Steve Lindsley

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

It happens every now and then when I meet with an engaged couple to plan the details of their wedding.   At some point in the conversation they mention how they would like someone to read the “Love Chapter” – or they may just say, “let’s read that thing that everyone reads at weddings.”

I know what they’re talking about.  It’s the scripture Rebecca read just a minute ago, Paul’s familiar words from his first letter to the Corinthian church.   Over the years, 1 Corinthians 13 has become the go-to for weddings and soon-to-be newlyweds:

Love is patient and kind – Lord knows they’re going to need both in spades.

Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude – how about that argument last week?

Love does not insist on its own way – things would not go much further in this relationship if it did.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never ends.  And for that, thanks be to God!

As long as I have the pleasure of officiating weddings, I’ll always welcome the “Love Chapter” making an appearance.  But if I’m honest, it will always be with a tinge of lament.  Because over the years we’ve shortchanged these thirteen verses a bit.  We’ve relegated them to almost pop culture status.  We revere them in such a way that they carry, for us, an almost magical quality so that, in simply reading these words, we feel as if we’ve done something of great significance.

And because of that, perhaps, we tend to frown on any variation of the language – like the time I read a different translation at a wedding, as I will do later in this sermon, and was questioned by someone afterwards as to why I did not read the assigned verses.  How ironic is it, that we have fallen in love with the very words of the Love Chapter, to the point where we risk falling out of love with the actual message it seeks to convey.

Because I’ll tell you this – when the apostle Paul sat down to write these thirteen verses, I can promise you the last thing he had on his mind were weddings.  In fact, if you want to know the truth, Paul was a little angry when he put pen to paper here.  Angry and frustrated with this gathering of Christians living in the Greek seaport town of Corinth.  It didn’t help that the church was his baby – a fellowship he founded and was heavily invested in.  Like a loving parent he guided them through infancy and childhood; but now the church was approaching adolescence, and you know how that can go.  He saw great potential for this faith community in this thriving port town – lots of diversity, lots of resources.  But he also watched in frustration as those same things became the source of conflict in the church.

Yes, I know – conflict in the church, can you imagine?!  And just in case you think that church conflict back then was all that different, here’s a smattering of what Paul addresses in his letter:

  • There were people in the church who were caught up in power struggles.
  • There were people who were not following proper order and polity, and that really upset some folks.
  • There were people who were engaging in inappropriate behavior outside of church.
  • And there were people who were not crazy about some of the new worship practices and norms.

Sound familiar?  All those years ago, mere decades into the church’s advent, and already it’s happening.  And perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised by it.  We are human, after all.  And human organizations, for better or worse, tend to mirror the wider culture in which they exist.  Even the church.

And you don’t need me to tell you that we live in a divided and divisive world.  You don’t need me to tell you that this world is one that struggles creating and cultivating real, lasting community.  Drawn to our silos and echo chambers, convincing ourselves that our comfort is more important than our growth.  It’s not always easy creating community.  And in that regard, we’re not all that different from the church Paul was writing to two thousand years ago.

And that is exactly why Paul wrote the words he did in the chapter before this one, chapter 12, which Rebecca preached on last week.  You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.   We, the church, we are part of the body of Christ.  And the thing is, this body is full of diversity and difference because it has to be.  The whole body cannot be an eye; the whole body cannot be a foot.  You need the whole body – all of it.  Our differences, the things that make us unique, they are gifts; they are not something to be divided over.  And when we embrace our differences as gifts, we make the whole body stronger.  You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.

And see, I don’t think it’s by accident that Paul follows this with the Love Chapter.  For as much as one might want to live as one body with many members, you cannot simply will or wish that into being.  You’ve got to have some skin in the game; you’ve got to put yourself out there and do the hard work required.  And that hard work that makes the whole body come and stay together, is nothing more and nothing less than love.

Love is the glue that holds the body together.

I’m going to read the passage again, but this time using a different translation.  I’m giving you a heads-up!  And the reason I’m reading a different translation is because I want to invite you to free your minds from hearing these words in the context that you’ve always heard them.  This time, hear these words and think about that “one body, many members” that Paul just finished describing.  Listen:Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

It doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others.

Love isn’t always “me first!”

It doesn’t fly off the handle; doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

doesn’t revel when others grovel.

 Love takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

It puts up with anything, trusts God always,

always looks for the best, never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love doesn’t die.

So for right now, we have three things to do:

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.

Not once was Paul thinking about two people getting married.  Not once did he imagine that thousands of years later his words would be fallen in love with as the epitome of romantic emotion.  No, Paul had something else in mind. A radical love; a love that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  A love that draws us to each other, especially when we are different.  A love that longs to be expressed in the gifts we have to offer – of which we each have many – to continue building up the body of Christ, so more love will be felt and shared, so the body can grow even more.

Love is the glue that holds the body together.

And Paul knew very well what he was asking of those Corinthians, what he’s asking of us.  For this love he speaks of is hard work.  It requires an almost stubborn capacity for the endless pursuit of hope. It does its best to never let discouragement get the best of us.  The love Paul speaks of here is not a noun but a verb.  It is love in action.

Because it is love, and only love, that allows us to see the image of God first in ourselves; then in everyone around us.

It is love, and only love, that enables us to view differences not as a cause for division but the source of all that brings and holds us together.

It is love, and only love, that leads us to acknowledge the brokenness in our world and in ourselves, and compel us to take action.

And it is love, and only love, that invites us on an inward journey of who we are and what God has already given us; and then compels us to use those gifts for the good of the body and beyond.

Love in action.

This month, as you know, Rebecca and I are launching the “Ministry Match” assessment, encouraging all church members and even our guests to take it.  You might be interested to know that originally we were going to call it something different.  We were going to call it “Love In Action.”  We ended up changing it because “Ministry Match” is a little more descriptive and helps you better understand its intent.

But let there be no doubt, this journey we’re inviting you on is most certainly “love in action.”  Love of God for each of you, the image of God that God placed inside you.  Love of God for you expressed in the many gifts God has given you; gifts you may already be aware of and gifts still waiting to be discovered.  And the love you have for God and for each other, by taking time to discover those gifts and then put those wonderful gifts to use to build up the body of which we are part.

This morning during the Offering, we’re going to offer another chance to take the assessment if you didn’t get to do it last week.  We want you to view this exercise as an offering of sorts, along with your financial giving, an offering of your gifts to God.  You can either take it on your phone using the QR code on the back of the bulletin, or you take it using one of the hard-copy versions you’ll find at the end of your pew.  If you use the paper version, place it under the offering plate as part of your offering today.  If you’ve already taken the assessment, you can take the time for quiet meditation or read a short article titled, “Using Our Gifts From God” that you might find helpful.  We have hard copies to pass out if you’d like one, you can also access it using the QR code in the bulletin.

And as you embark on this journey of discovering your God-given gifts, as you prepare to put love into action, I invite you to think on what may be for some a familiar quote from Trinity’s patron saint Frederick Buechner:

The place God calls you to

is the place where your deep gladness

and the world’s deep hunger


The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness – your God-given gifts – and the world’s deep hunger – the mission of this church – where they meet.

Last week in her sermon, Rebecca told you that the reason we as your pastors want to invest in this assessment is because we want to invest in you.  It’s true. You are love in action.  A love that is patient and kind; a love that believes and hopes all things.  A love that never, ever ends.

And for that, in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.