The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
31 January 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
““Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” That is how the final paragraph of last week’s text begins. And it concludes, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” Now which ones would those be? Our Epistle and sermon text this morning.
And I will show you a still more excellent way. (Now you’re talking, St. Paul!)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
We can care in here (point to heart) until the cows come home, but if we don’t show it or say it, who will know or benefit? It is said that people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Deeds without love are nothing. Even the words, “I love you,” spoken without feeling, are empty. The questions many of us never have thought of in connection to this text are, “What kind of love? Whose love? How can I show such a love?”
St. John reminds us in his first epistle that we love because God in Christ first loved us. The love of God in Christ is what is spoken of here. Yes, faith without works is dead—it’s a dead faith. We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. True, living faith is distinguished from dead or false faith by being active. Works are not our “please” to God—Please, Lord, forgive me in exchange for all I do—NO! Works are our “thank you” to the Lord for all that He has done for us in Christ.
Consider again this passage: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not the gift of God’s love in Christ living in me, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not the gift of God’s love in Christ living in me, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not the gift of God’s love in Christ living in me, I gain nothing.
See how different that text sounds? The Word of God is living and active and gives its good gifts by the Holy Spirit no matter how many times you’ve heard this at weddings!
Chapter 13 is the famous love chapter. As you listen to this portion, think of yourself every time you hear the word “love.” How do you measure up?
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
The text sounds a lot less romantic today, doesn’t it? How did you measure up? Pretty brutal, huh? That’s the Holy Spirit using the Law to convict you of your sin when you haven’t been loving to your spouse, your parents, your children, your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, or teachers. And we can’t forget how “loving,” or not, you’ve been to members of your own congregation!
The Holy Spirit uses the law to convict of sin. What I’ve done here is to use some of the hardest law out there. You and I realize that we don’t measure up. What hope is there? The same hope I pointed to you before: God’s love in Christ Jesus! God is love. Jesus Christ is God incarnate, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Let’s try listening to those verses with Jesus’ Name inserted instead! How does He measure up?
Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; He is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on His own way, but His Father’s Way; He is not irritable or resentful; He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, even death on a cross. Jesus never ends.
That last sentence sums it all up, doesn’t it? The winning streak of our favorite team will come to an end. Our favorite politician may not get reelected, or his or her campaign may not even get off the ground. Jesus never ends.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Some spiritual gifts are seen in Scripture, but not in every time and place. The perfect has come in Christ, in His complete, inspired, inerrant Word. The Word of the Lord endures forever! Tongues will be stilled, Paul writes, foreseeing our time. The Gift of the love of God in Christ is a greater gift than tongues! And we still await the time when we will no longer be seeing through a glass darkly, through a mirror dimly. On the Last Day when Christ appears again, we shall see Him face to face. It is frustrating now to only know in part. Take courage! You will know fully in the great Day of the Lord to come. You will understand the point of your suffering, pain, and loss. You will see those who died in Christ that you miss.
Deffner: Picture yourself standing on a dock watching a great sailing ship waiting silently and quietly for a wind to fill its sails and set it in majestic motion. Finally, a strong wind comes up and all spring into action. The captain shouts orders, the sailors hoist the great sails, the wind catches them with a great puff, and off the ship slowly moves like a (great sea serpent) [giant] on the waters. But by and by the ship grows smaller and smaller as it eventually becomes but a speck where sky and sea meet on the horizon. Someone on the dock shouts the traditional cry, “There she goes!” and everyone waves good-bye and goes home.
But the question is, “Goes where?” That ship which is just a little dot on our horizon is just as big and mighty, just as laden with cargo and people as it was on the dock. The difference is in us. The difference is that it has merely receded from our sight and disappeared, that’s all. But somewhere, as it moves to a foreign shore, that dot, that tiny ship, invisible to us, becomes larger and larger. And there are people on that foreign shore who are about to set up a new cry. They shout, “There she comes!”
In faith, we hope for that great and glorious Day!
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The greatest is love. The greatest is the gift of God’s love in Christ living in you! That love, by the work of the Holy Spirit, shines around and in you. You are then able to love others with the love given you. Christ fills your “love bucket” and you generously pour out words of encouragement, thoughtful gifts, acts of service, a soothing touch, and quality time—and never run low—for you bucket runneth over. You are able to reflect Christ’s love in your patience, kindness, protection, trust, hope, perseverance, and rejoicing in the truth.
The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to individuals so that the whole body of Christ is built up. The love of God in Christ is the greatest spiritual gift we have, one we are to share with the world—at least our part of it. You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And you are more than a part of it! You are a dearly loved child of God, given gifts to share with the rest of the body in love, to the glory of God and the salvation of mankind! Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.