Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 31, 2016)
- First reading
- Second reading
1 Corinthians 13 | New Living Translation
13 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
For the last two weeks we have looked at the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians. We can tell from Paul’s writings that the church at Corinth had its good points and its bad points. In chapter 12, we can see that there was some divisiveness over the spiritual gifts and the fact that the church is many people and yet one. God has given each one of us unique gifts to minister in the kingdom and in His church.
One of the unique things about God’s church is that it is made up of people. I love what one of our General Superintendents said many years ago at a district conference. The church has not survived 2,000 because of us (Christians) but in spite of us. God’s church is Christ’s church and that is why the church has survived because Christ is at the center or he should be.
So here we have a church that has some divisions – sounds familiar doesn’t it? Paul launches into the solution. That solution is love. If we don’t have love, we are nothing. It is true, God is love…Jesus came, died on the cross, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is coming again…all because of love. God loves his people so much that He desires no one should perish.
It’s only fitting that we believers ought to model this love. I know that many have read this passage before, but look at the characteristics of love.
- is patient and kind
- is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
- does not demand its own way.
- is not irritable
- keeps no record of being wronged
- does not rejoice about injustice
- rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
- never gives up
- never loses faith
- is always hopeful
- endures through every circumstance.
I love that this passage includes the positive and negatives of love – not only what love is, but what love isn’t. In many ways, these are the characteristics that should be shown by God’s people.
I hope you took the time to read though Pam’s post yesterday. If not, here is the link. How do we go about showing God’s love to a world that so desperately needs it? Jesus told us there were only two commandments – to love the Lord our God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s pretty good advise. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we have to show the love that Paul writes about.
A word of caution: Following Jesus’ statement about loving our neighbors, one of the Pharisees asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbors are those people whom God has created. Yes, God still has work to do in my own life on this topic.
Love is the greatest gift that God gave us and he showed us that we need to love others. With all the talk of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church, Paul reminds us that someday these gifts will be useless – only love will remain. Our knowledge is only partial – it is incomplete – we only see through a glass darkly – or rather it is like looking at our image in the bathroom mirror right after a shower – the image is cloudy and obscured.
I love how Paul writes that this is how it is now, but then – when we see Jesus — when we see Perfect Love – then we shall know fully and we will see in the mirror clearly. We will know everything completely as God already knows us completely.
We are reminded in another passage that “Perfect Love casts out fear.” Jesus is perfect love. As we close the passage, Paul writes, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – but the greatest is love.
The next sentence in chapter 14 says, “Let love be your highest goal!” Love should rule everything we do. It should direct all of our actions in whatever we do. I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot to learn in this area. However, my desire is to love God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself. That is my prayer for you as well.
A couple of months ago, I started to have some pains in weird places in my body so I went to the doctor. He did not know what was wrong and sent me home. A couple of weeks went by and the pains got worst and they moved to my back so I went back to the doctor. At that time he sent me to physical therapy to find out what was the problem. When I got there the physical therapist did test to see what was wrong. She asked me questions about my life style and what my job is. I told her that I was a pastor and that Dale and I are looking for a church. I also told her we were helping out at little church.
Then she asked me when the pain was at its worst. I told her when we are at church. If I am not at church I can stand up and walk the pain off. She asked me why I just didn’t stop going to church? The physical therapist explained that this is a normal thing some women when they have the operation I had two years ago. She showed me some exercises I could do to strengthen my back. Dale came with me on the second visit because I asked him to come along. We do not get to spend much time together and I thought it would be cool for him to see what I do there. While we were in the middle of stretching, she started to ask about the pain and once again she asked me what event during the week caused the most pain. Again I replied while we are attending church.
At that point she started relating experience about when she was younger. My therapist had attended church with her family when she was younger. She told us how she was there every time the doors were open. (We can relate to that.) For her, church was not a good experience. She talked about how people at church can be so judgmental and hateful. At this point in her life, she really has no interest in church. I would consider her one of the dechurched.
Dale and I did not say anything we just listened. When she was done talking about church, she started telling about her family. At that moment I was glad we did not say anything because a wall was breaking down. Once again all we did was listened. As Dale and I walked out of therapy our hearts were broken. In our twenty years of ministry we have heard many stories like this from others we have met. My therapists story is a story that has happened over and over.
This has even happened in our own lives. We have been hurt by churches (in reality, by a very few individuals in churches) in the past. However, I think the key for us is that we were able to look past the judgmental people and remember what God is really like and the purpose of His church.
We have spent a lot of time thinking about this woman’s story and it has broken our hearts because of the number of times we have run into this. The next time I had an appointment, the therapist told me that when she heard that I was a pastor she was not going to like me because every pastor she knew was mean and hateful. This did not surprise me – I have heard that from other people. She also told me that many of the Christians she had as patients were rude and uncaring. She was surprised that a pastor and a Christian could be so cute and adorable. Then she asked me if it was ok if she called me cute and adorable. I told her that I had been called that before by a couple of soldiers. She thanked me for showing her how loving and caring a Christian can be. By the way during this time there were other people coming in to talk to her because one of her older patients came in an hour and half early for his appointment. One of the other therapists was going to take him and wanted to know what was going on. I know this is going to sound strange but if God can use a pain in my back to minister to someone, I am ok with it.
As we wrap up this post, let us encourage you to imitate Christ.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)
We have been called to be his children – we have been called to imitate Jesus – to be like Jesus in everything we do. I find it interesting as we look at Jesus. Those whom we expect that Jesus would judge harshest are often dealt the most compassion. Then there are the religious folks – Jesus often reserves his harshest words for those who outwardly are very religious, but inwardly have the same nature as those they are judging.
So where are you today? Are you imitating Jesus? My prayer is that you are. There are people whom God created that desperately need the love of Jesus and perhaps you are the Jesus that they need today.
Here is this week’s edition of Sunday Night Thoughts. I thought I would return to the video version.