St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

What Is Love?

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Text: 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.

It won’t be too long now. A big day on the calendar is coming up soon. That’s right. Valentine’s Day will soon be here. You have seen all of the decorations in the stores since Christmas. It is that special day that is dedicated to love. No doubt, you have probably heard the words of our text many different times at weddings. For that reason, I decided to take the opportunity to preach on this text in a non-wedding setting. This will give us the chance to learn about this text and see how it not only applies to married couples, but also to other aspects of our lives, as well. So, to start off our study this morning, I would like to ask you a very simple question. What is love? How do you define love? It sounds like an easy enough question, until you try to answer it. Love can be a very hard thing to define, especially when we use the word in so many different ways. I love my spouse. I love my kids. I love my house. I love pizza. Obviously, we do not mean the same thing in each of those sentences. So, WHAT IS LOVE? This morning, the apostle will help us to answer that question. We will see that 1. Love Is Never Thinking Of Yourself. Also, 2. Love Is Always Thinking Of What Is Good.

Before we go any further, we have to look at the greatest outpouring of love and that is the love that God has shown to us. Few passages summarize God’s love for us so well as Romans 5:8. There we read, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” To appreciate this verse, we need to start with the phrase, “while we were still sinners.” This reminds us of who and what we are by nature. We were sinners. This is shown all the time in the unloving way that we treat others. We know that we have not loved others the way that we should. It would not too much recollection of a day’s activities for us to come up with the unloving things that we have done. We see that we are anything but loveable to God. As a matter of fact, God tells us that he hates sin and that those who sin will be separated from him for all eternity.

Yet, we read, “God demonstrates his love for us.” The Greek word for love in this verse is different from the way that we usually use the word. It means a choosing to love. It means loving even when the object of our love is not lovable. This reminds us that God chose to love us, in spite of our sinful condition. God did not just say that he loved us. He put this love into action. “Christ died for us.” God sent his only Son into the world to take care of our sinful condition and the sins that we commit. God loved you and me so much that he punished his only Son, who was without sin. God poured out his wrath against sin on his Son. As a result of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, all of our sins have been paid for. God chose to love you and me so much that he did everything necessary for our salvation. This is the greatest example of love that has ever been shown. Indeed, if you really wanted a definition of love, this would be it.

What makes our text so interesting is the fact that the same word for love that is used in Romans 5:8 is the same word that is used in our text. It shows us that the love we are talking about is more than just an emotion or a warm feeling in our stomach. It always shows itself in action. As we study these verses, we can see that very clearly.

We will begin with verses 4-5, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I am going to pick out a couple of the phrases and see how we can put this type of love that pleases God into action. First of all, it says that “love is patient.” Patience is something that is in short supply these days. No one is patient with anyone anymore. We get impatient when we have to wait too long in the checkout line at the store. We get impatient when the person who is driving in front of us is going too slowly or they don’t go the exact second the light turns green. Students get impatient when someone is taking too long at the drinking fountain. Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, get impatient with each other. As we live for Christ, we want to do the exact opposite of that. We want to be patient with each other. If someone is taking “too long,” we can be fine with that.

It says “love is kind.” The kindness that is spoken of here is more than the idea of having a sweet disposition. It is more than just being nice to others. It also has the idea of doing useful, beneficial acts for others. In other words, we are willing to put ourselves out for others. When we see something that we can do for someone else, we take that opportunity. We can even do this without someone asking us for our help. If it is helpful to them, we are glad to do it.

Going on a little further, we see that “It does not dishonor others.” Other translations read, “Love is not rude.” Good manners are more than just good etiquette. They are a way of showing respect for the feelings of others. This can be a difficult thing for us to do. It is so easy for us to take someone else for granted. We get lazy in our interactions with our family and friends. We say things without thinking about how they affect others. It probably isn’t that cashier’s fault that the line is moving slowly, but, even if it is, does that give us the right to treat them with disrespect? We start to treat the members of our families as if they are our personal servants to order about. God-pleasing love treats others with respect. Coupled with that is “It is not self-seeking.” This means that other’s needs and feelings supercede our own. We do not look at others and say, “What can you do for me?” Rather, we think, “What can I do for you?”

