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You Can't Get Love From a Burrito

Date: Sep. 13, 2008

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

You know, for some reason, when I read this passage, my head gets flooded with songs.  Unfortunately, most of those songs are pretty cheesy love songs that are so filled with clichés that I find them funny.  But the one song that really stands out (and it is not so cheesy) is All You Need is Love by the Beatles.  The desire for love is so pervasive that I am probably not the only one in this room whose mind, upon the mention of the word “love”, is immediately filled with imagery or words or just our own thoughts about love.  We all want to be loved, or at least I have never met anyone didn’t want to be loved, but the specifics of what it means to be loved or how to love is ambiguous at best.  Everybody has his own idea and some of them are quite silly, but in chapter 13 in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we have a chance to see and understand the importance of love and what love really is.

If you remember from last week, Paul gave the sense that the Corinthians really wanted to have certain spiritual gifts.  They all wanted the flashy gifts, like speaking in tongues, but the last passage we studied ended with, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”  The second part of that verse is the start of today’s passage, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”  Then Paul goes into verses 1 – 3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  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 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.”  I like these verses.  They do two things: the first being showing how to use the spiritual gifts and the second being underlining the importance of love.

The Corinthians really wanted certain gifts, and as Bob said last week, we all like to receive gifts, but the gift itself is not the whole picture.  A gift can become unwanted or even harmful if it is without love.  Look at the examples Paul gives.  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  There are many people out there with wonderful speaking voices and who have the ability to move men, but if they do not have love, their words are harmful.  One of the greatest examples of this was Adolf Hitler.  He spoke very well and people have commented that his messages were nearly hypnotic.  He was very passionate and he could rile up the people, but he did not have love and his eloquent words caused the torture and death of millions.  The aftermath of Hitler’s words have affected generations of people, from those who were in the concentration camps to even the Germans that followed him.  Although my mother was not alive at the time, she is still so ashamed of what Hitler did that she cannot even watch a movie that has Nazis in it.  Hitler’s words still resonate today, but like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal, it’s just a loud noise that won’t go away and it hurts.

“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 have not love, I am nothing.”  Prophecy, knowledge and faith are each very powerful gifts.  If we knew what was going to happen, it would save us a lot of trouble.  Peter would be happy if he had this.  Then he would know what to invest in and become an extremely successful investor.  If we knew everything there was to know we could advance our lives beyond our imagination.  And if we had tremendous faith, then anything would be possible.  By these accounts, I wouldn’t mind having those gifts.  But, again, without love, those gifts are meaningless.  Take, for example, the gift of knowledge.  We live in a time where knowledge is treasured: “Knowledge is power.”  The Internet has the world of information at our fingertips.  Anything you could possibly want to know is just a click away, or if you have an iPhone, like Jayoung, that information is anywhere you have a signal.  But some people are worried that with all our knowledge we will destroy the world.  First it was nuclear capabilities and, recently, there is fear about the Large Hadron Collider.  If you haven’t heard, the LHC is a giant particle accelerator that was built by a number of nations in France and Switzerland.  The fear was that when this particle accelerator would be powered up, it could create tiny black holes that could eventually swallow up the whole world beginning with Switzerland. The LHC was first turned on Wednesday and we are not gone yet, if you were afraid.  The point is that for all the knowledge we have, humanity can blow up the world or suck it in multiple times over.  That in itself shows that knowledge on its own is not all good.

Each of the things that Paul mentions in verses 1 through 3 are connected together by their need for love.  Without love those gifts might do some good, but most likely hurt and pain will come and the point of having those gifts is lost.  That really makes love sound important.  But what is it about love that makes it so important?  Jesus made it a special point in his ministry.  He said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Jesus gave love as a command to believers and used the word “must”.  Those are some pretty strong words.  Is that why love is so important, because we were told to love?  Or is there something in the very nature of love that makes it so important?  I am inclined to think that it is the latter, but that really brings up the question, “What is love?”

