All You Need is Love

Gifts - Week 3

“All You Need is Love”
Sunday, January 31, 2016
4th Sunday after the Epiphany
#3 in Series: Gifts That Keep on Giving

1 Corinthians 13:1-13


Today’s text is probably fairly familiar to most of us; we have no-doubt heard it used at countless weddings.  It is difficult, in fact, for us to hear this text without visions of white dresses, rented tuxedos, and cute little flower girls coming to mind.  Because we associate this text so completely with the familiar ritual of a wedding, we may not be able to separate its true message from the one that holds it captive in our minds.  Today we need to try – try to listen to Paul’s words and remember that they speak into a time of crisis in the church at Corinth.  What might it look like if we all held love as our primary concern in everything we say and do?

The best way to liberate this text from the bonds of marriage is to place it back into its original context.  When Paul tells the church what love is,  he wants them to realize that these are what the church is not.  LOVE IS: patient and kind…We are not always either of those things.  When he points out what love does not do, he means to say that these are the things the church is doing.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing…Mm-hmmm.  Paul is desperately trying to help them see that their behavior is destructive because LOVE was not the governing principle in their church.

The Corinthian Christians were:
abusing their freedom, refusing to share, scorning their neighbors’ spiritual gifts,
boasting in their own gifts,
seeking recognition for themselves,
and jockeying for position in the church.

The problem was not the lack of spiritual gifts; it is the way their gifts were being used and abused.

Paul’s writing remains provocative today as we consider our own spiritual gifts and seek to do our best to let our gifts serve the common good.  Love is not another spiritual gift; it is the way in which God intends us to practice all of our gifts.  The question Paul raises for us is: Are the things we do in the life and ministry of the church always done with love?  I think, for the most part, we can answer yes to that question.  We may then want to ask: How might we do our ministries with greater love?  What Paul holds up is a standard against which every church can be judged and found needing improvement; all of us have some room to grow.  This is a standard established by God and we can only strive to do our best to meet it.  We can and should feel good about the love we demonstrate in our ministries, but we can always do better.  The text challenges us to realize that, no matter what our particular gift is and no matter how well we demonstrate that gift, if love is not the motivator the gift is hollow.  The best teacher, the most eloquent speaker, the generous giver, and the most talented musician are all wasting their gifts if love is not the reason for the giving.  Recognition, pride, or sense of duty cannot substitute for love.  It is love that fuels our commitment to serve even when recognition doesn’t come and inconvenience is our only reward.

During this series we have talked about the various gifts God gives and that each one of us has been given something to use for the common good.  Today we need to think about the way in which we offer our gifts.  Do we bring our gift because we think it is what we are expected to do as a church member?  Do we offer what we have so that others in the church will be sure to notice?  Do we show up for a mission project simply because we have nothing better to do?  Is the first question we ask: “What does the love of God in my life call me to do in the life of the church?”  Paul seems to have selected the list of gifts very carefully when writing this letter.  It may be that these represent what the church at Corinth valued highly: prophecy, speaking in tongues, and generosity.  He points to these as examples of how love must be at the center of them.  Every church has elements of ministry that they cherish and value.  It might be service in the community, a great music program, or Christian education.  Every church is then challenged to examine if the love of God is at the core of these cherished ministries.  The gong may not yet be noisy and the cymbal may not yet be clanging, but how might our ministries be enhanced by more of God’s love?

It can be hard for us to realize the difference between the “love” we hear about in our culture and the true love that God offers us and asks us to share.  There is nothing sentimental about the image of love Paul places before the church.  This is love that is active, tough, resilient, and long-suffering.   It is vital that we notice the difference between the love this world offers and the love that God has already given.

[VIDEO CLIP – “Love Anthem” – 2:47]

I shared that clip because I think it helps us to see how even love, when God is not at the center, can be inadequate, hurtful, and even destructive.  It is not our intention, but it happens.  Our best intentions often fail us and we hurt one another, we are not strong enough for each other, and we lose sight of God’s intentions for us.  What I hear Paul saying is that every spiritual gift we receive from God will end one day.  Every monument we build to mark our success or our accomplishment, or even our faith, will one day crumble.  Every relationship we hold dear, every human life will come to an end.  The one thing that endures all things is God’s love.

There is a wonderful irony in the fact that the one thing that lasts forever is the love that is given away.  Even though none of us can really make sense of everything we experience in this world, nor can we see what may lie ahead in the next, we can all trust in the persistence of God’s love.  In Jesus Christ perfect love came and dwelt among us through his living and dying on our behalf.  In a world that seeks permanence, eternity is only experienced in the love that is first given so that we might give it away.  I called this message, “All You Need is Love” so that we might come to understand that all we really need is the love of God; everything else is insignificant.  Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments and they’re both about love.  We hold up our mission as: Love God, Love Others, Change the World.  We won’t change the world by loving pizza or even OU football…We CAN change the world with the love of God who first loved us so that we might love as he did.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

All You Need Is Love

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game
It’s easy.
Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
It’s easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where
You’re meant to be
It’s easy.