1 Corinthians 13
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Once again the church’s calendar and the world’s calendar have intersected a bit this weekend. And while we don’t let the world determine what goes on in our preaching here, it would probably seem strange if I didn’t meditate a bit this Valentine’s Day weekend on today’s Epistle reading, where St. Paul speaks of the divine character of love. This may be especially necessary since, ironically enough, a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day–too many stresses and expectations, not only for couples, but also for the single and divorced. So while the world tries to push conformity to it’s view of love and romance, it’s helpful for us to remember that this day actually has some Christian roots having to do with a real historical man named Valentine.
From what we can gather, in about 270 A.D. the Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict forbidding marriage to young men. It was a time of war, and he believed that single men made better soldiers than married men. And so he canceled all engagements and weddings in Rome. During this time a Christian bishop named Valentine is said to have invited young couples to come to him in secret to be joined in matrimony and not be denied God’s good gift of marriage. When Claudius learned of this, Valentine was sentenced to death. Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine.” A short time later on February 14th of 270, because of his stubborn faith in the God who is love, he was executed by beheading.
St. Paul begins the Epistle reading by reminding us of the importance of love–that if we don’t have love, even our greatest works will amount to nothing. Do I speak in the tongues of men and of angels? If I have not love, all those words amount to nothing more than clanging and clattering.
Do I have deep insight, prophetic powers, the ability to penetrate the deepest mysteries of God? Can I express Scriptural doctrine with precision and clarity? Do I possess great knowledge and learning? If I have not love, even with all of that, I am nothing. Do I have faith that can move mountains? Without love, even faith comes under judgment. It is empty. Faith without love is faith without God, for “God is love.” We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. It lives and breathes the loving God it clings to.
Do I have impressive works, generous deeds of charity? Have I given richly of my time, my talents, my treasures for the church of Christ? Without love and a holy and right attitude in my heart, I gain nothing. Even if I offer my body for burning–and what greater act of devotion could there be than to die as a martyr like Valentine did?–and yet have loved only myself and my martyr’s death, then the Law would condemn even my martyrdom as nothing.
God wants more from us than good works. He wants our love. In fact that’s really all He wants from us–to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. But we fall short of that. For we are born in love with ourselves. True love is always and entirely directed outward, toward God and our neighbor. But our fallen hearts are turned inward, toward our own needs and priorities and ideas. The Scriptural Law of love judges not only the works of our hands, but also the orientation of our hearts; not only our actions but also our motives. It reveals where love is absent in us, or where we use our good deeds for self-serving purposes.
Real love, Paul says, is “patient and kind.” Love is willing to wait a long time, faithfully, right up to the very end. Love that cannot wait isn’t true love but self-love. Love never forces its own way, never hurries things along, never manipulates things to get its way. Love has nothing to lose because its goal is precisely to give itself away. That’s how love can wait patiently.
True love always returns kindness, even when it is met with hatred and hostility. It turns the other cheek to those who strike it. It offers the shirt off its back as well its coat. It goes the extra mile for the other. It blesses those who curse. It returns good for evil. It prays for the enemy. It speaks well of those who speak ill of it.
True love never looks at itself; therefore, it has no basis for comparison with others. “It does not envy, does not boast, is not proud or rude.” Love rejoices in the prosperity and success of others. “Love isn’t self-seeking,” therefore it can seek the good of others.
True love “isn’t easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Love doesn’t keep bringing up the past mistakes and failings of a spouse or friend or relative as ammunition or leverage. Instead, love forgives. Therefore, love is not easily provoked to anger. Little things don’t bring up the past memory of big things. Love is merciful and compassionate.
Now that doesn’t mean love is indifferent to right and wrong. “Love does not delight in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.” This is very important to note in our current context: The love that Paul is talking about is not the feel-good, sin-condoning love of our culture. True love is sometimes tough love. You’re not showing love to someone by letting them indulge in sin and not speaking up. True love grieves over the sin of others. And love even risks losing a relationship in order to rescue others from their sin.
Real love rejoices in the truth, even when the truth is hard. Love and truth run together in the same channel. “Speak the truth in love,” St. Paul says in Ephesians. Love would just as soon deal with a sinner as a sinner, as our Lord Jesus did, than deal with a phony face, a pious facade that hides the truth. Love wants to get the truth out in the open, where it can be seen as it is, so that it can be shown mercy and loved without limits or conditions.
True love “bears all things.” It puts up with everything. Only love can bear with things as they actually are. It doesn’t whine about wanting to go back to the good old days, but deals with the present for what it is. There is no sin, no crime, no disaster so great that love cannot face it, because love is greater than the greatest sin. As it is written, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is how love can reach out even to the unlovable and repulsive. Love bears all things.
True love “believes all things and hopes all things.” It refuses to yield to suspicions of doubt about another but always seeks to put the best construction on everything. It hopes for the best and doesn’t look for the worst. Love “endures all things.” It lasts through thick and thin and keeps it’s commitments. When all else fails, love doesn’t.
Now, who loves in this way? Not me, or you. Only God does. Our love fails, but His love endures forever. In fact, God’s love is so perfect that it creates the loveliness in the one He loves. Romans 5 says, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God doesn’t love us because He found something attractive in us. God didn’t see us across the room and say, “Wow, I want that beautiful creature to be with Me forever.” No, “while we were yet sinners...” While we were yet in the muck and the ugliness of our fall into rebellion against God, that’s precisely when He came to rescue us. His love is what makes us lovable and lovely again. He loves us simply because He Himself is love. St. John writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Jesus is God’s love reaching down to us, God’s love in the flesh.
Romans 13 says, “Love is the fulfillment of the Law.” And Jesus is that Love who has fulfilled the Law for us, to rescue us from our lovelessness and restore us to the Father by His mercy. Today’s epistle can only be understood fully and properly when we recognize that Jesus is the Love being lauded and praised; He is real, palpable love for you.
Jesus has been patient and kind toward you. He’s stuck with you. He’s sometimes had to wait for a long time, hasn’t He? In your baptism He committed Himself to you for the long haul. He’s brought you to where you are today, here in His house, where He is present in love for you. It is written, “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish.”
Jesus is not self-seeking. Rather He seeks your salvation. He lives for you. He turned the other cheek when He was mocked and beaten, to save you from judgment. He went the extra mile for you, walking the way of the cross, where He offered up His own body to the judgment of hell, stretching out His arms to embrace you forever. Truly, Jesus bears all things, even your sin. He endured suffering and persecution, all for the your sake, His beloved people.
Jesus wasn’t envious, boastful, or proud. He does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth; for He is the Truth. Our Lord is slow to anger. He keeps no record of wrongs. Psalm 130 prays, “If you Lord kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand. But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be revered.” His precious blood has fully paid the price for all wrongs to set you free. You are completely and entirely forgiven. By faith in His redeeming work, you stand before your heavenly Father holy and righteous. For through Christ, God remembers your sins no more. The only record He now keeps is your name written in His Book of Life.
How true it is, then, that Love never fails you. For Hebrews 13 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is the embodiment of love that never changes. That’s why Paul ranks love greater than faith and hope. Jesus is love incarnate. Our faith will one day turn to sight. Our hope in the promises of God will be fulfilled on the Last Day. But love, and He who is love, will continue forever in the new creation as the very essence of our lives as God’s people.
That love of Jesus is here for you today, spoken gently to you in His Gospel, given to you tangibly in the Sacrament of His true body and blood. And Romans 5 calls to mind our baptism when it says, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” In this way you have been made to be instruments of His love to a truth-starved and hurting world. Let us love one another, for love is of God; love is Christ. “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