Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 13:4 The Power of Love

Love is patient and kind. In those five simple words, the apostle Paul gets to the heart of what love is all about. It shows us what love is like, and exposes our impatient and unkind hearts.

You see, patience and kindness are the types of categories that we naturally like to put ourselves into. Am I patient towards other people? Yes! Am I always kind towards other people? Of course! Yet I wonder if that’s how other people would also describe us, based on our words and our deeds, the things they can observe? And what if they could see our hearts, read our minds, hear our thoughts? Even our best actions can be done with an unloving attitude - as we saw last week.

I don’t know about you, but perhaps the best place to observe my impatience and unkindess is when I get behind the wheel. What is it about driving that causes tempers to rise and sanctification to go out the window? Whether it’s the driver toddling along (especially when you’re running late); the lack of indication; the poor road positioning; the dangerous overtaking; the not quite knowing where they’re going; the taking up two parking spaces; the sitting on my back bumper while driving at speed; or whatever, driving seems to be bad for your spiritual health. And all that just happened today!

It’s so easy to get annoyed, to flash the lights or toot the horn - having first checked that it isn’t a parishioner and that I’m not wearing my dog collar... When Paul writes that love is patient and kind, it’s as if he has been sitting beside me, needing to remind me.

Maybe driving isn’t your danger zone. Perhaps you’re thinking that you’re in the clear on that front. The same kind of conviction might be going on in your heart based on some other part of your life. Who is it in your life who you are impatient with? Who can you not cope with, and if you see them coming, you want to run and hide? Who have you not been kind with? Who has been on the receiving end of your unkindness?

If you noticed the little question for reflection as we began, you were invited to think of when someone was kind to you. These moments can sometimes be so rare that they stand out in the memory, an act of kindness which turns your day around.

Last week as we began our series, we looked at how the church in Corinth was in serious trouble. There were numerous divisions within the church, as people fell out over all sorts of issues. The biggest issue, though, was about their worship and the use of spiritual gifts.

Some people thought that they were more spiritual than others, and that was why they could speak in tongues or speak out prophecy. They looked down on people with the ‘other’ gift; and both looked down on anyone without either gift. When they came together for church, they wanted to be the star of the show. They wanted to make sure that they would be heard; that their preferences would be catered for. They had no time at all for anyone else. They couldn’t be bothered with anyone who was different to them.

This is why the ‘love chapter’ was written. It’s not so that the Corinthians could think, what a great job I’m doing. They couldn’t have thought that Paul was describing them. These words are a rebuke - love is patient and kind, and you and we are not.

Have you ever had the moment where you think your car isn’t too bad; it looks clean enough; until you park next to a car that has just been valeted and cleaned and sparkles? Your car is suddenly shown up for what it is. It’s often only when we see what something should be like that we realise how far short we’ve fallen.

This is why Paul writes these words - love is patient and kind. If we were to try to substitute our name for the word ‘love’ we’d realise that it just doesn’t sound right. But it’s perfectly true if we put Jesus’ name in there. Jesus is patient and kind. And we see this in our second reading as Paul writes to Titus.

Titus is on the island of Crete. He’s been given the job of appointing church leaders and teaching the church there how right teaching should lead to right living. In chapter 3, Paul writes of how we all once were - foolish, disobedient, slaves to passions and pleasures, in malice and envy, hated and hating. It’s a bleak picture, but it explains the way the world is.

But into this impatient and unkind world, comes something entirely different and ‘out of this world.’ ‘But when the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.’

We are not kind, we are not good. We aren’t saved by anything that we have done, because there is nothing good that we have done. We can’t earn it; we can’t achieve it. But the kindness and goodness of God has appeared - has become visible - as Jesus was born into the world and showed us what kindness and goodness looks like. We are saved, not by our goodness, but because of his mercy. We don’t deserve it, but we receive it, as an unmerited gift.

That he would give up his place in glory and step into this world; that he would give his life to die on the cross for us and for our sins; this is the ultimate kindness. And it wasn’t just a momentary thing - it wasn’t that Jesus just had to be kind for a moment, as if you’re just letting someone across the road or out of a junction. Every moment of his life, every decision, every word, every thought was always and only kind. That’s why Paul actually describes Jesus as ‘the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour’.

When we realise the kindness of God towards us and begin to see the height and length and breadth and depth of his love for us, it should change our hearts and our attitude to others. We receive God’s love in order to be more loving. To discover the patience and kindness of God should begin to stir in us the growth of patience and kindness. We can’t work it up ourselves, but as the God of love lives in us, we become more like him. And slowly, over time, we’ll realise that we are becoming more patient and more kind, because they are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5).

For the Corinthians, this wasn’t just a life coaching session; this wasn’t personal therapy to improve your own mood and wellbeing. This is God’s word to the church as the gathered people of God. Love is patient and kind, as you deal with very different personalities and preferences in the church body. There may not always be things you like, or people you like, but love calls us to be patient with them, indeed, to be kind to them.

Are there people that you find difficult? Pray for them. Ask God to help you be patient and kind to them, just as he has been to you. Together, we can grow as we each become more like Jesus and reflect his mercy and grace.

This sermon was preached in the 'A Portrait of Love' series of Midweek Lent services in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 12th March 2014.

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