Monday, January 09, 2006

Love is Forever 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Sunday Sermon
Holy Light Church (English)
8 January 2006

       Spiritual gifts are important for the building up of the Church at the present moment
       but agape-love builds our character for eternity.

In the last few sermons, we have been doing a study on Paul’s great thesis on love. Paul wrote this thesis in 1 Cor. 13. The occasion is that the Corinthian church was a church that was very rich in spiritually gifts but poor in love. Or in our modern day English, the Corinthian church is love-impaired! In our study so far:

Sermon on 23 October 2005: The Necessity of Love (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Agape love is defined as an act of will to action
Tongues without agape-love is nothing (v.1)
Prophecy without agape-love is nothing (v.2a)
Knowledge without agape-love is nothing (v.2b)
Faith without agape-love is nothing (v.2c)
Benevolence without agape-love is nothing (v.3a)
Asceticism without agape-love is nothing (v.3b)

Sermon 13 November 2005: Portrait of Love Part One (1 Cor.13:4-7)
  1. love is patient (v.4a)

  2. love is kind (4b)

  3. it does not envy (v.4c)

  4. it does not boast (v.4d)

  5. it is not proud (v.4e)

  6. it does not dishonour others (v.5a)

  7. it is not self seeking (v.5b)

  8. it is not easily angered (v.5c)

  9. it keeps no  record of wrongs (v.5d)
Sermon 4 December 2005: Portrait of Love Part Two
  1. love does not delight in evil (v.6a)

  2. rejoices with the truth (v.6b)

  3. always protects (v.7a)

  4. always trusts (v.7b)

  5. always hopes (v.7c)

  6. always perseveres (v.7d)
The portrait that emerges is of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the total image of love. If we want to know what love is or how love behaves, we have only to look at Jesus. The four gospels are full of details of love in action. This is to be expected because God is love. And Jesus is God incarnate.

Grammatical layout (1 Cor.13: 8-13)
8 Love never fails.
                  But where there are prophecies,            they will cease;
                  where there are tongues,                        they will be stilled;
                  where there is knowledge,                      it will pass away.

                 9 For we know in part and
                    we prophesy in part,              
                                            10 but when perfection comes,
                                                                                the imperfect disappears.
                 11 When I was a child,
                     I talked like a child,
                     I thought like a child,
                     I reasoned like a child.
                                            When I became a man,
                                                                               I put childish ways behind me.
               12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
                                          then we shall see face to face.
               Now I know in part;
                                         then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

                13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

Here it is obvious that the main focus of Paul in verses 8-13 is love- love never fails and love is the greatest. The main body of the passage is his explanation of why ‘love never fails’ and ‘love is the greatest’

  1. Spiritual Gifts are Temporary (v.8)
v.8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away
Here it must be noted that Paul never said having spiritual gifts and exercising them is bad. Here it must be emphasized that Paul is emphasizing the choosing between the better and the best. Paul, being a Hebrew scholar writes in the Hebrew way. In the Hebrew way of writing, the passage is like a piece of paper that can be folded into two. This is called a chiasma. Hence both side of the paper carries the same points. Hence 1 Cor.13:1-3 corresponds to 1 Cor.13: 8-12. The former deals with spiritual gifts being nothing without love and the former love has more lasting value than spiritual gifts.

Paul highlights three spiritual gifts: prophecy, tongues and knowledge. Prophecy because it is the most prominent gifts and one which Paul will go on in chapter 14 to encourage people to desire for. Tongues as the gift that create the most noise and controversy. Knowledge to show the limits of human ability. All these spiritual gifts will end, Paul explained. So what is all the fuss about?

  1. Spiritual Gifts are for the Present Building up of the Church until the Second Coming. (v.9-12)
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Paul continues to show the limitation of spiritual gifts.

  • Knowledge and prophecy  (v.9,10)
No matter how gifted we are in prophecy and knowledge, we are still limited because we are still human and our mind and abilities are finite. Hence we are imperfect in our practicing of our spiritual gifts. But when perfection comes, there is no longer the need for prophecy and knowledge because we shall know and understand all things. The prefect is when Jesus comes again and we receive our resurrected bodies. The Bible said Jesus will come again. When we comes, those of us who are already dead and buried will raise to meet Him in mid air and we will be in our resurrected bodies. Then those who are still alive will receive their resurrected bodies. In our resurrected bodies, we will be like Jesus. We will have no need of prophecy because we know all things. We will be perfect.

