Shabbat Shalom. Last week we continued our series through 1 Corinthians with a message on chapter 12 given by Rabbi Glenn. Aptly titled, Nitroglycerine in the Hands of Toddlers, Rabbi Glenn pointed out how this chapter of 1 Corinthians has been misused and misunderstood by Messiah’s Community. 1 Corinthians 12 is not about cataloging all spiritual gifts but is really focused on the petty and incredibly destructive squabbles and infighting in the Corinthian community. Pride, ego, and immaturity had been affecting the community in their practice of the Lord’s supper, and in chapters 12-14 we see how it had affected their understanding and practicing of spiritual gifts.
Rabbi Glenn walked us through how the Lord wanted everyone to understand that different giftings do not make a person superior or inferior. Our drasha last week ended on the important point that it is good to desire greater spiritual gifting and to more greatly serve the Lord, but it cannot be about us. It cannot be a self-centered effort to make ourselves feel good or superior to those around us.
So this morning, Lord willing, we will be walking through another misunderstood chapter in God’s Word, 1 Corinthians 13. It is purposely placed between chapters discussing issues on spiritual gifts and unity. This is to draw our attention to the key for solving the problems. We will see the answer to how we should be living our lives to avoid the issues that plagued the Corinthian community.
1 Corinthians 12 ends with the promise that Rabbi Paul is about to show us the proper and as we will see – only way to serve and worship Adonai. This was something missing in the community in Corinth, and we are missing consistently in our communities today, God’s Love.
If I were to take an informal poll of people in a room and asked them what first comes to mind when they think about 1 Corinthians 13, it would probably be a wedding. After all this chapter is the go-to passage for a Bible reading at a wedding, Christian or secular. But the fact is that 1 Corinthians 13 is not about weddings, marriage, or the love between men and women.
I almost titled this drasha, “1 Corinthians 13 Is Not About Weddings”, but decided to seek inspiration elsewhere. So the title of my message this morning is “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, one of three questions we will be answering today. I should also add that while this chapter is not about weddings it is perfectly fine as a reading for them, there is a lot to learn in context about our relationships in this chapter!
1 Corinthians 13 is a poem on love. A powerful poem elegantly constructed for teaching the Corinthians and us today how important and essential love is for everything in our lives. We can divide this chapter into three parts, each of which answers a major question related to Love:
Verses 1-3 is about, “What’s love got to do with it?” What does love has to do with our spiritual gifts and actions.
Verses 4-7 answer the question of “What Is Love?” Because what we think about love in our society is very different from the kind of love Rabbi Paul is talking about.
Verses 8-13 explains, “How does love connect us to Adonai in eternity?” That this entire discourse on love not only matters for the issues we are dealing with right now but has deep eternal implications as well.
We begin then with the question, “What’s love got to do with it?” Why is love so important and what is the results of not having love? Is love just a second hand emotion?
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is the center of everything we say and do. If we do not have love then no matter how impressive, sincere, or consistent our actions are they will amount to nothing.
Rabbi Paul was blessed by the Lord with all the gifts described in this section just not at this level. So, to really grab our attention Rabbi Paul describes himself in these verses as the person we should reject instead of imitate. It is purely hypothetical and he does this to really emphasize just how serious acting without love is.
The first verse has the gift that the Corinthians and many today believe is the most important, speaking in tongues. Imagine being able to speak in every language on Earth like the Apostles on Shavuot or Pentecost, it is a wonderful gift that we read about in Acts. But even better than that would to be able to speak in the language of heaven, the language of the angels, the language that has been used to praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords throughout eternity. However, without love we, not God’s gifts but us, are like a loud gong being hit repeatedly, just empty noise.
We move to the gift of prophecy, a gift Rabbi Paul in the next chapter will tell us is the gift the Corinthians should be praying for. Imagine having the gift of Prophecy, being gifted in the same way as the Prophets of old. To share the gift of Samuel or Elijah and even have it in a way greater than them by knowing all things. Or having all faith, a powerful faith that can move mountains, that can accomplish so much. Yet even if you have all knowledge, know all mysteries, and have all faith, without love the Lord tells us we are nothing. We are meant to understand that despite all the works we may do, if we do not come from a place of love, then we are nothing and it is all ultimately worthless.
Even giving our money to the poor, Tzedakah, one of the most important and worthwhile acts we can do according to God’s Word is also nothing without love. The end of verse three is a bit debated but should best be understood as connected to martyrdom, giving up your life for the sake of others. To give up your own life for the sake of another is modeled for us in the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua.
Those joined to Him have the promise of eternal life forever with Him and will rise just as He did when He returns. But if we sacrifice ourselves just because of devotion or obedience and not from a place of love we gain nothing.
So love is part of everything that we do. Acting through the love of God is not optional, but essential. If we do not have God’s Love in our use of spiritual gifts or actions all that we do is eventually worthless for His Eternal Kingdom.
