Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is full of many theological images. It is in this letter that Paul fully articulates a theology of the cross. However, the necessity of this letter is borne out of conflict in the church. The community of believers in Corinth weren’t in harmony with one another. It is in this letter to the church that Paul shows them a better way and writes his expressive passage on love.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13
The Beatles sing,
Hold me, love me, hold me, love me.
Ain’t got nothing’ but love babe,
Eight days a week.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.
Then there’s Paul and his writing in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s referred to as the love chapter and perhaps for good reason. Paul writes expressively about love, naming its virtues and those things that love is not. He places it with faith and hope and proclaims that love is the greatest of these.
This passage from 1 Corinthians is read at countless weddings and why wouldn’t you? The passage is simply beautiful. But some context is required. First, let’s back up one verse and read 1 Corinthians 12:31, where we find the following, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
This is how Paul directly sets up his discourse on love, to show you the most excellent way. Of course, he has just finished speaking about division and a desire for unity. Wrapped in the language of the body, about how the eye, ear, hand and foot, the whole body must function together. No one part can function fully on its own, so let me show you the most excellent way Paul writes.
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth isn’t to teach them about love. It’s to teach them about God, about God’s love for them in a desire to encourage the church to come together. The church in Corinth is undergoing growing pains, they are bickering and fighting with one another.
They can’t agree about who gets to belong, who is a member? Is one persons baptism better than another? They can’t agree about who should lead the church, the members are raising law suits against each other. There is a general lack of harmony amongst them.
If we were to translate some of their disagreements to our own context we might ask: Is a baptism from Rev. Farris better than a baptism from Rev. Jack? Should we leave the crusts on or off the sandwiches? What colour flowers should be in the sanctuary? Lit candles or battery operated? What temperature should the sanctuary be on Sunday morning? Organ music or a praise band?
I say these things in jest, but the thing they hold in common with the church in Corinth is that nothing is centered on God. The focus has shifted and wavered. The members of the church in Corinth were focused on themselves instead of God. When we fight and disagree, we forget that our focus should be on God.
And yet Paul writes, I will show you the most excellent way.
Love, Paul suggests, is the answer. And not necessarily love for one another, though that is important. And certainly not love between a newly wedded couple, no matter how beautiful the passage might be. That is not what Paul is writing about. Paul suggests that we need to focus on God’s love for us. How pure it is. This passage is a reminder of how God has loved us.
This passage asks us how we as the church go out into the world and do works of love. That’s what we are called to do. We are reminded of the words in John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world…” God does indeed love the world, and God loves each one of you. And God desires harmony amongst us so that we can go out into the world and do works of love.
Paul describes love as concrete actions and love comes with action verbs. Seven of the verbs Paul lists deal with what love is and eight of them deal with what love should not do.
Love is patient, kind, rejoicing in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is not envious, boastful, proud, rude, it does not dishonour, it is not self-seeking or angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Remember, this is a passage that is rooted in conflict. Paul is writing to a community that is divided and arguing. Paul is trying through this letter to find harmony.
We are encouraged through Paul’s writing to follow the way of love. Verse after verse we are reminded that while love is a gift from God, it’s also a gift that God invites God’s adopted sons and daughters to cultivate and share.
Today is PWS&D Sunday. A day when we celebrate and promote the relief and development agency of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. PWS&D has programs in ten different countries around the world. Working with partner agencies to deliver the best help and assistance it can. PWS&D also responds to emergencies around the world to help provide immediate assistance in the form of food, shelter and medical attention. It then goes further and helps provide emotional support and long-term rehabilitation for those most affected by disaster.
As a part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada we support the work of PWS&D. We acknowledge the love which God has gifted us and PWS&D is one way that we cultivate and share that love with others.
We do this because we are moved by our faith to help others, just as Jesus helped others. We do this because we have hope in the kingdom of God, we want justice and an equitable life for all people. And we do it for love, for it is the greatest of these. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.