Topical: What is Love?
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
February 12, 2012
Tuesday is VALENTINE’S DAY, so if you haven’t made your reservations yet, good luck.
Last week after church, I got together with some folks in the church to discuss MARRIAGE MINISTRIES, and we had some really good ideas which you will hear more about later.
SCRIPTURE READING: 1 Cor. 13 (Sarah Dunn)
Last year at this time, I was getting ready to do Dave & Elizabeth’s wedding, so I spoke on marriage preparing for that. Now I want to SPEAK ABOUT MARRIAGE because of what I have watched happening around me.
* I am not going to lie, it has been some TOUGH MONTHS to be a pastor because of what I have seen happening in marriages.
Two of my close friends are getting a divorce. A week ago I got a call from a couple I married years ago and they are in trouble. A couple of days ago I got a Facebook message from another gal whose wedding I did and whose husband is done.
* I am so grateful that MARILYN and I are doing BETTER now than we ever have – I don’t know how I’d handle this otherwise.
Not surprisingly, the question I keep coming back to is, “WHAT can we DO to help?” It is the same question I have when I do PREMARITAL counseling and the same we have as a CHURCH.
* I had a lot of ideas on what to PREACH, but I came back to the most basic, fundamental element: LOVE.
As I preach, I know there are many DIFFERENT SITUATIONS: Happily MARRIED, MISERABLY married, ENGAGED, SINGLE, and DIVORCED. Regardless of where you are at, this sermon is a teaching on love, which is the BEDROCK FOUNDATION of EVERY RELATIONSHIP.
* And to teach about love, I came back to the MOST FAMILIAR PASSAGE on the topic, which was read earlier.
FAILURE TO LOVE
First Corinthians 13 is perhaps the BEST EXPLANATION of love in existence. I am hard pressed to think of any better, and the LONGER I am MARRIED (and the more SUCCESSFUL my marriage is) the more I see the wisdom of this definition.
* As I’ve said before, Marilyn and I have not had an easy go of marriage; frankly, I think ours has been HARDER than AVERAGE.
When you have a SELF-CENTERED, EMOTIONALLY-REPRESSED boy with ADD marry an EMOTIONALLY-”UNREPRESSED” girl from an ABUSIVE BACKGROUND, you better believe there’s going to be problems.
There was no MAGIC KEY, no instance FIXES, (though lots of LEARNING) but as both of us have STUCK it out (a KEY POINT) while learning to love as 1 CORINTHIANS defines love, we have DISCOVERED the JOY marriage.
EARLY on, it was easy for me to think that the problems of the marriage came from MARILYN’S CHILDHOOD because they were so on the surface, but I have come to learn that deeper than that was my failure to love.
* Now as I try to GIVE YOU SOMETHING to help your relationships, especially in marriage, this is the BEST I HAVE.
As far as I can tell, MARRIAGES and FRIENDSHIPS don’t SELF-DESTRUCT because people “FALL OUT of love,” which is one of the most UNBIBLICAL ideas I know of.
* It’s because one or more parties FAIL to LOVE BIBLICALLY.
“ONE or MORE” is very important; the nature of sin is that you could do everything right and still have the other person bail.
WHAT IS LOVE?
In light of that, I want to look carefully at how 1 Corinthians defines love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Paul lists several different qualities of love. I can’t TEACH on all of these EQUALLY, but I want you to LOOK at how you stack up; you will be better at some things and worse at others.
* During WORSHIP, I want you to determine which is your WEAKEST.
The old joke is the prayer, “Lord, grant me PATIENCE – NOW.” We are perhaps one of the LEAST PATIENT CULTURES in history. But have you thought about how UNLOVING impatience is?
* Impatience is based up the assumption that OUR VALUES are more important that someone else’s.
We are annoyed with the SLOW DRIVER because our faster driving habits are more important than their driving habits.
We get impatient with the TALKATIVE CASHIER because we believe our schedule is more important than their conversation.
DYING TO LOVE
The thing that strikes me about God’s idea of love is that his is about DYING to SELF. It is about the putting the other person first. God’s love doesn’t seek to be FULFILLED, but TO FILL.
* But as Jesus said, the first shall be last. When we love like that, we find GREATER JOY, and greater community.
Granted, DYSFUNCTION is a perversion of this principle, giving up rights as a means of manipulation, or to feel better about yourself, or to the harm of the other.