At this point I imagine the Corinthians hearing this message being read would realize the seriousness of love, if they did they would maybe be thinking, “Okay Paul, you say love is important but What Is Love?” The next section explains to us in great detail what love is, and also importantly, what love is not.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, 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.
From these verses, we have a list of 15 qualities related to love. These verses are of course famous for being read at weddings and tend to come off as a list of things that we can use to describe love. But in the Greek, these are all verbs, actions being used to show us love’s characteristics. It is also a list that comes from the actions of the Corinthians. So it is also how our behaviors show us whether or not we are acting out of God’s love focused on others, or out of our own love and self-interest. I would strongly encourage everyone, myself of course included, to pray through this list and ask the Lord to show you if there is an area you need to work on in your life.
- Love is patient (in suffering)
The Lord has shown His patience through His love for us by not judging us right now for our sins against Him. In the same way we need to be patient with others when they cause us suffering and not given into our anger for what they have done.
- Love is kind (loving, merciful)
We are called to act kindly and loving to others, to have compassion. This can be reaching out to do good deeds for others or just understanding and having mercy for others. It may also be having compassion for the suffering that they have in their lives.
- Love is not jealous
The community in Corinth was marked deeply by their jealousy for one another. The next eight in our list are negatives and are related to their struggles, but these are also struggles for us today. We cannot have jealousy or envy for one another. It will destroy our communities and relationships like it was doing in Corinth throughout this letter. Rabbi Glenn talked in detail about this last Shabbat and his message is a great wake-up call for this issue.
- Love does not boast (praise itself)
Love does not have to puff itself up. It does not have to praise itself constantly to others.
If we are walking in God’s Love then we should be praising and encouraging others more than ourselves. Boasting demeans others around us and gives us an inflated sense of self-worth based on our own supposed accomplishments.
- Love is not proud (impress others)
Connected with boasting, Love does not have to impress others and be prideful. The antidote to pride is humbleness, properly understanding our role in Messiah’s Community and trying earnestly to live it out. It is realizing that everything isn’t about you and that’s okay.
- Love does not dishonor others (propriety)
The idea here is really about acting in the right way in the communities that we are in. It is respecting what is proper behavior and not acting out in a way that damages others to draw attention to ourselves.
- Love is not self-seeking (seeking self-worth or self-gain)
We should be focused on others more than ourselves. If our first thought when stepping into a situation is “What will this get me?” then we need to change our thinking. We have love when we think about what is good for those around us, both the people we like and the people we don’t. Our Messiah and the Torah commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and in addition we are even to love our enemies. To seek their good before our own is a powerful action of love.
- Love is not easily angered (provoked)
We have all probably been on the receiving end of someone else’s anger and taken out our anger on others. Many of us know very personally the destructive power of anger. Anger can lead us to seriously hurt others, divide our friendships, families, and even our congregations. With the Lord’s help we can control our anger and find freedom from it as well.
- Love does not keep records of wrongs done
This is one that I am especially sensitive to. We cannot keep records of wrongs done against us by others. This does not mean we ignore what has happened to us but is more about holding grudges or desiring punishment on those who have hurt us. We have to forgive those who hurt us even if they never approach us asking for it. Grudges and keeping records is a poison that can destroy us as individuals and destroy our communities as well. An argument we might be having with someone can come with it all the baggage from every other negative encounter we have had with them.
- Love does not delight in evil
- Love rejoices with the truth
These two characteristics should be read and understood as opposites. The evil and truth being described here is unrighteousness and righteousness. Love detests the things that God hates and loves the things that God loves. It rejoices in the truth of God’s Word and the promises of God.
The final four characteristics of love found in these verses help lead into the final part of this chapter and have a future looking focus.
- Love bears all things
In the NIV we find this characteristic translated as always protects. But based on its connection in this grouping it can be better translated as “bears all things” which is found in most other translations. This doesn’t mean we are to passively accept horrible things in our lives or in the society around us. Instead, it means that love never gives up and bears the burdens of life without throwing in the towel. It is running the race set before us to the end and to keep moving forward despite the circumstances in our lives. This is not something we can do through our own power, it requires the strength that comes from Adonai through the Holy Spirit. It also comes from being in community with one another. So, that we can help bear others burdens and encourage one another to press on until the end.
- Love believes all things
- Love hopes all things
This is not an innocent belief and hope. Nor is this a hope or belief without substance. It is about believing and holding fast to the hope we have in God through Messiah Yeshua. The unbreakable promise that if we put our lives in His hands and believe in His Son then we have the promise of eternal life forever. That in the future when He returns we will join Yeshua and all of God’s people in the New Jerusalem. It is why we can have a peace despite our circumstances, because of the belief and hope we hold on to through the Lord’s power.
- Love endures all things
Much like our bearing all things, Love endures until the end because of belief and hope.
