Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The Greatest Is Love - January 31, 2016 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:31b - 13:13
Love is a many splendid thing. Love is that real good feeling you get inside. Love is never having to say “I’m sorry.” Love is a verb. Love is . . . and you fill in the blank. There are many clichés about love and we could spend some time going through all the clichés and telling what is right and not so right about each one. I think the Greeks were on to something when they decided that there was more to love than what one word could explain, so they have several words for our one word love. Maybe you have heard some of these words, maybe not. One word for love is, phila. Phila is a word which means brotherly love. We get the word, Philadelphia from this word, which means, “city of brotherly love.” Another word for love is the word, eros. Eros is more of a physical attraction and physical love. We get the word, erotic from this word. This word has to do with physical attraction. And the word with which we are probably most familiar is the word, agape, which means a selfless concern for another person, a love so deep that you would give you life for that person. Unfortunately, I do not know of any word in the English language that contains this word. Evidently and unfortunately we do not talk about this type of love very often. In our text for today the word which is translated love is this word agape.
We begin looking at our text for this morning by looking at the end of our text. Our text ends by saying “so now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (v. 13). This verse begs three questions, What is faith? What is hope? What is love? First, what is faith? It has been said that faith is based on the things of the past. This makes sense because we have faith in something we know is a fact or because we have seen it in the past. As Christians, we have faith in Jesus because the Holy Spirit, working through the Holy Scriptures shows us that He is the promised Messiah. This is seen by the events of the past, the facts as laid out in the Bible, by Jesus birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection which happened in the past.
Faith is also a gift. Faith is given to us. For most of us our faith was given to us at our Baptism. At our Baptism the Holy Spirit put faith in our hearts. It is this faith which grasps all the other gifts and blessings which are given to us through Holy Baptism. Yet, we understand that it is not faith that saves us, but it is the object of our faith that saves. The object of our faith is Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. Faith is like the hand that reaches out and grasps the gifts which God has to give. God gives us the hand. He gives us the ability to use the hand. He gives us the object that He puts in our hand. Notice the focus is all on God who does all and gives all. So we see that faith is important, but even more important is the object of faith.
What is hope? It has been said that hope is based on the future. We look forward to something and we hope that it will happen. We hope that we will be able to move into our new house. We hope it will rain or we hope it will be clear weather. We hope we will pass a test. We hope we can afford payments on a new car. We hope we will have a healthy baby or healthy children. We hope for many things.
There is a distinction, however, between the hope of this world and the hope of the Bible, the hope we have as Christians. The hope of this world is an uncertainty, just as predicting the weather is an uncertainty. The hope of this world is an iffy, maybe hope. As Christians we have the hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But our hope is not a maybe hope, as is the hope of this world. Our hope as Christians, the hope of the Bible, is a certainty, a reality, even a truth. As Christians, we know we have forgiveness. We know we have life. We know we have eternal life. These things are ours now. As for eternal life, as for heaven, certainly we will not move in until our time on this earth is complete, until we pass away, or until our Lord returns, which may be in the late or even near future, but it is ours as a possession now.
What is love? Love is said to be based on the present. As I said earlier, the word that is translated love in our text is this word agape. Agape is a Christ-like love, a selfless concern for another person. A love which moves one to put another’s wants, needs and desires before their own. A love for someone, so much, that a person would lay down their life for another.
Agape love is the very fact that God created the world. Even in His divine foreknowledge; even knowing what would happen; even knowing that His creatures would mess up His creation; even knowing that Adam and Eve would sin; even knowing that He would have to take care of their sin and our sin; even knowing that He would have to die on the cross; knowing all that would happen before it happened; God still created the world, that is truly agape love.
Agape love is the fact that God promised to send a Savior. He did not have to send a Savior, or promise such, He could have simply decided to do away with all He created, but that is not what He did. After His creation messed up His perfect world, God showed His great love, His agape love by immediately stepping in and promising to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve who ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. God came to them in the Garden and confronted them with their sin. As a part of His confrontation He promised to send them a Savior, Christ the Lord.
And so, agape love is seen in God, taking on human flesh, being born a man, to give His life for ours on the cross. Love is God restoring the relationship that was broken between He and His creation. Love is not that we loved God, but that He first loved us and gave His life for us. While we were still in our sins, striving, struggling against God, actually being His enemies and being hostile against Him, Jesus gave His life for ours.