The final phrase in this section is “it keeps no record of wrongs.” This, definitely, goes against our nature. If someone wrongs me, whether intentionally or accidentally, whether real or perceived, there is a part of me that wants to keep a gigantic scoreboard in the back of my mind. I keep track of all of the wrongs done against me, which then gives me the license to either be mean back to them, when the occasion presents itself.  Or, if I am not the one who repays the evil, but something bad happens to them, I still get a little thrill because “They had it coming to them.” Godly love forgives and forgets. We have no business holding on to grudges. We want to model the love and forgiveness that God has shown to us. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

The reason we need these instructions is that we are naturally very good at loving – not loving others, but loving ourselves. We are, by nature, self-centered. As we want to praise our God, we see that we are on the bottom of the chain. God wants us to love him above all things. He, then, wants us to love those around us. Finally, we love ourselves. As we follow this pattern, we will find that we have true joy in our lives. Trying to make ourselves happy is a never-ending quest. However, when we show this type of love to those around us, we find it to be a very fulfilling experience. Love, God-pleasing love, is not thinking of ourselves first, but of those God puts in my path every day.

Many of the phrases in the first two verses of our text have come from the angle of what love is not. Verses 6-7 tells what love is. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” reminds us that, out of love for God and those around us, we are not happy when evil or injustice is done. We are not happy when someone else sins. It may not seem or feel like the loving thing to do, but out of love for them and love for our God, we want to show them what is right and what is wrong. To fail to do so would show that this person’s feelings are more important to us than what God says. It is, also, unloving to them, because they are sinning against God. If we fail to warn them, they will be lost forever. What is better: a moment of pain now or an eternity apart from God? Our ultimate hope is that they will turn from their ways and receive from their God the forgiveness won for them by Jesus. As we do so, we rejoice with the truth. The truth of God’s Word, both law and gospel, is what gives our hearts cause for rejoicing.

“Loves always protects.” This means that we are constantly out to protect those around us. In some cases, it might mean that we protect them from some physical danger. We make sure that those around us are safe and secure. We, probably, have more opportunities to protect the reputation of others. How easy it is, when someone is trashing the reputation of others, to either remain silent or to join in. We try to justify it by saying, “But, it’s the truth!” In the end, that really doesn’t matter. If, either by my words or lack thereof, someone’s reputation is being damaged, I am not showing the type of love that pleases God. Rather than trashing them, we can use that opportunity to defend those who are not there to speak for themselves. We can use that opportunity to speak of that person’s good qualities. “Love always protects.”

“[Love] always trusts.” This is not some sort of a gullible trust, that you believe everything that you hear. Rather, it is ready to believe the best about others. “[Love] always hopes.” Christian love is not pessimistic. We live in hope. We live in the hope that God will care for us. We live in the hope that eternal life is waiting for us. This also means that we do not lose hope for those who have turned their backs on God. We know that, as long as that person is still on this earth, there is still hope that the person will be brought to faith. There is still hope that the person will see the sin that they are living in and come back to God in repentance. Since this is true, we have hope for them. Part of this hope is that we will continue to witness to the truths that we find in God’s Word.

Finally, it says, “it always perseveres.” This Christian love keeps going. Our love for our God continues, in spite of the troubles that we might face in our lives. We know that he does not leave us. We know that he will bring us safely through this life to the eternal love of heaven. This also means that the love that we show to others perseveres. It may seem, at times, as though there is no reason for us to keep loving others. We may feel that it is never returned. It feels as though no one notices. Why keep loving when it seems as though it really doesn’t matter? The reason we keep loving is because God has loved us so much. That’s what John writes in his First Epistle, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Christian love always perseveres.

If you are anything like me, when you read and hear the ways that godly love is to be displayed, you get a little uncomfortable. The reason for this discomfort is that I know I haven’t always shown this type of love to those around me. I, also, know that this is displeasing to God. How thankful we can be that God continues to love us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to strengthen us so that we can love as we have been loved. He strengthens us when we hear his Word and are reminded of what his love moved him to do. He strengthens us every time we receive the Lord’s Supper. There we see just how much he loved us as we receive his very body and blood with the bread and the wine. Indeed, when we are reminded of this, we join John in his exclamation, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

Earlier, I asked you to answer the question, “What is love?” Go to the greeting card section of the store and see what a pitiful excuse you will find to that question. Read a book or watch a movie and see them struggle to tell you what love is. Do you want to know what love is? The answer is really quite simple. First and foremost, God is love. We see that in his actions and attitudes toward us. Then, as we see that amazing love for us, we want to reflect that love to those around us. Love is never thinking of myself first. Love is always thinking of what is good for those around me. When I have the opportunity to show this, I can see exactly what love is. Amen.