Hopefully at this point you have a better idea what love is. This was a long list but if I had to summarize it I would say Love is being other-centered that is modeled for us in the love of Messiah Yeshua, and is holding onto the eternal promises He has made to us.
Each of us have failed to live up to the standard that has been set before us but we have the promise of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua. We need to ask God to move in us so that we can be less of ourselves and more like Him.
The importance of love that represents the Lord’s character is not found just in Rabbi Paul’s letter but is found throughout Scripture. In this section we focused on understanding love through our perspective and actions, but we also understand what love is through the nature of our Creator. In the Apostle John’s first letter we see how love is the essential nature of Adonai Himself. We read in 1 John 7-11:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 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.11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
We are commanded here just like in 1 Corinthians to love one another, but the source of our ability to love is God. “We love because he first loved us”, everyone who has this true love, this love that belongs to God is part of His community. If we do not have it then we cannot claim to really be His. It is why we read in Matthew the warning of Messiah Yeshua that many who practice spiritual gifts that seem right will eventually find they have no place in heaven.
The Lord is the one who has defined love, He is the Author of Love. Through the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua we see the love of God demonstrated for us in His amazing sacrifice. He died before we loved Him, He died for us when we lost in our own sin and disobedience.
Just like in 1 Corinthians the result of God’s love for us should be to love one another. We should model the same love that he has shown us and if we are not then we need to make it our priority to correct that with the Lord’s help. But there is more going on in 1 Corinthians 13 then just life in this world and what we are doing in the present. What we do right now connects us to eternal implications.
The final section of 1 Corinthians 13 is eschatological in nature, focused on our eternal destiny and connection with Adonai. It answers the question. “How does love connect us to Adonai in eternity?”
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. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a 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. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love never fails, love reaches heaven and does not fail to make it to the goal. Love is what connects us from life in this world to eternal life in the next.
Our working through the difficulties that come from being in community with others, with struggling in our selfish desires, is something God uses to transform us towards what we will be completely in His heavenly kingdom, having the same character as our Messiah.
Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will eventually pass away. The great spiritual gifts given so much time in chapters 12-14 of this letter do not endure forever. After Adonai’s final judgement there will be no need for these gifts because all things will be brought to completion and we will be completely in God’s presence.
We read that what we know now in this life is incomplete, but when Messiah comes again and things are brought to completion then we will know in full. Rabbi Paul equates all the knowledge and giftings he has now to like being a child. There is a huge change from childhood to adulthood, we all believed we knew much more than we did when we were younger. We didn’t even know how much we didn’t know! In the same way there will be a huge change in our understanding when things are brought to completion and the Day of the Lord comes.
Like Moses being hidden in the cleft of the rock so as not to look on the face of Adonai, what we see now of Adonai is but a reflection, an imperfect picture. But soon we will stand before the Lord because of the Messiah and see face to face. We will know Him as fully as possible on that day just as He right now knows us fully.
We can find this promise throughout Scripture but a great place to see it is in Revelation 20:1-4:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This is the hope and faith that we all share. This is what love believes and hopes and endures for. The promise of eternal life and delight, forever worshiping the Lord in love with one another.
Adonai, through Rabbi Paul, is trying to teach the Corinthians to see the big picture in front of them. To step back and see that this life is about something more than petty squabbles, personal desires, or even powerful spiritual gifts. It is about having a hope and belief in a promise that is unbreakable. It is about striving for that which endures forever: faith, hope, and love, and learning to practice God’s love in this life which we will do completely and perfectly in the next. Or as N.T. Wright puts it, “Love is not our duty, it is our destiny. Love is the language they speak in the new creation and we get to learn it here”. It is difficult, messy, and can be very frustrating, but it is essential to what gives our lives lasting worth and allows us to reach the goal placed before us.
As we come to the end of 1 Corinthians 13 we have this powerful statement that faith, hope and love endure, and the greatest of these is love. I hope at this point you can see why Rabbi Paul names love as the greatest. When I read this chapter on love, this sweeping poetic statement on why it matters, what it is, and how it endures eternally it makes me want do the hard work of focusing on others instead of myself. It is so very easy to just do our own thing, to just focus on ourselves and tune others out. It’s our default pattern and there are many times when the last thing I want to do is be thinking about someone else or wishing more people thought of me! But we are called to put others before ourselves, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So the next time you find yourself about to give a brother or sister a piece of your mind on their behavior ask yourself, “Am I doing this out of love or out of my own hurt and desires?” The next time you find yourself jealous of what God is doing in the lives of others, ask Him to help you show His love. Ask him to put a little love in your heart.
May the Lord enable us to love others just as He so deeply loves us. May He encourage and strengthen our communities to build one another up and not tear each other down. May each of us have a faith, a hope, and a love that endures through all our struggles; that endures through though the good times and the bad, and endures until we look upon our creator face to face in our eternal home as He tells us, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”