Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Sermon: 1 Corinthians 13: 8-13 Endless Love
Have you ever discovered a yoghurt in the fridge that you had forgotten about? Or maybe there’s a packet of crisps or biscuits lurking at the back of the cupboard. You’re about to open up when you notice the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date. It’s already gone. So what do you do? Some of you might have a smell or a taste, just to see what it’s like. But for some, once the date has passed, then the item is destined for the bin. With the use by dates, they’re fairly accurate. The yoghurt or the meat or whatever definitely will have gone off, beyond use by then.
Is love like that? Only good for a time, and then it’s finished? Tonight we are in the final verses of 1 Corinthians 13, as we look at the portrait of love. We’ve seen how Paul has rebuked and reminded the Corinthians about what love is really like. They thought they were loving, but the way they were doing church showed that they were lacking in love. As Paul wrote about what love is, they would have quickly realised that they weren’t like that. They weren’t kind; they were boastful, and so on.
As Paul closes the chapter, he shows them and us the final quality of love. Look with me at verse 8: ‘Love never ends.’ Love has no best before date. It continues, even when other things end. Over these weeks we have seen how the Corinthians were raving about spiritual gifts - prophecies, speaking in tongues, and words of knowledge. But Paul says that all of these will come to an end.
Early on in the Christian life, you discover that things are better, but they aren’t perfect yet. There are blessings that you have now that you didn’t have before, but we’re still not totally there. It’s a bit of a tension between the now and the not yet. Now, we have the blessings of forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit living in us, and the promise of eternal life, but we aren’t fully there yet. We don’t yet see Jesus face to face; we haven’t got rid of our sinful desires; we are still burdened by illness and suffering and loss. But one day we will be there.
That’s why Paul talks about the partial and the perfect. Now, we’re in the partial, we’re on the way towards the perfect. He compares the two stages as being childhood and adulthood. Look at verse 11: ‘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.’
There was a day that I really enjoyed, a long time ago. Me and my brother were the youngest of all our cousins. One day, my auntie Yvonne arrived at our house with a big box of lego and toy cars. My cousin Mark had got rid of them, so we got them. That day I can remember thinking to myself: ‘Why would anyone want to get rid of lego? This is great!’ We had more lego to play with, we had great fun. But now, I don’t have that lego any more. I’m not sitting in the rectory building things and pushing toy cars along the carpet. There came a day when I got rid of those things too.
When you become an adult, you don’t continue in childish ways. And Paul is saying this in relation to the Corinthians and they way they were doing church. Their obsession with tongues or prophecy were childish things. They might be caught up with them now, but they’re not the things that matter.
That’s why he says in verse 8 that prophecies will pass away, that tongues will cease, and knowledge will pass away. They’re things for the here and now. They don’t last.
The partial and the perfect. In verse 12, Paul gives us another picture of the difference between the two. If you have a bit of frosted glass in your front door, then when you go to answer the door, you might recognise someone by their size and shape. You get a rough outline of who is there, but you can’t see them clearly. It’s only when you open the door that you see them face to face.
Here and now, we’re in the partial. It’s like looking in a steamed up mirror, or like looking through frosted glass. We know a bit about God - enough for us to trust him - but it’s only when the perfect comes that we will see him face to face. We know in part, but then we will know fully, even as we are already fully known.
So if there are all sorts of things that are here today, but won’t last, what should we do? If prophecies and tongues and spiritual gifts have a sell by date, should we get rid of them? Not entirely. You see, we’re still in the partial phase, we’re still on the journey. We still need the things for the stage we’re in. Spiritual gifts are good, given by God in order to help us and encourage us on the journey. To know what yours is, the way God has made you, the way God wants you to serve others - to know this is a good thing and can help avoid frustration as you serve.
There are always vacancies in the church body for people to serve in all sorts of ways. There are things that only you can do, and that’s why God has placed you in this body at this time. Find out what it is, and do it - or keep doing it!
But alongside these spiritual gifts, Paul urges us to focus first and foremost on the greatest and most enduring gift - love. We’re at the stage where some people might be looking at summer holidays. If you were setting off to a foreign country, you need to get some of the currency, whether it’s dollars or euros or whatever. You’ll want to get a few phrases in the local language so you can order an ice cream or find the toilet.
Paul points us to the currency and language of heaven - the one thing that never ends: love. If there is perfect love in heaven, then we need to be getting practice in here and now. Love is the thing that carries on right through.
And that is because God is love. Each week we’ve seen an aspect of love in the life of Jesus. And tonight is no different. Love endures, because Jesus endures. We thought of how he endured everything to go to the cross, but he did not stay dead. Jesus lives, so love lives, and never ends. It’s the message of our second reading, as Paul points to the unending love of God. In four simple questions, Paul gets to the heart of God’s never ending love.
If God is for us, who could possibly be against us? If God has already given his Son for us, what would he now withhold? If God has justified us, who could possibly bring any charge or condemnation against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
He lists possible candidates, but none of them can do it. There is nothing in all creation, now, or in the future, that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, because Jesus lives, love lives.
So often we can be focused on the here and now, and forget about what lies ahead. Love never ends; it is the currency and language of heaven. So live a life of love here and now, as you get ready for eternity.
This sermon was preached in the 'A Portrait of Love' Lent Midweek series in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 9th April 2014.