As noted earlier, everybody has his own idea on what love is.  Some think love is a feeling in the pit of their stomach, a bit of queasy nervousness, but that feeling can be replicated with a greasy burrito.  Others look to movies or songs for their idea of love.  Like I said, when I read this passage, cheesy love songs popped into my head.  Some are stand alone songs like, What is Love, Love is a Battlefield, and Love Me Like a Hurricane.  There are some that are by famous artists, like Elvis or the Beatles: Love Me Tender or Love Me Do.  Then there are the love songs that are tied to movies like The Power of Love from Back to the Future, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On from Titanic or who could ever forget Whitney Houston belting out at the top of her lungs, for the movie The Bodyguard, the song I Will Always Love You.  That one brings a tear to my eye and my hands to my ears.  Beyond songs, romantic movies pervade existence.  Movies like Ghost or The Lake House show a bond between people that transcends time and even life.  Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, widely considered the quintessential love story, so much so that even the name “Romeo” has been given the honor meaning a man with great love.  Vincent van Gogh had a crazy idea of love.  He really wanted to give of himself to a woman he loved, so he did.  Van Gogh cut off his ear and gave it to her, and I can only wonder what she thought.  But is any of that love?  Do any of those things really capture what love is? 

I, for one, do not think that the true effects of love can be imitated by a burrito or any other food, and I think Paul and I are on the same page.  He continues to write in verses 4 - 7, “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, 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.”  Paul doesn’t give a definition of love, but he does show off some of its attributes.  He mentions that love doesn’t do a lot of things like envy, boast, isn’t rude, self-seeking or easily angered.  And verse 7 says, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  There is an absoluteness to love and it comes across in these verses.  Love is unconditional.  The passage doesn’t say, “Love is sometimes patient,” but, “Love is patient.”  It doesn’t say, “It boasts occasionally,” but “it does not boast.”  And it doesn’t say, “it is not self-seeking when the situation suits,” but, “it is not self-seeking.”  Plus, there are all the “always” in verse 7, and the beginning of verse 8 says, “Love never fails.”  You know, the verses of this part of the passage would make a good song, if anyone wants to try. 

I don’t know about you, but those attributes of love seem impossible to me.  I know that I do not have it in me.  I am rude, proud, easily frustrated, and a bit manipulative to get what I want.  That’s the opposite of the attributes of love.  I have some of them, but not all the time.  When I look out at the world, I see the same thing.  With people, everything becomes so conditional.  People will love others when it is convenient not when it is needed.  The divorce rate in this country is over 50% because most people are unwilling to work through problems.  When times get tough, they don’t persevere, but cave in and break apart.  It is really sad that society’s idea of love is so self-centered.  People want to be loved, but no one wants to take the extra step of loving someone else unconditionally. 

This happens because there are too many people out there who try to fit the definition of love into a box like “love is a feeling” or “love is an action” or “love is a decision”, but when that happens a great part of the definition of love is lost.  1 John 4:16b says, “God is love.”  Love is not a feeling or an action or even a decision, but is God, and his dwelling in us is how we can love.  “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.” (1 John 4:7,8) and “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16c) Before we can love anyone, it has to come from God.  That is why love is so important.  1 John 4:10 explains love, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Finally, a definition of love!  The definition of love is Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and Jesus himself said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus on the cross is not an example of love, but the definition.  That action was unconditional.  He did not take the sins of a handful of people, like his disciples, but he took the sins of the whole world: those who were at his side and those who spit on his face.  He died for the women who wept for him and the soldiers who mocked him.  Jesus took the shame of both presidential candidates and the most viscous world leaders.  Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” for the homeless man on the street and every student at IIT, even those who actively smear his name.  And it is all for love.  We could never do this and have a really hard time even understanding just a bit of what Jesus did.