  • Child (v.11)
Paul then uses the analogy of a child and a grownup. He writes that when we are a child, we talk, think and reasoned as a child. But when we become an adult, the changed status implied that we put away childish things. Often it is interpreted that that when we become mature Christians, our need to act in a more mature way. Another interpretation is that when we are in our resurrected bodies, when we are perfect, we will put away our ‘childish ways’. Such as the need to demand attention, affirmation, fame, wealth, status, power and control.

  • Mirror (v.12)
In the NIV, this verse is translated reflection. In some translations, it is ‘seeing through a glass dimly’. Reflection is more to the point because Corinth is famous for its copperware and new copper is shinning and acts like a mirror. Either in reflection or seeing through a glass, we see only an image of the person. How different it is to meet the real person then. When we meet the actual person, we shall discover how imperfect the reflection is. It’s like looking at a photograph and meeting the real person. We always say, ‘Your photo does not do you justice’. And that is true because the photo is only an image, not the real thing.

  • Knowing (v.12)
Again Paul emphasis that now we know in part but then we shall know fully. But he also added ‘even as I am fully known’. When I read this, I was blown away. ‘Even as I am fully known’ is in the present tense. Thus while I shall know fully in the future, God knows me fully in the present. God knows who I am. Not who I pretend to be.
Paul illustrates that spiritual gifts are useful now because the Church needs to be built up. That is what spiritual gifts are for- the building up of the people of God. But our spiritual gifts are limited as we are limited. But one day, when we are perfect, these spiritual gifts are not longer necessary.

When I was young, my parents bought me a bicycle with trainer wheels. So I was able to cycle around. When I become proficient, they took away the trainer wheels. I was then able to cycle on my own. Spiritual gifts are like trainer wheels. It is help us along until we become perfect and there is no need of them.

  1. Agape-love is forever (v.13)
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Actually faith and hope is covered in love. But Paul again pointed out that faith will be fulfilled when we meet the Lord. Hope will be fulfilled when we meet the Lord. Love will go on and on, even when we meet the Lord in our resurrected bodies. That’s because love is forever and never ends.

The Bible is actually a romantic book. It is a book about love. A love story. Love between God and us and amongst us.

"And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:14).
"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5).
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you
love one another" (John 13:34-35).  
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).
"Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).
"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, because God is love" (1 John 5:7-8).

Love is relational. Relationship is the key to understanding  1 Cor.13 because love is always a relationship. In the Holy Trinity, there is a love relationship between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ great Commandments, love is a relationship between God and man and between man and man.

Lessons for us

The documentary movie The March of the Penguins follows the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica on their incredible journey through ice and snow to mating grounds up to 70 miles inland. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this beautiful film captures the drama of these three-foot-high birds in the most inhospitable of environments.

  Once the penguins have made the trek to their mating grounds and the females have produced their single eggs, a remarkable exchange occurs. Through an intricate dance, each mother swaps her egg into the father's care. At this point the father becomes responsible for the egg and must keep it warm.

As this part of the story unfolds, the camera shows remarkable shots of the penguin fathers securing the eggs on top of their feet and sheltering them against the cold, which will drop to as low as 80 degrees below zero. Freeman narrates:

“Now begins one of nature's most incredible and endearing role reversals. It is the penguin male who will tend the couple's single egg. While the mother feeds and gathers food to bring back for the newborn, it is the father who will shield the egg from the violent winds and cold. He will make a nest for the egg atop his own claws, keeping it safe and warm beneath a flap of skin on his belly. And he will do this for more than two months….

As the winter progresses, the father will be severely tested. By the time their vigil on top of the egg is over, the penguin fathers will have gone without food of any kind for 125 days, and they will have endured one the most violent and deadly winters on earth, all for the chick.”

That is a great illustration of love in action. How do we love one another? Remember we established earlier that love is not a feeling but a will or determination to action. I wish to suggest two things we can do to love.

