‘All You Need Is Love’
1 Corinthians 13 Common English Bible (CEB)
Love: the universal spiritual gift
13 If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.
If you haven’t seen Bill Brock’s challenge downstairs since our incredible trustees cleaned out the boiler room and uncovered something unusual, I brought it up today. On it was a note from Bill that said if anyone can tell me what this is I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.
Here are a few more items that left me wondering what the purpose of them was: A few people took some humorous shots at trying to guess what it was, precision tennis racket, pancake height regulator, cast iron snow shoe for those wearing high heels – but the purpose of this item was a lid reformer, use to repair a damaged jar lid, from a time in our history where people were more thrifty because they had less money and spent time repairing them rather than buying new ones.
Here’s another. Again, some humorous attempts at trying to uncover the purpose of this object: to get perfect grill marks on small pieces of steak, dentist tool used to extract multiple teeth at the same time, holder for making little pieces of toast. It is actually a raison seeder, again, from a bygone era when raisons were not made from seedless grapes.
It’s important that an item purpose is known or else it can be used in a way that it was never intended to be used. I think of the scene from the Little Mermaid where Ariel brings to the Seagull all of her new items that she has found on sea floor from shipwrecks and one of them is a fork. The seagull, Skuttle, whom Ariel assumes is the expert on human items, informs her that it is a dinglehopper and that humans use these to brush their hair. Though it can be used for that, if you want, knowing it’s true purpose would allow the fork to be all that it was created to be, but until that purpose is revealed it will serve a purpose that it is not good at fulfilling.
So, what is the purpose of the church? Do we know why we exist? Are we actually being what we were created to be as the church, or are we dinglehoppers; existing to fulfill a purpose that we were not made to fulfill. It would be interesting to hear how each one of us responded to the question, “What is our created purpose?” But, what would be even more interesting would be to ask those beyond our walls today what is the purpose of the Church. A video I watched showed a person on the street interviewing people and some of their responses were eye opening; the church exists as a religious business to make money off of religion, the church exists to brainwash people to their way of thinking, among other negative views. The more positive responses said that the purpose of the church was to create a community of faith, to bring healing, to offer spiritual guidance, and to bring hope. Now, the writer of 1 Corinthians would say that if the main purpose of the church is any of these things then you are light a fork being used to comb hair, you are a dinglehopper church.
You’ve probably heard this chapter read before at a wedding. But, the original audience of this chapter was not a couple about to get married, but rather a church that was existing as if its purpose as the church was either unknown or not important. The church at Corinth had come to function as if its main purpose was to have spiritual experiences and to elevate those to position of power and authority who were the most spiritual among them. Paul writes to them and tells them that they are not fulfilling the purpose that the church was created to be. And, in the beautiful poetic language of chapter 13 he tells them that their main purpose that everything else should stem from and should revolve around is love. He tells them that all the things that they are discussing and fighting about are meaningless if they do not stem from love. In fact, it’s fair to say that Paul tells them, I really do not care about all of these other things, all I care about is that you love, and here is what love is: Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, and so on.
If the church’s purpose is not to love then it really is not a church, not in the way that God has created it. If the church has as its aim anything other than love, and love as defined here, which is really just a picture of who Jesus was, then it is like a fork that is being used to brush hair, or possibly worse, a fork that is being used as a weapon to do harm, not simply a naïve dingle hopper, but an instrument of hate, but that’s for another time.
A pastor writes, a number of years ago, when Castro was still in power, I was privileged to travel to Cuba to visit a tiny sister denomination, the Christian Reformed Church of Cuba. Under Castro’s nose, this little band of Christians was thriving. In fact, they had just built a beautiful new church building. As the pastor showed us through this yellow stucco, white tiled edifice, we asked if this building would attract people to Christ. He said, “No. It might get them here once or twice. But they won’t come to Christ because of this building.” I asked if the preaching of Christ would do it. He said, “No, even that won’t do it. They won’t believe us unless we show them love.”
He had read chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians and he knew what the purpose of the church was. It was not to maintain the new building, it was not to grow in number, it was not to have amazing music or wonderful preaching, its purpose was to love and not some sentimental feel good love, but to love in a way that caused on to sacrifice and even to hurt at times.
Before I go on, let me say that when you look at this definition of love up here you may want to throw your hands up in despair thinking, well if that’s love and that’s what God expects of me then I give up. There is no way that I can love like that definition suggests. Well, here’s some good news, first, remember that you are already loved by God with the kind of love that is defined here even when your love for others does not measure up to the definition of love Paul presents, and secondly, remember that we are in this together. Paul is not speaking to one person and telling them that they must love like this or else they are out. Rather, he is talking to the church as a whole and saying that this is what God wants from you all as a church. In the Bible study on Monday I asked people to say which of these definitions of love they were good at and which ones they needed to work on. I’ve been thinking about it since then, and I feel confident saying that my love is patient and my love is kind, but my love often keeps a record of wrongs and has a tendency to seek its own advantage. What is awesome about being part of the church is that where my love is weak, your love may be strong, and where your love is weak someone else might be the personification of love in that way. Look at the insert in your bulletin. You think about it for a second, Eugene Peterson’s translation from the Greek of the attributes of love is paired up there with the Common English Bible version that was read; which one’s come naturally to you, which one’s do not. God has brought us all together so that we as a church might work together to reflect this full definition of the love of God together, and you are important here because we need the displays of love that God has gifted you with.
What is the purpose of the church? To love, to love with a love that is the love of God, and to do this together. In essence, God, through the church, has brought a group of people together to empower them to practice love towards one another and to those in our community and our world. This is what the purpose of the church is, and our hope should be that when anyone in Port Townsend is asked, what is the purpose of Trinity United Methodist Church, there answer will be, their mission is love.
Back to that little church in Cuba, after the pastor of that church declared, “they won’t believe us unless we show them love”, the visiting pastor from the USA wrote, “Then I thought of the way this little group of poor Christians loved their community. They had an outsized impact on their town, because they fed the poor, gave medicine to the clinic, visited the sick, helped educate the children, and did countless small acts of kindness to those inside and outside of the church. How can we show Christ to the world? “They won’t believe us, unless we show them love”, he said. A church loving the world the way Christ loved the church—that is the clearest revelation of Christ today. Perhaps that’s why Paul opens I Corinthians 13 with these words, “I will show you the most excellent way to be the church – all you need is love”.