1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and Luke 6:27-36
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness…
Where have you heard those words before?
If they sound familiar, it is most likely because they were the opening words at many a wedding at which you were a guest.
Or perhaps they are the words that were spoken at your own wedding.
The words of the Apostle Paul that were read for us from his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth probably also had a similar ring of familiarity.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing; but rejoices in the truth.
These are words that are also spoken at most weddings.
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 the Greek language in which Paul wrote is much more nuanced about love than is our English tongue.
We have 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 romantic love.
The Valentine cards recently given and received mainly contain expressions of eros love.
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 share something in common.
Both eros and philia describe a mutual bond between people.
The third Greek word for love is agape.
They don’t make Valentine cards for agape love.
They probably would not be big sellers.
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.
Its motivation is simply the wellbeing 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.
Jesus emphatically distinguished agape love from those other mutual forms of love in no uncertain terms.
He said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
It was in Paul’s letter to a church in which agape was so obviously absent, that we find some of the most revered and repeated 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.
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 warned them that none of it means anything if love is not at the center of what they do.
He wrote: “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.”
Agape Love is the essence of any Christian community.
Without agape, all the things in which they took so much pride were without value.
Paul clearly describes 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.
Paul’s words are like a mirror we can look into each day to gauge how we are — or are not —showing agape love in our interactions with others.
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 continually expands the boundaries and conditions that we place upon love.
We all set boundaries around who and how we love.
Within these boundaries are 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 challenging 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.
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.
Although our modern holiday of Valentines Day has little to do with agape love, it is actually named after Saint Valentine, a powerful witness to the expression of agape.
Valentine was a Christian priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.
Although Valentine never was married, he became famous for marrying couples who couldn’t get married legally in Rome because the Emperor outlawed weddings.
Claudius thought that marriage would be an obstacle to recruiting new soldiers for his army.
When Emperor Claudius discovered that Valentine was performing weddings, he had him jailed.
Valentine’s jailer asked him to help his daughter, with her lessons, because she was blind and needed someone to read to her.
Valentine’s kindness to the child of his jailer was a tender expression of agape love.
Emperor Claudius offered to pardon Valentine and set him free if Valentine would renounce his Christian faith and agree to worship the Roman gods.
Instead of abandoning his faith, Valentine demonstrated agape love again by encouraging Emperor Claudius to place his trust in Christ.
Emperor Claudius was so enraged at Valentine’s response that he sentenced him to die.
Valentine’s choices to extend love even to his enemies and persecutors eventually cost him his life.
Before he was executed on February 14th, Valentine wrote a last note to encourage the jailer’s daughter to stay close to Jesus and to thank her for being his friend.
He signed the note: “From your Valentine.”
Agape love does not come naturally.
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.
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, dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness…
To witness to the way we know we are loved by God.
And to witness through our words and actions, the welcoming, inclusive love that God has for everyone.
© 2022 Raymond Medeiros
Preached FCCW on February 20, 2022