Sine Qua Non

Sine Qua Non1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Preached FCCW 1-31-2016
You all know how “word association” works, right?
I say a word and you answer with
the first thing that pops into your head.
Like, I say “mustard” and you answer, “ketchup.”
I think you can play the same kind of game with scriptures.
Because we automatically associate
certain passages from the Bible
with specific experiences and occasions.
Like, I say, “the 23rd Psalm.”
And you say, “Words that are spoken at a funeral.”
I say, “John 3:16”
And, you say, “Signs people hold up at sporting events.”
Or, I say, “1 Corinthians 13.”
And you say, “Passage that is read at weddings.”
Because you can probably count on one hand
the number of weddings you’ve been to
where the verses you just heard
from the 13th chapter of 1Corinthians
was NOT read.
Which is kind of funny,
because Paul himself was a lifelong bachelor
and romantic love was the furthest thing from his mind
when he wrote these words.
But then, the Greek language in which Paul wrote
is much more nuanced about love
than is our English tongue.
We have just one word for love to work with
whether we are describing how we feel about
our spouse, our children,
or Vienna Mocha Chunk ice cream.
But, there are three separate words for love in Greek.
The first word is eros.
Eros describes the sensual love that
arises from physical attraction.
It’s where our word erotic comes from.
The Valentine cards on the store shelves right now
are mainly expressions of eros love.
They’re all about romance and roses.
The second word for love in the Greek language is philia.
Philia is the love associated with
friendship or platonic affection.
Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love,
gets its name from the root word philia.
There are Valentine cards for philia love, too.
They’re the ones that you find at the
other end of the aisle,
in the section marked
“For Anyone” or, “For a Friend.”
Although these two words describe
very distinct forms or stages of love,
they both have something in common.
Both eros and philia depend on
a mutual attraction
that creates bonds between people.
Which distinguishes them from the third
Greek word for love: agape love.
They don’t make Valentine cards for agape love.
Agape is not a response to either
a physical or emotional attraction
we feel for someone.
Agape carries no expectation that the other person
will reciprocate the love we show them.
Agape is a purely self-giving love;
a decision to act lovingly towards someone
even if we don’t feel any warm fuzzy feelings for them.
It’s motivation is simply the well being of another person.
When Jesus told his followers that
the way the world would know
that they were his disciples would be
how they loved one another —
he was talking about agape.
And when he told them to love their enemies?
Now, in the Corinthian church those first two forms of love
had become distorted, so that
instead of creating a cohesive community,
self-centered expressions of eros and phiilia
were tearing the church apart.
For one thing, the moral permissivness
found in the city of Corinth
had infiltrated the Corinthian church,
in the form of uninhibited eros that was
corrupting inter-personal relationships.
Another problem in the Corinthian church
had to do with the community fellowship meal.
Which was something like a cross between
a church supper and Communion.
A divisive sort of Philia was causing the fellowship
to dissolve into cliques along social and economic lines.
The well-to-do folks with all kinds of free time,
came early in the day and enjoyed the best of the food.
The poorer people had to work during the day.
By the time they arrived, the wealthier members
had already gone home.
And all they had to eat were leftovers.
The division in the Corinthian church
also ran along religious lines.
Believers who exhibited certain spiritual gifts —
especially the flashier gifts, like speaking in tongues —
considered themselves more important to the church
than others in the congregation who had
different gifts to offer.
It was in a letter to this church
in which agape was so obviously absent,
that we find some of the most revered
words ever written about love.
Not written to celebrate a couple on
the threshold of uniting their lives in matrimony;
but as a warning to a congregation on
the brink of disintegrating in discord.
I’ve been throwing around some Greek words this morning.
Now, I want to shift to talking about a Latin expression:
sine qua non.
It refers to something absolutely indispensable or essential.
Sine Qua Non describes “(a condition) without which
something else could not be”
or “without which (there is) nothing.”
Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that
agape love is the sine qua non of the Christian life.
