These Three Remain (Week 2)
Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
I’ve been told that I’m what’s known as an ugly crier. Some people, when they cry, they look awesome. Or at least they don’t look terrible. Some people cry with grace and elegance. I’m not one of those people. I don’t always ugly cry, in fact, I have a couple different styles of crying depending on what the moment calls for.
If I read a sad story or something that’s particularly heartwarming I tend to just get sweaty in the eyes. Other times, particularly if I’m talking about Jesus, I’ll do that thing where your voice shakes and you get a little more misty-eyed. Usually, no actual tears leave my eyes, but I have a hard time speaking.
But then there are other times when the flood gates open and I can’t control myself. And in these moments, I go into a full on ugly cry with those deep, full body heaves. Here’s a picture of me ugly crying at my wedding. This was taken the moment I saw Karly in her wedding dress for the first time as she was walking down the aisle. What this picture doesn’t show is the full body sobbing and the fluids leaking from my nose that was going on at that moment.
My friend Sean, who was our wedding photographer, actually put this picture on a coffee mug and gave it away as a prize at our office Christmas party last year at Deep Water. Karly walked around the corner and into the auditorium and I saw her for the first time and I ugly cried as if no one was watching.
More recently, I’ve spent plenty of time ugly crying over my daughter Samantha. Unfortunately, there’s no photographic evidence, but I’m sure Karly would love to tell you just how many times over Samantha’s short life I’ve already broken down into a complete mess. I love my wife and I love my daughter Samantha. And what’s interesting is that my love for Karly has actually somehow increased since Samantha was born. But I also love the Calgary Flames and… donair?
And surely… when we talk about love, even though I use the same word to describe my feelings both for my family and for perfectly seasoned meat wrapped in a pita with a garlic sauce, these can’t be the same thing, can they? Do I love the Calgary Flames in the same way that I love Karly and Samantha?
What is love? What do we mean when we say that we love something? What does God mean when he says he loves something?
Today we’re continuing our series “These Three Remain” talking about how faith, hope and love will remain even into the next age. This series is an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 13:13 which says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
We’re switching up the order of these weeks a little bit. Since today is GEMS Sunday and their theme for this year has been all about love it would feel weird to ignore that and instead talk about hope.
So this week we’re talking about how love is the greatest of these three and next week we will conclude talking about hope and how hope will remain. But before we jump in and talk more about the nature of love and how love will remain, let’s open with a word of prayer.
So what is love? Is it an emotion? Is it simply a feeling? Or is it something more? In ancient Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, there were actually four different words that we would translate as love.
The first was Eros. Eros love could be thought of as passionate love or romantic love, but specifically with a physical bent. The English word erotic is derived from eros. Eros was primarily understood to be physical love and might even be thought of as similar to lust. By the time of the New Testament eros was viewed as such a carnal, self-serving love that it’s not used at all in the Bible.
The second Greek word for love was Storge. Storge could mean family love or empathy. It’s the natural love any parent has for their children, but it’s less strong than some of the other forms of love. If it’s eros love that would compel someone to walk across the room or start a new relationship, it’s storge love that will continue to sustain it once that initial spark or infatuation dies. There’s an emphasis on commitment. Storge love could also be used to describe the kind of love one might have for their nation or a sports team. And this is probably the kind of love I have for donair or the Calgary Flames. Like any good hockey fan, I’m committed to supporting the Flames even if they get swept in the first round of the playoffs. Like eros, storge isn’t found in the New Testament at all.
The third kind of love is Philia love. Philia love is sometimes translated as brotherly love or affection. It’s the kind of love deep friends often have for each other and often contains an emotional component to it. The city of Philadelphia is known as “The City of Brotherly Love” and that’s because the name Philadelphia literally translates from “brotherly love” philia and “city” delphia. Philia love is how the Septuagint describes the relationship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. There is deep respect, admiration and affection found in philia love. But because philia love is a brotherly love or affection, we can’t have philia love for our enemies. Philia love requires a previous relational connection.