Now think how that affects your relationships: Your love is an act of SACRIFICE, putting them first.
I think you can see how this applies to “love is PATIENT.” Love does not assume that your AGENDA is the most IMPORTANT but sacrifices for the other’s.
Q On a scale of 1 – 5, how do you think you do at being PATIENT in your relationships?
Q How would “YOUR OTHER” rate you?
Q How do you think that your IMPATIENCE affects your MARRIAGE?
We all understand what kindness is: NICENESS, that WARM, WELCOMING presence that makes you feel more at home. One commentator defined it, “SWEETNESS” to all.
* Kindness is the WATER of RELATIONSHIPS, especially marriage; without it, the relationship will wither, and eventually die.
The sad thing is that we tend to reserve our kindness for STRANGERS and CHEAT those we are CLOSEST to. Especially if you are in any service industry, you tend to “pour out” all day long then “take it out” when you get home!
Q On a scale of 1-5, how WELL WATERED with kindness is your relationship?
Q What do you think your SPOUSE would SAY?
3. Does not envy
I think ENVY is one of those SILENT KILLERS in relationships.
As you know, I am working hard on a book. This week I sent someone who disagreed a sample in order to have them critique my argument. While he disagreed with me, he wrote “you are a GIFTED WRITER.” I was really excited to share that with Marilyn.
Q What if she was JEALOUS and hence BELITTLED it?
It would HURT really bad. And if that became a common HABIT, I would STOP SHARING success with her. Then I would share them with someone else, which is where AFFAIRS can start.
Part of good, enjoyable relationship is the ability to “REJOICE with those who REJOICE,” and envy prevents that.
Q Can your spouse SHARE THEIR SUCCESS with you and visa-versa?
Q Are envy and jealousy HARMING your relationships?
4. Does not boast and is not proud
It is interesting that “BOASTING” is what Paul focused on, the VERBAL side of pride. This is perhaps the most frequent way I see it work out in my marriage:
I come home and I have had a full day. What do I want to TALK ABOUT: Me. Marilyn has also had a full day and she wants to talk about it as well.
A HEALTHY, HUMBLE APPROACH is invite the other to TALK FIRST, to GENUINELY LISTEN, as questions, and be full engaged. More commonly however, we “LISTEN” just long enough to get OUR TURN.
* Humility is believing THEIR STORIES are JUST IMPORTANT as yours; pride thinks yours are more important.
BTW: I really see this in COMMUNITY GROUPS – the danger of taking center stage.
Q On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you do at SHARING the STAGE?
Q What would your SPOUSE/FRIEND say?
5. Is not rude
Rudeness is an interesting one: It is not about things that are wrong, but INCONSIDERATE. But being inconsiderate is a lot like being impatient: It makes you the CENTER of your WORLD, and that makes it wrong.
Rudeness essentially says “I DON’T CARE if this makes you uncomfortable, it is my RIGHT to do this.”
* NURSING MOM example.
Q What RUDE THING do you do to make your spouse feel unloved?
Q Does your rudeness make your FRIENDS or FAMILY feel uncomfortable?
6. Is not self-seeking
This one trait may be at the CORE of what real love is; I know this strike at the core of my failure to love. Every think on this list is united by this:
* All of the NON-LOVE SIDES of these traits are SELF-SEEKING and love side is other’s seeking.
I think our CULTURE’S MISUNDERSTANDING of LOVE is probably at the CORE of most of our RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS.
LOVE VS. ROMANCE
As many of you know, the ancient Greeks had FOUR different WORDS for love. They can be roughly translated as romantic love, selfless love, friendship, and warm affection.
Guess which one this passage uses? “AGAPE,” selfless love. The problem is that our culture tends to define love as “EROS,” romantic love.
* But ROMANTIC love is very much SELF-FOCUSED, on how I feel.
Years ago, in my “Christian Ethics” class, our professor read us from an article by ROBERTSON MCQUILKIN, a seminary president and author of our text book, whose wife was suffering from advance Alzheimer, and his choice to retire to care for her.1
Even other well meaning Christians encouraged him to have his WIFE INSTITUTIONALIZED so he could maintain his ministry, but caring for his wife was his first calling. He wrote:
I came across the common contemporary wisdom in this morning’s newspaper in a letter to a national columnist: “I ended the relationship because it wasn’t meeting my needs,” the writer explained. The counselor’s response was predictable: “What were your needs that didn’t get met by him in the relationship? Do you still have these same needs? What would he have to do to fill these needs? Could he do it?” Needs for communication, understanding, affirmation, common interests, sexual fulfillment—the list goes on. If the needs are not met, split. He offered no alternatives...