Without agape love there is no genuine faith.
Without agape love there can be no authentic church.
The Corinthians thought that their church
was pretty special, because
there was so much evidence on the surface
of spiritual vitality.
People were speaking in tongues and prophesying
all over the place.
But Paul warns them that none of it means anything
if love is not at the center of what they do.
He writes: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and
understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions,
and if I hand over my body
so that I may boast, but do not have love,
I gain nothing.”
Love is the sine qua non of any Christian community:
without love, all the gifts upon which
they prided themselves were less than worthless.
Paul breaks agape love down to
where anybody can understand what he’s talking about.
He portrays in very concrete terms
what agape love does– and does not — look like.
A person who has agape love is kind
and does not easily lose patience with another.
He or she is not envious, devious, boastful or selfish.
Agape love does not treat others unfairly,
is not easily provoked to anger,
doesn’t scheme to get even,
does not gloat over the misfortune of another.
There is no place in agape love for a
“my way or the highway” attitude in our relationships.
Read between the lines and you can figure out that Paul’s
specific illustrations about what love is or is not,
probably corresponded to actual issues being experienced
in the Corinthians’ relationships.
But they are problems that could strike a familiar chord
in our relationships, too.
Paul’s words are like a mirror we can look into each day
to examine how we are — or are not —
showing agape love to others.
You could literally use these verses as a guide
to help you end each day by reviewing
where your behavior towards others
demonstrated agape love
through patience and kindness.
And where you might have been unkind or mean-spirited.
First Corinthians 13 names the three virtues – three words —
that should be associated with the Christian life.
Faith, Hope, and Love.
But it says that the greatest of the three is love.
Love never ends, Paul wrote.
It will outlast even faith and hope.
Because while faith enables us to deal with life
by trusting in a God we can’t see;
when we and God are finally face to face,
faith will no longer be needed.
And while hope sustains us with the assurance
that someday God’s will shall be done
on earth as it is in heaven,
when that dream becomes a reality,
hope’s necessity will disappear.
When Faith and hope have outlived their usefulness,
love will remain.
There’s another sense in which love never ends.
And that is in the way agape love scales the walls
that we build around love.
We all set boundaries around love.
Within these boundaries are found those
we relate to easily and conveniently
through Eros love and Philia love.
Beyond the boundary — is everyone else.
The different ones. The difficult ones.
If there is any hope at all of loving those people
It will come by way of agape love.
Or not at all.
Jesus calls us to the hard work of pushing
the frontiers of our love farther and farther
to include more and more people within them.
Love never ends because our ability and willingness
to love the way Jesus loves
is always a work in progress.
There will always be room to
love better and love more.
For Paul, the Christian life is ultimately a process
of putting aside our childish ways of relating to one another
and learning to share with others the love
that we have received from God.
Agape love does not come naturally.
It is not – to use another Latin expression—
a quid pro quo way of loving.
It takes intentional effort, surrender, and prayer.
The reason that Christians are expected to,
and able to,
love in such a self-giving way,
is that God has loved us this way.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world
that He sent his only Son,”
is talking about God’s love for everyone,
even those who would reject and put to death
the Son he sent to save them.
The word for love in that verse — is agape.
As it says in the passage that Dale read from Jeremiah,
God knows everything about us from before we are born,
and loves us that much anyway.
Agape love is the sine qua non of faithful living,
because it is the condition upon which
our relationship with God rests.
What we know now is never the whole picture.
What we do now is never the whole story.
In some ways we’re like children:
we do what we can with what we know to this point.
But there’s still more for us to learn,
to grow into,
to accept — about loving others.
The day will come when we will see all that is to be seen.
Until then, we live in faith, trusting God’s love.
The day will come when we will know all there is to know.
Until then, we live in hope, waiting in God’s love.
In the meantime, we are called to live an agape love,
showing God’s love as best we can.
Because when someone hears the word “Christian,”
the first word that comes to mind —
should always be love.