The final kind of love found in Greek and the one that is overwhelmingly used in the New Testament is the word Agape. Agape love could be thought of as charity and can be defined as “a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances.”
Agape love is how the New Testament describes God’s love for us. In agape we see components of some of the other loves—there is loyalty, passion, respect—but it goes well beyond them. Agape love is the kind of love Paul says will remain forever and it’s agape love that Paul claims is the greatest of faith, hope and love.
So I want to take a look at some of the different times the New Testament describes agape love and see if we can wrap our heads around just how big and expansive this form of love really is.
We start in what is possible the most famous passage in all the Bible: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” God loved the world. God agape’d the world. And this agape love of God motivated him to give us his Son. So agape love is motivational.
Furthermore, in 1 John 4:8-10 we’re told, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God is love. God is agape. Agape love is at the centre of who God is and Jesus is a demonstration of that agape love. So agape love is not just motivational, but here we see that agape love is sacrificial. “This is love,” John says, “Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
So God’s love for us is both motivational and sacrificial. God’s love for us motivated him to send Jesus as a sacrifice on our behalf.
And when asked what the greatest commandment in all the Law is, Jesus responded in Matthew 22, “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”
So God’s love, the agape love of God is both motivational and sacrificial. And here Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments in all of Scripture, the commandments that essentially sum up all of the Law and the Prophets are for us to love God, agape God with all of our heart, soul and mind and to agape our neighbour as ourselves. Agape love isn’t just about the heart or your emotions but about your entire being. We should love God not just with our emotions but with our intellect and our very core.
Similar, we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We could spend an entire week just talking about this, but essentially we could say that love empathizes with others. We are to show the same kind of love to others as we would want to be shown to us. Agape love requires you to consider things from the perspective of someone else.
So agape love is a motivational love, it’s a sacrificial love, it’s an empathetic love and it’s a love that comes out of every aspect of our person; heart, soul and mind.
Furthermore, the GEMS theme this year comes from 1 Thessalonians 3:12, which say, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” Agape love isn’t static. Agape love actually increases and overflows.
Most things in the world are in some way fixed and static. What I mean by that is, if I have $100 and I give you $50, then I only have $50 left for myself. There is a limited supply with which to work. But agape love is not the same. Agape love increases and overflows. As anyone with kids can tell you, loving more than one person doesn’t diminish your love. If anything it magnifies it. As my ugly crying can attest to, I loved Karly before Samantha was born. But somehow my love for Karly has actually increased since Samantha’s birth. And that’s what agape love does. It continues to increase more and more and more and it eventually overflows because we simply cannot contain it.
Moreover, in 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Christ’s love, God's agape doesn’t just motivate him, but it compels us as well. The love God has for us motivated him to send Jesus as our sacrifice, but it also compels us to act as well. So agape love is a motivational, sacrificial, empathetic, full-being love that increases and overflows and actually compels and inspires others as well.
And finally, we return to 1 Corinthians 13, to the love chapter and we read in verse 4 through 8 that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
This love, this agape that the New Testament talks about, it should be obvious that this goes far, far beyond simply an emotion. Agape is patient and kind. Agape rejoiced in the truth. It protects others, it trusts others, it continually hopes and perseveres. Meanwhile, agape isn’t envious, boastful, proud, self-seeking or easily angered. Agape doesn’t dishonour others, it keeps no record of wrongs and will never delight in evil.
Most of the words in these lists, that love motivates, sacrifices, compels. It’s patient and kind and doesn’t boast or rejoice in evil. These are all action words. Or, as DC Talk put it on their 1992 album Free At Last, love is a verb. Agape is a verb. Agape isn’t just a way of thinking or feeling about a person. Agape love doesn’t just send warm fuzzy feelings towards someone else and hope that things work out for them. Agape love, the kind of love that comes from God and as John tells us is foundational to the character of God, is inherently action based.
