31bI will show you a still more excellent way. 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
We have seen over the past weeks that while being Christian means that we each bear individual gifts and duties given and measured out by God, in that same God we are never a church unto ourselves. We are all one in the Spirit and one in the Body. But some of the baptized in Corinth (just as many of us are tempted at times today) acted as if they had “no need” for others. Some were acting as if their personal “manifestation of the Spirit” was for their own benefit and not for the “building up the church.” The fundamental problem among the baptized in Corinth was self-serving behavior caused by self-important attitudes and self-referential thinking.
Whenever someone is tempted to become puffed up because of their significant role or gifts Paul would call them to consider that if their motivation is to build up their own prestige rather than the church of God all that they have and do serves no good purpose. The apostolic solution is “love.” For love means service. To love is to consider “the other” and place them before us in all we do.
As Paul shows: 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
The key thing that defines love is patience. The word is literally long-suffering. Why long suffering? Because you have to deal with others! Real love is to view others as God has first seen us. It is not emotion. It is hard work. It is tough slogging. It is the least romantic thing you can imagine. It is never focused on quick or impressive results. It can’t even hope for a big payout or payback on the investment made. Christian love suffers long for the sake of others. Everything else Paul tells us real love is not stems from this one thing it is. Patient. And thus we know it is truly a gift from God for it is not something that comes easily (if at all) to any of us.
Just so you don’t forget, He says it again: 7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Here the important point is not the specifics of what must be borne, believed, hoped, and endured, but on the limitless action of these verbs. Think of it this way: “Love supports without limits, trusts without limits, hopes without limits. Love never, ever, gives up. Love is powerful not because it is “blind” but because seeing, it is still without bounds. Love is powerful precisely when it suffers through the temporary … when it is permanent.
8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When 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. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So much of what was highly prized by the Corinthians (and still is by many of us Christians today) possess only a temporary value at best. Spiritual gifts and position, power and responsibility are good indeed. But again, only in the proper perspective. Only in an eternal perspective. You and I and our place in this earthly church is only temporary. Soon we are gone, but the church and her work remains. The prizes and victories of this age they have their significance, but the form of this age is passing away. If only we would stay focused on the things that truly endure, Paul urges.
Faith in the God who knew and loved His people before they were born, hope in Him and the love which flows from faith and hope. These theological virtues have supreme and enduring value for the lives of all Christian, regardless of the particular spiritual endowment any individual may possess. Faith in this age is replaced by sight in the one to come. Hope is no longer needed where such sight is granted. Only Love then remains. A perfect and enduring love between God and man. And in that gift a likewise perfect love for one another.
The problems of self-seeking and puffing-up pride in Corinth are blown away like the chaff when held up to the light of love. What the apostle calls for in the body of Christ is no less than to live as if the last day has already come. On the last day, what we have done for ourselves will not matter, so why does it matter so much now? The knowledge that one possesses, no matter how impressive, is still only a thimbleful compared with what will be made known on the last day. So what does it all gain you? But love is love. It will be shown fully on the last day, BUT unlike knowledge and prophesying, it can be shown fully in the church today by those who live in Christ.
For the love of Christ, which is permanent and boundless is what binds us together even now. One in the Spirit, richly poured out in the waters of Holy Baptism. One in the body of the Lord through the shared body and blood of Christ himself. The precious Gospel promises. The prayers of the faithful answered by the Father Himself. This is real and permanent love in action today. The kind of love that draws us out of ourselves and guides and strengthens us to love one another in a way that changes the world around us!
What we do for ourselves is temporary at best. Even the most envious of gifts or the most honoured of positions won’t last. But what is done in love endures long beyond even the memory of the act. For love will last for as long a Christ remains. And He remains forever! Love is active, love is righteous, love is living for the good of the sister and brother in Christ even when (especially when) you would rather be doing anything else. And that makes us one with Christ and one with each other both now and forever.