With this in mind, we can see why Paul wrote verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  This is kind of a bold statement.  And many people might even argue this fact.  I mean, faith and hope are very important in a Christian’s life.  We are told many time to live our lives by faith and to plant our hope in God, but this passage shows that love is greater than faith and hope.  As it said in verse 2, you can live a life of great faith, but if you do not have love, it doesn’t matter.  Also you can live your life with great hope, but it is useless without love.  Because, if God didn’t love us first, it does not matter how much faith or hope you have.  If Jesus didn’t die for your sins, there is no redemption no matter how much you believe or hope.  God’s love is that first step in salvation.  This becomes more apparent if you substitute “God” and “He” for “love” and “it” in this passage.  If you do that, you can see this passage shows the attributes of God.  “God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast…etc.”  This passage describes God perfectly, since he is love and loves us. 

And “since God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)  That indwelling of God is how we can love each other.  On our own it is impossible.  We don’t have it in us, but when God is at our center he changes us and helps us to love as he loves us.  After this all of our relationships can be founded on love: husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, classmates, coworkers, and even strangers on the street.  But that first step is accepting God’s love for you.  Think about who you say you love.  Are they in this room or are they across the world?  Why do you love them?  How do you show your love for them?  Does it even matter that you love them or show your love for them?

That expression of love has great power.  You hear of stories of people saying that they would climb the highest mountain or pluck the stars from the sky in the name of love, but those are just fanciful tales.  The reality of love, however, can change the course of history.  On the small scale, like in the workplace, it is difficult to get people to work hard with a whip and constantly looking over their shoulder.  However, with a loving and caring manner a person can be encouraged to great things.  A man who loves his job will always work harder than a slave who is beaten.  On the larger scale, Martin Luther loved God and the German people.  He saw that the Catholic priests were cheating lowly peasants.  The priests were essentially claiming that to be saved people could pay money to see religious relics.  Luther saw this as bribing the way to heaven and he proceeded to bring change about in the church.  What resulted was a split from the Catholics and the Reformation ensued.  Luther became an outlaw in the eyes of the Catholics, but charged forward and because of him, our culture changed and we are even able to read the Bible in a language we understand because of him.  Many times he did not want to go on: it was too hard, but God was his source of strength and love.  Without that love, he would have caved very early on.  Instead, he changed the world.  He wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t Superman, but by simply having God’s love, Martin Luther has touched the lives of countless people spanning half a millennia.  Wouldn’t you like to have that ability?  That change did not come by force, but by love.

As some of you may have heard, just over a week ago I became engaged.  It is a new chapter in my life and it won’t be an easy one.  First of all, the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) Like I said earlier, I have many attributes that are the opposite of love.  I am a very selfish and proud man, but Jesus loved the church by giving his life for her.  It is a daunting task that I know that I cannot do.  Yet, Jesus did just that for me and since God is the source of love, I have to look to Jesus for strength and wisdom.  I will fail and falter as a husband if I go it alone, but when I remember and accept what Jesus did for me, I am able to love my future wife, Viola, as Jesus loved me because Jesus is with me.  Second, neither of our parents is Christian.  When I told my mother about my engagement, she freaked and thought I was crazy and making a mistake.   It is going to be extremely hard to change her mind on that, but it is only by love that I can show her that I am not making a mistake.  If I try to force this upon her, she will only resist more, but with love she will see that my decision to marry Viola is the best possible decision I could make.  Please, pray for me on that.

Love is not what the world thinks love is.  It is neither a burrito induced stomach pain nor a cosmic alignment of the planets nor something that develops between two people over time.  God is love, plain and simple.  There is no substitute.  Love is more important than your faith and what you hope for.  And with love is how to use the gifts given to you.  Look around you…right now, look around you.  Do you love the person sitting next to you?  Look at the list of attributes.  Are you this way to that person?  What are you lacking?  Take the time this week, even today, to reflect on love.  We have to have it, otherwise we are nothing and what we do is meaningless.  But with love, there are truly no limits.  History can change with just one person with love; it’s happened more than one time already.  So to do that, as the Beatles sang, “All you need is love; love is all you need,” God’s love that is. 

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