So what is love? We could put it this way: Agape love is the kind of love that actively goes out of its way to seek the benefit of those around you. Agape love is motivated and compelled to sacrifice in order to make the lives of other people better. It doesn’t sit around and wait for others to express a need. Agape love will actively look for ways to help those around you. And Paul says that this is the kind of love that will endure. This kind of self-sacrificial love will continue to remain even into the age to come. But how does that work? What does that mean?
As a quick refresher, and for those of you who weren’t here last week, when we talk about the age to come we have to understand the prominent Jewish worldview of the first-century. For many Jews, and subsequently, the early church as well, history can be divided into two main categories. The first is what they would call this present age or the present era. This is an era marked by injustice, oppression, suffering, turmoil. In this era, as all of us have experienced, things aren’t always fair.
In fact, this is a primary concern in the Old Testament, especially in a lot of the Psalms. There is this recognition that sometimes bad things happen to good people while good things happen to bad people. And yet, a central belief of Judaism was that at some point in the future, a point that they called The Day of the Lord, that God would eventually make everything right. That eventually, God would act decisively and definitively in human history. That God would bring justice to the whole world and all oppression would cease.
Furthermore, those who are now dead would be raised to life. Which is why this point in history, this Day of the Lord, was also sometimes referred to as “the resurrection”. After this Day of the Lord, after the resurrection, according to Jewish belief, we would pass from this present age into the age to come.
If this era is marked by injustice and suffering, bad people getting good things and good people getting bad things, the age to come is the exact opposite. In the age to come, suffering is no more. In the age to come all people will come to Jerusalem and worship the One True God, the God of Abraham, rather than their idols. In the age to come, to quote Isaiah 2:
The mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills and all nations will stream to it. Many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
In the age to come, in the resurrection, after the Day of the Lord, finally everything will be made right. God himself will judge between nations and justice and mercy will reign forever. This is the Jewish understanding of the world that the early church inherited. There’s this present age, one marked by sin and conflict, death and destruction. And there’s the age to come, one marked by holiness and peace, life and creativity.
But in both the Jewish understanding as well as the early Christian understanding of the age to come, it was always here on earth. They were always thinking about a physical, tangible reality. The idea of a non-corporeal, non-physical afterlife somewhere else was introduced to Christianity centuries later. So when Paul talks about how faith, hope and love will remain, he’s talking about the age to come, but in his mind, he’s still thinking in terms of a physical, tangible, earthly reality.
Last week we talked about how faith will remain. We talked about how faith isn’t just an intellectual exercise where we agree with the right concepts but rather that faith is about trust. How we’re called to trust God to supply everything we need both in this life and the next. We talked about how, when you look back to the beginning of the Bible, to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, how they each had weaknesses that they needed the other to make up for. The text tells us that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone and so God created Eve to be a partner for Adam. They each met relational and emotional needs for each other. They were created for dependence on each other. And in the same way that that kind of dependence and reliance on each other was central to what it meant to be human before our fall into sin, that kind of dependence and reliance will continue to exist in the age to come.
Now, if faith is all about trusting others to make up for our weaknesses, then love is about deliberately seeking out how we might help others. Remember, agape love is the kind of love that actively goes out of its way to seek the benefit of those around you. Agape love doesn’t wait for someone to ask for help. Agape love doesn’t take a passive role. It searches for ways to help others. It hunts people down with kindness.
So in the age to come, not only will we trust that other people will make up for our weaknesses, we will be motivated and compelled by agape love. We will actually seek out ways to make up for the weaknesses of others. In the age to come, faith, hope and love will remain. Faith will trust others to make up for our weaknesses, but love will compel us to find new and creative ways of making up for the weaknesses of others.
Now there is one main distinction that needs to be made when discussing how first-century Jews understood this age and the age to come compared to how the first Christians understood these two ages. For first-century Jews, there was this age that we’re in. Then, at some time in the future, there is the resurrection and the Day of the Lord and then after that is the age to come. There’s no overlap. But for the first Christians, the resurrection wasn't a future event for us to anticipate. The resurrection already happened in Jesus and will continue later with us.
