I pray that you and your families are well and focused on the Lord. As I was watching TV the other day (something I don’t often get to do), I noticed something about the commercials. Most of the commercials focused on individuals and their attention to their own wants and needs only.
I am amazed at how quickly some people become self focused. The TV media plays on this emotion in individuals to direct their advertising, and social media plays on this to draw viewers into using their platforms. Pollsters, news media, and political types use this to pit groups of people against one another. If you are fighting against someone else, you are not fighting against whoever is in power. That’s their reasoning.
What I believe is this. We have become consumed with taking care of me and we (our families), and not us, which is our communities. Which is how it used to be.
I never thought that I would have to say this, but as a society, as a denomination, as a community, we do not love each other enough. The better wording might be, we do not love each other in the right way. This week I was led to discuss love, agape love in particular. That’s a good prelude to Christmas don’t you think? Love?
Agape is a Greek word from the New Testament. Paul uses it extensively in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, which is where we will go in just a minute. But first, let’s define this agape love.
In the Greek language, there are three different words that describe three very different types of love.
Eros - which is the word for erotic love
Philia - which is the word for brotherly love
Agape - which is the fatherly love of God for humans and also, the reciprocal love of God that humans have for God. It can also mean the sacrificial love that Christ had for each of us as he went to the cross. In addition, this should be the love that each of us has for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I say should, because it doesn’t always work out that way.
Agape love transcends all other forms of love, it is the highest form of love that there is.
So, when Jesus Christ tells us to love one another, he’s telling us to agape love one another.
Paul goes into great detail describing this love in chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. In fact, he does such a great job emphasizing this love in 1 Corinthians that for over 2000 years most people miss his point about why this love is so important.
Most of us have heard chapter 13, it is often read at weddings and funerals, and has been for centuries. Most of us look at it as a reflection on love and a beautiful way of describing those who show agape love for their brothers and sisters.
Paul emphasizes this love as a “higher way” or a “most excellent way”. What exactly does he mean by this?
To discover what Paul is teaching here we have to look to the First Corinthian Church. This letter is addressed to the church that Paul spent 15-18 months starting in the city of Corinth.
Corinth was a port city, founded by slaves. Because of this Corinth was looked down upon by her neighbors. In spite of this dubious reputation, it was a very prosperous and vibrant city. It was a haven for the newly rich, and was a city open to new ideas and tolerant of diversity. By the New Testament time frame, Corinth had come to be associated with lavish lifestyles and conspicuous consumption. It was a Greek city in a Roman province. This meant that there were many temples dedicated to many different Gods.
You can imagine that Paul was very concerned about his young church in this environment similar to a city that would be considered a cross between New York, L.A., and Las Vegas.
Paul’s baby church was struggling with false teachings entering into the church from various people. Factions were developing in the church, Immorality, incest, abuse of the Lord’s supper, misuse of spiritual gifts, and spiritual immaturity were all present. The Corinthian church was at risk. They were struggling.
On top of this, for various reasons, Paul decided not to go to Corinth. So he wrote a letter instead. Let’s read our scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:27 -31 to begin. Remember what I said about the Corinthian church.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those who have gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.”
Those in the Corinthian church were choosing their own spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit determines who gets what spiritual gift. Imagine if we could choose our gifts today? There would be chaos in the church. For the Corinthians, speaking in tongues and prophecy seemed to be the gifts that everyone wanted to choose. Their Lord’s supper was being manipulated by the wealthier class who got to church early, because they didn’t work. They would eat up the choice bread and drink the best of the wine. Leaving the poorer quality bread and wine for others. They were putting themselves first over their brothers and sisters. That’s spiritual immaturity, selfishness and gluttony.
So Paul is going to teach them about agape love. That sacrificial love of Christ that allowed him to go to the cross with our sins on his back. Paul is going to shame the Corinthians into the realization that they’re doing it all wrong. They don’t choose their gifts, the Holy Spirit does. In fact, it's the Holy Spirit that blesses you with agape love when you give your heart to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit, through agape love, that orders the church through spiritual gifts, not us. In fact, agape love is what orders the church in all things.
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13,
“And now I will show you a more excellent way (the way of agape love). If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal (both were heavily used in pagan worship). If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud (remember the Corinthians). It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (This is what churches do when they are in factions fighting each other). Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
“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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes (eternity), the imperfect disappears (there will be no need for spiritual gifts in heaven, only love, agape love). When I was like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child (what the Corinthians are doing). When I became a (adult), I put childish ways behind me. Now, we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Paul is teaching the Corinthian church about this agape love to help them get their spiritual act together. All of their problems are because the Corinthians are too selfish, too self centered, and too prideful. They are like children.
And my point today is this: so are we. We are just like the Corinthians. We are childish. False idols are distracting us from our true worship of God. The problems in the United Methodist Church are just like those in the Corinthian church. We’re not loving each other like we should. The problems in our society are because we are battling with our neighbor instead of loving our neighbor.
We need to show each other love, agape love. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be pitted against our friends and neighbors. We need to love each other, agape love.
Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
and Harmony UMC