  1. Practice love diligently.  
It is one of those graces, above all, which grow by constant exercise.  Strive more and more to carry it into every little detail of daily life.  Watch over your own tongue and temper throughout every hour of the day,--and especially in your dealing with children and near relatives.  Remember the character of the excellent woman: "She speaks with
wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26).  
Remember the words of Paul: "Do everything in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14).  

Love should be seen in little things as well as in great ones.  Remember the words of Peter: "Love each other deeply;" not a love which just barely is a flame, but a burning, shining fire, which everyone around us can see. (1 Peter 4:8)  It may cost pains and trouble to keep these things in mind.  There may be little encouragement from the example of others.  But persevere.  Love like this brings its own reward.

B. Teach others to love.  
Press it above all on children, if you have any.  Remind them constantly that kindness, good nature, and good disposition are among the first evidences which Christ requires in children.  If they cannot know much, or explain doctrines, they can understand love.

Here is my own paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13
‘If I had earned a strings of academic and professional degrees, is a tenured professor in an world renowned university and has mastered the intricacies of ancient Hebrew and the various tenses of ancient Greek but do not care for the poor, the sick, the weak and defenseless and the lost, I am like a bag of hot air or the static caused by the feedback of a MP3 soundtrack. If I can look into the future and discern the winds of change in economies, social and political arenas and if I am a spiritual master who has a large following who believe that I am the Voice of God yet if I do not lift a single finger to help a stranger in need I am as plain useless to one who is hungry and lonely as an empty used chicken rice styrofoam container.  If I am a great philanthropist and give my billions as aid relief to poverty stricken Africa and if I sacrifice my health by burning out in ministry work for the church but did it to achieve a reputation and a name for myself, I have already have my reward which is my 15 minutes of fame. My ulterior motives, the need to please people and other hidden agendas will eventually be revealed for all to see. If I see a person and not see an irritation, an interruption (to my busy schedule), a burden or a lesser being, and if I feel compassion and the need to connect with this person and maybe offer some help, I may have love.

Love has the capacity to stand outside time and wait for the right moment to come along. It is not rushed, dictated by the clock nor hurried by the tyranny of the urgent. Love has time to understand and walk a mile in another’s shoes. Love is gentle and does not carry concealed weapons. It does not see the need to cut someone down to size or make mincemeat of someone else’s ego. Love does not demand to have what others have. It does not need to prop itself up by stepping on others and stand on them to appear more beautiful, more powerful, more rich or more honored in society. Love does not need to show off, wearing masks and be putting on performances all the time. Love reveals its true face. Love speaks softly and politely because its words are words of encouragement. Words to build up and not to tear down. Love uses its words to help others to find and fulfill their full God-given potential. Love has good anger management and does not let the sun goes down on its anger. Love knows anger is but a symptom and will seek the root cause of the anger. It seeks to heal these inner hurts and understand the inner thoughts that lead people to do evil deeds. Love does not bear a grudge nor seek to get even. Love learns to forgive. Love returns good for bad.  Love gathers all into its protective arms, believing that there is some good in all mankind. Love has marched with others in Alabama against racism, being beaten by batons in the salt march in India and stood before a tank in Tiananmen Square. Love believes that justice should be available to all. Love believes that there is always hope in this valley of the shadow of death. Love knows that we are living in the shadowlands and that somewhere there is our true home and that one day, Someone will lead us there by our hands. Love sees that in the darkest night, there is always a ray of light.

Love is the energy that drives the universe. It never runs out, tires or loses its power. Love is for eternity. We have begun to realize that knowledge has its limitations. Quantum theory robs us of certainty and Chaos-Fractal theory robs us of control. The only constant in our lives is change. We have not being able to develop a Unified Theory of the Universe. Hence we see in part and we understand very little. Coming to the realization that there is nothing certain in this universe and the ability to control our destiny is an illusion, we begin to understand that we have been thinking like a child. It is time to grow up and see the world as it really is. To see through the illusions that Satan has deceived us for so long. To realize that we had spent large portions of our lives chasing after the non-essential and neglecting the relationships with other people that we should have nurtured and developed.  Adult thinking will help us to focus on things that are eternal. These eternal are our souls and the souls of other and the need now on earth to purify and nurture our souls. In the process we develop faith and acquire hope. But most important of all, we see and experience Love. And in the end, it is only LOVE that matters.’

Soli Deo Gloria

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