Paul makes this argument in 1 Corinthians 15 when he calls Jesus the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. What Paul is arguing is that the eschatological event of the resurrection that is meant to inaugurate the age to come has already started to happen in Jesus. The Day of the Lord, the day Jesus returns is still a future event. But where Judaism conflated the day of the Lord and the resurrection, the first Christians separated them. Viewing the resurrection as a past event, while maintaining that Christ’s second coming is the day when justice will be fully restored. And so we are already in some ways moving from this present age into the age to come.
The idea is that the age to come or the Kingdom of God, while not already completely established on earth, has been slowly manifesting itself in the world more and more ever since Jesus death and resurrection. This is what last week we called the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God.
Now, I bring all of this up about the resurrection and the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God because the first Christians understood that they had a role in establishing the Kingdom. They understood that even though Jesus rule and reign is not the complete reality on earth yet, that we should be engaged with the world around as us if it is. They understood that we should live here and now, in this present age, in light of God’s coming future.
Which means, when we’re talking about agape love and how it will continue to remain into the age to come, we as followers of Christ should be practicing that reality right here and right now. Agape love is the kind of love that actively goes out of its way to seek the benefit of those around you. We need to be practicing that kind of agape love here and now, not just with our friend and family, but with our neighbours and our enemies.
The whole idea of the incarnation, of God becoming human, was that God was willing to meet rebellious humanity where we are, rather than to wait for us to come to him. And in the same way, we are called to incarnate God’s agape love to those around us. We’re called to go out and meet them where they are, to intentionally and deliberately seek out ways that we can make up for their weaknesses. We’re called to hunt them down with kindness. Agape love is the kind of love that actively goes out of its way to seek the benefit of those around you.
So here are some questions I want us to wrestle with this week. First of all, how are you personally incarnating God’s love to those around you? How are you showing this kind of active, deliberate, love to your friends, family, neighbours and enemies? How are you intentionally seeking the benefit of those around you? What ways are you motivated and compelled to sacrifice in order to improve the lives of others?
Maybe it’s by deciding to buy less coffee at Tim Horton’s and instead donating that money. Maybe it’s by taking the time to listen to your coworker and actually hear what they’re saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. Maybe it’s by mowing the lawn of your neighbour that has a bad hip and can no longer do it. The possibilities are endless because love increases and overflows. It insists on finding new, creative ways to manifest itself. How are you personally making the love of God tangible in the lives of the people around you?
Secondly, how are we as Faith Community Church building the Kingdom of God in Milford? How are we as a church making a difference for the people of this area? I saw a quote online this week that said, “If a church closes and the only people who care are the ones who attend, something is wrong.” Now, we’re not in any danger of closing our doors. But we still need to ask the question are we as Faith Community Church making a tangible, beneficial impact in the lives people around us? If we were to close up and stop operating as a church, would Milford know? Would they care?
How are we personally incarnating the love of God to those around us; our friends, family, coworkers, neighbours and enemies? And how are we as a local church actively building the Kingdom of God in Milford?
Those are the questions I want us to think about, reflect on and wrestle with this week. And as we do that, here’s my challenge for us as well.
In 1 Corinthians 13, verse 4-7 we read a list of things that love is and that love does. This week, I want you to spend some time reading through that list and wherever you see the word love, replace it with your own name. So I would read it as Jerry is patient, Jerry is kind. And as you do that, I want you to listen for God to convict you. As you read through that list, replacing love with your own name, where are some areas that God might tap you on the shoulder and say “That’s not really accurate.” Jerry does not dishonour others, Jerry is not self-seeking. Really? Is that true for me?
Read through the list and allow God to speak to you about where you might be able to love more genuinely. God never convicts us simply to condemn us. The purpose is always for growth. If he’s pointing out an area where your love could increase and overflow, then lean into that. God is love and all love ultimately comes from God. Which means he is able to make your love increase and overflow.
Agape love is the kind of love that actively goes out of its way to seek the benefit of those around you. And my prayer for us here, both individually and as a church, is that we would be compelled to display that kind of radical love to the world around us in new and fresh and creative ways.