I have been startled by the response to the announcement of my resignation. Husbands and wives renew marriage vows, pastors tell the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to me, until a distinguished oncologist, who lives constantly with dying people, told me, “Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women.” Perhaps people sensed this contemporary tragedy and somehow were helped by a simple choice I considered the only option.
It is all more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God’s love-the God I long to love more fully.
Our prof. finished reading, set down the article and said, “That is why we are using his man’s ethics book.”
* This is love that is “not SELF-SEEKING,” not seeking its own RIGHTS.
We love our RIGHTS, getting what is ours, being taken CARE OF. But that is not love is.
Q What would you do if YOUR SPOUSE had ALZHEIMER’S?
Q What do THEY think you would do?
7. Is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs
There are PLENTY of OPPORTUNITIES to be angered and lots of records of wrongs to keep. And no matter how many files are in your records, your spouse has more.
* My working definition of marriage is TWO SELFISH people making each other miserable.
* A successful marriage is becoming LESS SELFISH, make each other less miserable, and FORGIVE each other for the misery.
I read somewhere that the POLYNESIANS had a habit of keeping tokens of wrongs done to them and decorating their house with them. That will kill a relationship and discourages progress.
Q Is your mind DECORATED with REMINDERS of WRONGS?
SUMMING UP THE REST
I could go on and delve into the rest of the passage, there is so much good stuff here, but I fear overwhelming you. Briefly:
8. Does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth
Love is not happy to see the OTHER FAIL – it is pride and selfishness that is glad to see bad happen to the other.
9. Always protects
The word picture is that of a ROOF, love covers and protects. One translation says, “Love springs NO LEAKS.”
But to do that, it must bear the rain. Love MUTUALLY PROTECTS each other, but I see a special way in which God calls the HUSBAND to protect the WIFE and the WIFE protect the CHILDREN.
10. Always trusts and always hopes
Another way to say this is that love ASSUMES the BEST of the other, believing the best, which is the OPPOSITE of what we TEND to do in marriage.
LOVE NEVER FAILS
We end on this “[love] always PERSEVERES. Love NEVER FAILS.” Taking some liberties with the passage:
“Where you have some IMPRESSIVE CAREER, it will CEASE. Where you have an EGO, a REPUTATION, a whole list of RIGHTS and what is owed you, those will all PASS AWAY.
For we know in part, we have in part, but when we see JESUS face to face, all those things will become UTTERLY WORTHLESS in light of God’s love.”
I will end on this note: As I look back on MY MARRIAGE, I have NO regrets about RIGHTS that I have NOT DEMANDED, but I have plenty of regrets about the times I was selfish and demanding.
One of the biggest things I did to cause Marilyn pain was HAVING HER WORK. Now I understand being a mother was her CALLING as surely as being a pastor is mine; I was keeping that from her.
* I am NOT saying that is EVERYONE’S CALLING, nor that she was trying to avoid working and helping the family.
* She responded to that PAIN by causing PAIN and I responded to that pain by causing pain, and down we go.
Now as I work towards getting her home fulltime and she see that HER PRIORITY has become my priority, she feels LOVE and RESPECTED more than ever.
* PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
I don’t know what YOUR STORY is, if there are RIGHTS you need to let go of, or if you have created an UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP by holding NO BOUNDARIES. For you, the selfless thing might be to start requiring your spouse to step up.
But I do know that as our love looks more and MORE like 1 Corinthians 13 and less like ROMANCE NOVELS, the happier our relationships and marriages will be.
* See the communication card: What is your weakest aspect?
Q Where does the POWER come for this kind of love? From the Holy SPIRIT.
But the power of the Spirit is predicated by PERMISSION, submission to what he wants. Begin with confession to God and then to your spouse, then welcome his correction.
Q & A
1 The full article can be found here at this site (also see the related articles for updates on the story): http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/februaryweb-only/2-9-11.0.html?start=1