maturity. And I love the analogy of us looking into the mirror; we see only a glimpse of who we are becoming as mature Christians. There is coming a day, though, when we will see God face-to-face and at that time we will see our completed and perfected and fully realized knowledge of who we really are in Christ. That is a day to look forward to. That will be the day that all of our unanswered questions will be given the answers and everything will be made clear to us. That day does not come until the first day of eternity begins, and most of us will have to go through the process of a physical death to get to that glorious day!
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. Why is this important for Paul to write at the ending of such an eloquent passage? Why indeed! I believe that love is the vessel in which we drive our lives. Faith is how we got to the point of seeing dimly into the mirror as we are looking for God. Hope is how we stay looking into the mirror because hope is expecting eternal life with God to be there for us. Love is how we live out our faith and our hope on this earth. Love, true love, real love, can only come from God and only those who are plugged into the power source of God can actually feel God’s love and give the love of God to others. Our power source comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within us and gives us the love constantly. The Holy Spirit works in us and reminds us of what Jesus had taught while living on earth (John 16:12-15, John 14:26-27). The one main message of Jesus was to love one another (John 13:34, John 15:12, 17, Romans 12:10, Galatians 5:14 just to name a few). I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to see the real deal and not just the dim reflection in the mirror.