And love is Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, and to keep us in faith. We do not choose Jesus, He chose us, past tense, even before the foundations of the world were laid, He chose us. Love is the fact that God created us and that He gives us life at our conception. Love is that fact that God gives us new life through faith, given through His Word and through Holy Baptism. Love is that God continues to strengthen us in the faith He gives us through our remembering our Baptism, through our confession and absolution, through our reading and hearing His Word, and through our eating and drinking His body and blood in His Holy Supper.
And here I do want pause and to make an aside this morning since I did not do so week before last or last week. It is suggested that Life Sunday, the Sunday of the anniversary of which we are reminded of the passing of the law allowing for the killing of pre-born babies in our country, be celebrated on either the second or third Sunday of January, the Sunday closest to the enactment of the law. So, even though we did not speak too much on the subject other than that we prayed for our country and for the end of abortion the past two weeks, I believe our Old Testament reading is more fitting for this subject so I want to say a word today. Yes, sometimes I am a bit behind. For those of you who are not sure about the issue, I believe that the Bible speaks quite clear. In our Old Testament lesson for today we hear God calling Jeremiah and telling him that before he was even conceived he was a person, chosen by God. Jeremiah became a living human being with a soul at the moment of conception, at his being formed in the womb. When we get to the New Testament we hear about the baby, John the Baptist, leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, the mother of Jesus, comes to visit her. The word which is used for the baby in the womb is the same word that is used for a baby outside of the womb. The Bible makes no distinction, a baby is a baby. The Bible is quite clear that life begins at conception. At conception a person becomes a living being with a soul and a body. Unfortunately, our society does not think too much of the value of the life of the child, instead our society thinks more highly of a person’s right to chose what to do with that foreign object within that person’s body. Our society says that we should have the right to choose. I suggest that we should have the right to choose also, but I believe the choice comes before the child is conceived, not after. What greater love can there be than this, a husband and a wife sharing their love for each other, conceiving a child and bringing it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What greater love can there be than for a person to think, not of themselves, but of the precious life which is a gift from God, no matter what the circumstances, because those who have had a struggle with having children know what a gift they are.
Now, getting back to my previous point, our Lord loves us so much that He gives us life at our conception. He gives us new life at our Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He gives us eternal life, earned by Jesus giving His life for ours on the cross.
This week, instead of asking, “what does this mean?” of this text, I think we would ask the question, “how do we ‘use’ this text in our daily lives? We could use this text as a litmus test for love. Of course we need to be mindful of the fact that if we did attempt use this text as a litmus test of love it would show us that we fail miserably. We fail miserably because we cannot love others as God loves us. It is humanly impossible to love as God loves. It took the God-man Jesus to love in such a way and only Jesus can love in such a way.
Which means that this text shows us that we cannot love as God does. God loves us with a pure love, a perfect love. We love from motives that are not always or necessarily Godly or God-like. We love conditionally, or temporarily. We are better at phila and eros love. God loves perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally. God and only God loves with agape love.
This text shows us that Jesus is our example, but He is more than just an example. If we put Jesus up as just an example and were told that we had to be like Him in order to be saved that would lead us to despair, because we cannot be like Him. He is our example, yes, but He is so much more. He is also the fulfillment of His example. He loved us as our text says, because we are unable to. He loved us and gave His life for us. He is the prime mover. He loves first.
Jesus is our example. He fulfilled His example and now He works His love in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. We have used this example before and we will continue to do so because it is such an appropriate example. We are like the moon. We have no light of our own and to use the words of our text, we have no love of our own. We merely reflect the light, the love, which is shined on us from the Son, the Son of God who shows us what perfect love is in the giving of His life for ours. Finally, Jesus moves us to our ultimate goal, to love to the glory of the Lord. Of course, we realize that is perfection and we will not fully reach that goal until we reach eternity.
Love is . . . Love is a part of our whole being, physical, spiritual, emotional. Love is a part of our present which is motivated by our faith in the past and our hope, our certainty for the future. Love is this, that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. Love is basking in the forgiveness won for us and given to us by Jesus. Love is our response of faith, even rejoicing and saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.