The Way of Love
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 12:31b–13:13
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Serving Jesus – Living in Community 2022: Week 2
January 30, 2022
1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
“The Way of Love”
Today’s Epistle lesson from Paul the apostle is one that is often chosen as a Scripture reading for weddings. If I were to ask how many of you included Paul’s chapter on love here from 1 Corinthians 13 at your own wedding, I’m sure that many hands would go up. And as fitting as what Paul writes here may be for weddings, that was not why he originally wrote these words. The context here is how the people of Christ are called by Christ to be the Body of Christ, the Church; how Christ’s people are to be in relationship with one another. Again and again in these verses, the word that Paul uses to describe all of this is love (αγάπη). This becomes the theme for today’s message entitled, “The Way of Love.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today is week #2 in our 4-week series, Serving Jesus – Living in Community, or for short, “Being SJLC.” We began last week by looking at what Paul wrote about the Body of Christ in the chapter before what we hear today (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a). Paul’s image of the human body with all its various components all working together points us to a greater truth; namely, that “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Like a human body, Christ is the head and we are the different parts that make up the body. Paul concluded chapter 12 by explaining that the various gifts within the body – apostles, prophets, teachers, helpers, administrators, and more – are all gift given by the Lord to build up the body. Last week’s Epistle lesson ended, and this week’s Epistle began with this verse: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). So what are those higher gifts? What is that more excellent way that Paul is talking about? That, my friends, is the way of love that we hear about in today’s Epistle lesson.
Sadly, we have just the one word “love” in the English language, and it’s a catch-all for many different things in life: I love my spouse/kids/grandchildren; I love steak on the grill, I love the Washington Football Team (really?), I love Jesus. Not so in the original language of the New Testament! Here there are different words for different forms of love: love for one’s family (στόργη), love for one’s friends (φιλία), the physical sharing of love with one’s spouse (έρως). And the love which God has shown to us in his own Son, Jesus (αγάπη). It is this last word for love that the New Testament uses to describe God’s amazing, all-encompassing, self-giving love that has no limits or boundaries. This is the word which Paul uses again and again here in 1 Corinthians 13. And because we have been so loved by God, who did not withhold the life of his only begotten Son, but freely gave him up for us all as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, we have been set free to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. We have been set free to walk in the way of love. So what does the way of love look like in real time? Paul describes it: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). This is how God in Christ has loved us. This is how we are to love one another. Is this easy to do? No. It goes way beyond our emotions and how we may be feeling on any given day. It becomes an act of will; an obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit that opens us up to live and to love others for God. If ever there was a time when such obedience to live and to love is needed, it is now.
Peter Marshall (1902-1949) was a Presbyterian minister, born in Scotland, who became pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.. He was appointed Chaplain of the United States Senate. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age 46, leaving his wife and young son behind. Following his death, his wife, Catherine, at the urging of friends and members of the congregation, published her late husband’s sermons and prayers in a book called, A Man Called Peter. One of Peter Marshall’s prayers is this, which speaks of what it means to be the Church and walk in the way of love:
Our Father, I think of all the pain and heartache, the tears and sorrow, the greed and cruelty unloosed around the world. Help me to be an instrument of Thine to alleviate the pain, by this day:
returning good for evil,
returning soft answers for sharp criticisms,
being polite when I receive rudeness,
being understanding when I am confronted by ignorance and stupidity.
So may I, in gentleness and love, check the hasty answer, choke back the unkind retort, and thus short-circuit some of the bitterness and unkindness that has overflowed Thy world. I ask this in the name of Jesus, who alone can give me the grace so to act. Amen.
(Taken from The Prayers of Peter Marshall, as found in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Vol. II. New Delhi, NY: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1995; p. 469.)
To be the Church, to walk in the way of love, takes amazing grace and patient endurance. It takes a lifetime to grow and mature into this. We wait for the Lord God to complete the good work which he has begun in us beginning in holy Baptism (Philippians 1:6). It is as Paul writes: “For 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. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13). It is faith that leads to hope, and it is hope that leads to love. Let us to be Church; to walk in the way of love. Amen.