1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Grown Up Love
There are not many weddings you can attend and not hear these verses. I think out of the dozens of weddings I have done, only 2 have not used this verse. I mean they use these verses because it talks about love. Gooey, sappy, newly married love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. That sounds all good and everything but all the married people in the congregation know that day that this love is too good to be true. It seems possible when the preacher asks you your vows but reality hits a year and a half later. Great Paul talks about love not rejoicing in wrongdoing but Paul didn’t live with a man who cannot replace the toilet paper roll when it runs out. Paul did not live with a woman who It says love bears all things but when it comes down to a long marriage did Paul really know how much love had to bear?
Yes, this piece of scripture is quoted ad nauseum at weddings but it is one of Paul’s most poetic pieces of scripture. The part we use at weddings is only half of what is said in this chapter. Take the first part for example, If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. These are harsh words. Paul is calling people out as nothings if they don’t have love. Without love people are just resounding gongs and clanging cymbals. Paul reminds us what was missing from the 10 Commandments and what Jesus places as the most important in the two he tells us to focus on. The 10 Commandments tell us to ‘don’t do’. When Jesus was asked what commandments were the most important he said, LOVE God, LOVE your neighbor. But do we understand what that means and how we live that out?
The last five verses we don’t hear at weddings either. Trying to get people ready to set up live together for the rest of their lives doesn’t really work when you start to talk about where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Then Paul starts to talk about being a child and now being a man and that doesn’t really make sense to us. Jesus tells us to humble ourselves like a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. He also tells us that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to children. So is this a place where the Bible contradicts itself? Is Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians going against what Jesus teaches?
I am sure many of you know that life with an infant is always interesting. What I truly love is watching Campbell experience something new. A couple of months ago she learned that if she took her hands and brought them together quickly they made a noise. Not only that but they were the sign for ‘more’ and Mom and Dad would give her more food when she did it. Now that she has clapping down she has realized that if she holds two objects in her hands, like blocks, and then claps they make a noise too. What is so funny though is the look she gives us when she starts to bang these blocks together. It is like she has discovered cold fusion or something. She starts to bang them and then looks up at us with wide eyes and a huge smile which says, “Look at me!!! I’m doing something amazing!!!” She is also in that very trusting stage. She will be in our arms and then all of a sudden she lets gravity pull her head towards the ground. She laughs as we catch her but she does it because she has faith that we will always catch her.
Jesus tells us to have faith like a child. We need to have this infant trust in God to always catch us as we step out in faith. We need to be perusing growth in our spiritual lives and then looking up at God with wide eyes and smiles and say “Look God, look what I can do.” God wants us to have that type of faith but I don’t think that type of love.
Living with a nine month old is fun but adding a 3 and a half year old to the mix makes it an adventure. Children at three years old are consumed with one thing and one thing only, me. All those words they knew when they are two disappear and only one comes out of their mouths, MINE. Three year olds become truly possessive and focused only on themselves. They haven’t comprehended the world around them involves other people who need other things. They only see the woman who gives them gummies at church, or Papaw who plays games on the computer with them, or Grammy who gives them anything they want.
God doesn’t want us to be like this forever but many of us love this way for a long time. We look at the people in our lives and we think, “what can they give me.” Once a relationship is used up we move to the next. Or we guard our hearts like a three year old guard her favorite toy or stuffed animal. C.S. Lewis puts it well in his book The Four Loves, To love at all is to be venerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers…of love is Hell.
As we grow up we realize that to love means we have to make ourselves vulnerable. We have to put ourselves out there before we can expect anything in return. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, 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. There comes a time when we have to start acting like adults and love like grown-ups. We have to put our childish ways behind us and grow in Christ. If we want to know God then we have to transform our hearts to look like God’s. To do that we have to be willing to love like God and although children have the faith we should desire, it takes a grown-up to understand God’s love, a love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Soon after the earthquake in Haiti I sat down and wrote a blog post about what I was feeling. God I would like to complain. I would like you to hear me for a minute because I have a problem with being your follower right now. I know it has been years, over a decade and a half, since I asked you to take my life and do with me what you want but this is pushing it.
God, I cannot stop looking at the news and having my heart break over and over again. I cannot stop looking at pictures (like this one) and not have my heart weep. God, this is all your fault.
Before taking you seriously, I would have heard the news, seen the pictures, and the videos and thought to myself, “well that is sad.” But then I would have moved on with my life. I would have continued on to live in my little world and I would have been fine. I would have concentrated on other things, like the NFL Playoffs. But NO, instead I have spent time praying and wondering how I can help these people all the way up here in Thomasville, NC. I have tried to rally my congregation and to have them reach out through giving of their money and making health kits. I have seen images that are in my brain constantly because your children, my fellow brothers and sisters, are in pain and I cannot shake it.
So thank you God, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for making me care and love people I have never met. Thank you for making my life recently full of prayer and sorrow. Thank you for making Haiti and the people doing ministries and missions down there be constantly on the forefront of my mind. I have never been there and really had no desire to but it is because of YOUR love and YOUR Holy Spirit that now I am being moved to figure out how and when I or a team from my church can go. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT.
Thank you God. Thank you for making me worry and grieve. Thank you for the pain and the ache. Thank you for making me realize what it would be like to be YOU. I know you made this clear and you have told us that as we become closer to you we will become closer to your children. But this may be taking it too far.
I’m going on with my day now. But I thought I should tell you thank you for ruining my self-absorbed life and making me think of, pray for, and love people I’ll never meet. I blame you for this and I thought you should know!
As we grow up into a deeper relationship with God, God changes our hearts. God changes the way we love. We start to understand the love Jesus talks about when he tells us about forgiving someone 70 X 7 times, the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that true loves means deep sacrifice. Children cannot understand that. People caught up in childish love, cannot fathom this. We have to put away childish things and man up, woman up, to the type of love we care called to show. A love that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Without it we are nothing.
And all God’s people said…AMEN.